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Creative mornings Boston, a recap

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Creative Mornings Boston

Web Chefs are no strangers to Creative Mornings, the monthly breakfast talk series that sprouted from the mind of the brilliant Tina Roth Eisenberg and spread around the globe. I, however, am a relative newcomer to New England (Go Pats!), and have only recently had the opportunity to attend my first few Creative Mornings in Boston. I decided to write up my thoughts and share, for those of you lucky enough to live in warmer climates.

December 19 – Education

Tamsen Webster, @tamadear

Sketch Notes (not mine)

Good writeup:

Tamsen Webster gave a talk based on the work of the Greek warrior poet Archilochus. In a nut shell, there are the two types of genius, the Fox and the Hedgehog. A Fox has a wide ranging skillset, relatively shallow across many subject areas, with an emphasis on sythesizing knowledge. The Hedgehog has a very deep knowledge of a single subject area.

Tamsen applied this to higher education, with the thesis that higher education is a collection of Hedgehogs imparting knowledge in a Hedgehog manner onto unsuspecting Foxes. You’ll start to hear my bias here. The writeup linked above is a good overview, which agrees with Tamsen. I almost wholeheartedly disagree with her premise, which was, as I heard it, that higher education does a disservice by teaching soft skills at the expense of hard skills. This is of course biased by my own experience in life and in the ACTLab (if you ever want an earful, ask me about the ACTLab when I have a beer in my hand – best educational experience of my life). If I only focused on hard skills in college I would have had a hard time going from filmmaking into general tech work and then into web development. Or worse, I might have wound up an accounting middle manager in a large corporation somewhere.

I think this anti liberal arts stance is growing in popularity as college prices and student loan debt grow, but I personally think it misses the point. If you walk into any college and passively follow the path laid out for you with your eye solely on the finish line, whether its liberal arts-y or a more focused hard skills degree, you’re doing yourself a disservice. You need to actively choose your path, in college and in life. /rant

January 30 – Ugly

Joe Chernov, @jchernov

Joe Chernov gave a talk about some of his extracurricular design work. During the day Joe works as the VP of Content at Hubspot, which is a Big Deal marketing company in Boston – they seem to sponsor just about everything. On the side he has started working on infographic projects for social good. Joe showed off two examples of working on “ugly” problems, the finning of sharks for soup and the de-tusking of elephants for ivory trinkets.

The shark finning infographic was an exercise in scale. Some 100 million sharks are killed annually, with the majority solely for their fin, with the shark left to die. That’s a lot of sharks, but such a large number that its impossible to mentally model. They brought the number down to the hourly rate, which is still an astounding 11,417 sharks. An anti-finning group in China took the graphic and printed it out as a carpet, making people walk down the carpet to their seats at a press event.

The ivory graphic was donated to Chengeta Wildlife, an anti-poaching group in Africa. This one was much more graphic, intended to give a very blunt, and graphic, look at how the ivory is harvested. (It’s pretty bad – they sometimes poison watering holes and just wait for the elephant to succumb to the poison. Ugh.)

From a tactical standpoint, the lesson that Joe learned from the finning project was to get engagement from interested parties before creating and releasing the graphic asset. The finning graphic was well received online, but mostly ignored by the international groups dedicated to helping sharks and sealife, except for the few that ripped it off to create their own versions. Joe engaged Chengeta Wildlife first, and talked to them about their thoughts and goals. He even joined the board, a personal point of pride for him. The graphic is being repurposed by several African nations as airport posters in their international terminals, where the tourists seeking these ivory trinkets arrive and depart from the continent.

Sidenote: Joe brough his 5 year old son Sam on stage, who had to cover his ears and close his eyes during the more graphic slides. Sam also spent a lot of time walking in front of projector to see the patterns on the screen his curly head of hair made. Pretty adorbs.

Both of these events were at Brooklyn Boulders – Somerville. It’s a pretty great space, and super scenic for giving these types of creative talks. Both events also had pizza boxes full of amazing donut holes from Union Square Donuts. If you’re in town, Union Square Donuts needs to be on your list of noms.

March 27 – Ink

Nadeem Mazen, @nadeemtron

Nadeem Mazen is a man of many talents – an animator, a founding member of Danger!Awesome, and an elected city councilor in Cambridge, MA. His talk started with his work as an animator and digital maker, a career that got off the ground when his fledgling animation company was hired by the band OK Go to make a stop motion music video for their song Last Leaf. This video required three laser cutters burning animation frames into 2430 pieces of toast.

This example raised the question of the month – what is ink? In Nadeem’s estimation, the ink of the modern age is digital in nature – it is the STL file fed into a 3D printer, the CAD instructions sent into a laser cutter, the code that crafts a web experience. The effort required to turn a mental image into a physical reality has never been lower – but even still, the means of production, to borrow a term from grad school, remain out of the reach of the average citizen. This is where Nadeem turned the narrative to focus on his day to day work, which is split between running his business Danger!Awesome and helping to run a thriving city as city councilor.

Danger!Awesome aims to be the Kinko’s of 3D printing and laser cutting, a one stop maker shop that offers turn key service. They recently invested in a new, larger space to create a community area and hackerspace for local people to work on their own projects. This is the basic setup for a hackerspace in most areas, but in a crowded urban area like Boston, with requisite real estate prices, this is a new and exciting opportunity. Nadeem is working hard to keep this space affordable and particularly keen on setting up after school programs for the local public school population.

In addition to putting together after school programs in his own space, he is using his office to push for greater access to after school programs of all kinds for local kids to gain access to technology for technology’s sake – the tinkering that so many of us enjoy and have turned into careers – as well as helping to build technology instructional materials and opportunities for teachers to lea\r\n \the skills that can be passed on to their students.

Nadeem’s talk felt different than the other two Creative Mornings I have attended recently, more energetic. This is partly due to Nadeem’s own energetic personality, but also, I think, because it was a talk about real, tangible work that is happening here in Boston. Pontificating on a topic or engaging in a bit of philosophical history is great, and can be inspiring in its own right, but giving real world examples has a bit more tangibility to it. I was inspired enough to sign up for a monthly membership with Danger!Awesome and look forward to getting back to making physical things, to go along with all of my digital work. I hope to have some projects to share soon!

Original Donut Photo: