Piano prodigy on focus and flow

TED | Talks | Jennifer Lin: Magical improv from 14-year-old pianist (video)

This video from the 2004 TED Conference is extraordinary for a few reasons. First, the prepared performances by then-14-year-old composer and pianist Jennifer Lin are lovely and technically very accomplished. And — wow — the improvisation she creates on the spot (16:45) is really something.

But, I also wanted to draw your attention to her thoughts on creativity and flow — discussing how she tries to beat distraction and gain focus in both drawing and composition. Her discussion starts around 13:31, but do stick around after for her improv based upon randomly chosen notes.

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Piano prodigy on focus and flow

Self Improvement: How to change things in your life for the better

change.pngMaking changes, no matter how big or small, can be difficult. Psychology Today has put together the six principles of change that can help you accomplish what needs to be done.

Summed up, they look like this:

1) The belief that you can change is the key to change. 2) The type of treatment is less critical than the individual’s commitment to change. 3) Brief treatments can change longstanding habits. 4) Life skills can be the key to licking addiction. 5) Repeated efforts are critical to changing. 6) Improvement, without abstinence, counts.

Yes, a wee bit Dr.Phil-ish, but still intriguing. What is your principle of change? Please share in the comments.

Six Principles of Change [Psychology Today via SelfHelp Diva]

Self Improvement: How to change things in your life for the better

Taxonomy matters

It is my mission to correctly re-shelve books to the appropriate section of the bookstore. 

For example, “Darwin’s Black Box”, the famous psuedo-science book by the non-evolutionary non-scientist Michael Behe, should not be in the “Evolutionary Biology” section, but something more appropriate, such as “New Age”, “Religion”, “Christianity”, or even “Fiction”.  You get the idea.

Here is more, and the pointer is from the newlywed Jacqueline Passey.

Taxonomy matters

Gratitude tips

These are from the new and noteworthy Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, by Robert Emmons:

1. Keep a Gratitude Journal

2. Remember the Bad

3. Ask Yourself Three Questions (What have I received from…?, What have I given to…?, and What troubles and difficulty have I caused …?

4. Learn prayers of gratitude

5. Come to your senses

6. Use visual reminders

7. Make a vow to practice gratitude

8. Watch your language

9. Go through the motions [of showing gratitude, thanking, smiling, etc.]

10. Think outside the box [TC: this one should have been left out]

I didn’t learn anything from this book, but in terms of both truth and importance it is one of the most significant books you can find.  Ever.  Provided you live enough above subsistence, gratitude is the single most important key to personal happiness.  And how commercial society affects gratitude is one of the great underexplored questions of economic science and sociology.

Gratitude tips

Tip of the Week: Create an Idea Bank

Angela Booth suggests that experienced writers can use journals as their idea banks:

If you’ve been writing for a few years, your journal acts as your idea bank. It’s best to maintain several journals: one for ideas, another for essays, as well as a journal for a long project like a book.

If you’re writing a novel, for example, your journal will keep you “in” the novel, even if you have to leave the project for a week or two.

An idea bank would be helpful for anyone who works with information and ideas. You don’t have to use a paper journal, because there are lots of desktop or online solutions too. You could use a wiki, a note-taking application, a desktop information manager like DevonThink or PersonalBrain, a password-protected blog (to keep your ideas under wraps while they’re gestating), or text files.

How do you capture your ideas?


Tip of the Week: Create an Idea Bank

Justifying Design Decisions

“The craft of graphic design is replete with ratios, rules of thumb, and math—all an attempt to rationalize decisions that otherwise fall to subjectivity. Finding justification for design decisions is important to me—I want to bring purpose and intent to my work and depend less on taste and opinion. But I often find myself designing on impulse or intuition—pushing pixels around the screen or lines down a sketchpad with no structure, no rationalization— just because it ‘looks right’. That haphazard and experimental process gives me a lot of freedom, but it isn’t really design.

I asked Mark Boulton, Andy Budd, and Jeff Croft, three designers I deeply respect, about designing on impulse versus intention. They each had something different to say, but they each presented a design process far more rationalized and justified than my own…”

Justifying Design Decisions


Let’s face it– artists love to draw faces. Penetrating eyes, distinctive noses, expressive mouths– these are often an artist’s richest lode.

But when that face turns away and you no longer have facial features with all their emotion and meaning– what does that leave? Just the simple line of a human cheek. What can an artist possibly make of that?

Well, my friends, that depends on the artist.

Look at the knowledge that Alex Raymond conveys with this sensitive drawing. This cheek demonstrates more wisdom than most artists could convey drawing a full face.

Next, Austin Briggs applies a cruder tool and a simpler approach to the same subject, yet still conveys just as much information. I think this is a thrilling piece of draughtsmanship.

In the following illustration by Robert Fawcett, the person drawn from behind was obviously a much tougher artistic challenge than the full faces drawn from the front.

Finally, the great Mort Drucker infuses personality and vitality into a face that is not only viewed from behind, but is also obscured by layers of scuba gear.

Despite the obvious drama of the human face, it can be a far greater challenge to draw the head using just the subtle contour of a cheek. Experienced artists recognize that it is difficult to draw the head from that perspective. For many, the result ends up looking like a dollop of pastry dough.

Sometimes it pays to look for artistic greatness in the simplest places. The philosopher Santayana wrote,

Miracles are so-called because they excite wonder. In unphilosophical minds, rare or unexpected things excite wonder, while in philosophical minds the familiar excites wonder also.
Lots of artists can dazzle you with flashing eyes or a dramatic face. But the artist who can find the miraculous potential in the humble curve of a cheek or a blade of grass, and who can convey that miracle to you– that is an artist worth watching.