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Original author: 
Chris McDonnell

Encyclopedia Pictura

Encyclopedia Pictura is the creative association of Isaiah Saxon, Sean Hellfritsch and Daren Rabinovitch that has been producing striking, playful work since its inception. One of their early shorts, “Grow,” shows off the power of a simple, clever idea executed well:

The team has produced several music videos including work for Björk and Grizzly Bear. Here are a few stills from Grizzly Bear’s “Knife” video, which features their multimedia, practical/digital effects combination approach to direction:

Encyclopedia Pictura

There is a load of interesting behind the scenes footage and photos also on their website, such as this video:

Their claim of working in “film, art, game design, community building, and agriculture” is not a bit of bombast. From their about page:

From 2008-2011, EP led an effort to build a unique hillside neighborhood and farm called Trout Gulch. They lived and worked there along with 15 others. In 2012, they co-founded DIY in San Francisco, with Vimeo co-founder Zach Klein and OmniCorp Detroit co-founder Andrew Sliwinski. Saxon also volunteers as Media Advisor to Open Source Ecology.

They are passionate about gardening, farming, construction, villages, augmented reality, science visualization, social ecology, technological empowerment, adventure, and country living.

DIY is both a feature film in development as well as more recently a new and growing online community that encourages young people to become “Makers” and share their work, gaining confidence in their creativity and earning digital badges for their profile as they go. DIY meets kids where they already are, on connected devices, and encourages their natural creativity while learning real-world, off and online skills. The DIY “anthem”:

The Do It Yourself/Maker attitude is perhaps the most valuable thing that is being nourished as young people challenge themselves to new experiences inspired by the site.

When a person grows up understanding that they can create and mold the media and environment around them, they don’t have to resign to an existence of passively consuming at the corporate trough. An individual’s confidence in their own creativity is an essential survival skill for the future.

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Having originals ideas in a world of collective thinking: Helge Tennö at TEDxUmea

Helge has, for the last nine years, been a profound proponent of sharing all original ideas with the online community, asking; what happens if your ideas are not protected and owned, but shared and open? He's an international speaker discussing the future of digital as it moves from destination to integration, from platforms to everyday life. In thespirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.* (*Subject to certain rules and regulations)
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Edutopia.org - Ask kids what Facebook is for, and they'll tell you it's there to help them make friends. And, on the surface anyway, that's what it looks like. Of course, anyone who has poked a bit deeper or thought a bit longer about it understands that people programming Facebook aren't sitting around wondering how to foster more enduring relationships for little Johnny, Janey and their friends, but rather how to monetize their social graphs -- the trail of data the site is busy accumulating about Johnny and Janey every second of the day and night.

After all, our kids aren't Facebook's customers; they're the product. The real customers are the advertisers and market researchers paying for their attention and user data. But it's difficult for them or us to see any of this and respond appropriately if we don’t know anything about the digital environment in which all this is taking place. That’s why -- as an educator, media theorist and parent -- I have become dedicated to getting kids code literate.

Digital World Ownership

As I see it, code literacy is a requirement for participation in a digital world. When we acquired language, we didn't just learn how to listen, but also how to speak. When we acquired text, we didn't just learn how to read, but also how to write. Now that we have computers, we are learning to use them but not how toprogram them. When we are not code literate, we must accept the devices and software we use with whatever limitations and agendas their creators have built into them. How many times have you altered the content of a lesson or a presentation because you couldn't figure out how to make the technology work the way you wanted? And have you ever considered that the software's limitations may be less a function of the underlying technology than that of the corporation that developed it? Would you even know where to begin distinguishing between the two?

This puts us and our kids -- who will be living in a more digital world than our own -- at a terrible disadvantage. They are spending an increasing amount of their time in digital environments where the rules have been written by others. Just being familiar with how code works would help them navigate this terrain, understand its limitations and determine whether those limits are there because the technology demands it -- or simply because some company wants it that way. Code literate kids stop accepting the applications and websites they use at face value, and begin to engage critically and purposefully with them instead.

Otherwise, they may as well be at the circus or a magic show.

More generally, knowing something about programming makes us competitive as individuals, companies and a nation. The rest of the world is learning code. Their schools teach it, their companies are filled with employees who get it, and their militaries are staffed by programmers -- not just gamers with joysticks. According to the generals I've spoken with, we are less than a generation away from losing our technological superiority on the cyber battlefield, which should concern a nation depending so heavily on drones for security and electronic trading as an industry.

Finally, learning code -- and doing so in a social context -- familiarizes people with the values of a digital society: the commons, collaboration and sharing. These are replacing the industrial age values of secrecy or the hoarding of knowledge. Learning how software is developed and how the ecosystem of computer technology really works helps us understand the new models through which we'll be working and living as a society. It's a new kind of teamwork, and one that's under-emphasized in our testing-based school systems.

Codeacademy

To build my own code literacy, I decided to take free classes through the online website Codecademy.com, and ended up liking it so much that I'm now working with them to provide free courses for kids to learn to code. The lessons I've learned along the way are of value to parents and teachers looking to grow more code literate young people.

1. Learning by Doing

One of Codecademy's key insights was that programming is best taught by doing. Where literature might best be taught through books, coding is best taught in an interactive environment. So instead of just giving students text to read or videos to watch, Codecademy invites them to learn to code by actually making code. Every online lesson involves writing lines of code in an interactive window within the web browser, and then hitting the "run" button and watching those lines actually work. Instant payoff, and an "intrinsic reward."

2. A Stake in the Outcome

Code also makes much more sense to people when it is tied to a real project. People need reasons for learning one skill or another. When students are working to devise a computer adventure game, all of a sudden abstract mathematical functions become immediately relevant.

3. Benefits of Interaction

Finally, while badges and point scores are great for motivating students in the short run, social connections to a real group of cohorts probably matter more for the long haul. Codecademy's first strides in that direction, simple forums, allow users to seek out help from others when they're stuck in a lesson. Meanwhile, those who are mastering a skill find it really sinks in when they have the opportunity to explain things to someone encountering it for the first time. Just as research has shown a heterogeneous classroom benefits those on both ends of the aptitude spectrum, interaction between more and less experienced code learners benefits both.

After-School Adventures

The greatest challenge so far, at least from my end, has been figuring out ways to get these interactive lessons into the schools that need them. Between curriculum standards, overworked faculty and legal restrictions on inviting minors to use websites, it's an uphill battle. To help with these challenges, Codecademy has unveiled an after-school program through which any parent or teacher can teach code to a self-selecting group of interested students.

Codecademy.com/afterschool is basically "Codecademy in a box." It's a year of interactive lesson tracks, specially assembled for an after-school group or club run by an adult with no programming experience. In the fall semester, kids make a website by learning HTML and CSS. In the spring, they build an adventure game by learning Javascript. The beauty of the model is that the adult supervising all this needn't know anything about code in advance. The course materials let you know everything you need to stay a week ahead of the kids, and the rest of the online community is there to help you out if you get stuck.

When I learned about the after-school program, I was compelled to tweet, "No Excuses." That's about the best I can say it. The obstacles to code literacy are getting smaller every day, while the liabilities for ignorance are only getting more profound.

What steps are you taking to bring code literacy into your classroom?

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Editor’s note: This post is authored by guest contributor Thor Muller, a New York Times best selling author. His latest book, “Get Lucky: How to Put Planned Serendipity to Work for You and Your Business” is available now.

This is the story of how a young Irish fine artist accidentally became a materials scientist, founding a high-growth company that created a whole new product category. It’s also a parable for how great entrepreneurs systematically create their own luck.

Jane ni Dhulchaointigh is the founder and CEO of Sugru, a London-based startup that makes an amazing moldable adhesive for repairing any physical object. It’s a cross between silly putty and duct tape, a space age rubber that can be molded into any desired shape by hand, and that sticks to a vast array of surfaces. With customers in over 100 countries, and all seven continents, Sugru has taken the world by storm.

What we see in Jane’s journey, so far from California’s tech startup scene, is the same thing we see in virtually all startups that work: the ability to harness serendipity, the unplanned discoveries, large or small, that end up being the turning points in careers and businesses. Hard work, training and process may be the foundation of success, but serendipity is where the magic happens. And even though serendipity is by definition unpredictable, its appearance is anything but random.

Jane’s stunning rise is the result of her mastering what we call the skills of planned serendipity, a set of behaviors that have allowed her, over and over again, to generate the chance discoveries, recognize the good ones, and take action on those that matter most.

Here’s how it happened, and what we can learn from her breakout success.

Start With A “Geek Brain” 

Jane originally studied to be a sculptor, an interest that had possessed her for years. She returned to school in 2003 to study commercial product design at the Royal College of Art. It seemed a prudent career move given the high demand for designers (and the lack of jobs for sculptors), but it was a switch that proved difficult. Her impulse was to follow her own interests over solving the narrowly defined product problems discussed in class. Before long, her background in sculpture combined with her insatiable curiosity led her to begin experimenting with new materials.

Jane was equipped with one of the great advantages in cultivating serendipity, a geek brain–what we define as an obsessive curiosity in an area of interest and the ability to notice anomalies, overcoming the conventional wisdom that constrains others. The geek brain gave Jane distance from the rote conventions of design school, allowing her to connect ideas from across domains in unusual ways.

Find Space to Play 

Having a mindset geared for recognizing unexpected ideas is rarely enough on its own—Jane needed an environment that allowed her to explore and put this geek brain to good use. The workshop at her college served this purpose well:

I was destroying things and putting them back together: chipping blocks of wood apart and putting them back together with other materials…One experiment I did was combining silicone caulk with very fine wood dust from the workshop. From that combination I made these fancy wooden balls. I found it fascinating that you could make something that looked like wood but had other properties—if you threw them on the floor they’d bounce.

Jane’s early explorations with her strange rubbery material was driven by a fascination with the possibilities of what she could make, rather than any specific purpose to which it could be put. This is the hallmark of a true exploratory mode, as premature focus can kill good ideas before they ever emerge. Still, as her discovery started to take shape, she began to spend more and more time wondering what it might actually be good for.

Be Opinionated 

Jane’s boyfriend noticed that she had been using her funny rubber to repair or customize things around the house—enlarging a sink plug that was too small, or making a more ergonomic knife handle. It had been so natural for her to use the rubber in this way because she personally believed in the value of repairing her things rather than running out and buying a replacement. The instinct was so natural, in fact, that she hadn’t even consciously registered what she was doing. It was only when her boyfriend drew her attention to it that she saw the opportunity in a flash.

Jane had stumbled on a product idea that mapped perfectly to a deeply held conviction: she hated waste. She was fed up with it and knew she wasn’t alone. “In the past, some people would have thought that repairing something is a compromise because you couldn’t afford to buy it new again,” Jane says. “But now there are increasing numbers of people who would rather repair or reuse than throw something out and needlessly buy something new because of the waste involved.”

Her insight was that this space-age rubber she’d invented could be an essential innovation in this cause. She saw the potential in her chance discovery only because she had an overriding purpose that gave her a unique perspective. “Every granny who finds it hard to open a jam jar can manipulate this material,” she said. “Anyone who has a stiff part on their bike can adapt it to be whatever the bike needs.”

Project the Possibility

The only problem was that the material didn’t actually exist yet. The makeshift rubber Jane had been playing with had all kinds of problems: it didn’t adhere to enough surfaces, it had a terribly short shelf-life, and it was too high maintenance to make a successful commercial product.

This was the do-or-die moment. As an artist, there was every reason in the world to give up—she had no business thinking she could solve this incredibly technical problem. Instead, Jane pulled a Jujitsu serendipity move: employing only her faulty prototype and her storytelling skills, she projected her vision as broadly as she could, telling anyone who would listen about it. Early stage entrepreneurs like Jane don’t always know what exact outcomes to expect, but they are willing to publicly put their ideas into the world, allowing them to connect with the as yet unknown people and opportunities that make their products possible.

It worked. Attention followed from the strength of her vision, attracting local press mentions, a set of science advisors, and a grant from the National Endowment for Science, Technology, and Arts.

Follow Unplanned Paths

The grant wasn’t huge, a mere £35,000, but it was enough to start testing materials—as long as Jane did the testing herself. To do that, she realized, she would have to do something that was not only unexpected, but would have seemed absurd a few months before: she’d have to diverge from her career path and be trained as a lab technician and set up her own laboratory. She wasn’t waiting around to find a CTO who knew better. This former art student must learn to be a materials scientist.

It took her two years of painstaking trial-and-error, but eventually she created a brand new, patented class of silicone that worked for her aims. Only Jane’s immovable sense of purpose kept her going through month after month of laborious formulation and failure, long before her work would bear fruit. This is a recurring paradox of serendipity: stick-to-itness—the ability to stay committed to a purpose—is often the very thing that allows new paths to be recognized and taken.

Design Openness into the Product and Company

Initially there was tremendous pressure to fit the new product into a well-worn category that the traditional business world would understand. Then it struck Jane that she could create a brand designed to activate the creative spark in people. She could leave the product’s purpose intentionally open—the tagline would become “Hack Things Better”—so that customers could use their own imagination. One of the first things she did after launching the product was create an online community for customers to share their ideas. Creating permeability at the edge of her company allowed new directions and opportunities to serendipitously emerge.

As a result the company and its customers have developed a truly symbiotic relationship. That “perfect fit” Jane had been seeking for her unusual rubber years ago? Her customers are telling her what it is—or rather, all of the perfect fits they’ve found. Repairing computers, cables for laptop chargers, phones, and outdoor equipment have emerged as the leading uses for her one-of-a-kind product. Jane is finding the company being pulled by customers in directions she could never have imagined during those years of painstaking materials research, but in each case the path is perfectly aligned with the company’s purpose.

The Kind of Luck That Matters

Entrepreneurs often cite “luck” as a key ingredient of success, yet this means far more than just being in the right time, right place. The luck that builds careers and companies is the kind that unfolds gradually, choice by choice, as people recognize and seize surprise opportunities, attracting others to them long before it’s obvious that their business is the next big thing. These skills of planned serendipity are not vague, metaphysical concepts; they can be mastered by any of us, and can shape how we run our startups as they grow.

We can learn how to make our businesses luckier.

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I attended an exclusive presentation and Q&A with Tim Schafer at the Double Fine studio. I listened to Tim candidly discuss the Adventure Kickstarter project and the special ingredient to its success, the pitch. Here are some critical take aways...

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If you missed part one of Craig Lager‘s two-part guide to getting going in proper racing games, that’s here. Now read on for the final part, covering advanced techniques, what high-end kit to pick up and which games will best make you wheely good.

Everyone will tell you that the most important thing with racing is consistency. One really fast lap is nothing compared to being able to do 15 fast laps in a row. You need to do some long races. Pick a circuit you know, set the lap count high and go. If you have it, F1 is perfect for this because you can turn all the assists off, set up a 100% race length race and drive for 80 or so minutes with a few flashbacks in the bank in case you mess everything up on the last couple of laps. When you’re done and happy, it’s time to think about wheels again because we’re heading in to all-out sim territory.

(more…)

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I recently saw that DICE, the makers of Battlefield 3 is trying to stop cheating in their game It made me think of my days fighting cheaters. I did a fine job spotting, catching, and banning cheaters from Clan Ladder. This article discusses my experiences

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