Sunday, February 27, 2011

'Curd' Your Enthusiasm: Shopping made fun

Trader Joe's / Making grocery shopping fun and enjoyable

I am a firm believer that grocery shopping should be fun and enjoyable, and not just another weekly chore.

So, after noshing on a mid-Saturday afternoon lunch of chicken tikka masala at Naan-N-Curry, our favorite Indian restaurant near the UC Berkeley campus, we shopped for groceries. After all, it's best not to shop on an empty stomach.

One of our favorite Bay Area grocers is Trader Joe's. With locations in nine states, including California and New York, there's three TJ's within close proximity of our house, including: Powell Plaza in Emeryville; and the Lakeshore Avenue and Rockridge stores in Oakland.  Since we were arriving from Berkeley, shopping at the Rockridge Trader Joe's on bustling College Avenue was the closest ~ albeit busiest ~ of the three.

The atmosphere at the Rockridge Trader Joe's is always lively, and the appearance and attitude of the shoppers there on this mid-winter afternoon reflected the vibe of the neighborhood: a mixture of college students, recent UC graduates, urban professionals and yuppy couples.

After picking out a small bag of Clementine oranges and adding some butter lettuce to our shopping basket, imagine my surprise as we reached the dairy section to select a half-gallon of low-fat milk and a 32-ounce container of fat-free cottage cheese. The hand-drawn sign above the cottage cheese caught my eye.  Immediately, regardless of the socially-awkward situation of pulling out a camera to photograph food in a grocery store, I knew that I wanted ~ needed ~ to take a picture of it for posterity.  It was a classic, serendipitous moment.

I couldn't help but laugh at the small, rectangular white placard outlined in black with bold letters that spelled:  "Curd Your Enthusiasm".  It even had a caricature of a snarky Larry David, the creator and star of the HBO sitcom "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

What a great food pun!

Immediately, I fired off a text message to my friend in Seattle and attached the "Curd Your Enthusiasm" photo I had just shot, knowing he would appreciate the gesture ~ and get the pun. Kudos to Trader Joe's. Now, that's what I call marketing your product.

Saturday's "Curd Your Enthusiasm" moment at Trader Joe's made me smile, made me chuckle, and made me thankful for the camera feature on my iPhone4.

I love a grocery store with a sense of humor.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Stitches West: Joining in the conversation

I am the husband of a knitter.  My wife loves to knit ~ she's been a yarn and fiber enthusiast for the past decade ~ and her project bag is always ready to travel.

Jess Forbes /
Last weekend, the annual Stitches West showcase returned to the Bay Area, and the Santa Clara Convention Center was abuzz with knitters and knitting celebrities.  They included: Jess and Casey Forbes, the founders of, a social networking community for knitters and crocheters, and actress Ali MacGraw, who autographed copies of the Marion Foale-designed pattern "Ali's Cap" (the iconic fashion item the actress wore in the motion picture Love Story) to benefit the Wildlife Emergency Response Fund.

Malabrigo /
Beautiful Uruguayan yarn
Upon entering the Marketplace Hall at Stitches West, knitters and their enablers were easily tempted by row upon row of booths filled with colorful, luscious yarn and gorgeous fiber that was not only attractive to look at, but also lovely to touch.  I especially loved the incredible softness and beautiful colors of the Malabrigo Worsted Merino yarns from Uruguay. Also, there was a plethora of knitting and weaving accessories on display, which included knitting needles of every imaginable size, yarn winders, and sock blockers. This year, I noticed a new trend: Handmade, hip and colorful project bags and totes were the attention-getters.

I am my wife's regular companion at Stitches West; we enjoy making a weekend of it.  Although husbands and boyfriends make up a very small percentage of the ever-growing yarn and fiber crowd at Stitches West, I attend willingly and feel uninhibited, totally at ease.

Blue Moon Fiber Arts /
Organically-dyed fiber
You see, I am my one of my wife's yarn enablers ~ she seeks my advice and trusts my judgement when it comes to buying yarn.  The payoff has been handsome; I have many beautiful pairs of colorful hand-knit socks and several very handsome and stylish scarves.  Each year, I make a point of wearing the newest scarf while walking through the bustling marketplace.  Sometimes, someone will stop and compliment me on my taste in scarves, and I make sure to give proper credit to my wife.

Many people are surprised to learn that I can converse decently in the language of knitters.  I know what a "skein" is; know the difference between tweed and alpaca yarn; and understand the importance of matching "dye lots".  I try to stay current by reading a variety of knitting blogs and perusing my wife's knitting magazines. Photographing all of her finished projects for Ravelry has given me great street cred with knitters, too.

Cheryl Oberle /
A colorful, knitter-friendly

Over time, I have made many acquaintances among the yarn and fiber vendors and artisans at Stitches West. It's nice to be recognized like an old friend by them.  Among my Stitches friends are Colorado-based Cheryl Oberle, who designs knitter-friendly kits for creating shawls and vests that showcase her hand-dyed artisan yarns.

Also, there's my friends from A Verb For Keeping Warm ~ Kristine Vejar and Adrienne Rodriguez ~ who've grown their naturally dyed fiber and yarn website into a warm and spacious brick-and-mortar, which has become a haven for knitters and fiber artists close to home in Oakland. Then there's Michael Wade, part of the AVFKW family, who is creator and host of "Fiber Beat," a podcast about knitting.

Sacred Laughter /
Original glasswork art
by Robin Senour
Finally, there's Robin Senour, a glasswork artist from Berkeley, whose witty Sacred Laughter artwork and philosophy ("Bring More Art Into Your Life") has struck a friendly chord with me.  On Saturday, I bought my latest piece of Sacred Laughter: "The more you watch the less you know," which certainly is a pretty profound statement about TV, complete with the body of a TV set whose picture tube shows a smiling cat, a flying saucer, and a full moon.  It's whimsical and artful ~ and it's designed to draw laughter.

Michael Wade /
"Fiber Beat" podcast
creator and host
Although I do not knit, I am learning drop spindle spinning and have received a lot of encouragement. Meanwhile, I appreciate the fiber arts and I enjoy exploring the creative process and discussing what inspires various fiber artists.  And, I've found that many vendors, such as Cheryl Oberle, are very appreciative of being asked about the background and detail that goes into creating their products such as hand-dyed yarn and scarf patterns. And this year, I drew lots of curiosity by wearing a "Fiber Beat" button that Michael Wade handed me at the Verb booth promoting his podcast.

While looking at some beautifully designed Jean Frost sweaters adorning the Knitter's Magazine booth near the front entrance to the Marketplace Hall, I recognized Rick Mondragon, the magazine's editor.  I asked him about the future of Stitches West and he smiled excitedly, telling me that it's become the biggest of the four regional Stitches (the others are Stitches South in Atlanta; Stitches Midwest in Schaumburg, Ill.; and Stitches East in Hartford).

"We sold out the floor this year," Mondragon told me, adding that Santa Clara is signed to be host site for Stitches West through at least 2014.

We look forward to returning to Stitches West next year and the year after that ~ and the year after that.

Here are some of the visual highlights from my visit to Stitches West 2011:

Jean Frost-designed sweater as featured in
Knitter's Magazine.

Socks with style / Colorful socks designed by Cookie A.

My brush with greatness / Michael and Ali MacGraw.

Mary-Heather Cogar / designer, models her
Xeriscape scarf from Rainy Day Goods at the meet up in the Marketplace.

Kira K Designs / Original hats, scarves and gloves
by Kira Dulaney, Oakland, Calif.

Yarn Pop / Bright Flowers project tote.

Visiting the A Verb For Keeping Warm booth,
which enjoyed great foot traffic and featured
colorful naturally dyed fiber and yarn created by
Kristine Vejar.

Colorful, hand-painted yarn sweaters from
The Sanguine Gryphon.

"Fiber Beat" podcast creator and host Michael Wade greets visitors
at the A Verb For Keeping Warm booth.

All photographs by Michael Dickens, copyright 2011.  All rights reserved.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

It's a date: My social media engagements

One of many things I appreciate about social media is the opportunity to engage in opinion and conversation with people who share similar interests with me.

Over the past few months, I've discovered a couple of online forums that are both engaging and enjoyable, and they're worth making time for each week:  "Tate Debate" via Facebook on Thursdays and the Washington Post's "TV Column Live with Lisa de Moraes" chat via the newspaper's website,, on Fridays.  The former is thought provoking while the latter is lively and entertaining.  Together, they make up my social media engagements.

Tate Debate / Thought provoking
On "Tate Debate,"  moderated by the staff of the London-based Tate Museums (which includes the Tate Britain and the Tate Modern), a topic or question is posted each week on its Facebook page for art enthusiasts to digest and share feedback.  Recent debate topics have included: Digital technology ("How could it change the arts?) and artistic concept versus artistic creativity ("Which is more important?"). With a new exhibition, "Watercolour" opening tomorrow at the Tate Britain, last week's debate focused on painting in watercolour.  The question: "What do you think of watercolour ~ a traditional method, or a visionary, abstract medium?" brought out some very interesting and thoughtful answers. Here's a sample:

"Watercolour is unforgiving and the sharpest insight to an artist," opined a middle-aged male artist from Utah.  "It reveals the actual thought process of its creation."

Another contributor, a twenty-something woman from England, added: "Whether a medium is traditional or not highly depends on the person handling it."

Because of the eight-hour time difference between London and the Bay Area, by the time I log in to Facebook on Thursday mornings, anywhere from 25-50 comments or more have already been posted to the Tate Debate.  Still, I find it's a great opportunity to see what's on the minds of other art lovers ~ especially since most of the comments are posted by Europeans ~ and, I have found, it's a unique opportunity to put in my two-cents worth from across the pond.  I've even received a couple of e-mails via Facebook commenting on my responses or thanking me for "Liking" their comments.

By the way, here's my response to the last week's "Watercolour" debate topic: "Watercolour is popular and universal.  While I normally think of watercolour as traditional landscapes painted in pastels, it's obvious that watercolour can be an abstract concept painted in bolds, too.  Each in its own way is beautiful ~ and powerful, too.  There's no right way, no wrong way to paint watercolour."  My comment even drew a couple of "Likes".

The TV Column Live /
Lively and entertaining
Meanwhile, the Washington Post's "TV Column Live with Lisa de Moraes" chat (Fridays at 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT) usually runs for about an hour.  De Moraes, the Post's witty TV columnist who also writes a TV blog for the Post, answers questions about "the drama, comedy and heartbreak of television ~ both on screen and behind-the-scenes." Through my own observation, I've discovered she loves 30 Rock, but hates ~ hates ~ American Idol's Ryan Seacrest (she calls him Seabiscuit)and she fawns over most PBS Masterpiece Classic "crunchy-gravel dramas" (a term she coined to describe a lot of English period dramas whose mansions include a crunchy, gravel driveway) like the recently aired "Downton Abbey."

Last week, de Moraes started off with a bang and came with a topical agenda: "Super Bowl ads ~ best ever of The Big Snooze? Idolette telling Ryan Seacrest he's all washed up emotionally from 10 years hosting show ~ best TV moment of the season? Will Keith Olbermann get you to watch Current TV? So much to talk about this week.  Let's get started. ..."

I should note: I credit my wife for introducing me to the "TV Column Live" chat and, after regularly participating, not only do I find it to be entertaining, but also an interesting perspective on the TV industry from a media insider and that ~ bottom line ~ it's a very much a business based on ratings points.  In a typical week, de Moraes (whose nickname is Pookie) responds to between 35-50 questions.

Here's a couple from last week's chat:

From Bored with My TV Shows: "So, Pookie, I watch the following: Blue Bloods, White Collar, Modern Family, Castle, Hawaii Five-O. I am sorta bored with them, except for Modern Family, which is always top-notch.  Castle is amusing at least. What should I start watching?  Lisa's response: "Episodes on Showtime because it's the best comedy on TV, Mr. Sunshine on ABC (just to see Allison Janney play crazy), The Good Wife because Alan Cummings is fab, new season of American Idol because Steven Tyler is a revelation. ... I could go on and on ..."

From 30 Rock: "Why doesn't NBC cut costs and get rid of the rest of the cast on 30 Rock and devote the half hour to Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey?"  Lisa's response: "Wait a minute! You want to get rid of Kenneth the page? And Tracy Jordan? And Jenna?  I admit Liz's writing staff could go, but I draw the line at Kenneth, Tracy and Jenna ..."

Occasionally, I've submitted a question and sometimes, like last week, I got lucky to have mine used during the chat:

From Countdown to Current TV: "Hey, Pookie: I'm looking forward to seeing Keith Olbermann's literary wit and acerbic commentary resurface on Current TV. Do you think he made a good career decision joining a fledgling cable network and should MSNBC be worried?  Lisa's response: MSNBC seems to be hanging in there without Keith.  And, as to the career move, it depends on his equity stake, I think. ... I always enjoy watching Keith move from network to network. ... And I'm anxious to see what other shows he's going to exec(utive) produce. ..."

Say what you will about social media, being able to contribute to a thoughtful, cultural discussion and sharing in an entertaining dialogue with a media critic are both pretty cool things in my book.  After all, like Madonna, herself an artist and cultural critic, once said: "Listen, everyone is entitled to my opinion."

Friday, February 11, 2011

Dateline Cairo: Let's celebrate the revolution tonight, then see what happens tomorrow

Breaking News / President Obama praising the Egyptian people.

The people of Egypt, at last, have brought down the regime.

Tonight has brought excitement mixed with a bit of bewilderment over the speed in which the events that paved the way for democracy in Egypt unfolded.

"It's the greatest day of my life," opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei told NPR.

Yet, for eighteen historic days, ElBaradei and the rest of the world watched in tense anticipation.  The images, voices and actions shaping the Egyptian revolution were riveting: Peaceful, non-violent mass demonstrations, beamed from around the world into our homes, were filled with hope.  Then, one day last week those peaceful demonstrations were broken ~ albeit briefly ~ by an angry mob uprising.  Instead of diplomacy, Molotov cocktails were a weapon of choice by the mob. Journalists, some of them American, attempting to report the unfolding story for an ever-growing and curious world audience, were beaten up by supporters of President Hosni Mubarak.  Others were detained and threatened before being released.  Doubts remained. Which side would prevail, the people or the dictatorship?

The story continued to unfold around the clock:  Through Facebook, on Twitter, in the New York Times, on CNN and Al Jazeera. The whole world was watching.

Shaken but not defeated, in the days that followed, there were more mostly peaceful mass demonstrations. The demonstrators, whose numbers increased daily, camped out in Liberation Square for the long haul because democracy doesn't happen quickly.  And, it's not always orderly, either.

Today's New York Times /
The anger before the euphoria.
Then, last night, there was a huge let down that shattered the hopes for the entire nation, when the autocratic Mubarak refused to quit, announcing he would not be stepping down as president as had been widely speculated in the hours leading up to the announcement.

The country had been blind-sided, victims of another sucker punch from the regime.  Supporters of democracy in Egypt vented their anger well into the night.  Some feared violence as things reached a standoff.  What could possibly happen next?

What happened was this: Today, at 6 p.m. Cairo time (11 a.m. ET/8 a.m. PT), a history-shaping moment occurred. The announcement heard around the world was made on Egyptian state television by Vice President Omar Suleiman that Hosni Mobarak had stepped down as President of Egypt, after it was disclosed he had flown to Sharm-el-Sheikh.  Mr. Suleiman said that power was being handed over to the higher council of the Egyptian armed forces.

Quickly, the news spread throughout the country and, collectively, the Egyptian citizens erupted in joy. Overwhelming happiness. Jubilation. Freedom.

History continues to unfold.  This much is certain: Tonight, Mubarak is out of power.

The Egyptian revolution /
The whole world is watching.
Monitoring the news on NPR, CNN, the BBC and Al Jazeera English, one can't help but feel there is a sense of pride in the Arab world that the Egyptian people have prevailed. Peaceful protest, without military force from the outside world, has brought the end to 30 years of autocratic rule.  The reaction, both locally and from world leaders, has been mostly positive, if not cautious.

"Let the celebration begin tonight, then wake up and see what happens tomorrow," said Ethar El-Katatney, a staff writer for Egypt Today, during a live interview Friday with CNN's Anderson Cooper, about three hours after the announcement that Mubarak had stepped down.

"The people in Egypt have spoken ... and Egypt will never be the same," said President Obama.  Standing in the foyer of the White House, he added: "It's not the end of the transition.  It's the beginning.  There are many difficult questions that lie ahead.  I am confident that the people of Egypt can find the answers. Egyptians have made it clear that nothing less than genuine democracy will carry the day."

Obama said the United States will be "a partner" to Egypt, ready to help if asked.

According to the BBC, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she welcomed the departure of Mubarak as "historic change."

Tonight, there's a giant euphoric party going on in Cairo's Tahrir Square, the Ground Zero of the Egyptian pro-democracy movement, and Egyptians are also joyfully celebrating in Alexandria, the country's second city.  Fireworks have replaced Molotov cocktails.  People have come out of their homes en masse to celebrate their new-found freedom. The dictator is now gone and the process to rebuild a large, proud Arab nation begins.  There's a new day in Egypt.

"It's joy, exhilaration, total emancipation for 85 million people," ElBaradei told the BBC. "For the first time Egypt has been liberated and has put its feet on the right track toward a country of democracy and social justice."

Google executive and activist Wael Ghonim vows that Egypt will become a democratic state.  "This is Revolution 2.0," Ghonim told CNN.

The transition to democracy can be chaotic ~ and won't happen overnight ~ but there's a lot of optimism spreading throughout Egypt tonight.  One thing is certain: There's a lot that has to be done to ensure a peaceful transformation happens.  In the days ahead, I'm sure we'll all learn the backstories of just how democracy prevailed in Egypt.

The world awaits.

The story continues.  The adventure has just begun.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

An independent platform and a voice of reason

Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
All the news and more tonight on ... 
The Olbermann Show?

Keith Olbermann is gearing up for a return to prime-time television.  Two days after a Green Bay Super Bowl victory marred by Christina Aguilera's National Anthem fiasco, the announcement today about Olbermann joining Current TV is welcome and refreshing news.

"Nothing is more vital to a free America than a free media, and nothing is more vital to my concept of a free media than news that is produced independently of corporate interference," said Olbermann, who will host a prime-time news and commentary show for Current TV, similar to his former MSNBC Countdown program, starting in the spring.

You may recall that Olbermann left MSNBC very abruptly last month following his suspension in 2010 by MSNBC for making campaign contributions to Democratic candidates. Olbermann's departure, announced at the end of his Jan. 21 broadcast, came just days before Comcast took over control of NBC Universal. Ironically, Comcast owns a 10 percent stake in Current TV. According to published reports, Current TV said it will allow Olbermann to make political donations.

Keith Olbermann /
From Countdown
to Current TV
Current TV, a privately-held and independently-owned media company co-founded by former vice president Al Gore, currently averages about 23,000 viewers during evening prime time, not exactly appointment TV numbers. This pales in comparison to the 1 million views who tuned in nightly to watch Olbermann host Countdown during the past eight years on MSNBC. Current TV is available in about 60 million homes, mostly on a cable digital tier or satellite basis, while MSNBC transmits to about 95 million homes and is usually part of a basic cable package and also airs on satellite.

OK, I'll admit it, Current TV is a forgotten channel in my household and I had to pull up our DirecTV program guide to find its location (Current TV airs on Ch. 358 on DirecTV). However, with the acerbic Olbermann coming on board in the near future, I just might have to rethink my weeknight viewing habits, which already include The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report.

The liberal-minded ownership of Current TV is banking on Olbermann as an investment in its future.  According to the New York Times, Olbermann will also have an equity stake in Current TV as well as a management role as its chief news officer. He will be tasked with helping develop new programs and be an editorial mentor to the channel's journalists.

In a published statement, Gore said: "We are delighted to provide Keith with an independent platform and freedom that Current can and uniquely offers."

Personally, I've been a big fan of Olbermann's for a long time going back to his days as an anchor on ESPN's SportsCenter. He taught sports fans across the country a whole new vernacular for the game. We share similar interests, including a love of baseball, history and media, and we're of a similar age (early 50s).  He writes a blog, Baseball Nerd for His "Special Comments" segments during his tenure on Countdown were always passionate, literate, at times biting, but always thought-provoking.

Keith Olbermann /
A born talker blessed with a
voice that was made for TV
During the build-up to the 2008 presidential election and in the months that followed, Countdown became "must-see TV" in our household, not only for its civic and political news value ~ and its ability to hold all points of view, especially those blathered by Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, accountable ~ but also for its voice, peppered with cultural, historical and sports references, which allowed Olbermann's literary wit (he enjoyed quoting Thurber) and wisdom to flourish.  The man is a born talker and is blessed with a voice that was made for television.  By the end of each show, I felt like not only had I gained valuable lessons and insights about our democracy, but also was treated to a dose of topical and witty humor along the way.

If Olbermann is able to mimic Countdown in his new yet-to-be-named gig ~ and chances are good that he will be allowed to by Gore & Co. ~ Current TV is banking that viewers will follow. And, if Olbermann gets to be a little louder along the way without worrying about corporate meddling, all the better.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Thinking global, connecting through tennis

Tennis / Thinking global beyond borders.

It's been a long week with so much riveting news being made throughout the world, especially in Egypt.  Fortunately, it's rewarding to know that in these challenging times of unrest, a spirit of peace, sportsmanship and multiculturalism can exist and thrive through world sport.

Last weekend, the Australian Open crowned its 2011 champions in men's and women's singles.  The Americans didn't fare very well, while Serbia and Belgium did just the opposite.  And, when the new world rankings were announced on Monday, for the first time since the rankings began in 1975, the women's Top 10 players were from 10 different countries.  It's just another example of the global nature of tennis ~ and sport beyond borders ~ in an era when the United States is no longer a dominant force from the baseline or at the net.

Down under in Melbourne, basking in a glow of sunshine in the middle of summer, "The Grand Slam of Asia/Pacific" provided a couple of nice endings that got the 2011 tennis season off to a very promising start.  First, Kim Clijsters of Belgium proved that she is the best women's player in the world ~ bar none ~ as she defeated Li Na of China in three very competitive sets. It was the fourth career Grand Slam singles title for Clijsters, who improved her world ranking afterwards to No. 2.  Now, it's just a matter of time before she's No. 1 and, someday soon, Li will prove a worthy Grand Slam champion, too.

The following evening at Rod Laver Arena, Novak Djokovic of Serbia won his second Australian Open crown in straight sets over his boyhood friend, Great Britain's Andy Murray. Throughout the fortnight, the acrobatic Djokovic showed his shot-mastery and fortitude, dropping only one set in seven matches and dispatching defending champion Roger Federer in the semifinals.

In accepting the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup, awarded to the men's champion, Djokovic paused for reflection, choosing his words carefully, and thoughtfully projected a mature side of himself not always displayed on the court.  "There's been a tough period for our people in Serbia, but we are trying every single to day to present our country in the best possible way. So, this is for my country, Serbia," Djokovic said, clutching the trophy.

Both matches brought out a lot of great qualities in each of the finalists, and above all, there was a tremendous display of sportsmanship shown by Clijsters, Li, Djokovic and Murray. The multicultural crowds for both finals, many waving flags and holding up tasteful banners of support, applauded politely and respectfully.  After all, this was the Happy Slam.  Added up, it gives us hope for the future of the sport, even if there isn't always an American ~ or Roger Federer ~ playing on the final day of a Grand Slam.

As noted earlier in this post, the new WTA (Women's Tennis Association) rankings released this week show the Top 10 players hail from 10 different countries.  It's like a United Nations of tennis with Denmark, Belarus and Australia all having representation on the court.

"Having 10 different players represent the top 10 rankings shows how truly global tennis has become," WTA Chair and CEO Stacey Allaster said in a statement after the release of the latest rankings.

The women's Top 10:  1. Caroline Wozniacki, Denmark; 2. Kim Clijsters, Belgium; 3. Vera Zvonareva, Russia; 4. Francesca Schiavone, Italy; 5. Sam Stosur, Australia; 6. Venus Williams, U.S.; 7. Li Na, China; 8. Jelena Jankovic, Serbia; 9. Victoria Azarenka, Belarus; 10. Agnieska Radwanska, Poland.

And, the 11th ranked player, Shahar Peer, is from Israel. Thirty of the top 60 are from different nations.  Plus, Schiavone is the first Italian to break into the top five, and Li is the first Chinese player to reach No. 7.

Thinking global, connecting the world peacefully with tennis racquets instead of igniting chaos with stones.

Photograph by Michael Dickens (2004) from the Museum of the French Federation of Tennis, Stade Roland Garros, Paris.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Great Debate ~ imagination vs. knowledge

Albert Einstein / Imagination will take you everywhere.
Albert Einstein once said that imagination is more important than knowledge.  "Knowledge," he stated, "is limited to all we know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there will ever be to know and understand."

Put into a modern context, in our ever-changing, "wired" world of 24/7/365 news and information, technology and culture, does Einstein's vision of imagination over knowledge still hold true?  I would like to think so. After all, imagination gives us impetus to create.  Yet, I do believe imagination often owes a debt of gratitude to knowledge.

Here's an example: Knowledge is Thomas Edison developing the means for improving the audibility of the telephone. Imagination is Steve Jobs taking Edison's body of late 19th/early 20th century knowledge and ~ with a world of imagination (and some great marketing) ~ turning it into the modern creation of the Apple iPhone 4, a smart phone for the 21st century.  The Apple iPhone 4 is not only a telephone, but also it's a camera, an mp3 player, an information receiver, organizer, and a communications device all-in-one ~ and just slightly more portable than Edison's telephones ever were.

Here's another example: The American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of New York's Hayden Planetarium and host of the PBS series Nova scienceNOW, has studied the great debate of imagination versus knowledge.  He understands and appreciates the benefits that both sides contribute to the study of science and physics.

"You can explore (what's already been explored), but your life is not at risk for having done so," deGrasse Tyson said, explaining the worthiness and human spirit of adventure in sending man to explore Mars at a time when a return to Moon may be less risky.

During a recent appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, deGrasse Tyson, a popularizer of science, expounded on the imagination versus knowledge debate:  "When you are on the frontier of knowledge between what is known and what is unknown ~ reaching out into that abyss ~ sometimes, you do actually have to make stuff up that might be true so that you can organize a research plan to find out whether or not it is."  

A false bridge?  Maybe, but it comes with good intentions and involves a bit of risk taking.

"This is the creativity of discovery," deGrasse Tyson concluded.

Which brings us back to Einstein, the German born American physicist with the whimsical facial expressions, who developed the special and general theories of relativity ~ no small fete ~ and won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921.  "The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination,'' Einstein said. "Imagination is the preview of life's coming attractions.

"Logic will get you from A to B.  Imagination will take you everywhere."

Life's an adventure.  The journey continues ...

Photo of Albert Einstein taken in 1953, Ruth Orkin/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.