Soundbyte 208: Reflections
One of the things I value most about working for Luminis Technologies is the opportunity to get to know people living in different countries. I was the first non dutch employee to join LT a little more than a year ago. Since then the group has expanded to include Thomas and Marc (Germany) and Marian and Raluca (Romania) as well. Although we at LT are quite comfortable with working and communicating remotely, It’s still a very valuable experience for me to be able to meet everyone face to face every six weeks as we all arrive for the LT meeting. I find that apart from the meetings themselves, being able to just talk to the people and get to know them face to face is very important. With all due respect to technology, there are some nuances of conversation that Skype, even in its good days, still can’t communicate very well.
Since we “non dutch” usually stay in the same hotel while visiting, it gives us an opportunity to meet for dinner and get to know one another better. After a couple of those dinners, and especially after the one Paul and his wife Qiushi invited us to at their home, it became apparent that no matter how the conversation starts, sooner or later we find ourselves getting to the subject of pets, and more specifically, yeah well.. cats. Marian and Raluca raise two cats, and so does Paul and Qiushi. I already wrote about my two cats in my previous soundbyte (both of them are safely at our new place btw). After a while, Marc also adopted two cats of his own, so it seems to be contagious 🙂
It was in one of these dinners that I heard from Raluca and Marian about a ‘pet’ project of theirs. they told me that after living in Germany for several years they went back home to Romania and saw the large amount of cats living in the streets of Bucharest. Raluca began volunteering in a local pet shelter called ‘Robi’s Shelter’. The volunteer work includes spending allot of time posting adoption ads and also maintaining outdated data in the shelter’s website which is just a simple wordpress site with no database (http://www.4animals.ro). This makes it very difficult to keep track of the animals in the shelter, since everything needs to be updated manually. Even very basic stuff such as updating the animal age had to be done manually and in many places.
So Raluca and Marian talked to the shelter owner and they began working on a new system that would replace Robi’s website and provide the much needed data management capabilities. What proved to be initially difficult is to convince the shelter owner that such a system was indeed required. It’s often the case that people become so accustomed to working in a particular way, no matter how difficult and tedious it is, that they don’t realize that a change is possible, or even necessary. After explaining the benefits that such a new system will bring, the owner was finally convinced and Marian and Raluca started designing the new system. Shortly after, I was happy to join the team as a UI developer. After involving Paul and Marcel in the design process, they proposed that the project can be an excellent candidate for demonstrating the capabilities of the new Amdatu RTI platform currently developed by the LT team, so the project was kicked off as an ‘official’ project developed by LT. I think it’s really awesome that the company is open minded enough to take on such ideas that are close to the heart of the team, and leverage them to something that can both benefit our technology and do some good at the same time.
Creativity, work and other animals
I read a very interesting article a while ago that talked about creativity in general and more particularly about what exactly happens in our brains when a creative idea is conceived. It seems that the linear, rigorous thought process we employ when approaching a particular problem is mainly good for recalling pre-existing associations stored in our memory and applying them to the problem at hand. However, this kind of thought process is of little use when trying to come up with new and creative ideas. These ‘fresh’ ideas often require making previously unlinked associations in our brain that a focused, problem centred deduction process simply isn’t good at. fMRI scans have shown that while deductive problem solving shows activity mostly in one side of the brain, when a ‘creative spark’ happens, the entire brain seems to light up with activity, forming connections between emotional and cognitive parts of the brain.
So how do these ‘creative sparks’ happen? it seems that creativity happens during regular, non structured ‘goof off’ play, when the mind isn’t focused on a particular problem and instead is free to wander and explore. The science is fairly solid that children must be free to play regularly without supervision or external goals, in order to develop their full creative potential. And the same holds also for adults. It has been shown that people with hobbies and different interests are far more creative than those who devote themselves solely to a certain discipline.
A recent article in sound on sound magazine featured an interview with John Chowning, the creator of FM synthesis, which is a method of producing digitally synthesized sounds that is used nowadays in almost all synthesizers. Chowning, who is also a musician, worked back then in Stanford university conducting research that required him to produce a very distinct sound that would stand out from a background noise. While he played around with vibrating the frequency of a sound at high speeds, he discovered that the sounds produced were musical to his ear and so discovered FM synthesis purely by mistake. I find it wonderful that creativity is not something we as a species can just harness at will, but instead is something that just magically happens when we seek to explore and play with things that we are passionate about.