Mapping Ideas with Open Source Handwriting-to-Text Software

hey there world

Ideas are curious things. You’re going along and suddenly… Boom! An idea. But it wasn’t really out of the blue, was it? Sure, something immediate may have sparked it. The spark came from somewhere. Where is that? How.. What is an idea? Configurations of neurons grow and represent realization..such vague explanation is saying Earth is a space rock. It is this. It’s immensely more.

Through language and emotion we navigate the world. We choose how to spend time, with whom to spend it. We choose which ideas are most interesting and seek out more. We read, browse, share. Videos, politics, religion, business, creativity.. our modern world is full of inspiration for those who explore. The idea I’ve been most interested in exploring is categorical: pondering how it is that ideas come about in the first place. Along this intellectual journey, I encounter a great breath of people, perspectives, and experiences. Playfully I explore the world of minds in order to create a perspective that is uniquely this self, this Amy.

In an effort to explore a bit of how I became myself, I’ve developed a side project over the past few years: mapping ideas. This post and accompanying a lecture at Stanford summarize the why.

Let this focus on the next step: sharing.

I write frequently. Between 2008 and June, 2016, I have filled up over 40 Moleskine Notebooks. Words, musings, aphorisms, speech outlines, sketches.. these notebooks are not mere writing, if there is such a thing. They are the evolution of the ideas I hold dear. The ideas I think have played the lead roles in my becoming who I am today.

Analyzing language for things like sentiment and keywords has for many years been possible thanks to platforms like AlchemyAPI from IBM. There is still a missing puzzle piece: a tool that automatically transcribes images of notebook pages into text files. Several tools exist but none so far have worked for me. I realize that Evernote makes writing searchable. It does not allow you to export text files.

Anyone out there interested in computer vision tools that turn writing to .txt? I would love to team up with you. Not just to make the next step in mapping ideas but to create an open source tool that anyone who writes can use to transform handwriting into a digital database.

I’m @amyleesterling on GitHub and Twitter. I’m still of course ever-searching for deeper understanding of who I am and perpetually welcome conversations with those of you on similar journeys. Ping me if this is up your curiosity alley. These are my personal notes and currently I’m brave enough to share them with people who ask but not publicly on the web just yet 🙂

A few sample images of notes below illustrate content diversity and wackiness.

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Possibilism and the Power of TEDx

Originally written for the TEDx Blog:

TED is an epicenter of the extraordinary and TEDx is one of many examples why.  This is how organizing a TEDx changed my life.  This is the power of ideas worth spreading.

To quote Hans Rosling, “I am a possibilist.”  Endless innovations are possible.  I am inspired by the notion that great discoveries coalesce from within a dense matrix of curiosity, collaboration, determination and inspiration.

TED brings fourth the subtle intricacies of an individual.  The details of one’s passion and the content that harmonizes with wonder are fascinating to explore, both in one’s self and in others.

A leaping sense of curiosity emerges when life is enhanced by TED-like content.  One remembers to regularly experience ‘Wow!’  Prolonged exposure to TED results in a deep and peculiar effect:  curiosity evolves.

Ideas worth spreading feed back into their recipient and yield an amended manner of thought.  Open, innocent explorations of our beautiful universe and its inhabitants become a regular aspect of life and business.  ‘TEDster’ is a 21st century character attribute of the purveyors of tomorrow’s next big ideas.

This revolution of interaction may help explain why thousands of people around the world spend tens of thousands of hours helping each other put together TEDx events.  Themes like Play BigMind Wide OpenRelentless Curiosity, and Perspectives on Innovation echo the TED brand (see Rediscovery of Wonder) while leaving room for independent expression.

Fellow TEDx hosts are, in my opinion and much like TED itself, legendary in the degree to which they determinedly create a medium for the spread of curiosity and inspiration.  The TEDx network is basically a propagation of TED; a secondary support structure for the dissemination of ideas.  TEDx organizers provide one another with resources, answers, optimism, suggestions, and instant friendships strengthened by a commonality that transcends traditional boundaries.  Whether local (the teams atTEDxAtlanta and TEDxNashville are both friends and mentors) or at a distance (fromTEDxDubai to TEDxMidAtlantic toTEDxLondon) it has been my delightful experience that TEDx organizers diligently uphold TED’s virtue and purpose, together learning from setbacks and sharing successes.

Over the many months involved in planning a TEDx event, its organizer repeatedly explains his or her interpretation of the philosophy of TED and the ideas that underlie TEDx.  This perpetual redescription of ideas worth spreading helps clarify why and how we volunteer to take the idea of TED and turn it into action as TEDx.

TED changes lives by encouraging participants to explore their own.

At TEDGlobal 2010, Matt Ridley aptly shared his concept of ideas having sex:  ideas must be shared if we wish them to evolve “beyond the capacity of the [single] human mind” and reach their full innovative potential.  TED might then be an idea orgy because it exceeds explanation and seems to evolve faster than we can describe it.   It has shared its genes through TEDx and catalyzed a passionate global network of people who have thought in depth and at length about answering the question “What is TED?”   More than an organization, beyond conferences, far surpassing even the phenomenal TEDtalks.. TED is Ideas worth spreading, questions worth asking, curiosity worth pursuing, work worth doing; it represents man achieving his best and then exceeding it.

TED and TEDx events reflect the caliber ambition of creating opportunities from obstacles and thus making life TED-like and an epicenter of wonder.  There are endless discoveries to be made when we look at existing knowledge, ideas, and opinions in a new way.  So said the possibilist.

Human beings are beautiful things when reminded to thrive.   I shared this thought inspired by TEDx with Chris Anderson, who answered that TEDx hosts = heroes.  While I may be no hero, the hundreds of other TEDx hosts around the world certainly are.  And I know few so deserving of my gratitude than they who graciously share ideas worth spreading.   To TED, TEDx organizers, TED and TEDx supporters and attendees:  I sincerely appreciate the opportunity through TEDx to help others share inspiration in pursuit of innovation.

TEDxHuntsville 2012 Presenters

ideation.TopictoTopic

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TEDx Music Project on Soundcloud

Few things make me excited to be working after 10 pm on Saturday.  The TEDx Music Project is one of them.  I’m thrilled to share the next phase and give a quick update on our progress since TEDxSummit.

TEDx Global Music is on Soundcloud!

The first phase includes 17 tracks.  Follow us to be among the first with access to the latest music from TEDx.

Our team is hard at work building the next generation of TEDxMusicProject.com.  It will go live in a few short weeks and feature TED API integration.  The new site will showcase both video and audio versions of the best live TEDx performances.

Listen to the tracks, download them and share with friends. Which track(s) do you like most?

Finally, a massive thank you to everyone who has helped make this happen and supported the TEDx Global Music Project along the way.  Major props to Souncloud for featuring us alongside audio sources such as The Economist and David Guetta.  We managed to gather well over 1,000 followers..in our first 24 hours public (June 22).  It’s only going to get bigger.

Follow the TEDx Music Project on Soundcloud.

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The TED Conference 2012

Think of TED as a marathon for your mind.  Over the course of a week, roughly 100 presenters from around the world deliver power-packed presentations lasting 18 minutes or less.  Topics range from quadrotor flying robots to the abundant future of humanitybasic human rights to next-generation liquid metal batteries.  And that’s just the first session.

 

TED is a brain spa.  The main TED Conference hosts 1,500 attendees in Long Beach, California.  600 additional TEDsters gather for a simulcast event known as TEDActive in Palm Springs.  So maybe it’s a brain rave.  Heavenly perspective with the world’s big thinkers.  A little known sentiment among attendees is that meeting other people at TED is the best part of attending – even better than the talks is interacting with the audience.

‘TEDTalks set the atmosphere for you to jump in and engage with people you’ve just met.  You can feel like you’ve known for someone for years when really it’s been only a few minutes,” says one attendee.

This is one of many reasons thousands of people shell out thousands of dollars on an annual basis to immerse themselves in the hybrid reality that is TED.  Innovation comes alive.

What is it like to walk into TED?  Look up and you see a rainbow made of thread.  To the right, custom prosthetics printed in 3D via additive manufacturing. There’s a Google Garage; AutoDesk’s history of the universe; Target Idea/Paper Airplane Factory; Music Genomic Sequencing; TEDBookshop, Coffee Commons’ endless espresso and numerous lounges stacked cushily with the latest Steelcase designs.  These spaces are designed to germinate ideas.  A single conversation, for example, may include Peter Diamandis of XPRIZE, Jesse Dylan of Wondros Films and Jay Walker of Priceline and TEDMED.

Finally, a quick rundown of my favorite presenters from TED2012:

  • Peter Diamandis:  Our world is fueled with abundance. Rather than lamenting potential future catastrophies, how can we empower the billions of new minds coming online with the priceless treasure that is the internet?  A passionate case for optimistic possiblism.
  • Ed Glaeser, Harvard:  Globalization has increased the value of being intelligent.  Cities boast benefits ranging from higher incomes to lower infant mortality rates.  Most importantly, cities are a place to evolve culture.  As humans, we need to be immersed in innovation – cities allow us to experience and learn from the mistakes, failures, and successes of others.
  • Andrew Stanton, Pixar:  When you’re telling a story, invoke wonder.  Elegance is the ability to tell a story without dialogue and is a central tenet to Pixar’s success in making animated features mainstream.  Pixar abides by the Unifying Theory of 2+2, meaning that the audience should put things together.  Don’t give people 4, give them 2 + 2.  Make people think; make the story worth your audience’s time.
  • Michael Tilson Thomas, Conductor:  Music is a new language and it has something powerful to say about what it means to be alive.  Factoids:  The earliest recorded music in history is from around 200 BC and was inscribed on a Greek tombstone.   Music “notes” were first seen in the 13th century as lines on a page.  Recording technology emerged in the 1880′s and forever revolutionized music such that suddenly songs could exist even when there were no musicians in the room.
  • Regina Dugan, Director of DARPA:  Believe in impossible things. Failure is key to success.  Case in point:  6 out of the first 8 rockets blew up on the pad.  ”There is only time to iron your cape..and it’s back to the sky for you.” Regina shared amazing technology inspired by biological systems such asadhesives akin to gecko feet and hummingbird spy drones.
  • Tali Sharot, Cognitive Neuroscientist: Optimism changes subjective reality.  It is a motivation to action.  If we expect to do well, stress and anxiety are reduced, resulting in positive health benefits.  Quoting Henry Ford, “Whether you believe you can or cannot, you’re probably right.”
  • Taylor Wilson, 17 year old scientist:  At 14 years old, he built a nuclear fusion reactor in his garage.  Enough said.
  • David Kelley, Founder of IDEO: ‘We’re focused on human-centered design: designing behaviors and personality into products.”  Everyone is innately creative.  Unlock it and let your ideas fly.  Case study of creative success:  an fMRI machine at a children’s hospital had to sedate children 80% of the time for them to be still enough for successful scans.  The team reimagined design into a pirate cave.  Operators were trained by museum guides to bring kids into a game where they had to lay very still so pirates didn’t find them.  Results?  After the fMRI turned playful, only 10% of kids had to be sedated.
  • Joshua Foer, Memory Champion: Remember better by taking information lacking context and creating a framework so that it becomes meaningful.  Josh brings to the table important considerations about what we miss by not deeply processing interactions with others.  What do we lose when we constantly tweet, text, check facebook etc. in stead of engaging with the person across the table?
  • Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Prize Winner: Leymah shares heart wrenching stories of women in Liberia.  We sometimes lose focus on the world outside our sphere, a world where, for example, a girl may get a scholarship only to find out that she must repeatedly have sex with the department chair if she wishes to keep it.  We have the power to change this world by giving a voice to the silenced and providing education scholarships to girls worldwide.
  • Brene Brown, Vulnerability Researcher: Final speaker at TED.  Outstanding presentation met by thunderous applause.  Rene speaks toward the importance of being vulnerable.  She asks “How do we learn to embrace our vulnerabilities and imperfections so that we can engage in our lives from a place of authenticity and worthiness?”  In the spirit of TED, failure is necessary.  We will fail repeatedly in the process of success.  Those who take failure and cultivate courage, compassion and connection are the ones who are able to derive true meaning and joy from life.
 
 

And that’s a wrap.  Or is it.  The notorious “TED Hangover” has come and gone (#firstworldproblem: TED’s wonder seemingly surpasses reality and generally leaves attendees with a sinking feeling – the hangover – of returning home to the real world).  The question now is “what’s next?”  How do I turn these great ideas and phenomenal interactions into meaningful outputs?  How will this year’s TED shape the way I perceive future challenges?  I am inspired, invigorated, motivated by the abundance of great minds in today’s world.

As we learned from Ed Glaeser, urbanization increases both the true and perceived value of intelligence.  With this in mind, I challenge you to TEDify your life by participating in the 2012 TEDPrize:  The City 2.0.  Lead your community to the future you imagine.

Now I venture again out into the real world of thought and action, perhaps most inspired by a conversation starter which I humbly acquired at TED.  A stranger walked up to me, looked at my name badge and said “Hi, Amy.  So tell me, what inspires you?”

This is how I learned it is possible to have a deeply meaningful conversation with a stranger.  It is also possible to reconnect with the person you’ve known for years in a completely new way.  Today, this week, this year, try something new.  Dive straight into who you’re speaking with.  Strive to make every conversation worthy of TED.  Enbrace with daring courage the potential that someone will shut down your curiosity.   Embrace also that that person may tilt her head, be silent for a moment, then share something amazing that changes the way you think for the rest of your life.

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x worth sharing

Relentlessly I insist that you start more side projects and share them.  It inspires me.  I believe in leading by example so here are two small crowd-sourced ones to get you started.

1. Design Worth Spreading

Tumblr featuring designs inspired by “ideas worth spreading” featured at TED or TEDx events.

2. Photos of notes

Self explanatory.  10+ moleskines full of thoughts, drawings, quotes, left-handed writing that might make it look like I am on drugs, etc are going online for you to get a glimpse of my mind.

Inspire a stranger. Submit photos of your notes.

TED2012 begins one week from today.  Burst of enthusiasm.

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Share your TEDx experience

I shared the below passage with the TEDx, organizer network on 11/14/2010.  Now I spread my appreciation to the global community of TEDx-ers and invite you to share your thoughts about attending a TEDx.  What surprised you?  What ideas meant the most?  What was your favorite part?   Did you meet other interesting TEDx attendees?  If you had to describe your TEDx experience in one word, what would it be?

(mine is marvelous)

***

Few things compare to hosting your first TEDx..

TEDxHuntsville was a week ago and I’m still beaming.  To the extent
that I am compelled to share this extraordinary excitement with you,
fellow TEDx-ers.  Isn’t it marvelous?!!

The feeling you get when you walk on stage and see a room full of
people waiting in anticipation of “TEDx”, not knowing what to expect..
(I was probably as nervous as they were).

Queuing the welcome video made it sink in for me.  The entire
experience was surreal.  I watched the crowd watching the video and
involuntarily smiled ear to ear.  TEDx was in my city!

What a rewarding, compelling, humbling opportunity, bringing together
hundreds of humans to explore thought through ideas worth spreading.

I am inspired.  Delighted is an understatement.  TEDx is an
extraordinary catalyst for passion.

Wow..what did I think after hosting my first TEDx?  To answer my own
question,

I thought:  humanity is a beautiful thing when reminded to thrive.

Thank you, TED, for extending TEDx to the world.  And thank you, TEDx
hosts, for inspiring me and setting the bar high.

Please share your first TEDx experience.  I am
excited to hear about it.

Cheers, to ideas worth spreading!

Amy Robinson

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www.tedxhuntsville.com

FYI – event summary:  our first TEDxHuntsville hosted a sold out crowd
of 275 people who traveled from 6 different states to experience four
hours of “Perspectives on Innovation.”  Presenters ranged from a
debut performance chronicling the evolution of jazz to next generation
space travel.  We explored what’s next in genomics, the transformation
of atmospheric physics, acrobatic dance, the mathematics of war, and
then took a break to conclude the first session.  I was amazed.

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What is TEDx?

TED – Technology, Entertainment, Design – is a pro bono organization that shares intriguing, intellectual, inspiring multimedia presentations from the pinnacles of human achievement.  To me, they demonstrate that the categories of accomplishment continually expand in the presence of persistent discovery.  This is what I think TED promotes through its “ideas worth spreading.”

TEDtalks, as these multimedia presentations are called, run from three to eighteen minutes in length (my personal favorite lasts but six).  Collectively, TEDtalks have been viewed near a billion times worldwide. ~700 talks. ~700,000,000 views.

If TED is new for you, you are in for a treat.   Enjoy.

The curators of ideas worth spreading fittingly shared their concept and created the “independently organized TED event.”  TED becomes TEDx.  Thousands of individuals then curate action by sharing TEDlike ideas.  This catalyzes an entire new level of collaboration and even, as Chris Anderson proposes, crowd sourced innovation.   It’s almost a new societal infrastructure.

This is amazing.   Not only is this one of the most beautiful evolutions of our human race, but the longer term outcome – say, what becomes of TEDx in five, ten years – is wonderfully beyond my imagination.

In my opinion, TEDx is a concept derived from TED.  Its purpose is to procure the finest attribute of humanity:  our capacity for thought.

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