Da Vinci Notebooks

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Lacking focus? Need perspective?

You may have heard of "Getting Things Done" or, GTD. Pioneered by David Allen, but built upon the ideas of people like Stephen Covey and other productivity experts. GTD is great for managing all those obligations and dreams of stuff "to do" floating around out there.

Naturally, a cottage industry of tools has arisen around the concept. Stuff like software applications, web services and even printable forms are abundant. Although I find many people simply use paper -- the chief vector being Moleskin notebooks, maybe because GTD folks have good taste?

But a friend of my departed former blogging buddy Marc Orchant has released an e-magazine called "Productive!" and it's quite good. You can download the latest issue here.

Being productive isn't the only great part of GTD. Much of Allen's philosophy is developing a "mind like water," which I think Da Vinci would approve of. The theory goes: if you put all those mental lists down in a format you trust, and tend to those lists regularly, you won't have it all in your head, clouding your vision and worrying you at random times. This frees the brain to focus on creativity -- and isn't that what we're all about?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Turning decay into magic

Once again Kevin Kelly has a great post on a neat idea: using mushrooms to save the world. The book he's referring to is called "Mycelium Running." Basically, a bunch of uses for mushrooms and their parts that you might have never considered. For instance, how about putting spores in the lubricant oil for chainsaws? Once they trap the oil, they release it later, keeping the chain lubricated longer.

I've been an armchair mycologist for years (dirty secret: I tried growing psychedelic mushrooms in my dorm room -- spectacular failure). They are eco-friendly, relatively easy to grow yourself, and there are more varieties than you'd ever imagine walking down the grocery aisle. Perfect for the part-time gardener (you just set them up and watch them go) or backyard scientist.

We've got so much more to discover about nature, I hate to call this "repurposing" of mushrooms. Let's call it "growing discovery."

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Make losing weight a game

There's a great post on WIRED about Weight Watchers being a "game." A big smile crossed my face as I saw that headline and I immediately thought back to the talk Jane McGonigal gave at SXSW called "Alternate Realities." In part, she argued, why not make life more joyful by designing fun into it? (Note: WIRED also cites Jane's talk)

Look at what happens when you stand in line at a Disney theme park. They work very hard to entertain you for something that in any other context would be irritating. From pre-shows to decorations to simply setting the mood, the experience is designed for fun.

So, too, can be weight loss. Weight Watchers lately released some cool tools on the web (and I hear iPhone very soon!) that allow you to keep track of your points, weight, etc. As a Nike+iPod user, I can attest to the power of feedback. As in game design, feedback gives a "player" the ability to know where they've come from, improve that score and gives incentives for doing better. Just last night I proudly showed my wife the longest run I'd ever run in a nifty chart on the Nike site. Yay, I've leveled up!

Folks designing systems should follow the model of game design and look for a risk/reward balance that challenges the "player" but also rewards them when they succeed. Not everyone has the inner drive and fire in their belly like Da Vinci had. Most of us are mere mortals.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Mashups, and the honesty of the creative mind

There are those who say "there's nothing new under the sun." And that is true, to an extent (you may notice that claim is nearly always followed by the qualifier I attached). So while some creative folks bang their heads looking for "original" ideas, the on-the-ground reality is that most creative work is a work of appropriation.

The first iMacs to have G4 processors were modeled after a sunflower, or so goes the story. Browse the posts at Core77 and you come away with the inspiration of the inspirations behind those designs. Our inspirations aren't drawn from the vacuum or a synaptic blank page-- we take what we need and reform it, refine it, re-engineer it to make it our own.

So earlier this year I had a great discussion with a friend of mine who is a fabulous musician in New York. When she asked what I was listening to, I somewhat sheepishly responded, "lots of mashups." She was a little put-off, I think, because real musicians pride themselves on originality. Amy certainly does, and there's no mistaking the originality of her current project: Koko Dozo.

But mashups are intensely creative. They are often juxtapositions of dissimilar songs, but ones with similar beat structures. Even better is when they take phrases, not musical phrases, but the lyrics, and put them together, like some crazy Mad Libs set to a psychotic waltz.

The act of mashing up music may seem "easy," but it isn't. You have to have a good ear, patience and an understanding of music. Much like Warhol's "Campbell's Soup Cans," they take extant material and re-purpose it into something new. Derivative? Perhaps, but it still keeps my toe tapping and a smile on my face in the unique combinations!

Note that I haven't linked to any particular mashups. That's because the recording industry seeks to kill off this genre because they are obsessed with copyright and have no clue how to implement alternative revenue streams. Those heavy-handed tactics are in direct opposition with the art of the mashup, but that's a post for another day.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Solar roads?

Imagine turning all our roads into giant solar energy collectors. Makes sense, right? As always, the devil is in the details. Luckily, some smart guys are working on the details.

The link goes to Roland Piquepaille's Technology Trends blog, something I highly recommend for anyone in the tech biz or anyone interested in cutting-edge tech (not yet productized) and how humans turn problems into solutions. Just like Da Vinci!

Let's start with some practical uses of psychology

I notice a lot of college grads wind up psychology majors, like a catch-all for folks who don't know what to do with their lives. Given that, you'd think we'd be more chilled out and happy as a population, but we're not. If anything, we're more frantic and irritated than ever (guilty as charged).

So it's cool to see how we can learn something from psychology: practical uses for psychological studies and models. Some great tips for virtual workers like myself.

via Guy Kawasaki

Friday, July 25, 2008