13 Tools to Promote Divergent Thinking

New ideas can come from anywhere, but are often hardest to find when you’re actually looking for them. However, I believe it’s possible to jumpstart your brain, even under pressure, by applying yourself to a bit of divergent thinking:

Divergent thinking typically occurs in a spontaneous, free-flowing manner, such that many ideas are generated in an emergent cognitive fashion. Many possible solutions are explored in a short amount of time, and unexpected connections are drawn. After the process of divergent thinking has been completed, ideas and information are organized and structured using convergent thinking.


So to help anyone out there who may be stuck for ideas, here’s my list of divergent thought helpers:

  1. Stumbleupon – highly recommended: tell it your interests and hit ‘stumble’ to be sent to a random site
  2. Buzzfeed – hit the randomize button in the top right corner (occasionally NSFW) to see something usually quite cool
  3. Mystery Seeker – type something in the search box and receive a set of google results for a totally different subject
  4. The Wiki Game – start in one place on wikipedia, and try to end up in another, while seeing loads of content on the way
  5. We Heart It – inspiring and high-quality imagery, often captioned, and with decent search functionality
  6. We Feel Fine – an emotional search tool, potentially good for scanning & visualising need states
  7. Popurls – see the freshest stories from a range of great online sources, with customisation options
  8. Newsmap – a visualisation of the latest news, powered by google (quite old but potentially interesting)
  9. Thesaurus.net – high quality thesaurus dictionary: search synonyms, antonyms, rhymes, quotes and idioms
  10. Visual Thesaurus – see the associated meanings between concepts – worth paying for
  11. Bing Visual Search – search the web visually in an intuitive, exploratory way
  12. oSkope – discover images, videos and products related to a search query
  13. TouchGraph SEO – see the links between topics and websites

Finally, and it may take more time for ideas to emerge this way, but TED really is an amazing resource for this kind of thing. I recently attended TEDxObserver, after which my head was swimming with ideas.

Can you suggest any of your own?

Are You Ready For Your Close Up, Miss Colada?

BevShots have discovered what you’d call a niche: they take your favourite alcoholic drink, crystallise a single droplet of it in an airtight container, photograph it at 1000x under a microscope, and then sell the resulting image on a printed canvas.

And man, are these things selling! Since August last year BevShots estimate sales of over 20,000 prints ($24.99-$549). The product is aimed at the ‘hedonist with a mind for science’ segment: those who appreciate good photography, laboratory conditions and a damn-tasty cocktail now and then.

Here’s my favourite image, the classic Vodka and Tonic:

The shots are taken in Florida State University’s chemistry department, where founder Lester Hutt developed the approach, which can take up to three months to produce an image.

Lester says:

“What you can see in the magnified pictures are the crystalised carbohydrates that have become sugars and glucose. With my background in chemistry, I saw the potential in these kind of pictures and am so glad to be able to offer them up as art works. It is a pleasure to show people what makes up their favourite drinks and how beautiful it can look.”

Most alcohols are blends, with varying levels of carbohydrates, sugars, acids and glucose, so each shot taken is entirely different from the last. Some favourite drinks are so pure that when they crystallise  into their component parts, they fall apart or don’t dry out properly. So, not unlike the perfect Margarita, they’re pretty hard to get ‘just right’, sometimes taking up to 200 attempts.

Here’s some more of their work – click through for the full images or visit BevShots.

I’m thirsty! Who’s for a drink?

The Weird Inner World of the 3D Fractal

This post is about one of the really cool things that happens when maths I don’t understand and technologies I don’t understand get together to make something awesome. Let us begin:

A typical fractal, made using the Mandelbrot set.

A fractal is a conceptual object that reveals further details about its shape ad infinitum, upon ever-closer inspection of it’s fabric. Think of the trunk of a tree sprouting branches, which in turn split off into smaller branches, which themselves yield twigs etc and you won’t go far wrong. In fact, fractals typically look like this thing to the right.

These infinitely complex shapes are ‘created’ by instructing graphics software to render the result of a simple mathematics formula. Until now, the result has been a 2D image – there’s no depth, shadow, perspective, or light sourcing. It is a truly abstract mathematical shape.

But since your home computer became powerful enough to do proper image rendering stuff, home hobbyists have begun to innovate on these formulae. For the first time, three dimensional fractals are able to be created with relative ease.

I can’t go into the maths, because you know, I’m not a total geek, but I do want to show you how beautiful some of these shapes are. Let’s run through some examples:

This is what you get by multiplying phi and theta by two.

More like a classic fractal with 0.5*pi to theta and 1*pi to phi.

This time multiplying angle phi by two, but not theta.

But we’re still looking at these things from outside. The really cool bit is when you start to zoom in. So let’s look at some of the high quality renders from the archives of Daniel White at his highly eclectic Skytopia, where I first learned of this phenomenon.

Make sure you click around on some of these thumbnails, yeah?!

If you’re anything like me, you’d be pretty excited at the idea of being able to create both beauty and complexity from something as simple as a few lines of code, and to then be able to explore your creation from every angle.

Then again, if you’re anything like me, you’d feel a bit frustrated that you’ll probably never be able to make something that awesome yourself. So let’s marvel at the wonder of Daniel’s creation as he takes us deep ‘Into the Heart of the Mandelbulb’.

Your comments, please!

Into the Heart of the Mandelbulb