Friday, November 7, 2014

Skeletons of Ideas or Cross-Field is the Future

The building blocks of knowledge

      Picture this: you divide the knowledge of a field into its building blocks (the atomic "things" that knowledge is made of). I call these "things" concepts because they are the basic ideas from which that knowledge is built. For instance, Quick Sort is such a building block for computer science because it is a concept = it's a way of doing / describing something. In social psychology, the Abilene Paradox is a concept - a building block for its field - since it describes a phenomena that can happen in groups of people. In origami, the Mountain Fold is a concept for its field since it identifies a certain action to achieve a new shape (it is a way of doing something in order to get a result, just like Quick Sort is for sorting numbers).

Why combine these concepts cross-field?

      Remaining in one's field is beginning to be dangerous and it will be even more so in the future as problems grow in difficulty and size and complexion. The solutions will have to be creative, inventive, plausible to implement, ideally simple. This can be achieved not by getting a team of laser junkies, but by combining the strengths and cultures of specialists from many fields. There is no field that has all concepts in it. For instance computer science doesn't have an Abilene Paradox concept and you might need it should you ever design a system that simulates group decision making. The only way to learn about it is by peeking over into psychology's concepts.

How can we combine these concepts cross-field?

      If you just start combining the concepts described above and more like them, you will only end up with something pretty in your hand, but useless. It will be useless because it is not placed in a context and not given a problem to solve. Therefore it cannot bring value if it just sits around.
      Here's a great example:
      In this TED Talk, Robet Lang tells how Lawrence Livermore National Lab used origami to fold the oversized mirrors for its newest, huge telescope.
      This is an inspiring example of cross-field in practice. The context is given by the telescope itself and the problem is how to get those immense mirrors out into space provided that no new, larger rocket is built to transport them. 

      So how do we combine the concepts? I see two ways thus far.
      Either way, you must have the context and the problem so that the fitting of concepts is not done randomly, but in a certain direction.

1. Intuition

      Everything starts from the humble, manual labour. You just need access to all of this knowledge: The Concepts, The Contexts and The Problems.
      For play, let's say there is a bowl with contexts written on cards, then there's another bowl with problems and then there's a bowl for each field with its concepts in them. You get a context and a problem and then you can browse through the concepts from the bowls and see what you can build.
      The human brain is wired to spot patterns and connections in order to solve problems. We are born problem solvers. Once you read the context and the problem, your mind immediately starts searching for solutions - it's in our nature. And browsing through concepts at this moment (known or unknown to you) is like choosing the lego pieces to build what you have in mind. Understanding the concept you picked up is done nearly on the spot* (like understanding the shape of a lego piece to determine whether or not it will help you).
      Also, you could be shown related concepts to the one you picked (e.g.: if you choose First Order Markov Processes, it will point you to the Second Order Markov Processes or to Trigrams from Natural Language Processing).
      *Let's say the simplified concepts are written on cards (they can be expanded by connecting, for instance, to your phone during play so you can interact with the concept and see examples of its usage for a deeper understanding).

2. Algorithms

      Soon enough algorithms that can combine concepts that solve the problems in the given contexts should emerge. Maybe expert systems. Or maybe some Artificial Intelligence algorithm that is trained by observing the human intuition of matching these concepts. 

The Future of Learning

      I also see applications in the future of learning because if knowledge is delivered in this brain friendly form, one could learn them much faster. As I've seen in school, my main trouble was using the concept I had just been taught (that is generalizing it and placing it in a context other than the didactic example). This happened because that concept was taught too specifically to its field, without any other more intuitive explanations such as examples from real life or metaphors. I don't think math is supposed to be left in its own language - if it's also explained intuitively (aside from specific notations) it will lose its intimidating look and one could start using it on his/her own in other fields - not just the semester test or exam. And this goes for pretty much every field - physics, chemistry, psychology and so on. But the most urgent are the ones which hide in their own language like math and physics.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Speedy Books

Each point in life has its own needs and interests in order for you to grow to the next point. If you like the title of a self-help book for example, odds are that you're looking (more or less consciously) for ingredients to make your next stepping stone.

In that title-appealing book you might not be interested in all the stories or exercises, but some sentences might change your life, providing a crucial part of the stepping stone by resonating with you more than others. So, how can one take what's useful from that book without taking too long, namely, going through the whole book? (most interesting bits do not depend on the rest of the book).

So here's my recipe:

  1. you find an attractive title that promises to give you that crucial piece of your next step
  2. read 2 reviews to see what it's about
  3. read the table of contents to see the structure - look for chapter summaries or any other shortcuts given by the author
  4. look through the pages - don't read everything, just look and see what words pop up to you. Read the beginning of a paragraph and its ending to search for hints
  5. once you find a sentence or exercise that makes you sizzle, write it down (copy it if it's short, write it in your own words if it's long) (if it's your book you can highlight the sentence - much better than stopping the reading flow to write - ebooks make this really easy)
  6. self assess yourself to figure out where you are now (if you haven't done so already) and integrate your findings from that book in order to go to your next stepping stone and move on to new grounds

I'd like to see an app extract those juicy parts from a book and just lay them out to you. But something else happens when you skim through the book - you get exposed to its content and you might find something relevant where you least expect. Your brain takes bits from what you quickly read and then produces something unexpected - this would be avoided if one relied on an app.

But then again, it all comes down to time. You might want to spend 1h skimming the 200 page book, reading here and there, or you might want to spend 10 min reading the output of the app. I think it depends on the book and the needs of the reader - a handful of books actually deserve to be read whole, while others become relevant and useful if they are taken apart.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Exposure to Inspiration in 12 Activities

"So… have you started that cool story, yet?"
"Ah, no. I'm still waiting for inspiration."
Looks familiar? Seems to me that it's happening dangerously often and not only in writing. It's cross-field. It happens to anyone who is creating something.

I don't think inspiration is something you wait for. I believe it's something you let yourself exposed to.

At some point in your creational process, you'll be in a cloud of fog and you won't be able to make much sense of it. It will feel like being lost in a boundless place where crumbs of incomplete ideas and concepts swirl around chaotically, without connecting. It's not a fun place to be in and if you stay for too long it may start nibbling at your peace of mind.

In this place, you'll feel a thirst for the new, for freshness, for ideas and concepts to connect within yourself so that the fog can melt away so you can resume your creative process. This effect may be achieved by taking a vacation type of break in which you get out of your comfort zone and destroy routine and tasteless monotony. But not everyone can always afford a vacation in the middle of work. So here's my idea - a collection of 12 activities that expose you to inspiration.

1. Look at wallpapers from different categories (abstract, fantasy, nature, animals, motorcycles, logos, symbols, mythology, sports - anything you can think of both known and unknown to you) and put aside the ones that seem to resonate with you (to see for later). Follow your first instinct as you scroll through the pictures so as to avoid saving more than you really like.

2. Listen to music and make a playlist with those songs that resonate with you. I've noticed that chill remixes have a healthy impact during the beginning of the foggy times. (the ending of a foggy period usually escalates in intensity and you might feel the need to listen to blood rising rhythms or strong messaged songs according to the state of spirit).

3. Get a relaxation massage. It does wonders for those that work at the desk. As you lock your body in the writing / coding / reading position and don't move for hours, lumps of blood are formed on your back and cause pain and stiffness. A relaxation massage will warm your back and clear those lumps. When you get off the massage table you'll feel like you can do a back flip.

4. Travel to places you are less familiar with like parts of the city you don't normally pass by while going to work or school. If you live in a big, crowded city, visiting an island for a while and seeing how the people live there will refresh you dearly. It doesn't have to be something expensive. There are many wonderful places to see on a low budget. City breaks are precious jewels of opportunity and many are inexpensive. Experience different cultures and learn about the customs. You'll find some similar customs with your own culture and customs that don't exist in your culture and so on. At the end of your journey you'll see how elements from your travel will start to unconsciously squeeze into your work.

5. Visit places near you like museums, parks, lakes, cafes, galleries, toy shops, gift shops, libraries, interior design stores, Feng Shui stores, gardening shops (anything that has many interesting objects on display such as statues and useful, funny looking objects). You don't need to buy anything, just feast your eyes. As you ride the bus, look at the architecture of the buildings around you (you don't have to be an expert or identify any artistic current, just look at the design).

6. Take improvisation classes - the personal development games in improvisation teach you a lot about yourself by simply letting you find out how you react in a certain situation. It's a good way of figuring out if you're mentally stuck on something that's blocking your creative process… or revealing some other hidden fear for that matter.

7. Rearrange your working room. If you have many books in this room, you can try building a standing desk for example or any other thing that you can somehow use. You can rearrange your desk or laptop or working spot or the object on your desk (statues, post cards, mugs, skeletons). You can make statues from empty cans of your favorite drink. You can make shapes from the pins on your board. These are interior design ideas for DIY (do it yourself) objects that help better organize interior space. I've noticed that having a place for each object you use helps at cleaning the fog… and the room.

8. Meet new people. This always adds a wave of welcomed freshness. Visit a community that focuses on a sport / game / activity you like (e.g: reading, writing, Go, chess, self development, tennis, dungeons and dragons, computer games, public speaking, storytelling, tech hub meetings, scuba diving, mounting hiking, climbing, a boot camp on leadership etc.). Doing the activity you really love (that is usually procrastinated savagely) is a way of keeping the fog away simply because you're doing something that really makes you happy. And you can't be blocked in this because it's your groove.

9. Shatter monotony to pieces. Avoid the patterns you usually take time and time again (e.g: a talk about earrings / nutrition / mountain goats / swimming / origami with a friend that loves the topic, even if this topic has never interested you). You'll be surprised at the new concepts you'll find out and you will have practiced keeping an open mind. Don't shove off things you don't know just because you've never met them in school or at work. We learn while we live - this means we learn even after we leave school. Get used to the feeling of not knowing and embrace it instead of fleeing away from it. If you run away or close your mind to the new, the fog will get thicker. If you stay open, more things will connect and new ideas will take shape - some even immediately implementable. You can replace monotony with healthy habits that guard your mind against the fog.

10. Move your body. Practice a sport as lightly and as often as you like. It can be riding your bike in the park in the morning or kick boxing if it's more to your liking. Or simply going for a walk. The thing is to move because moving your body will clear your mind of pestering debris.

11. Read books and articles that help your creative process - be it fiction or self development or watercolor picture books.

12. Play! a game (board game, video game, improv game etc), an instrument, a prank (be nice), charades etc. Go play board games in the cafes that provide them. Gather friends for a talk and some fun. Go to adventure parks and ride the zip line over the lake. Watch a fantasy movie.
We learn by doing and by experiencing and what better way of doing than playing (at least in the beginning so as not to get hurt). If you want to be a CEO and you've barely begun researching what it means and what one must do to achieve it, you might want to see for yourself how you react to this in a business simulation. If you dream to climb mountains, visit the climbing wall for training first. In playing, you still get to do what you wish and get the first taste safely. And besides, relaxing and playing takes care of your sanity. Going too long without play can make you grumpy and unpleasant and you can hurt others by accident.

Note: These activities work best after a walk or a little sport because your mind is relaxed, open to the new and not clinging to anything from the past.

Inspiration is triggered most of the time unconsciously by something new that connects with what we already had in mind. It can be a new item to add to what we had or a new way of looking upon what we already had. Both ways have the same effect - they melt the fog.

And once your fog has been melted, you'll see others around you who have melted their fog in their own ways. Each idea is a beacon that lights your way and they can become traveling ideas if combined.

Always be on the lookout for beacons in the fog. They come in all shapes and sizes and from the most interesting of characters. You might be surprised by what you find.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Stirring Steer

Life is more like driving a car than following a precise plan. You steer to avoid the spontaneous trees in the road. In life, these steers are our actions, decisions, the things we say and do, but also the things we think about and our ideas.

Sometimes, an idea or something you do will start a commotion of excitement. It will stir other people and even yourself. It will resonate with you and others and it will feel like an echo. That energy will spread like a wave, making everything move and causing elements to connect and new things to take shape.

That is a stirring steer.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Travelling Ideas

Concepts resemble empty templates waiting to be filled with experience, knowledge and other specific things. The trick is to place the output in the appropriate context so that it brings value in the end.

I see ideas as abstract shapes made out of small, pretty components. One gets plenty ideas all the time. Both day and night.

Sometimes, you'll slip an idea and it will reach others.

There's no reason to fear this, because in your idea, the way you shaped it, they will only see... 

... what they already had in mind.

And the beauty of such traveling ideas is that they can cross fields. 

From art and education... computer science and psychology.

Combining these ideas from different fields is the subject of a future post. I call them Skeletons of Ideas.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Slow down

Slow down to the rhythm of your own life. What's the rush anyway?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Galloping Hooves

When experiencing fear, horses are living dramas.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Word of Calligraphy

Words are powerful bundles of energy. They can be weapons of destruction or tools of creation or the soothing balm of healing.

Sometimes, words just aren't enough to express the soul. 

When you feel your drawing you can be sure it will express your inner state.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Friday, July 11, 2014

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

When a Book Surfaces

When a book you're reading will surface in your mind above routine, that's when you'll know it's been worth writing.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014


The beautiful motorcycle - a work of art and balance. Each piece is a story itself from the name to the harmonious shapes and the personality during rides. These sketches date back from high school when I first discovered the charm of the two wheelers.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Runaway Characters

Characters can be so weird at times. They have a mind of their own and some can't stand being pushed around. They'll have it their way and that's final - they won't listen to anyone and they'll get into conflict with other characters and even with the narrator if they have to defend their style. It's surprising that some characters are so strong and determined in their way that they'll run away from the story so that not even the narrator can find them. I didn't know they could do that until one of my own did this. So, to avoid delays in writing a story because the hero ran away, I find it more convenient to just create the situation, let the characters in and enjoy the show from a safe distance. They make the story anyway, so why barge in like a control freak and spoil their party? This picture came to mind while I was reflecting on the runaway characters. I thought it would be fun to add a little color to my usual cartoons.

By the way, this painting is made with Tayasui Sketches.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Swiss - concept Art

This is Swiss, a giant Main Coon tomcat. He is not your ordinary lazy cat. Whom you see here is the guardian of the lost treasure in the valley. Spear duel is his second nature and he has a taste for adventure. No fight is too rough, no foe is too intimidating for him - he'll take on anything that challenges his proud ego. But above all, there is duty and ego or not, he has to keep that treasure safe. So no wandering about looking for a fight. I wonder how he'll take on the Hurricanes searching the valley - they're not on his side.

He is a loner, but the time will come for him to accept help in protecting the treasure. It's a tough blow to his self-esteem so he makes sure he gets things his way. This is how he greeted his aide:

... or so he brags.

Something about Owls

There's something about owls that stirs our imagination. From the way they look at you with those huge eyes to the fascinating silent wing beat. They can look cute. They can look majestic. They can strike fear into their viewers as well. As a character, I see the owl as a shape shifter - a complex creature and mysterious player that can influence both the good and the evil party in a story.