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Introduction To Making [Creativity
Posted on April 10, 2017 @ 10:03:00 AM by Paul Meagher

Laura Kampf is a maker with a growing audience on YouTube. Her videos generally contain no words which is limiting in some ways but also makes them more universally accessible. In this video she modifies a bicycle to make it useful for picking up a case of beer.

Modifying bicycles is a great way to engage in the "maker" movement. There are a tons of modifications you can make to bikes to change the aesthetics or create other uses for them. There are lots of old bikes available for free or cheap and the chains, gears, wheels, and cables can be used to make other contraptions.

I was recently reading about the Wright Brothers who owned a bicycle shop and are famous for the first controlled, sustained flight of a powered, heavier-than-air aircraft on December 17, 1903. They used sprockets and chains from the motor to drive the propeller. They also figured out how to stop the plane from rolling side to side and tipping up and down. Perhaps they used chains and sprockets, or just cables, to control the stabilizers. An example of how an understanding of bicycle parts and mechanics can be used to innovate in another product line.

The humble bike can be used as a sustainable means of transport but, with modification, it offers many other uses. It has been used to power water pumps, cultivate fields, power blenders, generate electricity and much more. Modding bikes was my first introduction to making when I was a kid. I, like many other kids at the time, modified my banana bike by cutting off a section of the forks and hammering in another set of forks to make it into a hot rod bike (i.e,. a chopper). If I knew how to weld and shape metal back then like Laura Kampf, I would have had the coolest hot rod bike around.


Monday Music [Creativity
Posted on November 7, 2016 @ 07:30:00 AM by Paul Meagher

Attended a music festival over the weekend. Had the opportunity to see Classified perform. He performed with Elijah who provides the smooth counter vocals in Classified's new music video that I can't stop listening to.

Classified also collaborates with and is helping to produce another amazing vocal talent, Ria Mae. I enjoyed this studio live video of them playing together.

On a darker note.

Leonard Cohen is a poetic force of nature and his new album does not disappoint. His title track is sensuous and biblical, and the rest of his album is worth exploring.


Constraint Satisfaction: Part 1 [Creativity
Posted on January 28, 2016 @ 07:18:00 AM by Paul Meagher

In today's blog I want to begin exploring the concept of constraint satisfaction. Why? Because it is critical to understanding, both formally and informally, what creativity and design consist of.

An awareness of what your constraints are is important when it comes to designing anything. Design takes place within a set of constraints and the adequacy of a design is mainly determined by 1) whether you have your constraints right, and if so, 2) how good a fit your solution is to those constraints. Creativity is used to express these constraints and find a solution that is a good fit to these constraints.

A formal example of a constraint satisfaction problem is solving a set of linear equations. You may be familiar with solving linear equation problems from high school math.


x + y = 6
3x - y = 2

Solve for x and y.

One way to solve for x and y is by graphing each equation and finding out where they intersect. The point of intersection is the solution.

Using graphs is a good way to solve simple linear equation problems. If we add more equations with more terms then we need to use other techniques, such as Gaussian elimination or the Simplex algorithm, to solve this problem. There are powerful software tools, such as the GNU Linear Programming Kit (GLPK), that you can use to solve a variety of constraint satisfaction problems. I recommend you check out The GNU Linear Programming Kit, Part 1: Introduction to linear optimization (Part 2 and Part 3) to see how linear constraints can be formally expresses and optimal solutions found using this software. GLPK is the type of software you might use to create your own version of Uber or Lyft.

The purpose of today's blog was to illustrate that a central idea in design and creativity, constraint satisfaction, can be expressed in mathematical terms in some cases. When we do so it can be quite powerful. There is another approach to solving constraint satisfaction problems that can be found in landscape design, software design, and permaculture design called design patterns. In my next blog I'll explore the use of design patterns as a more informal approach to expressing and solving constraint satisfaction problems.

Note: The graph above is from p. 126 of a 1990 textbook by Robert J. Schalkoff called Artificial Intelligence: An Engineering Approach. Robert devoted a useful chapter to Constraint Satisfaction Problems and the application of the logic programming language Prolog to such problems. It is interesting to note that IBM's Watson, the Artificial Intelligence (AI) that beat all the best Jeopardy! champions, is partially implemented in Prolog. Prolog offers another software toolkit for formally expressing and solving certain types of constraint satisfaction problems.


Alien Presence [Creativity
Posted on October 22, 2015 @ 09:01:00 PM by Paul Meagher

An object that I like to photograph is an abandoned incinerator nestled into in a nice piece of nature. Here is a photo taken a week ago.

The incinerator was part of an old lumber mill and they probably used it to burn the wood waste they generated. Nowadays this wood waste is considered valuable and used downstream somewhere but in those days it was incinerated. Hence the incinerator.

The incinerator is logically positioned next to a sizeable pond in case some embers set off a fire.

The incinerator no longer bears a logical or functional relationship to the landscape and we are left to wonder whether the incinerator might at least bear an aesthetic relationship to the landscape. For me it does. It has a steampunk vibe going on. It has an appealing form, symmetries, and a contrasting color which I think adds to, rather than detracts from, the overall vista.

The incinerator is an object without purpose. Thoughts of what I might do with the incinerator start to insinuate themselves into my consciousness if I stare at it too long.

As I stare it starts to look like a retro rocket ship. When the ship lands, the platform and rails at the top extend out to allow for habitat observation from a high vantage point. The heat shield at the top is electronically controlled making it easy to use both during flight and to exit the rocket ship for habitat observation. The rust is a projection to make the ships advanced technology look inconspicuous.

Then I start to see the incinerator is a cool living space. A welder and some carpenters could build a unique tiny house from this frame.

Or maybe the incinerator can be given new life as a production facility of some sort. Maybe it can be used to create compost (it does have side doors allowing you to drive a vehicle into it), biochar, or bioenergy of some sort. Perhaps in its next life it will atone for all the carbon sins it committed.

Or maybe it will be an Outfitter office and lounge area. A unique service and entertainment area that will help draw people to this remote location to enjoy nature and the company of others.

What makes this an interesting photographic subject is the purposelessness of the incinerator and freedom this gives to re-imagine what its purpose might be.

Or you can accept that the incinerator is bereft of functional purpose having only an aesthetic role to play. The camera is used to convey an aesthetic appreciation. A brown platonic form pleasingly set against a backdrop of contrasting hues and shapes. Suggestive of an alien presence in the landscape.


Japanese Vending Machines [Creativity
Posted on February 6, 2015 @ 10:29:00 PM by Paul Meagher

Japan has 5.2 million vending machines! Why do they have so many vending machines? I'm no expert on Japan but it would appear that one of the reasons is simply that they keep innovating upon the vending machine concept and these innovations keep people wanting to buy from them. The documentary below offers a fascinating tour of the history of vending machines in Japan and some of the modern innovations they are adding to the vending machine concept.

It seems that in North America we have more "functional fixedness" when it comes to imagining what a vending machine might be or do. To counteract functional fixedness it might be useful to study the adaptations and roles of common objects in other cultures. Seeing these differences might free our minds to reimagine what a common object might be or do.


Take Your Clothes Off! [Creativity
Posted on November 24, 2014 @ 11:51:00 AM by Paul Meagher

The headline is not a cheap attempt to get you to read my blog ;-)

The headline also refers to a song by Ria Mae called "Clothes Off" that I can't stop listening to. I had the opportunity to see her perform live at the Nova Scotia Music Week hosted in Truro this year where some of the best new musical talent from Nova Scotia performed in 4 different venues and various music industry people from around the world attended to see if they want to book them or enter into other deals with them. Alot of networking, education and mentoring for developing artists also takes place during the event. The public gets to take it all the music sessions for 4 days. It allowed me to sample acts that I never knew existed (and which I might now go out an see when they are in town next) and gave me some insight into how music talent is fostered and promoted. Cultural export is an important industry for any state or province and our developing musicians are our ambassadors to the rest of the world helping to drive tourism, geographical awareness, and a willingness to do business from those who might share a bond of music. It also becomes a point of collective pride for states and provinces when one of their own transends the local stage.

One of the acts I particularly liked was Ria Mae. You can hear the polished version of the "Clothes Off" single on her website RiaMae.com or watch a live version with a little less raunchy guitar work here. A nice upbeat and well-crafted song to kick off the week.

Update: Nov 25th.

Ria Mae's music is now a playlist with these original 3 music videos to share.


Dionysian and Apollonean Creativity [Creativity
Posted on May 6, 2013 @ 09:34:00 AM by Paul Meagher

I'm about a third of the way into book "Imagine: How Creativity Works" by Johnathan Lehrer (2012, Canongate: Edinburgh, London). It is a good read so far and I'm learning some useful ideas about creativity. I liked his comparison of Dionysian and Apollonean creativity to divergent and convergent thinking (p. 64-65):

Fredrich Nietzche, in The Birth of Tragedy, distinguished between two archetypes of creativity, both borrored from Greek mythology. There was the Dionysian drive - Dionysus was the god of wine and intoxication - which led people to embrace their unconscious and create redically new forms of art. (As Dylan one said, "I accept the chaos. I hope it accepts me.") The Apollonian artist, by contrast, attempted to resolve the messiness and impose a sober order onto the disorder of reality. Like Auden, creators in the spirit of Apollo distrust the rumors of the right hemisphere. Instead, they insist on paying careful attention, scrutinizing their thoughts until they make sense. Auden put it best: "All genuine poetry is in a sense the formaton of private spheres out of public chaos."

Modern science has given Nietzshe's categories a new set of names. The Dionysian innnovator, trusting all those spontaneious epiphanies, is a perfect example of divergent thinking. He needs these unexpected thoughts when logic won't help, when working memory has hit the wall. In such instances, the right hemisphere helps expand the internal search. This is the kind of thinking that's essential when struggling with a remote associate problemm, or trying to invent a new kind of pop song, or figuring out what to do with a weak glue. It's the thought process of warm showers and blue rooms, paradign shifts and radical restructures.

The Apollonian artist, by comparison, relies on convergent thinking. This mode of thought is all about analysis and attention. It's the ideal approach, when trying to refine a poem, or solve an algrebra equation, or perfect a symphony. In these instances, we don't want lots of stray associations - such thoughts are errant distractions. Instead, we want to focus on the necessary information, filling our minds with relevant thoughts. And so we slowly converge on the ideal answer, chiseling away at our errors. This process is a struggle, a long labor of attention but that's the point. It takes time to find the perfect line.

Currently, I'm reading a chapter ("The Unconcealing") on the brain basis of creativity. Two primary areas that especially light up during experiments in creativity are the nucleus acumbens/domamine reward pathway (pleasure) and the prefrontal cortex (working memory). The two areas are connected by a highway of nerves suggesting that creativity is a joint function of pleasure and working memory processes. Attentional processes appear to hover between the two cortical areas. One could try to relate the activity of pleasure centers with Dionysian creativity, and the activity in prefrontal centers with Apollonean creativity. Creative output could be viewed as always consisting of Dionysian and Apollonean elements, with the relative contribution changing at different stages in the creative effort.




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