Listen: Inspiring commencement speech from Astro Teller, X's captain of moonshots

Astro Teller is the head of X, the "Moonshot Factory" that first launched as an R&D division of Google. iHeart Radio invited Astro to be part of a fantastic podcast series of virtual commencement speeches for 2020 graduates (and the rest of us) that they collected from the likes of John Legend, Bill & Melinda Gates, Hillary Clinton, George Lopez, Mary J Blige, and several dozen more. I've recently been working with the folks at X, and their celebration of weirdness, radical creativity, and urgent optimism is very real. And it's infectious. Listen to Astro's speech above. From his blog post:

On the one hand, this is an incredibly daunting time. On the other, we have a once-in-a-century opportunity to hit the reset button, let go of conventional ways of thinking, and rebuild the world in radically better ways. This shift in perspective might feel difficult, even premature. However, the alternative — to try to claw society back towards an old normal that wasn’t working that well in many ways — is far worse. And counterintuitively, those of us who are newer and fresher in our fields, like the Class of 2020, may have some of the strongest tailwinds as we search for new approaches to the world’s most pressing problems. We’ve seen many times over the years at X that strategic naivete is actually a superpower.

One of my messages for graduates is to not worry that they don’t know the answers. The mental freedom and flexibility they have, and their willingness to learn and experiment, is going to be a secret to success in a world where there are no ready answers and no playbook.

Read the rest

Animated short with the words of Alan Watts: UNTIL THERE WAS NOTHING [by Paul Trillo]

"because we come from nothing"

The coolest thing you'll see today: The magical musical contraptions of Bichopalo

My friend Richard Gould introduced me to Bichopalo, a musical instrument sculptor from Valenciana, Spain.

One word: Enchanting. Two words: Pico and Verdi, his two pet birds who star in his creations. I needed this today. Read the rest

Pee-wee Herman reveals the inspiration behind the Playhouse's Picture Phone: MAD Magazine!

Today I learned that Pee-wee's Picture Phone was inspired by MAD Magazine!

So, there's this story going around about a guy who fooled his coworkers into thinking he lived in a luxury apartment. By sitting in front a backdrop he printed out and taped together of an "apartment interior," he made them believe he was living in a nicer, and cleaner, place than he actually does.

Ok, so, the man, software engineer Andrew Ecklel, said he was inspired by the Picture Phone from Pee-wee's Playhouse. If you remember, Pee-wee would answer calls from his Picture Phone in front of a variety of backdrops, usually in a coordinating costume.

Well, Pee-wee heard Andrew's story and wrote a blog post about it. In it, he reveals his own inspiration for the Picture Phone — MAD Magazine!

He writes, "This was featured in a 1957 issue. I saw it years later and was inspired to bring it into my Playhouse!! I bet you didn’t know that!! We used a different backdrop for every call for all five seasons. We never repeated one. Many times I had a hat or some kind of prop or both that went with the backdrop. True story!"

-------------

image via Andrew Eckel/Imgur, screengrabs via Pee-wee's Playhouse, MAD Magazine image via Steve Bellovin Read the rest

Kid with cerebral palsy skateboards for first time with help from mom and technology

This will make you smile. And it's real. Read the rest

Chow Yun-fat lives so modestly, he can give away $700M+ when he passes away

Indicating in your will that you want to leave some money to a charity that reflects the values you were passionate about is a fine gesture.

Living a life of frugality so that you can leave a ridiculous amount of money to charity once you're gone: that's next level philanthropy. Read the rest

How to tie your shoes with just one hand

US Paralympic Track & Field medalist Megan Absten lost her left arm in an accident when she was 14 years old. In January of this year, the 23-year-old athlete created a YouTube channel to provide tutorials that show how she does everyday things with her remaining arm. In this video, she shows how she ties her shoelaces. In others, she shares how she gets dressed, how she puts on makeup and more.

Be sure to check out her Instagram too. It's truly inspirational! Read the rest

A clever way around high school reunion small talk

So, you've learned you've got a high school reunion coming up. Well, if you've decided to go and want to stave off awkward conversations, take some inspiration from my author friend Benjamin Wachs. Last year, he went to his reunion in upstate New York and brought stacks of laminated flip books he made in advance. His "Benjamin Wachs Small Talk Experience" answered the basic questions about his life since high school and then prompted some more thoughtful ones. It made me smile.

Take a look (click on each image to see it bigger):

Read the rest

The story behind Toto's 'Africa'

Love it or hate it, Toto's 1982 soft rock mega-hit "Africa" is here to stay. But how did a band from Los Angeles get famous for a song about Africa?

Dave Simpson of The Guardian recently interviewed the song's writer (and vocalist) David Paich and found out:

One of the reasons I was in a rock band was to see the world. As a kid, I’d always been fascinated by Africa. I loved movies about Dr Livingstone and missionaries. I went to an all-boys Catholic school and a lot of the teachers had done missionary work in Africa. They told me how they would bless the villagers, their Bibles, their books, their crops and, when it rained, they’d bless the rain. That’s where the hook line – “I bless the rains down in Africa” – came from.

They said loneliness and celibacy were the hardest things about life out there. Some of them never made it into the priesthood because they needed companionship. So I wrote about a person flying in to meet a lonely missionary. It’s a romanticised love story about Africa, based on how I’d always imagined it. The descriptions of its beautiful landscape came from what I’d read in National Geographic.

Paich told Musicradar in 2013:

"Its first inception came when there used to be UNICEF commercials on TV, showing children and families living in poverty. The first time I saw that it affected me deeply…

"I sat down and started playing and the chorus just came out like magic.

Read the rest

This 'wheelchair dance' company asks, 'Where's the disability?'

At the Disability Rights Legal Center fundraiser gala this past weekend in Los Angeles, Apple was presented with DRLC's Business and Technology Award for their accessibility work, and 'Infinite Flow - A Wheelchair Dance Company' was featured as a cause auction recipient for an Apple Watch Series 3, which was designed with a number of accessibility-expanding features. Of particular note are its wheelchair-specific features, VoiceOver for the blind, and the Taptic Engine (haptic feedback for navigation and notification).

What's the connection between Apple Watch and wheelchair dance?

Activity on the Apple Watch is optimized for wheelchair users. taking into account different pushing techniques for varying speeds and terrain, Apple Watch tracks daily activity, encourages healthy routines through wheelchair-specific workouts, and prompts users to move with Time to Roll notifications.

(...) With sensors configured to address different surface types, inclines, and transition moments, such as moving from a wheelchair to a seat at a desk, the Apple Watch Series 3 is designed with accessibility in mind and ideal for the variety of dancers in Hamamoto's inclusive classes and performances.

Infinite Flow was founded in 2015 by Marisa Hamamoto, a professional ballroom dancer who became temporarily paralyzed, then later regained the full use of her body.

Her group is America's first professional wheelchair ballroom dance company, and works to encourage others to dance inclusively, with and without physical limitations.

At the DRLC event on the Fox Studios lot, Hamamoto and guest artist Piotr Iwanicki did a live cha cha cha performance. Read the rest

Short film asks "Where Do Ideas Come From?"

David Lynch, Chuck Close, Susan Orlean, and a sampling of others describe the mysteries of inspiration that generate their ideas in this short but sweet film by Andrew Norton. Read the rest

Music Video: Jenny O., 'Cheer Up Free Your Mind' (Back her next album!)

Enjoy the wonderful new music video from the recording artist Jenny O., co-directed by Jenny O. with Mariana Blanco. Read the rest

What was the first experience that made you love science?

At Twitter, Ben Lillie has been collecting Science Sparks — the first experiences with science or some science-related thing that made people connect emotionally with nature, space, math, and wonder. He's collected them into a Storify that's worth reading, especially if (like me) you're thinking about ways to get kids engaged with science. My Science Spark: It's a toss-up between the epic multi-habitat diorama at the University of Kansas' Dyche Museum of Natural History (a place I visited so frequently as a child that I almost feel more of a connection to it than to any house I lived in) and the adorably illustrated adventures of Louis Pasteur and Marie Curie from the ValueTales book series. Read the rest

Inspiring story of a good teacher

Derek Sivers recounts an inspiring story of how he got a multi-year music education in a few days from Kimo Williams, and makes a larger point about the excitement of learning at a fast pace with a good teacher:

After a one-minute welcome, we were sitting at the piano, analyzing the sheet music for a jazz standard. He was quickly explaining the chords based on the diatonic scale. How the dissonance of the tri-tone in the 5-chord with the flat-7 is what makes it want to resolve to the 1. Within a minute, I was already being quizzed, “If the 5-chord with the flat-7 has that tritone, then so does another flat-7 chord. Which one?”

“Uh... the flat-2 chord?”

“Right! So that's a substitute chord. Any flat-7 chord can always be substituted with the other flat-7 that shares the same tritone. So reharmonize all the chords you can in this chart. Go.”

The pace was intense, and I loved it. Finally, someone was challenging me - keeping me in over my head - encouraging and expecting me to pull myself up, quickly. I was learning so fast, it had the adrenaline of sports or a video game. A two-way game of catch, he tossed every fact back at me and made me prove I got it.

In our three-hour lesson that morning, he taught me a full semester of Berklee's harmony courses. In our next four lessons, he taught me the next four semesters of harmony and arranging requirements.

There's no speed limit. Read the rest