The Connection Machine that inspired Steve Jobs

Product designer and mechanical engineer Tamiko Thiel turned computers into sculptures in the early 1980s before the Macintosh came out. Said Thiel:

“The general image of computers was IBM computers, racks of electronics. They looked like refrigerators or heating units. They didn’t have any identity”

Years later she found out that Steve Jobs wanted to hire her to design the NeXT computer. But she had already gone on to Germany to be an artist.

Nevertheless, her geometric reinterpretation of the computer continues to inspire the modern yet futuristic hardware designs we see in iPhones and gadgets today.

The Connection Machine machine now features in MOMA’s exhibition Thinking Machines: Art and Design in the Computer Age, 1959–1989.

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Why Leonardo da Vinci wrote backward

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Leonardo da Vinci wrote backward (mirror writing) because he didn’t want others stealing his ideas. Writes Da Vinci biographer Rachel A. Koestler-Grack:

“The observations in his notebooks were written in such a way that they could be read only by holding the books up to a mirror.”

But did a genius who combined art and science so brilliantly really need to hide his work? Perhaps it was practical: as a lefty, he didn’t want to smudge the link. As a contrarian, Da Vinci also strived to be different. As blogger Walker’s Chapters writes:

“Do you really think that a man as clever as Leonardo thought it was a good way to prevent people from reading his notes? This man, this genius, if he truly wanted to make his notes readable only to himself, he would’ve invented an entirely new language for this purpose. We’re talking about a dude who conceptualized parachutes even before helicopters were a thing.”

Read more: Why Did Leonardo da Vinci Write Backwards? A Look Into the Ultimate Renaissance Man’s “Mirror Writing”

Temporary foliage

All photos by Wells Baum

Constant and changing, the Fall comes around and whips durable trees into seasonal characters, reminding us that everything is temporary.

The form is ephemeral, the roots are permanent. The colorful autumn foliage tree jettisons its leaves, falling without regret.

The ‘e’ in leaf stands for effortless; its intuition accepts the will of the wind. Those that remain appear vivid under the flash of light. The season’s cycle into GIF loops.

Photo by Wells Baum

Habit fields: Where we work impacts how we work

Where we work impacts how we work, or play. As creatures of habit, we can let certain zones remind us what to do.

Writer Jack Cheng uses a ‘distraction chair‘ at home to social network and check email while he saves focused work for the desk. Author Austin Kleon separates his desk between digital and analog.


But all habits take discipline. As soon as we start mixing tasks like skipping from Twitter to an important presentation the ‘habit field‘ loses its power as a trigger for experiences.

Whether we read from bed or write standing up, “we become what we behold,” said Marshall McLuhan, “We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.”

That tool isn’t just a computer or a notebook. It also includes the couch.

Every variety of thought

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Photo by Wells Baum

When we’re young, we’re incorrectly taught to think in absolutes. We apply certainty to everything. The sky is blue. One plus one equals two.

But when we think about it, there are always exceptions and different ways of looking at the obvious. You can stick two pieces of gum together to make one. Says neuroscientist David Eagleman:

“If you could perceive reality as it really is, you would be shocked by its colorless, odorless, tasteless silence.”

We infer the truth based on the probability of our surroundings. But it is in pausing to question the obvious that we stretch our curiosity. If the mind likes to play, let it dance.

The world means nothing without the inquisition of nature.

‘It is a joy to be hidden, and a disaster not to be found.’

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Photo by Wells Baum

Success bears responsibility. All of a sudden, your work and words mean something because the first time in your life people who you’ve never met are listening to you.

“It is a joy to be hidden, and a disaster not to be found.”– D.W. Winnicott

The alternative to fame is anonymity. Van Gogh gained recognition after he died. Before that, he had only sold one painting to his brother.

For some, success turns people into leaders. For others, it causes them to curl back into their shell and their echoes to faint. The spotlight curbs their creative freedom.

For the rare few, they keep on trucking and stick to the person they’ve always been. When it comes to any notoriety, self-expression should always trump impression. The latter is never the point of doing good work.

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The benefits of spacing out

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Default mode network connectivity via Wikipedia
Our mind never turns off, even when we’re doing nothing. It is always active, processing, remixing, and imagining in what neuroscientist Marcus Raichle calls a ‘default mode network.’ Writes Manoush Zomorodi in “What Boredom Does to You:”

The default mode, a term also coined by Raichle, is used to describe the brain “at rest”; that is, when we’re not focused on an external, goal-oriented task. So, contrary to the popular view, when we space out, our minds aren’t switched off.

Boredom prompts daydreaming. When we let our mind wander, we’re giving it permission to chew on past, present, and future events; all real, imaginary, or blended.


It turns out that in the default mode, we’re still tapping about 95 percent of the energy we use when our brains are engaged in hardcore, focused thinking. Despite being in an inattentive state, our brains are still doing a remarkable amount of work.

Mulling over possibilities makes ‘boredom an incubator lab for brilliance.’ There is no reason to rush to a stimulation of dopamine when creativity begs us to take our time and let the hard egg boil into ‘the winning equation or formula.’

We suffer from closeupness which is often disguised as mindlessness. Some of our best thinking happens when we think we’re not thinking at all, instead disconnecting to the spontaneity of mind-wandering.

Japan’s lonely vending machines by Eiji Ohashi

Photographer Eiji Ohashi spent nine years capturing images of Japan’s vending machines on his late-night commutes home from work.

“At the time, I was living in a town in the north of Japan that would get hit by terrible blizzards during the winter months. I’d drive my car in (these) conditions and use the light of the vending machines to guide me.”

Well-maintained even in harsh winter conditions, the machines stand out in Japan’s remote towns like ‘roadside lights’, the eponymous title of Ohashi’s photography book.

For a country that produces “300-plus flavors of KitKat,” the vending machines not only look the same, they all sell the same items. Said Ohashi: “I wanted to capture the standardized form of the vending machines. I thought you could see the differences between the regions through the scenery around them.”

All photos via Eiji Ohashi 

 

 

Applying the facts

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They once said that you could increase your wealth just by reading The Economist. What they didn’t say was that you still needed to apply what you learned to real life.

Gobbling facts increase your knowledge and at the same time, deaden your ability to think for yourself.

You can make a living off of other people’s opinions, but you’re more likely to be remembered if you can originate something on your own.

Knowledge multiplies in power when it’s chewed over multiple times, actuated, and then retested.

Open spaces, closed doors

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If you want to make more office collisions, you have to increase proximity. Open spaces are now the standard design model for companies looking for more ideas and collaboration. 

Multiple bump-in conversations have replaced those at the water cooler, saving potential email threads from getting out of hand. 

But excess openness “can cause workers to do a turtle” and pop on some headphones to crowd out the excess chatter. 

Like the cubicle before it, which intended to be the ‘action office’ and instead resembled prisons where no one ran into each other, the open floor layout encourages serendipity but has come to resemble a chaotic classroom. External conversations crimp the thinking voice inside a person’s head.

Focus is already scarce in a digital world. Deep work needs time to bloom. Perhaps that’s why working from home is still the best option of all.

Remembering Steve Jobs: ‘Stay hungry, stay foolish’ 📱

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Steve Jobs died six years ago today. He was 56 years old. His uniqueness, unconventional leadership, and big-picture thinking will never be forgotten.

Jobs made tech fashionable. He made sure to remind us that we are the creators.

Below are some of my favorite Jobs’ quotes.

“Make something wonderful, and put it out there.”

“Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.”

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.’

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people. Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”

“When you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it… Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”

‘Patterns are the work of the evil’

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Creativity isn’t a faucet; you can’t just turn it on at a moment’s notice and expect genius to flow out.

So what should you do in a creative rut?

The comedian Aziz Ansari takes the lack of inspiration as a sign to do nothing at all.

“I’m not gonna make stuff just for the sake of making stuff. I want to make stuff ’cause I’m inspired. Right now I don’t really feel inspired.”

Creativity comes in waves; it ebbs and flows but finds its way back to people that are “open to detours.” Taking a walk or going on travel never fail to reignite the curious mind.


However, some artists like painter Chuck Close and writer Steven Pressfield encourage their colleagues to get to work daily. Said Close: “Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.”

Making stuff is a habit; whether you’re having a good or bad day, feeling inspired or out of gas, there’s no excuse not to sit your ass down and get to work.

Everything is practice. 

Whether you let creativity happen or you force it out, keep the faucet on so it can at least drip. All creative slumps are merely temporary.