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True Blue


Colorists are probably bursting their buttons over this scientific mistake. An Oregon State chemist and his team were in search of a new material to be used in the electronics industry when they unsuccessfully superheated a mixture of manganese oxide with other compounds. Their disappointing results created something truly extraordinary. A shade of blue that is not only pleasing to the eye, but also is reflective, easy to produce, durable, safe and – because of its reflective properties – may even be energy efficient. How lucky! Even better, more colors may be on the horizon. I can’t wait to see the new colors that Mas Subramanian and his team accidentally discover. My only hope is that a creative person is added to their team. Only scientists would call a fantastic shade of blue “AYInMn Blue,” which is a total letdown.


American Hieroglyphics


Hoboglyphics—Hobo Code or Hobo Graffiti—was a cryptic collection of pictograms used exclusively by the hobo community in the 1930s. The symbols were designed as a secret language to help hobos meet their practical needs in unfamiliar locations. A basic warning system was built into their secret language–hash marks or crossed lines typically signified some kind of danger.

A-No.1, Oakland Red, and Tucson Kid were all known hobos who used and relied on hoboglyphics. Today’s perception of a hobo is a homeless bum. However, in the 1930s, a hobo was a migratory worker who traveled nonstop (typically by hoping train cars) from one place to the next in search of paid employment. Some hobos were talented writers and artists, while others were nearly illiterate.

Recently, anthropologist Susan Phillips, while researching urban graffiti, stumbled upon an unfamiliar style of graffiti under a 103-year-old bridge—hobo graffiti. The newly discovered works were signed and dated by A-No.1, who was not only a hobo, but an author, and Oakland Red. In fact, Phillips noted that Oakland Red’s graffiti, crafted in grease pencil, is an excellent example of “creative use of white space and shading” and points out that his style is “a style that graffiti writers and graphic artists use today.” Hoboglyphics and hobo art is truly fascinating and something I previously knew nothing about. For a brief documentary on another hobo, Bozo Texino, check it out on YouTube.


Post-It Note Wars


In 2011, the employees of a French software company decorated one of their windows with the image of Bowser (Mario’s nemesis). It was created entirely of Post-It notes. A short time later, a neighboring financial services company followed suit with their own Post-It creation. This creative exchange took place five years ago and launched “Post-It Wars,” which is now playing out on Canal Street in Manhattan. A number of Canal Street agencies have been demonstrating their creative prowess with Post-It notes, and New Yorkers seem to be enjoying it (tagged #canalnotes and #postitwars). Alas, all good things must come to an end—especially when building managers get involved. Orders from building management have demanded that all artists remove their art on all buildings involved, before the Memorial Day weekend. What kill-joys!

Commutation and Cultural Enrichment


Typically we do not associate a daily commute with anything culturally enriching, however, leave it to the French to introduce “Art in Transit” as a way to expose train passengers to culture. France has no shortage of world famous museums, monuments, and gardens—all of which are readily available to tour at one’s leisure. It is difficult to imagine the French have become too busy to enjoy the enormous amount of culture that surrounds them. The French national rail system is clearly concerned with their citizens’ lack of exposure to culture. Regardless of the rationale behind “Art in Transit,” numerous train cars have been fully re-mastered to reflect the essence of Impressionist painting, the furnishings and gardens of Versailles, and they have not overlooked the significance of French film. Visually astounding and culturally enriching, the French rail system has achieved their goal and realized one side-benefit—no graffiti.

When Sawyer Met Baxter


Czech playwright, Karel Capek wrote a science fiction play in 1920 which centered around a then unknown concept—artificial intelligence. Capek was at a loss for what to call the “artificial people” cast in his play. He called upon his brother for help, and it was Capek’s brother who coined the term robot. Capek’s brother suggested the word “Robota,” Czech for forced labor. The term fit and has universally become part of our language. Robots have come a long way since 1920s era science fiction. Meet Sawyer and Baxter, a new generation of robots from Rethink Robotics. They are the perfect couple and co-workers—collaborative and receptive to change. They are the Border Collies of workers, wanting nothing more than to work side-by-side with humans all day and all night. Mundane tasks leave them smiling, or better yet (since they have no mouths) bright-eyed and enthusiastic.


Staying within the Lines


Coloring makes us feel calmer. It appears that we respond well to the balance of freedom of color choice and the structure of a predetermined image. For the non-artistic person, coloring is a form of creative expression. “Therapeutic without being therapy, meditative without being meditation, creative without being creation, artsy without being art,” says Thu-Huong Ha author of a recent article on this phenomenon. For the creative type, the benefits of coloring are surprisingly linked to coloring’s monotony. Like doodling, mindless activities tend to spark creativity. The mindlessness allows for productive creative problem solving. So if you are in a creative slump, pull out your favorite coloring book and you’re sure to find inspiration.

Saving Lives with a Box


On any given day around the world, individuals and families are displaced from the their homes. Natural disasters or fleeing political conflict, displacement is a life threatening, traumatic event. The lives affected are from all age groups–from infants to the elderly–who are forced to survive in substandard conditions. Shelter Box is a disaster relief organization that recognized the enormous need and indignity associated with displacement. Shelter Box was founded in 2000 with the deployment of 143 boxes to earthquake victims in India. Fast forward sixteen years and Shelter Box has impacted thousands of lives around the world by providing temporary shelter and survival essentials. A simple green box contains a tent designed to stay upright in 70 mph winds and to remain dry in six inches of standing water. It allows families to purify water and cook in unimaginable conditions. There is even enough space in the box for a children’s activity kit, tools, and blankets. Shelter Box has been well thought out and designed with crisis management and humanitarian relief mind.


Vision Mosaic


Art and science collide when it comes to mapping the spacial distribution of avian cone photo receptors. This very regular pattern mosaic represents a true bird’s eye view of the world–a diagram of a 15-day old chicken’s retina. Birds process sophisticated color vision systems better than any other vertebrate. Five types of cone receptors: white, red, green, blue, and violet, allow birds to distinguish nuances of color. Their color sense is far superior to humans. And even more, there appears to be a link between the vibrant yellow, orange, and red pigments in their feathers and their sophisticated vision system. Scientific discoveries are fascinating and surprisingly beautiful.

Trashed Treasures

The second floor of New York’s Sanitation Department’s truck depot hosts a fascinating museum which is not open to the public. It’s actually a private collection, housed in a municipal space, with Nelson Molina as its curator. Molina, a self proclaimed “picker,” has collected thousands of trashed treasures over his 34 year career as a New York Department of Sanitation worker. He has exercised the utmost respect for the rules of his job–not one found item has ever been brought home. Instead, table after table of found items are meticulously and lovingly arranged at his place of work. Molina views every piece as a treasure with a nostalgic sense of fondness. View this touching video, created by The Guardian, as Nelson Molina describes the collection he calls “The Treasures in the Trash Museum.”


I want a Vespa


Yup, one with a seat, some chrome and little wheels. While motoring around in a Vespa sounds like fun, it is Spain’s Bel & Bel Studio’s creation which has truly caught my attention. Bel & Bel have created the best Vespa ever–a handmade scooter chair which is constructed from vintage Vespa parts. I can only imagine a custom-made beauty parked in front of my workstation for all of my colleagues to admire. Words cannot describe just how cool this chair is. It’s ergonomically designed, collectible (each piece is numbered) and has functioning tail lights! Wow, I really want one at my desk.


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