Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Korea already is creative

Ask A Korean is normally engaged in, well, answering questions about Korea, but also business and industry.  Just about every time I have visited the blog, I have enjoyed it and learned something, but I haven't felt interested in visiting it often.

In a post from 4 months ago, AAK discusses whether Korean can become a nation known for creativity.  He argues that it is already a place where creative solutions are thick on the ground, but that ground is inside various factories and assembly lines so it is not as obvious as Apple's iPod.

He goes further, using the iPod as an example, and offers the USA itself as the engine for the iPod's success.
There is no question that iPod was a creative, innovative product. Its design was attractive and its user interface easy and intuitive. So, if you are old enough to remember, suppose you are back in 2001. Also suppose that the first iPod equivalent -- known as yPod -- was made by a company called Mela, based in Italy, instead of Apple based in Cupertino, California (which, in this alternate universe, would continue to only make computers.) Mela's yPod is identical to Apple's iPod -- it is small, sleek, modern and easy to use. Mela also has yTunes store, through which all of the latest Italian music will be available to be purchased and downloaded directly into yPod, just like the iTunes store in real life.
Would yPod be nearly as successful as Apple's iPod? Not a chance. But why not? Everything about yPod is the same as iPod. It took exactly the same amount of creativity to produce yPod/yTunes as to produce iPod/iTunes. Then what is the difference? The difference is plain -- far fewer people of the world care about Italian music compared to American one. The ability to conveniently download music -- iPod's greatest strength -- means significantly less if the music is not American. 

He also looks at Facebook and cyworld:
Take Facebook, for example. Facebook is definitely an innovative product. But five years before Facebook, Korea had Cyworld -- a social networking service before anyone in the English-speaking world has even heard of the term "Social Networking Services." And Cyworld became extremely popular in Korea, just like the way Facebook is now. At its peak, Cyworld had more than 17 million members, an incredible figure given that the population of Korea is around 48 million. But although Cyworld attempted to expand beyond Korea, it failed to make a global impression for one simple reason: it was optimized for Korean sensibilities and environment. Cyworld's design was too "cute," and it had many design elements that were compatible with Korea's blazing fast Internet but clunky with slower Internet elsewhere in the world. Now, Facebook may have overtaken Cyworld as the leading social networking site in Korea, and that is not because Facebook is functionally so much better than Cyworld.
The post, and a lot of the blog, is an interesting read and a different viewpoint from own.  Good stuff.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Again with the love/hate relationship with Creativity

Many (Most?) people claim to want creativity but turn out to be afraid or uncomfortable around examples of it.  Elsewhere on this blog, I have referred to studies of teachers making these contradictory claims.

Now, Scientific American discusses the subject.  Excerpts: 

...you may find yourself trained to stop your creative thoughts before they are fully formed, lest you get in trouble for voicing something that is “wrong.” And before long, you may form a bias against creativity in all its forms—even though you will likely remain unaware of your negative views (after all, don’t we live in a society that values creative thought?).
The IAT (Implicit Association Test) is a tool that searches for unconscious bias.  I first heard of it in a Malcolm Gladwell book and it works with your reaction speed.  You are given a list of words and if the word is positive you are to click on one button and if it is negative, click on another button.  The two buttons might be labelled "White" or Caucasian, or "Black" or "Negro".  Many people, even those who appear, and want to be, xenophilic will show slower reaction times connecting "black" with positive terms.  The same test could compare "Male" and "Female" or "Creative" and "Practical"

In a series of studies, participants had to complete the same good-bad category pairing as in the standard IAT, only this time, with two words that expressed an attitude that was either practical (such as functionalconstructive, or useful) or creative (novel, inventive, original, etc.). The result: even those people who had explicitly ranked creativity as high on their list of positive attributes showed an implicit bias against it relative to practicality under conditions of uncertainty.
The article ends with a quote:
As Albert Einstein put it, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” 

There is a link to the actual research and more at the Scientific American website.  I feel I have to mention this as I have quoted a great deal from the article and I want to be sure the site gets visited.  It can't be plagiarism if my quotes increase site traffic, can it?  Seriously, the comments also have some meat to them.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Hominid paints

The Big Hominid is an internet friend of mine.  I found him online as we were both (I still am) Korea-bloggers.  He works in education for money but also tries his hand at a variety of art-forms.  At his blog,you can find his series of '100-below' - stories of less than one hundred words.  You can also find calligraphy he has worked on and I think he has a Cafe-press account for his art.

He has just attempted a new form, oil painting.  Learn about the making of Maqz and Satan: Part 1&2, 3, 4.

I wouldn't know if the painting shows signs of anything, but I do admire his willingness to try new things.

Some Big Hominid mugs from Cafe-press:

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Yahoo news teasers as prompts

If you want to know more, click here.

Before you do, think about the 11 other times it is better to spend a little more up front:

(somewhat) serious:
batteries, underarm deodorant, medicine, first dates, university choice, bikes, rain coats, haircuts, umbrellas,

brothels & prostitutes, shoes, interview clothes, ...Dang, these aren't very silly.

Having looked at them, I can see that the online answers were sillier than mine.

Number 1: Vending machine snacks.  The advice, order (high quality) snacks online.  I can see how that would save money, but preparing your own snacks at home would be even better.  As a bonus, the reduced packaging would be better for the environment.  This point also leaves out the socializing potential of visiting the vending machine.  I would guess it is similar to a coffee break and people might gather there.

Number 2 is just sad: Don't just separate to save money; go the distance and get that divorce.  It is probably good advice, but a tough thing to discuss.

This isn't a home-ec blog so let me comment on just one more thing before I conclude: Extended warranties(#6):
Overpaying for extended warranties
"The cost-effectiveness of extended warranties is minimal and simply put, they're generally a bad idea," says Schrage.
In fact, retailers typically enjoy a greater gross profit on the extended warranty than they do on the product they're selling.
Standard warranties should be just enough to get you by. 
On the flipside, if your PC or laptop breaks down, forgoing the extra $50 or $100 could cost you hundreds for wear and tear. 
That's good adv...oh, wait, no it isn't, chiefly because there is no advice given.  Get the extended or not?  At the end of the segment, you are still left in the air.

I think Yahoo lists these teasers to increase 'page-view hits' for the purpose of selling advertising.  It's really annoying, but if you want prompts to brainstorm over, there are new ones every day.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Uncorking the Muse

While too much alcohol merely makes you think you were clever the previous night, a little might actual make you so.

Via The Hot Button, comes news of research from the University of Illinois on alcohol and intelligence.
Researchers suggest that the moderate levels of alcohol “loosened up” a person’s focus, allowing them to solve intuitive and creative word association problems, while the sober participants were more rigid in their problem-solving. In the study, both groups watched an animated movie. Afterward, they were given this test: They saw three words on a screen and then had to come up with a fourth that could form a phase with each of them. (Example: For peach, arm and tar, the response would be pit.)
Science News has a little more and the (gated) paper is here.
The abstract of the paper:

That alcohol provides a benefit to creative processes has long been assumed by popular culture, but to date has not been tested. The current experiment tested the effects of moderate alcohol intoxication on a common creative problem solving task, the Remote Associates Test (RAT). Individuals were brought to a blood alcohol content of approximately .075, and, after reaching peak intoxication, completed a battery of RAT items. Intoxicated individuals solved more RAT items, in less time, and were more likely to perceive their solutions as the result of a sudden insight. Results are interpreted from an attentional control perspective.

I have discussed how 'controlled distraction' is one key to creative thinking and it is interesting to see more on the subject.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Unusual Amazon Ads as prompts for creative writing

A part of Landolt-Bornstein's new series: Nuclear Energy, Kindle Edition:
cost $6,232.00
(you save more than a thousand dollars by buying the E-edition over the hardcover)

(Click to biggify any photo)

This permalink goes to the review above and also has the five comments it generated.

The classic The Mountain Three Wolf Moon Short Sleeve Tee:
Cost $11.96-$26.96 (no joke to add here)
I call this one the classic as it was the first I learned (via Kottke?) about for it's great comments.  Here is a sample:

Links: Dual Function Design, Great Compliment...

Passion Natural Water-Based Lubricant -55 Gallon
Sale price: $1,495.00

I think the T-shirt and the lube, and Amazon benefit from the attention these ads bring in and do not harm Landolt-Bornstien book. Good fun!

UPDATED: Any ridiculously high-priced item is probably considered fair game for these satirical reviews.  Here is the Amazon page for $8,450 speaker cables.

'Nother update:  Quora recently (May 3, 2014) investigated other "hilarious" reviews.

A danger in ESL: Personalization can be too personal

In almost every unit of almost every ESL textbook, there is a part where students use the grammar or vocabulary to describe themselves or their experiences.  Even without a textbook, teachers quite properly, try to elicit personal statements from their students.  Usually, this is a good idea.
On his blog, “An A-Z of ELT, Thornbury discusses where these discussions could take you:
In his novel, The Folding Star, Alan Hollinghurst (1994) recounts how the protagonist, a young Englishman recently arrived in a Belgian town, sets himself up as a private English tutor. One of his pupils suffers from asthma, and our hero idly asks him if he knows how he got it.
“I didn’t quite make the story out at first, I was chivvying him and making him repeat words without knowing I was taking him back, like some kinder and wiser analyst, to the scene of a childhood tragedy” (p. 20)

Some of the most personal things I have learned from my students has come from Exam questions and particularly from speaking exams.  At least this is
more private for the student.

However it works out, it is often information I don’t really want to know.
“Surprises [no, my students don't really call me that], my girlfriend and I learned everything about each other’s body that it is possible to know.”
“My boyfriend and I have an intimate relationship.”
“I play Maple Story after school.”
“One goal is to make fantastic love.”
“I like Super Junior.”

Granted, some of these points are not as titillating as others, but none of them do I want to know – and some I disapprove of – fandom of Super Junior, especially!

Back to Thornbury:
When I first encountered personalization it was of the type: “Write 5 or more true sentences about yourself, friends or relations, using the word ago“.
This is taken verbatim from Kernel Lessons (O’Neill et al. 1971), one of the first coursebooks I taught from. The fact that the sentences had to be ‘true’ was regularly ignored or overlooked by both teacher and students. The point was not to be ‘truthful’ but creative. Creative and accurate.
This little personalization task invariably came at the tail end of a sequence of activities whose rationale was the learning and practice of a pre-selected item of grammar. The personalization was really just a pretext for a little bit of creative practice, as well as serving as a first, tentative step towards translating the language of the classroom into the language of ‘real life’.
It’s hard to explain to a student that the truth is not required, only that English production is.  And even when that may be understood, sometimes the english is a little off, so you need to ask questions to clear up the meaning of words and phrases.  Now, I am requiring the student to continue and complicate their possibly made up story.  Is this english or interrogation class?

Thornbury makes only a limited conclusion and finishes with a question:
…Arguably, by foregrounding ‘what really matters to a person’, personalization both motivates and scaffolds these adaptive processes.
So, how do we accommodate the need for personalization into our classes? And – more importantly – how do we deal with learner resistance to it?

Perhaps we need to encourage and explain the option of creating a story.  Instead of, “What does your home look like?”, we should ask the student to “Describe a home that you would like to live in.” or ask students in the dorms -which we already have some knowledge of – to describe them.

She wrote it but it's not hers

I don't follow YA vampire stories much.  My sister was reading the Twilight series-possible for some school-based reason as she is a high school English teacher- and was embarrassed when I looked it over and began reading it.

Still, as I learned from my attempts at Nanowrimo, putting words to page is not easy, and writing any story creates a strong personal connection with that story.

L.J Smith - author of vampire Diaries, has been fired by Harper Collins and now a ghost writer will continue the series.  The blog post I read was unclear whether Smith's name will continue to be on the cover.  Either she will still be listed as the author or it will say something like, "Created by L.J. Smith".

On the one hand, the contractual details were there to find, if she knew how to read legalese and had some experience as a writer.  She was hired by Harper Collins to provide a series of stories, the titles and cover images of which had already been selected.  I guess the simplest way to look at it is that she was the surrogate mother...no, she actively provided more information to the 'baby' than the 'parents' did.

Two excerpts from the post:

She isn’t allowed to write another word of a series that belongs to her, a series that she has spent years writing and creating and putting her heart into because Harper suddenly decided they don’t want her to write anymore. And now a random ghostwriter (who’s skills and voice could never even remotely live up to L.J’s) is taking over.  
...[ this is a big ellipsis]  
I had no idea that these type of things can happen to a published author. So to those of you who are going to be published or hope to be published one day—read everything in the contract and beextra alert. Even if the publisher has a good name/reputation don’t let them fool you into thinking everything’s fine and dandy where legal terms are involved. Stay on top of things and make sure you are informed on everything that's going on. That means keeping close tabs and getting constant updates from your agent.

I've read some crappy self-published novels and much appreciate the editing at a publishing house provides.  Still, this is pretty grim news and I suspect that while it is bad news for Smith, it will also be so for Harper Collins and major publishing houses in general.  I sure hope all other options were explored before this one was chosen.
Via a post on Google+ by Wil Wheaton.  I don't know if I can link to it from here. Try it.

Monday, February 13, 2012

I want this office.

Wade Davis, the 'explorer-in-residence' for National Geographic has a beautiful office.  I'm sure that if I had it, once I tired of climbing the ladder to view my books, I could be very productive.
Photo from Travis Price Architects.

Another from Washington Life:

Creative and content knowhow

Via Boingboing,  a link to an article on two types of knowledge, both important in the creation of new products.

The article features an air pistol with an air-pressure gauge built into the reservoir. The problem is, the gauge is at the end of the gun, directly below the barrel.  You must point the gun directly at your own forehead to check the pressure.

Technically, I don't think you could put the gauge on the side.  I am not sure where you could put it, but if a pistolry expert had spoken with the design expert, this design might have been cancelled.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Sudden Genius?

In Sudden Genius; the gradual path to creative breakthroughs,  Robinson explores the lives of ten geniuses; five scientists and five artists, to see if he can find any common threads to how, why and what makes a genius.

He starts by spending some time explaining his definition of 'genius', which  isn't easy.  He settled on the ten in his book as they are all considered geniuses even if what a genius is is not clear.

"An individual is judged to be 'creative', psychometrically speaking, if he or she can consistently produce a spectrum of divergent responses to a request, of which a proportion are markedly different from the responses of other individuals.  but not too different, otherwise they are not recognizable as answers to the request." (page 24)

He briefly looked at creativity tests, and I have linked to some in the past on this blog.  His research showed that they were measuring something, but it wasn't precisely creativity.  He wrote that subjects who took the test years apart typically scored the same but that a high score on the test did not make the subject particularly creative in real life.  They are quite similar to IQ tests, which have the same characteristics.

Turns out, geniuses don't have much in common.

"If creativity researchers have proved anything about 'a' creative personality, it is that beneath a huge variety of external behaviors, often unconventional, all highly creative people preserve a steely, autonomous determination." (5% - Kindle provided page numbers for my other quotes but not this one.)

Geniuses were driven people, who worked long hours, entirely by choice.

Oh, and many geniuses suffered the death of a parent or other traumatic family experience in their youth:

"Various explanations have been proposed by psychologists.  One suggestion is that creative achievement, delinquency, and suicide should all be viewed as dissatisfied responses to the society that took away the life of the parent. By criticizing or attacking existing social beliefs and practices, creative achievement enables an individual to develop in an independent, nonconformist way, rejecting society's rules and regulations." (Page 258)

This reminds me a researcher discussing why orangutan orphans began catching and eating fish, but wild ones did not.  I cannot find a link and the researcher was only offering an opinion, but he felt that these orphaned orangutans were not held back or meddled with by adults as they grew up.

Although many scientific breakthroughs necessarily come from collaboration, creative breakthroughs generally do not:

"Thus collaboration and teamwork tend not to be a feature of the lives of the exceptionally creative - inconvenient though this fact may be for advocates of 'brainstorming' and 'group creativity' in commercial companies and other institutions." (Page 265)

And where does formal education fit in?  Darwin hated school and Mozart was home-schooled.

"Can formal education ever instill this kind of exceptional creativity?  Not on the evidence of past geniuses.  In Professor Eysenck's parting shot at the academic system at the end of his study Genius, he writes, "The best service we can do to creativity is to let it bloom unhindered, to remove all impediments, and cherish it whenever we encounter it.  We probably cannot train it, but we can prevent it from being suffocated by rules, regulations, and envious mediocrity." (Page 278)

The book offered few suggestions on how to turn my son into a genius, but at the same time it did let me know what would be a waste of time.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Shocks to increase learning

No, not shocks as a punishment for misbehaving students.

There is research into how shocking some parts of the brain increases learning ability.

Some felt that the shocks quieted conscious parts of the brain so subjects wouldn't overthink their activities.  I think that is possible but wonder - the great thing about learning only a fraction of the actual research and information- if the shock could have erased some of the early prejudices and doctrines of the activity so that the subject could start afresh without misconceptions getting in the way.  A swimmer who has swum tens of kilometres using poor arm position needs to forget what he has been doing to change it.

Anyway, maybe electroshock is a shortcut. Time will tell.

failing Malls - what to do with them?

Being a fan of the genre, I immediately imagine using them as sanctuaries against the coming zombie hordes.

Via Boingboing, I found they are a real problem - malls falling into disuse, not zombie hordes.

Boingboing links to an article in the New York Times. An excerpt:

Cleveland’s Galleria at Erieview, like many malls across the country, is suffering. Closed on weekends because there are so few visitors, it is down to eight retail stores, eight food-court vendors and a couple of businesses like the local bar association.
So part of the glass-covered mall is being converted into a vegetable garden.“I look at it as space, I don’t look at it as retail,” said Vicky Poole, a Galleria executive. “You can’t anymore.”

Before looking at the rest, what uses can I come up with in three minutes: Before I start, let me get mallwalking out of the way.  It's a good idea, but it's not mine.

  1. Other athletic activities requiring space but not equipment - hula hooping, roller blading...
  2. indoor farmers market
  3. outdoor gear set up area - learn how to set up your tent
  4. learn how to fix your bike and other educational uses
  5. oops, that last one is pretty big
  6. day care
  7. PSA poster area
  8. Picnic shelter in case of rain
  9. new location for libraries - problem - conflict with local bookstore
  10. smoking area
Times up.

Huh.  I don't smoke and dislike the habit in others.  I guess desperation led to me adding it to the list.

Alright, lets see what ideas the article had in addition to the vegetable garden one above (which I really like).  This is the heart of the article so I will excerpt cautiously - please follow the link for more:
Schools, medical clinics, call centers, government offices and even churches are now standard tenants in malls. By hanging a curtain to hide the food court, the Galleria in Cleveland, which opened in 1987 with about 70 retailers and restaurants, rents space for weddings and other events. Other malls have added aquariums, casinos and car showrooms.
Even at many malls that continue to thrive, developers are redesigning them as town squares — adding elements like dog parks and putting greens, creating street grids that go through the malls, and restoring natural elements like creeks that were originally paved over.
I like the ideas in the above paragraph as they were completely absent from my list.  They are summed up as “Basically they’re building the downtowns that the suburbs never had,”  said Ellen Dunham-Jones...    I lived on the outskirts of a small town with highly spread out properties but I knew all of our neighbors and would have liked to be able to sit out on the porch and talk with passers-by.  A spacious indoor play area for kids, where parents could also feel comfortable would be welcome even though I can imagine liability insurance would be a challenge.

Oh, one other addition was a 'Wait Room', where people could have a coffee or beer and use computers while their significant other shopped.  And on page two you can read about how the indoor garden fared -good and interesting stuff.

I had been sure I could find a few blog posts on derelict shopping malls here in South Korea but after a short Google search I could find none.
Challenge for my reader(s): what else could be done with failing malls?  Quick, to the comments!