Friday, December 28, 2012

Planning and creating through the activity.

So Christmas is over and man, was it boring.

I have a problem with planning.  I can be wonderfully organized but typically only up to the start of the event.  For my parent's 25th wedding anniversary, my sister and I put a lot of work into secretly finding their friend's addresses and mailing party information to them.  We found and rented a great hall that also supplied food and drink.  The guests arrived, I invited my parents into the car for brunch and we drove to the event. Everyone yelled…something.  Probably Surprises or Congratulations or the like.  Then… nothing.  My father ended up emceeing the party planned in his own honour.

This year -we're back to talking about Christmas now - I decorated the house with the little guy's help.  While he was asleep, I laid out the presents and got everything ready for the morning.  Morning came, he was duly thrilled, and repeatedly told us how much he loved Christmas.  Then…nothing.  We stayed indoors and struggled to find something to do in the long, long afternoon.  Out of boredom, he was ready to go to bed early.

I am not always like this.  When I lead canoe trips for a sports camp, I repeatedly cautioned the campers to understand the end of the trip would be official only when we were enjoying dessert at the camp's main hall that evening.  And it worked.  The campers all pitched in to load the canoes and gear into the waiting vans and even unload it when we returned to the camp.  It was a point of pride for me that we returned clean pots and pans to the camp kitchen.

Recently, I also wrote about my son's new Lego sets, with their attention to detail, like the bookshelf in the bedroom.  This is where I need to focus - not on the bedroom - this is a PG-rated blog.  But rather, I need to plan through the event.  I need a "The-activity-is-not-done-until-the-next-breakfast" mindset.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Old V New Lego

When I was my son's age, we built rectilinear houses and rectilinear  cars with square blocks and we liked it!  Now, my son wants specialty sets based on marketable themes and with unusually shaped pieces that build preplanned shapes: castles, helicopters, dinosaurs, dune buggies and steam-punk vehicles.
This seems life a good place for an addition two weeks laterThe Ethical Adman misses the old Lego sets too.  He shows some 1970's Lego ads, including one of an interesting ambulance, then says,
 This was around the time when I started playing with the iconic blocks, almost 40 years ago. Note that the craptacular ambulance built by 5-year-old "Maria" could have just as easily been built by "Mario".

And then it hit me what the real problem is.

Lego stopped being a "blank slate" imagination toy sometime in the '80s. While you can still buy plain blocks if you look hard enough, Lego is now much more about
getting kids to act out branded and scripted narratives than asking them to start from scratch.
End updated section

I haven't decided if this is an improvement.  Maybe the creative aspect has simply moved one step.  Where I built an owl, carefully choosing the right pieces to form a large diamond -shaped body and a  smaller diamond-shaped head with protruding beak, then admired it as it sat on my dresser, the little guy builds castles, populates them with good and bad guys, then spends hours acting out a story with them.  My creative output was in making; His is in using.

I have two concerns with the specialty shapes in the Monster Fighter themed sets, though.  First, it will be hard or impossible to use some of them in new ways later.  The spooky, gothic castle roof piece looks like it would only be appropriate as a spooky gothic roof piece - maybe the castle part is the variable.  The castle is made from perhaps twenty tall blocks that now have the included atmospheric stickers on them.  It is difficult imagining them as being repurposed as aircraft wings, for example.

All that said, I do love the flourishes and details in the vampire's castle.  There is a library, a cauldron with magical ingredients stewing and a piano in the attic of a high tower.  The little guy has already put the vampire in there to work the keyboard.

A related point is that the castle perfectly fits my conception of a vampire's castle but I am old.  I would be upset with a Twilight-style castle (they don't have castles? That woman is ruining the genre!) but I also don't want my son to be pushed into playing out traditional vampire stories.

My second concern with the Monster Fighter's themed sets is the number of guns.  Now, I played with guns a lot as a child and have turned out mostly fine.  In the set, it is not merely a few characters who have guns, but the cars have guns as exhaust pipes or hood ornaments.  They look bad-ass but not in a way I want to son to experience.  Am I old and cranky?

TWIC (3)

Creative people are better (or worse) at rationalizing. I discussed this on year ago, but now Scientific American has a podcast interview with Ariely.

I wrote then:
"Perhaps I am using my creativity to rationalize unethical behavior, but I wonder if we are seeing a rebellion against artificial deadlines and rules that are arbitrary and not-so-meaningful outside of school.  If an explanation for the rules that the student felt made sense were offered, perhaps they would be less likely to cheat."

And lately, I have been wondering about driving in Korea.  I will be leaving soon, so I have been pondering what I might have learned during my time here.  My thinking here in trying to defend the habit of many Korean drivers running red lights is that the drivers don't have much faith in the good planning of city governments and civil engineers.  In the past, Korea was ruled by Japan, then by several dictators.  It has been strongly and clearly democratic in my time here, but retains a great deal of corruption.  Disobeying laws was a means of fighting illegally-held power.

I cannot make myself run a red light, but I often feel comfortable traveling faster than the speed limit on highways.

A Caption Contest!
Kushibo hasn't had many bites in his contest offering, but here it is.  The photo is of Kim Jong-il lying in state and if ever a dead man was worthy of mockery, it is Kim Jong-il.

Look at the picture, then turn off your computer and go for a hike.  Natural Settings and Tech Break boost creativity.  I enjoy walking outside and find myself full of ideas when I do so.  Then I have trouble remembering them all when I get back to my computer.

Spark Your Imagination.  For Christmas, my mother gave my son a set of Super Story Starters.  The prompts include a text idea and picture, making it great for ESL students and young readers.  Here are two:

"You are zipping down a new slide in the playground.  Anything or any place in the world can be at the bottom.  What is it?"
"What does a pirate order at an ice cream shop?  What does he order for his crew?"

Friday, December 21, 2012

Elephant hangers

I am sorta proud of these wooden elephants (click to enlarge if you don't see any elephants).

Well, I am very proud of the idea and also of my attempt to work in some mass production.  I drew and cut the basic shape while in Canada four or so years ago.  I cut the notch that fits around the door and much of the trunk's shape.  Back in Korea, after letting them sit for years, I am now adding some detail and smoothing the wood somewhat.

And that is where I am less proud.  The idea work and even the scrollsaw work turned out well.  My wood carving has not been such a success.  Still, the shape is entirely recognizable and the edges sanded nicely.

Yeah, I am satisfied with my work.

Another reason I am posting this picture is that I am giving two away on Monday and I wanted the recipients to see what the elephant is actually meant to do.
And, uh, if Kirkland wants to send some money over for the product placement, no problem!
Previously at Creativitiproject.

This week in creativity (Dec 21)

The world hasn't ended, so far.

Elizabeth Gilbert on writer's block and running out of ideas.  She looks into why people expect her to be anguished and worried about her future as an artist.  She compares her work to that of her father, a chemical engineer and wonders why people never asked him if he ran out of chemical ideas.  I might have stretched the metaphor too much, but I found it weak: the work of an engineer, I imagine, might be similar creatively to my own work.  Each class I teach is subtly different but the broad and even middle strokes are codified and repetitive rather than entirely creative.

Isaac Mizrahi
I'm marking exams while watching but I can't find anything really exciting or interesting in it.    "Being slightly bored all the time is what makes a great fashion designer."
An ad for Isaac Mizrahi?

Amy Tan
She is a skilled writer and must have real insight into how it works. Still, it seems to airy-fairy for me- too pseudo-scientific.  Am I too cynical?  Is this a case of using whatever works, even a placebo?  Placebo or not, she is more famously creative than I and marmots certainly more creative than I.

Steve Johnson
Coffee came to Europe and creativity took off.  Before that time, people drank alcohol - the healthy choice as water was polluted or carrying parasites.  Switching from a depressant to a stimulant drove creativity.  --probably a joke.
Cool example.  In Africa, people couldn't repair incubators but many could fix cars.  So, people made an incubator from car parts.  The heat came from headlights.   - I like the ideas of using car parts but also using lights as heat producers. Everyone knows lights get hot, but few look at that as a positive.   Well, these guys and the makers of EasyBake!
Talk is about hunches and long incubation times.

Janet Echelman
Interesting and inspiring, but no input on how to be creative.

Kirby Ferguson
Embrace the remix
Patents: To promote the progress of useful arts.  Copying is not theft and nearly everything is copied in one form or another.

This talk was an interesting contrast to the next, by Malcolm McLaren

Malcolm McLaren (50:41?  I am not against long videos , but I thought TED videos were to run around 20:00
From written blurb, it seems he is rebutting Ferguson's claims:  "McLaren shares his fears about what he calls “karaoke culture,” where success is about mimicry rather than emotional honesty. Because as McLaren sees it, no one should be shielded from the messy, difficult struggle of creating something new."
The excerpted idea is interesting, but the majority of the video is politics.

Tim Brown
Tales of creativity and play
Draw a picture of the person beside you.  "Sorry" is a common remark.
I should try this at the next camp. Young children are more eager and proud of their work, but older people are less so.

These are eight talks, I don't think I missed any on that page.

Writing and writers
Don't ask a pro for free labor - Scalzi

Secrets of storytelling: interview of Tim Powers.
Drawing and painting


Refurbishing a hatchet: I don't think the idea or design choices were particularly difficult but the way Diresta masterfully handles the tools and works without error is beautiful to watch.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

This week in creativity

Let's see how long TWIC lasts.  Perhaps it will become TMonthIC.

Story Dice

     I've discussed 'terror of the blank page' and the use of prompts to ease that terror before.  Now, I have found some cool dice to do the work.  Rory's Story cubes, in a variety of genres, are available at Amazon and a similar App is on iTunes for iPads.

    I reached a similar result with a pretty enthusiastic class a few years ago.  After four meetings with the class, I would write the major vocabulary words from those four stories on the white board and would collect random numbers from students.  We would then select four or five words randomly (or so the students were lead to believe) from the list and these words had to be in the story they wrote that week as homework.  For the record, most of the words, most of the time, were randomly chosen but if students had particular difficulty with a word, I was likely to slip it into the short list.

   "Trick" was a surprisingly difficult word.  The story was titled "A Sick Trick" and was about a child who faked an illness to evade school... on Saturday morning.  The students had trouble in their stories separating the "sick" from the "trick".

     Anyway, I like the idea of story dice and will shortly send some to my sister for her children to use.  I am likely to order a set for myself, too.

     Or, I could make a set abusing this website.  I can't figure out how these dice are meant to be used.  It sure looks like students are expected to include most of the information they need to complete their essays so I don't get the role of randomness normally expected of dice.  In the "Bio Cube Creator", section, it sure looks like a summarizing tool rather than a randomizing tool.


Avoid Cliches like my Creationist Coworker!

    Nigel Fountain has a book out describing the abuse of cliches.  In the UK it is apparently called "Cliches: avoid them like the plague" while in the US it is "The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread: Cliches: What they Mean and Where they Came From".  Um, my aforementioned coworker does not noticeably avoid cliches more than other people, but I've seen people avoid conversations with him.

     I particularly enjoyed learning where the term comes from:

"The word itself originates in mid-19th century France, where printers would assemble time-saving blocks from the most commonly used word combinations. Fountain [the author of the book on Cliches being reviewed] hews to that broad definition, and his A-Z of shame embraces buzz-words and bromides as well as adages, truisms and idioms. From “affluent society” to “zero-sum game” they are all, he argues, either redundant, vacuous or overused to the point of meaninglessness."

     Does this mean that "How are you?" is a cliche?  It is overused and typically a vacuous question that nobody ever listens to the answer of.

     The cliche that bothers me most, for no good reason, is "having said that...".

   For more cliches than you can shake a stick at, see this site.
Ride a tramp to work!

     First off, what do you think I am going to write about?  Prostitutes, hobos, old steamships or trampolines?

    The correct answer is 'trampoline'.  I like the idea and the unexpectedness of the transport but I am pessimistic about the usage of this as a fast track to work.  The text claims this is only a 51 metre long track as a prototype so I have to give the photographer creative credit for making it look much longer.
Bazsali in the news.

     A coworker (I don't know his views on evolution) worked on the soundtrack for a movie that was just released.  Pretty cool stuff!  He also has a solo album out.