Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Wonderful Places

Image source: Brian Joseph

If you’re looking to travel the world, there’s no shortage of recommendations of where to go or opinion on what to do and see. The Huffington Post recently published an article that collated the favorites of Pulitzer Prize winners, world champion athletes, entrepreneurs, artists and more. Forbes turned to serious globe trotters and standouts in the travel field for input.

While there’s an obvious bent towards identifying obscure places that people have stumbled upon in the journeys of their lives, I found it comforting that places close to home also feature (two places that I consider ‘home’, Auckland, New Zealand and the Lake District in Cumbria, UK are in my favorites).

Images of these places tend to say it all, but I was particularly taken by the explanations people gave about why they chose a certain location as their favorite, and the thought given for the emotions they so carefully attached. There were some common themes. Magical and overwhelming scenery. Remote destinations and no interruptions. Bare feet and no attitude. The people.

Scientist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jared Diamond spoke of New Guinea: “Within this island, you get the whole world…you can stand on a coral reef and look up at a glacier…there are hundreds of different tribes with hundreds of different languages, so from a human point of view, it is the most exciting place in the world.”

CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg spoke of The Lau Archipelago, Fiji: “Great storytelling, and a never-ending feeling of community and love that lives with you forever.”

Author Lalita Tademy spoke of Positano, on the Amalfi Coast of Italy: “Up on the cliffs, perched up above everything, watching the ocean, the boats. It was just stunning. I spent so much time on the balcony, just staring. It was inspiring… Gorgeous.”

Places that make you think and that make you reflect on life. They don’t need to be far flung. They’re out there.

And remember as Snoopy and Charlie Brown know, “in life its not where you go – its who you travel with.”

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Writing: The Craft

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In our bite-sized content driven culture, there is a tendency to read without considering the craft of a well-written piece of work. We focus on devouring the content, without paying much attention to the words, the rhythm, the fun, the mystery. An article by Joel Achenbach on Princeton Alumni Weekly harks back to this in a delightful tribute to his former professor, John McPhee.

McPhee was known for his passion and dedication to his craft. It was contagious. His sharp wit was also a trait that his students appreciated.

McPhee’s teachings on writing were rich and numerous. I’ll share a few here.
  • On structure: “Readers are not supposed to see structure. It should be as invisible as living bones. It shouldn’t be imposed; structure arises within the story.”
  • On words: He taught his students to revere language, to care about every word, to use a dictionary, to pay attention to rhythm and to refrain from treating synonyms interchangeably.
  • On simplicity: Sometimes writing a simple description can take days (“if you do it right, it will slide by unnoticed. If you blow it, it’s obvious”).
  • On restraint: “Novice writers believe they will improve a piece of writing by adding things to it; mature writers know they will improve it by taking things out.”
That’s all folks.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Bringing the Brain Up to Speed

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There are always going to be things competing for our time or attention. Some people like to organize their lives by spending less time on the mundane and more time on the good stuff. The important not the merely urgent. But it seems there’s always room for improvement – who doesn’t want to have more fun?

A recent article in Fortune by Laura Vanderkam offered some tips from neuroscientist Daniel Levitin on how. Levitin explains that part of the problem is that our brains are stuck in the hunting and gathering age due to the slow pace of evolution, so we have to find ways to bring it up to speed.

His suggestions (with some personal perspectives):
  • Give things a place to reduce the amount of mental energy you spend trying to find things again. Keys on the hook, cellphone by the door. Freedom within a framework.
  • Create triggers to help you snap out of auto-pilot. Modern technology helps. Set reminders on your cellphone to chime at certain times or in certain locations – so you remember to buy milk when you’re at the store instead of before or after.
  • Keep track of your networks. Don’t rely on your brain to remember the names of people you meet or the things you talked about – it’s not always up for the job. Our ancestors had smaller social circles. Make a note.
  • Focus on one thing at a time. Don’t indulge in this nonsensical multitasking behalf….where 3 things get done averagely (at best) simultaneously.
  • Don’t agonize over things you can’t change.
  • Finally, sleep. It’s one of our biggest weapons for cognitive success. Get enough of it.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

10 Favorite Cricketers

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With the World Cup in New Zealand in full swing, here’s a look at my favorite cricketers of all time… KR
  1. Gary Sobers
  2. Allan Border
  3. Richie Benaud
  4. Farokh Engineer
  5. Harry Pilling
  6. Jimmy Anderson
  7. Clive LIoyd
  8. Jackie Bond
  9. Ian Botham
  10. Frank Worrell

Technicolor Turns 100

Technicolor was first incorporated in 1915; however it didn’t really cotton on until after World War II. Originally considered a passing fad, adding color represented a revolutionary shift in onscreen storytelling, changing visual narratives forever, as told by Adrienne LaFrance in a recent article on The Atlantic.

While it’s hard to imagine not having the option of color these days, not everyone was open to the change. In the beginning, only small parts of films were in color, due to the expense. Largely it was for dramatic effect and to make a bit of a splash. The Wizard of Oz is perhaps one of the most memorable instances; when Dorothy leaves her sepia-toned reality for the colorful Land of Oz.

Color was imbued with emotion, accompanying scenes that filmmakers wanted us to really feel. Scientists in the 1930s were even working to establish an emotion spectrum – emotions being the ‘primary colors’ of the movie palette. From The New York Times in 1937: “Gray, blue and purple are associated with tragedies; while yellow, orange and red complement comedy scenes. Red was the color that best accentuated scenes of great dramatic intensity, with gray and purple the next most effective.”

We’re spoilt with color these days – to the point that directors even use bespoke color schemes to establish the feel of their work. Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Alfred Hitchcock and Sofia Coppola are known for it. One of my favorite TV series ‘True Detective’ is also known for its unique color palette, described as ‘murky’ and ‘stripped’, helping to define the show’s vibe.

Black and white movies may carry nostalgia, but if you look beneath the surface, color carries more than just a splash.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Good Ideas Gaining Traction

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When was the last time you came up with a brilliant idea but stopped there, without having the means or ability to execute it? There’s a solution to this in ‘Quirky’, a modern invention machine that takes ideas and refines, manufactures and markets them, before voila, your invention (yes yours, because you’re still given credit as the inventor), hits the store shelves.

In the past, one of the challenges of having a good idea was getting traction. Ideas that might not have seen the light of day 5-10 years ago now have an entire online industry dedicated to their execution, so they don’t just remain in the dark. Not only that, our digital world provides an organic means of marketing – achieve viral status via social media and you’re one foot in the door.

To start, there’s the obvious difficulty of refining an idea and coming up with a prototype, a gap that Quirky has filled. Etsy provides a different sort of help in the form of a virtual store, and crowd-funding platforms such as Kickstarter provide a platform to generate revenue, enabling people to make things happen for themselves.

Kickstarter also provides a means to rally people around an idea and test it, and entrepreneurs are increasingly turning to it to get their ideas and early stage companies off the ground. An article on Forbes highlighted those that have seen huge success, such as the Pebble E-Paper Watch, one of the first affordable smart watches on the market, which raised over $10 million in just over a month. Oculus Rift, a virtual-reality headset, raised around $2.5 million in 30 days, before going on to raise more capital and being acquired by Facebook for $2 billion.

This new age of invention and crowd support has prompted all sorts of ideas to come out of the woodwork. TIME published a list of the 25 best inventions of 2014 at the end of last year. A few stand-outs for me include Witricity, technology that allows appliances to pull power from a central charging base instead of using a cord; Superbananas, vitamin-A enriched bananas to help cure blindness in sub-Saharan Africa; and Quirky + GE aros, a smart air conditioner that is powered from an app that can track owners’ movements via GPS and turn itself off and on depending on their proximity to home.

Of course, the selfie stick features in TIME’s list too – slightly goofy, but there’s a market nonetheless.