Patron Identification Protocols

Thursday February 26, 19:20:10

Thursday February 26, 19:46:47

In a busy, bustling hipster bar called The Alibi Room in Culver City California, you’ll get a magician-sized playing card to identify you as the party who ordered two flights of spicy pork korean BBQ tacos, fries and a couple of pints of girlie beer. (That’s the same bar that was once much rougher, less hip, where you could get a shot and a beer at best, and perhaps a punch in the nose if you weren’t careful, or weren’t from around the neighborhood.)

The ordering protocols in these circumstances provide opportunities to catch the eye of a barmaid, who seems to be perpetually ignoring only me. Somehow the King of Clubs gets attached to our order, sort of, and the drinks-and-food delivery girl sorts out finding our party, outside on the deck under cover of overhead heating grills.

Saturday February 21, 22:53:37


The same food at another similarly-hip-but-once-rough-and-tumble bar called The Brig in Venice Beach California, you simply queue up at the korean BBQ taco truck that sits in the parking lot some nights. The circumstances of this either provides an invitation for you to get something spicy to eat and cool-down with an overpriced pint in the bar, or get wobbily at the bar and convince yourself you need something to eat to absorb all the booze.

Other situations provide a more tacit association between you and your food. You’ll get a numerical ambiguous (unless you’re cleverer than I) placard at this quick-food sandwich-and-coffee joint near the studio. Most fast-food joints will give you a receipt with a number.

Parenthetically, suggestive advancements are presented by the not-super-rocket-science-y announcement mechanic of Kogi BBQ, the taco truck referred to herein. They send out Twitter announcements (I still can’t really bring myself to say “tweets” — gaahh! Guess I just did..) as to their location. I’m guessing there are either two or three trucks, as they are often simultaneously on the east side in the Silverlake area, and on the west side, Culver City and Venice Beach with recent spottings at Santa Monica City College.

Why do I blog this? Observations about protocols and mechanisms to get people together with their food as experience in the last week or so. Will it happen, as our communications channels evolve, that rather than laminated cardboard placards we ourselves get messages that our “food is ready!” via something like Twitter, if not Twitter itself? Are their degrees of “ubiquity” for communications channels that would allow this to be something reasonable to expect patrons to have such a channel? *Shrug*
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Star Trek Embedded Culture


Speculative design details for a Star Trek (TOS) Sciences Tricorder, complete with placement of thru-hole (!) capacitors, resistors, wire bundles and rectifiers. Just in case you were wondering, there will be no surface mount in the future, which is fine. Tangibility is good. From Franz Joseph. 1975. Star Trek Star Fleet Technical Manual.

For anyone who hasn’t watched the amusing trekumentary How William Shatner Changed the World — please, treat yourself. It come back and forth to my mind as I hammer out some of the contours of design fiction thinking and practices.

The theme is quirky and done with a dose of hubris, of course, which adds a bit of geeky humor to the whole thing. But, the undergirding notion is that some of the instrumental and ontological furniture of the Star Trek future are found here, today. In some ways, with some of that furniture, we are in the Star Trek future. We don’t have intrepid, frontiersman space captain’s tear-assing around the universe, contemplating the ethics of Prime Directives. But, we do have things like Bones’ medical bay, at least in some parts of the world. We do have communicator like things, of course. And Shatner will take you to the folks who are today’s engineer-scientist geniuses who grew up on Star Trek and have come to him to help wonder about the role it played in their young lives, providing little sources of inspiration and contemplation and motivation.
At least, that’s how the story’s told in this clever, campy documentary. All the folks are real — they’re not making stuff up to bolster the Shatner ego. In all seriousness, what I find most intriguing is the implication here for this design fiction notion — that science fiction has always participated in creating future worlds.

More than the imagining, but the speculating, prototyping and thinking-through of the near future worlds we may want to inhabit. This is where the design component comes in — as a resource, actively engaged in the “engineering” of things, experiences, objects. It’s not an easy thing to do. Much of the work done today in making near future worlds wants to get down to the brass-tacks operations of things. Logistics. Pragmatics of markets. Instrumental aspects of making objects, forgetting too quickly the imagination. Dismissive of speculation and creative imagination. Not even considering the possibilities of telling stories to help think things through. It’s a peculiar, undisciplined approach to innovation — to doing things differently and finding new materialization practices.

There’s so much about Star Trek that lives outside of the television and movies themselves that shows the active hand of imagining in real, material ways all the bits and pieces below the surface. I’ll own up. I remain a huge Star Trek fan. I dug up my old Starfleet Technical Manual that I got with a fistful of dollar bills saved when I was a tiny boy, purchased at a real, honest-to-god Star Trek convention in New York City that my dad took me and my brother to. This imaginative book closes a lot of the gaps, helping to imagine the nuances of the Star Trek near future, making it seem more tangible and possible. The book is a kind of design prototyping — a sketchbook to help ponder one possible future world with all of its props, each behaving as a kind of conversation piece through which that future happens.
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You'll Want To Read This

The Valley and The Sky, Sascha Pohflepp’s RCA dissertation, just now released into the wild’s of the networked jungle. A dissertation about California’s technology culture between idealism, business and futures for design. Submitted to Critical Historical Studies at the Royal College of Art in October 2008.

Congratulations Sascha!

Sascha Tells A Story
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Eric Paulos' Open Disruption

Monday February 09, 23:51:43

Discarded Maneki Neko, resting comfortably in Madrid, Spain.

This is the most important thing you will read this year if you have any interest in or passion for ubicomp, design, making-things. I’ll quote a bit, then send you to the source. Eric wrote this on the centenary of The Futurist Manifesto, bringing these sensibilities into the context of ubicomp in particular, but I read a lot into this in terms of approaches to making things that provoke, that make us think, and that can create new or refigured and more habitable near future worlds. Spend a minute. Spin it in your hand. Re-read it. Share it.

Ubiquitous technology is with us and is indeed allowing us to communicate, buy, sell, connect, and do miraculous things. However, it is time for this technology to empower us to go beyond finding friends, chatting with colleagues, locating hip bars, and buying music.

While we should celebrate our success at delivering many vital aspects of Mark Weiser’s original vision of ubiquitous computing, we should also question the scope of this progress. Step back for a moment. What really matters? Everyday life spans a wide range of emotions and experiences – from moments of productivity and efficiency to play, reflection, and curiosity. But our research and designs in ubiquitous computing do not typically reflect this important life balance. The research we undertake and the applications we build often employ technology primarily for improving tasks and solving problems. While these are indeed noble and important areas of research that we must undertake, we claim that the successful ubiquitous computing tools, the one we really want to cohabitate with, will be those that incorporate the full range of life experiences. We want our tools to sing of not just productivity but of our love of curiosity, the joy of wonderment, and the freshness of the unknown.

From Eric Paulos’ Manifesto of Open Disruption and Participation.

Why do I blog this? There are strong sensibilities towards new practices for new ways of living in here. The deliberate undisciplinary approach of doing unexpected, far-reaching, unknown things outside of the now-bankrupt realm of commodity fetishism and me-too product lines. The time now seems right to do things differently, to bolster the growing force of productive creativity, making the things that are our own, rather than those things that are least-common denominator, designed for everyone else so that all of our sensibilities, expectations and hopes are normalized to the least inspired amongst us. Yes. Maybe we should plant our own gardens, form local energy production collectives and tar-and-feather bank executives. But, then lets also make our own imaginations, materialize the things that we only think about rather than grousing about the crap that the bad-old, decaying manufacturing industries force upon us. Make weird things.
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The Map Is Here For You To Use

Sunday February 15, 09:19:01

Tucked away, a map there for me to use.

Departing Madrid early on a Sunday morning, I found this paper map of the Metro, tucked neatly within the seams of a pre-fab wall, ready for re-use. I wondered, who was on their way out of Madrid, thinking that they could not in good conscience throw away their worn map, looking about for a way to pass it along to another visitor.

Another instance of a Thoughtful Act.

Why do I blog this? Sudden interest in observing improvisatory social practices which are signals of a sort, not always of a “service” or designed object to adopt that practice into a commodified instantiation. But sometimes merely a curiosity that helps us better understand who we/people are, like waypoints along a contour of individual and collective humanities.
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One Thing, Done Well

Wednesday February 11, 19:09:39

Two old trades in Madrid, Spain. Sex and smokes. Focused endeavors. No fuss, no muss..err.. Where exactly?

Tuesday February 10, 17:46:12

Sole proprietor. In central Madrid, Spain, near Anton Martin metro, a butcher’s studied hand trims and fillets a ham. I can’t remember the last time I saw a butcher, butcher. Where exactly?

Tuesday February 10, 17:57:08

A store selling nothing but buckles, snaps and handles — largely metal/brass hardware. Madrid, Spain. Where exactly?

Been thinking about the relationship between things over-burdened, trying to do too many things at once, and the elegance and simplicity inherent in doing one thing, and doing it very well. I get a bit miffed and muddled about long lists of features on most any consumer gadget, especially things like telephones and computers — that sort of thing. They lure you end and make distinctions with the other guy based on the number of extra bits and bots listed on the box, often forcing that as the primary decision making criteria. Why would you get the other thing when this thing costs the same and has four extra megabits and two extra, um..things..even if you have no idea why you’d need the extra thing and the megabits?

Tuesday February 10, 10:51:29

Tuesday February 10, 17:42:17

Nothing but knives, scissors, cutlery, razors and sabres. Madrid, Spain. Where exactly?

I’d be happy with only one capability, and that capability done with extra emphasis on the singularity of the task, rather than on all the extra things that I may never need to get into. Or the decision making criteria contoured and cordoned by the nuances of experts and dilettantes. Let the over-users determine what makes good sense, not the marketing wonks.

Why do I blog this? It is interesting to me to think about the movement from single purpose trades to one-stop-shop operations reflect some aspect of consumer culture that is paralleled in the design of over-burdened, multi-purpose devices. Do we want to go one place to have everything done — our butchery, fish market, vegetables and dry goods from Whole Foods, in the same way that we want our iPhones to do email, web, twitter, weather, photos and, oh yeah..make phone calls? And what are the implications of stripping devices down to their core simplicity? What about a phone that makes phone calls..and that’s it? Is there a case to be made for back-to-basics designed experience?
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Media Diversity

Wednesday February 11, 14:47:23
Newsstand in central Madrid, Spain. Where?

Wednesday February 11, 14:47:09
A curious assortment of news and media products also in Madrid, Spain Where?

Wednesday February 11, 15:36:54
Some 5 Euro DVDs in a strange categorization schema. Not sure these all belong together in the same selection, as Boris pointed out. Disney? Al Pacino and Robert De Niro?Where?

A curious diversity of media selections at many of the newsstands seen out and about central Madrid. Most barely stopped short of selling small household items. You could get DVDs certainly, along with a variety of newspapers, both lauded broadsheets as well as the usual assortment of pulp hobby, entertainment, fashion and sports magazines. It’s curious to see these alongside of hardcover, shrink wrapped editions of the Life of Stalin, tomes titled the History of Philosophy and speciality, custom-published magazines with nattily groomed Barack Obama on the cover.

Why do I blog this? Observations bout media distribution practices. Curiously, I don’t exactly recall seeing DVD rental outlets, which I was not on the look-out for. I wonder if the newsstands also serve as DVD purchase/rental outlets. It is barely worth noting that I attempted to watch “Lost” during my nine days in Espana (a fella has his curious vices..) but was stymied by a notice that showed in the video frame — this show is not available outside of the United States. Hrm. In some ways, I suppose this is a signal of old media — both the institutions as well as the material. People more often than not seem to be turning to their peers and trusted allies to obtain the things they want, and those networks grow stronger as the one or several to many networks crumble and fall.
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Thoughtful Acts

This came up in the studio..errr…I think it was a studio BBQ. Mr Newman pondered – what about thoughtful acts?

A sign of a restaurant in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, painted backwards so motorists’ passing along on the parallel street would see it in their rear view mirror.

Thursday February 12, 15:21:20

A lost scarf thoughtfully tied to secure it from blowing away in the wind, and up high enough in a tree so that it could be seen from a distance. Toledo, Spain

The inside-the-design-world joke was a curtsey toward Jane Fulton Suri’s Thoughtful Acts, a fun little compendium of mostly observations-as-images meant to reflect upon the “thoughtless acts” people do — “those intuitive ways we adapt, exploit, and react to things in our environment; things we do without really thinking.”

Thoughtless Act? Or Thoughtful Improvisation? Taxi driver arranges his bluetooth ear piece and his phone within reach in San Francisco, California

Thursday February 12, 08:38:49

A smart vest, lost late into the boozy night before, more than likely. Picked up and hung on a sort of street baluster to be found, hopefully, by its rightful owner in Madrid, Spain

Thoughtless acts happen as a matter of course, unconscious in some instances, or done without deep consideration. It might be tying the string to a tea bag around the handle of your mug to keep the string and tag from falling into the hot water. Or turning the claw of a hammer into an improvised door jamb. That sort of thing.

For the fun of it, and to think through curious observations — what might a thoughtful act be? One that does favor to other people? That shows the heart and humanity of a social microcosm? I dunno. Perhaps something that shows deliberation and ingenuity with a raw sense of simplicity and just-get-it-done-edness.

Why do I blog this? Observations turned to conclusions and insights. How do you make sense of anonymous acts of generosity and consideration? Or simple indicators that suggest that design is always a conversation with things getting redone with purpose.

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Deeply Embedded Eating Practices

Monday February 09
Museo del Jamon. Museum and Eatery!

I’m not a nervous pig eater, but I’m also not well-known as a food experimenter. No pink fish or sketchy street food when on the road and, knock-wood, I’ve always managed to avoid any lower gastrointestinal distress while traveling.

It was clear that Spain is a country that loves its meat products, especially Jamon, served in many possible configurations. It was an indulgent treat to basically have it every day, except my last when my system clearly reminded me that there are things called “vegetables” and they are “good for you.”

There are curious casual cafeteria or deli-style eateries where you basically get delicious warm bread, perhaps some cheese and definitely a variety of pig product, coming from cured shanks that have been hanging from the ceiling, you know..curing. There’s a whole system of ranks for the cured pig product, enough to keep the would-be dilettante satisfied and full of conversation about the vagaries of this-or-that curing process, dependent of course on what the animal ate when it was alive, what part of the land it came from, and so on. It’s like wine, or cigars or Finnish Saunas. It’s its own culture with a technical language, enthusiasts who know the great hidden places, and..everyone’s got “a guy” who can get you the special stuff.

Thursday February 12, 11:08:44

Monday February 09

Related, the Vida 11 event? The digital media arts annual in Madrid? Big deal — fancy deal, with lots of furs and stuff? Anyway — it was held in an enormous refabbed facility called Matedoro which was once Madrid’s slaughterhouse. The epic scale of the place is a testament to how much these fine, hospitable Spaniards enjoy their pig products and the image of lots of gimpy, peg-legged pigs is hard to keep from popping into your mind when you’re at a place like the Museo del Jamon, which is a museum, yes..but also an eatery.

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Garage Science Conclusions and Implications

Monday February 09

No almost back to the Laboratory after a fantastic week in Madrid at Medialab Prado where I was helping run their annual Interactivos workshop/activityshop. This one happened along with Critical Art Ensemble and, of course, all the fine folks at Medialab Prado.

What is this thing, anyway? Well, it’s something with which I am happy to have participated, but I’m also jealous because it is mostly an opportunity to spend two solid weeks working on your art-science-design-technology project. We received 79 submissions and selected nine projects to participate. The makers/scientists/artists showed up and got to it. There were occasional interruptions for fine foodstuffs, talks from invited speakers, late nights with plenty of Rioja and co-labor across projects. There were a couple of other events happening in Madrid at the same time — Vida 11 where my good pal Jed Berk was exhibiting the ALAVs. There was also ARCO the big Spanish contemporary art faire which I slashed through in about five hours while the workshopees were sleeping in, hung over from the previous night/morning. (We kept mostly a forward-time-shifted schedule, it seems, from my usual routine.)

Wednesday February 11, 15:07:45

Wednesday February 11, 15:07:01

Thursday February 12, 18:26:23

Garage Science also had invited submissions for papers on the “garage science” topic, which I sadly missed. I was especially bummed to have missed Taeyoon Choi, my alternate reality brother, who gave a talk on Urban Protest 2.0. Dang. The other papers sounded super swell and can be found here. There was a talk called Karakuri: Ancient Japanese robot craft by Kirsty Boyle and one on children and digital learning by Bronya Calderon. The Medialab Prado folk are pretty diligent about capturing stuff so hopefully we’ll see some of that video they shot online soon.

I won’t go into an exhaustive review and description of the nine projects — they’re all here online already.

What should be said is the importance of this vector towards creating the world and its objects and experiences and points of interaction. What is this exactly? It’s about circulating the imagination and swerving along paths that may be different from the now quite old school mechanics for materializing the imagination. Those old means of turning ideas and the imagination of willful people into “projects” that are accomplished as quickly as possible, with Gantt charts, where vision and inspiration are thrown out for miserable, soul-crushing reasons that often come from those with only a vision to make their quarterly numbers or look good for the guy who’s going to promote them. In a word: selfish, uninspired, crap. The crushing moment is often the word “but”, often followed by statements like, “we have customers” or “we have a hard deadline” or “we have to get real.”

Thursday February 12, 18:23:09

Thursday February 12, 19:31:27

Thursday February 12, 21:43:29

All of this stuff at Garage Science is Garage Science Fiction in the best of ways. It’s materialized, working stuff — not inert props. It circulates ideas and new considerations and sets off alarms at the boundaries where existing practices have gone a bit stale and uninspired. The ideas come from waking dreams and inspired conversations with people who think different and act different. Being at Garage Science was like finding old friends who I had never met. Fantastic stuff. Activated, engaged and fun in the truest, collaborative sense. What goes on at things like Garage Science is more than the prototyping work itself, its about prototyping a new way to work that isn’t about intellectual property, sales projections, markets analysis, focus groups, “design” done by retailers and accountants. These idea-materialization practices are certain to surge in the midst of this collapse or crisis or indictment against bad old habits that lead to too much bad crap for sale.

Garage Science is a reminder that no one gets bored when they work from their own own ideas and imagination. There should be way more of this happening, especially nowadays.
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