Friday, March 23, 2012

The 'Limitation' of Creativity

One of the things that interests me is the fact that people seem convinced that creativity only applies to things like art and music. If you create a beautiful piece of prose or artwork, you are creative. If you design an elegant experiment, you are brilliant. However, if a scientist tries art, they often give up, because they have no creativity.

But what is creativity? For me creativity is that ability to think outside of the box...any box, artistic or otherwise. One of my best friends is one of the most creative people I know, writing programs that creativity resolve problems like a computer talking to a communications device, or fixing physics demos when I can't even identify a problem. However, because I can do artistic things like draw a picture that looks like the object I am attempting to draw I am automatically considered the more creative one.

Why the limitation? In the old days creativity was attributed to the Gods. People were not geniuses, they had geniuses... akin to the little muses. When you came up with a good idea, your genius gave it to you. Does that not happen to scientists as well? Do they not have an idea for an elegantly designed experiment that can be just as hard to properly execute as a play? Maybe we need to redefine the definition of creativity and imagination.

Creativity is critical thinking ability to resolve problems that can't be solved in the normal way. Copernicus was made famous because he thought creatively and discovered another solution to a common problem. I look at several nobel prize winners in virology and was surprized to see what they studied before their prizewinning research. Wendell M. Stanley was a football player who became the chemist who crystalized viruses and discovered the fact that they had characteristics of organic and inorganic matter... John Enders discovered how to grow viruses outside of the body and he started life as a pilot. Their ability to think outside the box made leaps and bounds in science that wouldn't have happened otherwise.

What is the benefit of thinking outside of the proverbial box? You can think outside of conceptions of a field and come up with something new. One example is found in the video below...where a computer engineer discovered a way to find life in ways that we would expect with computer viruses and statistics. Amazing to think that using creative juices in science as well as art can bring us further than anything else.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Comic Collage

So there have been a lot of concerns about how to connect ideas visually, especially since our ideas are rather diverse for the e-book. Now what artforms compile many different ideas into one image? Collages.

In a collage you can take hundreds of different images and combine them to make one image. For example, the image you see to the left is actually a skyline from about 4 different cities that has been compiled into one whole metropolis.

This is what we are going to do for our e-book. Through taking images from different sources and compiling them together to make a whole image from the composite parts. 

The 'comic' characters are going to be students in the class who are interacting as line drawings with the compiled background of real images, like the character to the left and the music notes, or the character above and her cardbox.
Each little piece of the collage will represent a different aspect of the content of the e-book. As you can see with this little detail this artist added a scene from one of his favorite movies into the little windows...(rear window anyone?) As the book starts out we will only have a little bit of a background and it will become more complex as we learn more digital concepts.

 Another example of a little detail that  can make the environment more applicable to the concepts that we are talking about, enabling the reader to start connecting the content visually. (eg meteror attacking metropolis) In this image you can see how the artist added details that add a new dimension to the image and make it meaningful.

So each piece of the collage will be images representing our digital concepts and content. Instead of having a scene from rear window, we can have a Radio with a family listening to a fireside chat from a president or a business meeting done with interpretive dance. Choose ideas that will demonstrate your content and if you have more than one idea then we can use more than one piece of background.

images were mostly taken from Jamie Kinroy's blog

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Broad Street Pumps: Use of imagery to save lives

Imagery can help anyone learn something better. For example, if you want to explain what to do when someone has a deep cut, but it is not the same as seeing a picture of how the tourniquet should look like when you are finished. Images can help you convey complex ideas in a short period of time, and to incite action in the viewers... one place that imagery has been effective is in the case of disease transmission  Diseases come in many different shapes and forms... especially when it comes to transmission. But one event always sticks out when I think of Epidemiology: John Snow and the Broad Street Pump.

Soho, England 1854
Cholera is one of the deadliest diseases at the time, wiping out entire households overnight. There was seemingly no rhyme or reason to the attacks, why one household was effective and another was spared. Was one family or person more righteous than another? Or perhaps the citizens of Soho had angered God and called this plight against themselves.

One man had brilliant idea. He took a map of Soho and marked exactly where each attack of Cholera hit. as he looked at his map for an idea of what might be causing the disease (a novel idea for the time period) he noticed that the water pump on broad street seemed to be the epicenter of the attacks.

He brought his maps and graphs to the authorities of Soho to show them how to stop the Cholera. The authorities were reluctant, but they were able to see that it was necessary to remove the handel. (albeit once the disease was gone, they put the handel back on the pump... fortunately Cholera doesn't stick around a water supply without a host source)

Images are important to help convey important ideas.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Staying away from the Yellow: a quick guide for info graphics

One of the many things that interested me when I was in Highschool was Journalism. I had been accidentally placed by the school system in a TV production class (I signed up for a Jewelry class, go figure). One of the first things we learned in this class was about what not to do with our journalism by reading about the yellow journalists.
These journalists used their opinions (or the opinions of others) as absolute fact, something that could easily change how things work. Now one of the things I have been working on for the project is trying to help the groups to develop good infographics... the key word being 'info'.

How do we choose information to present in an info graphic? First it needs to be pertinent. If we are making a graphic about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, for example, we may have information regarding how many members are on Facebook on a daily basis... but if we are trying to get information out on what the church believes that information is rather useless. You would be better to see if you can get information on how many members take sacrament each week, or maybe how many attend church on a regular basis. Second, the information needs to have reliable sources. Just like any research article you write for class the infographics that you produce need to have reliable sources for the information that you portray... Wikipedia and some websites have plenty of inaccurate information on the beliefs of the Church (I'm pretty certain that there are no human sacrifices in LDS Temples).Third, the information you share on the info graphic shouldn't be excessive. For example, if we are planning to share with people how laws are made, you need to decide how much information is needed to present it to people. This example is very thurough, but you loose the reader about 3 min in because the graphic is so cluttered with (admittedly useful) information that they don't really know what to do or where to read all of the information. Fourth, you need to have a flow. Humans like categories... if you just give them a list of information in a random order they are not going to remember it as well as when you order that information in groups or in a visual pattern. The flow dosen't have to be complicated... the example of the LDS infographic you see that they categorized the information and then put in a list form, complicated? No. Useful? Yes, you can still remember the information after you are done reading it.

With this said infographics are one of the most interesting ways to digest information for other people to use quickly. (Imagine if you college textbooks had put the information that you needed for the class in a simpel infographic for you to memorize) Hopefully this post helps people understand how to create a better infographic.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

A little note on image copyright

A little while ago we had a wonderful little film about copyright:

Now that was nice, however what does copyright mean for images?
In short: Everything. Because any image that you may see on the web may possibly be copyrighted. Unlike movies or music, there is no fair use for images, no matter how much you change or alter the image it still belongs to the copyright holder. (see US Copyright Law) So if you were to talk about 15 sec of video, like this movie does it is well within fair use. If you were to make a parody of a popular song, the same applies. Images are a little stickier, because the image's creator has the sole right to make derivatives of the work.

However there is a way to have images available for your blogs and papers, free from the irritation of copyright... there is something called "creative commons" where people are willing to put up their images with minimal limitations on their reproduction for people to use them. You can read more about the Creative Commons movement HERE and find creative commons images in many different locations such as Flickr, Corbis, and more if you look at google.

You can also find copyright free music at places like Freeplay, stock music, or more

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The importance of visualization

One of the hardest things in my life is finding the motivation to complete a certain task, especially when it is a creative project started by myself. Currently on my hard drive there are three songs that are half composed, no less than four novels in varying stages of disrepair and neglect, five comics that are half finished and just need to be inked, not to mention the countless articles that I wanted to write about deadly diseases that never got past the first draft...

I've been thinking a lot about why I finished one project (a novel) and not any of these others. I found that there is an interesting connection between deadlines and completion... but oddly enough the main reason I think that this project was completed was because I thought about it all the time because one of the main plot elements in the book were things that I physically dealt with on a daily basis... it was actually seeing the objects (or in this case actually talking a martial arts class and doing what the character could do)

Then I remembered my time as a microbiology TA for the intro level class... I talked to those students for hours and hours trying to explain a process that seemed simple to me... but it wasn't until I got fed up and just drew the procedure on the whiteboard. Indubitably, every time I drew the process they were confused about they figured out the problem. Forget about analogies to familiar every day things, as soon as I showed them a picture of what they needed to do it got done... and done well.

What other processes can be aided by visualization... whether it be physically doing something or just looking at a diagram. According to some graphic designers the visualization turns something as abstract as the Krebs cycle or the infection pattern of cryptosporidium into concrete details that the people can then intake in more than one part of their brain and enable them to do so much more. The chart here explains the many different chemical pathways that one could go through to see the different processes that could happen in a t-cell receptor, even showing the chemicals that are in common. Writing diagrams like this actually helped me do well in my cellular biology class because I could see where all the chemicals were and where they were going.
I wonder if as we create things and connect them visually if we will see more competent scientists who can make more creative adjustments... because in research, education is important, but sometimes education can be over rulled by creativity mixed with a little curiosity.