Why I recommend "Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative"

by Ken Robinson

Sir Ken Robinson’s ideas have been popular on the web lately, mainly because of his fantastic talk at TED. After seeing that talk I decided to get his book from my local library. At first I was a little concerned because the book read a little like his presentation put into writing, but after I while I realized that there was a great deal of depth to his writing and ideas.
He has a clear history of why we teach the way we do in mainstream schools and concrete suggestions of how we can change. He also has a chapter on how companies can encourage creativity in employees (even if they have had a mainstream education).
There was one thing that was surprising for me: he did not mention Waldorf Education in the book, even though it addresses many of the shortcomings of mainstream education. I realize that his focus was primarily on public education but he did mention several alternative education forms including Montessori. I was left wondering whether he felt that Waldorf promotes creativity or not. Of course, since both of my kids are in Waldorf school, you can guess what my opinion is on that…

Cradle to Cradle design

Architect and designer William McDonough spoke at TED about “Cradle to Cradle Design”. His talk is inspiring and packed with information (I watched the video twice before I really started to capture all the concepts he was explaining).

There are several very powerful concepts he introduces, including the challenge of producing his book without using paper (it is printed on a polymer). He describes the “design challenge” of creating a tree and wonders whether books are really the best use for them:

Imagine this design assignment: [design something that] makes oxygen, sequesters carbon, fixes nitrogen, distills water, makes complex sugars and food, accrues solar energy as food, creates micro-climates, changes colors with the seasons and self-replicates.
Why don’t we knock that down and write on it?

I am also listening to his “Monticello Dialogues” that were on NPR’s “New Dimensions” which are available online. I found the first installment of the series for free at Learn Out Loud. You need to add it to your cart, but there will be no charge to download it.

Watch the talk and then listen to him on the Monticello Dialogues

Uncool: My Bike

There are lots of cool bikes here in Portland. For example, this one that I saw locked up in town:

What is so cool about this bike? First off it is very sleek and simple: no gears, fixed wheel, leather saddle, and no brakes (it is a track bike that you slow down by slowing your pace on the pedals). The only real safety feature on the thing is the pad around the top tube that would supposedly save your nuts if you had to dismount quickly. Even the U-lock is cool: it is super strong and small enough to fit in your back pocket. The cool factor here is speed and simplicity and the folks this appeals to is the bike messenger crowd.
Another cool bike is this high end recreational bike:

It’s got all the cool gadgets: carbon fiber frame, clips, bike computer and top-end components. It is cool mainly because it is expensive and high performance. It appeals to the spandex-wearing week-end biker type.
And finally there is the tall-bike, which is cool because it is home-made and totally funky:

This is not so much a form of transportation as a statement about alternative living. The crowd this appeals to is the bike clown and DIY biker.
I honestly find all three of these categories of bikes to be very cool. I also like the classic European “Dutch bikes” that are so beautiful. But although I admire and appreciate these cool bikes, my bike misses cool on pretty much every front. For example, it is an old Raleigh ten-speed, but it can’t really be considered a “classic” because, well, it’s not.

Next, note the brakes, which are the old style caliper brakes, definitely not in the cool class (since fixed gear bikes don’t need brakes and high-end bikes have disc brakes):

Then there is the pedals which plain old metal pedals (no toe-clips or clip-ins) and the kickstand, both of which are definitely NOT hip. The kickstand in particular will get stares that convey “what, you don’t know how to lean your bike against something?” from the bike messenger crowd:

Next are the gears: 10 of them, and the five on back are rather grimy. Fixed gear aficionados will tell you that only one is needed:

The seat is a comfy gel saddle, and below it is adapter for the kid-friendly Adams Trail-a-bike. Both make my life easier, but definitely don’t evoke any comments about my “nice ride”:

I should put my U-lock hanging through my bike rack, but I took the route of using the holder that came with the lock. Convenient, but not very creative:

The one thing that comes a little closer to cool is the bell on the handle-bars. Most folks from all backgrounds consider a bike bell to be not only charming but a valuable safety feature that helps keep pedestrians and cyclists on speaking terms. But, of course, I had to ruin the effect by putting some duct-tape on the thing to keep the screws from biting into my fingers. The crumbling old rubber on the hand brake also detracts from the overall “look and feel”:

There are a few things I put together myself for my bike, and you might think that they would impress the DIY crowd, but unfortunately I fear that is not the case. The first is a little laminated map that shows downtown Portland’s bike safe streets and attaches with velcro to my handle-bars. Useful for me, but pretty dorky overall:

I do have a rear bike rack, which could be considered cool, depending on what I use it for (the style of rack I got won’t hold my U-lock). I could have some fancy waterproof panniers or one of those milk crates strapped to the top with a bungie cord: both of those options would definitely be considered cool by someone. I opted to convert a kitty litter bucket into a side-pannier. Waterproof and cheap, but absolutely no style points (I did not even bother removing the kitty litter labels).

So there you have it: my uncool bike. Don’t get me wrong, I really do respect the bike messenger types and their style, it’s just I realize I am too practical for that at this point in my life. And I can’t fathom the idea of spending $4000 on a bike that could just get stolen whenever I park it downtown. So I live with being the practical cyclist. It could be worse: I could be driving a car instead (WAY Uncool.).
BTW, I do plan on cleaning my bike up a bit soon; I mean, I may not wear the most stylish clothes but at least I wash them from time to time.

Why I recommend "The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals"

by Michael Pollan

If you really want to understand where your food comes from, then Pollan’s book is a must-read. Whether you eat at McDonalds, Whole Foods or at your local Farmer’s Market this book will help you understand the impact that your food choices have on the world. I will never look at either industrial agriculture or organic agriculture in the same way. Highly recommended.

Adbusters Article

Adbusters : The Magazine – #72 Cultural Psychosis: What do we win from the game of sweet nothings?:

I think this is a great quote:

“This isn’t breaking news. We’ve had plenty of years to grow accustomed to these meaningless little performances, these purportedly harmless, sweet nothings that we whisper into each other’s ears. We see their workings in our burgeoning credit cards bills; in the groaning shelves and impossibly skimpy price tags at the local megamart; in the fact that gasoline remains miraculously cheaper than bottled water; in the very idea of a modern, surgical war that leaves all of the good guys unscathed; in the way that brands speak to us much more clearly than workmanship, materials and the general provenance of our goods. This is the way of a solipsistic universe, where our everyday actions and entertainments have no consequence, where we may consume what we want whenever we want in whatever quantity we please, where we may buy on credit today and not pay a cent back tomorrow.”