Sunday, September 29, 2013

Is Creativity Endangered?

NY Times

Critics have lamented the "creativity crisis" in recent years, faulting an education system focused on standardized tests and a reliance on technology that atrophies the mind. But The Times recently reported that in the summer, many schools nationwide become incubators for creativity. And every September, the "genius grants" from the MacArthur Foundation highlight plenty of innovative individuals for whom technology has sharpened the mind, not dulled it.

Are the critics onto something? If creativity is endangered, what is suppressing it, and what would reverse the trend?


First Century Philosophy for the 21st Century Security Security Magazine

the same lessons around security: "There is no silver bullet," "You need process, people, -and- technology," "Vulnerabilities are on the rise," "Attackers are getting smarter and more sophisticated." Given my own 20 or 25 year run in this space, I admit that I have a hard time seeing that there will be a fundamental shift in these beloved chestnuts in the next 20 or 25 years either. So, I decided to spin the dial in the opposite direction. Maybe there was someone who had ventured philosophical truths that I could adopt? Maybe –waaaay- back in the past. with Seneca the Younger: scholar, humorist and tutor to Nero, lived from 4 BC to 65 AD. Before he off'd himself because he was under charges of treason against the emperor, Seneca said some things that could drive a whole new agenda at the Moscone Center some year. Since I am unwilling to wait, I'd like to share them here.


Rice Professor Helps ID Lost Van Gogh

Rice University professor Don H. Johnson performed a statistical analysis of X-ray images of the canvas behind the previously unknown "Sunset at Montmajour" to help identify the painting as an authentic work by Vincent Van Gogh. The researchers compared the canvas of the painting in question to "The Rocks," another Van Gogh painting at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH). "I pointed out the very close, but not exact, relationship of this painting's canvas to the canvas of the only Van Gogh in the MFAH," Johnson says. "Apparently, this pointed them in the direction of examining the Houston painting for a more detailed comparison." Johnson used a signal-processing algorithm that automatically analyzes the thread density in X-rayed canvases to reveal previously unavailable details about the materials. The software shows how loosely or tightly a canvas is woven, which can be used to create a map of the weaving variation pattern that is common in many different paintings. Although the weaving patterns revealed for "Sunset at Montmajour" and "The Rocks" do not line up perfectly, they were found to be from the same bolt of fabric.


Google's Quest to End the Language Barrier

Der Spiegel

German scientist Franz Josef Och is leading Google's ambitious effort to build a universal translation tool. Progress has been made, with Google Translate currently capable of back-and-forth text translation between 71 languages. The Translate researchers also have devised an application that enables smartphones to function as speaking translators, and they can thus far accommodate about 24 languages. The app's performance depends on the simplicity of the sentences, while Och says drawbacks include the awkwardness of pushing buttons and inconsistent translation quality. The Translate team is notable in that it contains no linguists, which fits with Och's strategy. "I have trouble learning languages, and that's precisely the beauty of machine translation: the most important thing is to be good at math and statistics, and to be able to program," Och says. He notes that the Google Translate system correlates existing translations so that it can train itself to translate. "The algorithms sift through the Internet, collect data, and learn as they go." He says the translations tend to be better when there is a great deal of data and the languages are grammatically and structurally similar. Ultimately, Och says he wants to produce a translation machine that is so fast and inconspicuous "that you hardly notice it all, except as a whisper in your ear."


The Holy Grail of Quantum Physics on Your Kitchen Table

Scientific American

We are all familiar with the electric and magnetic forces. Electric force is what makes electrically charged objects attract or repel each other depending on whether their charges are of the same or opposite signs. For example, an electron has negative electric charge, and a proton has a positive charge (of opposite value). The attractive force between them is what makes the electron spin around the nucleus of the atom. Electric forces create what is called an electric field. We have all seen it in action during a lightning strike, which is caused by the movement of warm wet air through an electric field.


Beautiful Brushstrokes Are Drawn from Data


Princeton University researchers have developed RealBrush, a program that allows artists to quickly and easily produce realistic brushstrokes on their computers. RealBrush combines graphics algorithms with big data storage and retrieval techniques to allow computer artists to create, bend, and shape a wide variety of brushstrokes. The program also allows for effects such as smudging, smearing, and merging of different types of media. "Our goal is to have it look like a photograph of a real stroke but to have it follow whatever path you happen to be drawing," says Princeton professor Adam Finkelstein. The program uses sample brushstrokes as baselines indicating fundamental characteristics of the strokes. The program then uses those samples to warp and blend the original strokes into any curves or forms the user wants. "If you are a casual user, you can use pre-captured strokes," says Princeton researcher Jingwan Lu. "Or you can paint your own strokes and record those in our system. You can share those with your friends," The RealBrush approach is an example of a change in programming that has the potential for huge impact in many fields, including graphic design, according to Finkelstein


Teaching a Computer to Perceive the World Without Human Input

National Science Foundation

Computers can learn to recognize objects, but they cannot understand what they see. University of California, Merced professor Ming-Hsuan Yang wants to enable computers to identify an object even when something about it changes, such as its position. Yang is developing computer algorithms to give computers using a single camera the ability to detect, track, and recognize objects, even when they drift, disappear, reappear, or become obscured by other items. His goal is to simulate human cognition without human input. The research could improve assistive technology for the visually impaired, have applications in medicine and traffic modeling, and boost navigation and surveillance in robots. "The Holy Grail of computer vision is to tell a story using an image or video, and have the computer understand on some level what it is seeing," Yang says. His project also includes devising a code library of tracking algorithms and a large data set, which will become publicly available. The research is being funded with the National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development award Yang received in 2012.


The Power of Teaching Girls to Code

The Atlantic

Although the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that by 2020 there will be 1.4 million jobs in computer science, American universities are on pace to produce enough qualified graduates to fill less than a third of those jobs, and a tiny fraction of those graduates are women. Girls Who Code wants to change that trend. The organization recently expanded from one computer science immersion camp in New York to set up similar programs in Detroit, San Francisco, and San Jose. In Detroit, Girls Who Code hosted 20 girls for eight weeks in partnership with General Electric (GE) and the Knight Foundation. "If you look at who the girls are exposed to--half of our most senior IT leaders are women--they were literally seeing themselves there," says GE representative Kim Bankston. "The mentors the girls had were women with 10 to 20 years of experience in IT. They could tell their story of growing up in Michigan and going into this field." The campers spent time in GE's aviation center, research facilities, and robot garage, to learn about automation and app design. Their final projects showcase the inventive ways in which the girls learned to use technology to deconstruct and solve problems. One group created an app called Sisters Understanding Math and Science, which included inspiring quotes, examples of female leaders, and games.


Using Light as a Data Stream


Imagine the bulbs or fixtures around you acting a potential data source, transferring information you need just through light. What new information could they provide and what experiences could they offer to people? Speaking about its potential during his TED talkProfessor Harald Haas, Chair of Mobile Communications at the University of Edinburgh, explains, "Look around. Everywhere. Look at your smart phone. It has a flashlight, an LED flashlight. These are potential sources for high-speed data transmission."

In a trend we are calling Speed of Light, PSFK Labs looks into the ways light is being used to transfer and communicate information. Whether by beaming hyper-relevant data and information to phones in a retail environment, or converting real-time data streams into intuitive and engaging visual information for public display, these lighting solutions help inject relevant information into a person's surroundings, providing an added layer of context. "The idea that you have real‐time information all the time beamed towards you is probably the future," states Winka Dubbledam, Principal of ArchiTectonics during a recent conversation with PSFK Labs.


The Habits Of Supremely Happy People

Huffington Post

Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, theorizes that while 60 percent of happiness is determined by our genetics and environment, the remaining 40 percent is up to us.

In his 2004 Ted Talk, Seligman describes three different kinds of happy lives: The pleasant life, in which you fill your life with as many pleasures as you can, the life of engagement, where you find a life in your work, parenting, love and leisure and the meaningful life, which "consists of knowing what your highest strengths are, and using them to belong to and in the service of something larger than you are."

After exploring what accounts for ultimate satisfaction, Seligman says he was surprised. The pursuit of pleasure, research determined, has hardly any contribution to a lasting fulfillment. Instead, pleasure is "the whipped cream and the cherry" that adds a certain sweetness to satisfactory lives founded by the simultaneous pursuit of meaning and engagement.


They surround themselves with other happy people.

They smile when they mean it.

They cultivate resilience.

They try to be happy.

They are mindful of the good.

They appreciate simple pleasures.

They devote some of their time to giving.

They let themselves lose track of time. (And sometimes they can't help it.)

They nix the small talk for deeper conversation.

They spend money on other people.

They make a point to listen.

They uphold in-person connections.

They look on the bright side.

They value a good mixtape.

They unplug.

They get spiritual.

They make exercise a priority.

They go outside.

They spend some time on the pillow.

They LOL.

They walk the walk.