Weekending 25122011

It was Christmas Day when the week ended here in Los Angeles.

The week before, lots of fun stuff happened, mostly these two interviews.

One was with Steve Portigal for his Omni Project, called Creating Wily Subversions. Nicolas did an interview with Steve a little while ago: http://www.portigal.com/blog/nicolas-nova-scanning-for-signals/

There was also an interview I did with Kevin Holmes for month or so ago that I just found here: http://www.vice.com/read/talking-to-the-future-humans-julian-bleecker

Oh yeah — there was some general thinking about what goes on the project list for 2012.

Continue reading Weekending 25122011

Weekending 19122011

On the Swiss front of the laboratory (Nicolas), there is progress on the game controller project. Laurent and myself indeed met with scenographers in Lausanne to discuss the upcoming presence of the joypad collection at the Swiss Museum of Science-Fiction (yes, there is such thing as a Swiss Museum of Science-Fiction) in 2012. We chatted about the way the controllers will be presented, a chapter I wrote for the catalogue of the exhibit and also a new visual representation to be displayed as a complement to the devices. It’s the diagram that you can see at the beginning of this blogpost, designed by Laurent Bolli. What started as a book project is now slightly more complex with various artifacts like these. It seems that we’ll also sell the poster with postcards. We have the outline ready and part of the book is already written but the design approach we favored lead to intriguing bifurcations: it seems that every opportunity we get to discuss the joypad history lead to some new viewpoint that we try to express visually. And this representation then enables us to get a different perspective on the topic per se. Hopefully, I’ll write during the Christmas vacation!

Apart from that, the week was also devoted to a day of lectures at the Geneva University of Arts and Design. Monday was about interviewing techniques in field research and the afternoon about user participation in interaction design (from user-generated content to designing “hackability”.) This fostered an interesting discussion about repurposing and hacking. Students argued whether designing something so that people can create new features/functionalities is different than letting extreme users hack a system. What we agreed on at the end of the course was simply that those are different kind of possibilities along a certain spectrum… which allowed me to highlight the work of Michel de Certeau and the importance of observing peculiar ways to repurpose things in the environment (food for thoughts for designs).

And finally, I spend the end of the week conducting a field study in the train between Geneva and Zürich. The point of this project is to explore the use of (light) head-mounted displays used in conjunction with cell-phones. I can’t talk much about this but we’ll make things public at some point, perhaps an academic publication if time allows it.

At the Los Angeles Station (Julian) most of the last week was focused on a workshop at the Nokia Advanced Design Bureau where we had a wonderfully intense two day Project Audio workshop with our friends Tom Taylor and Phil Gyford from RIG. That was great good fun and engaging. Working with friends from outside the bubble of Advanced Design provides a bit of a checksum on the work. That’s to say — facing inward and not nearly as public about what we do and how we do it as we should be (and could be), bringing in trusted, thoughtful, engaged partners helps validate or repudiate the design we may *assume is fab, but may or may not be. With them alongside, we were able to move from some axioms and principles that came out of our first workshop in London a month or so ago to quite tactical plans as to how Project Audio moves forward in the 2012. Some more thinking, lots more making and some things that are very fast moving and involve multiple other participants who should be engaged in the design and making work. In between those two workshops we managed to find a way to work across eight timezones — and realized that the tools for doing so are a bit broken.

In other news, questions still abound in the Executive Floor as to when and why to make things become real produced things and when things are best as props and prompts to help shift and advance what design does.

On the one hand, making a “real” thing can be quite viscerally satisfying. You can say — “Look! I *made that thing hanging there on that rack in that box. I *made something that is real!” I understand that motivation. And oftentimes making that sort of real thing in that sort of real world is necessary because that, ultimately is how you make money to buy bread, if you work at a place where revenue is made through paying consumers. That’s good. And maybe along the way you’ve helped make people think differently about what can be in the world because many people? Well..many people consider least common-denominator crap like Color Changing Digital Alarm Clock Cubes is as good as it gets. And all good advanced designers aspire to advance that assumption and do things like set new high-water marks in the realm of little things that make the world just a little bit better.

On the other hand, making theory objects, props, prototypes and MacGuffin’s have the effect of poking and provoking the practice rather than the consumer — they are effective as ways of changing design in a wider sense because designers are the audience. They are potentially infectious and pedagogical. Of course, it is guaranteed they are incomplete almost by definition — you’ll never get the thoroughness and inevitable compromise that comes with tooling for manufacturing or constructively arguing with “The Business” about what this is and who it is for. The design priorities are sanctioned by the priorities of getting something that goes to the larger marketplace and you end up with a diluted thing that does/teaches nothing. I guess my point is that the prop can teach and the “real” (eech) thing has the potential to be a sad, diluted thing that eats time and money.

Continue reading Weekending 19122011

Weekending 12102011

On my side (Nicolas), the week was split between consulting (a workshop about social gaming in France) and different teaching gigs. One of them, at the Swiss Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), is a year-long course about designer’ approaches and tactics for engineers. We address various methods ranging from user research to prototyping. Given that the course lasts 3 hours per week and that we have not access to any studio facility, we have to do things in a pretty low-fi way. It’s challenging but very intriguing at the same time. This week the course was about mock-ups in interaction design and the role paper could play in this. Inspired by the Post-it phone approach developed by Matt Cottam at CIID, the students had to produce a quick and dirty mock-up of their project. The idea was that they had to rely on the results of the previous courses (field research, brainstorming session).

It was actually the first time I ever tried this approach and it went rather good. Using paper like this was both fun and engaging, especially because I asked students to act out the use of the device; one student being the computer (making audio sounds to mimick the interface), another being the user. This role-play was important as it enabled a “critique” phase afterwards during which anyone of us had to write down the pros and cons of the proposed system and present this to the user and its “computer”. Back to the laboratory, this ideas got me into listing a whole set of workshop activities and tactics that we can deploy on projects.

Over on this side of the world (Julian) most of the work was focused on getting some bits of technology to play together for the Ear Freshener concept for Project Audio. There are some fiddily bits that mostly had to do with not having played with Atmel 8-bit microcontrollers for a long while and their AVR Studio 5 having gone to edition 5 from 4, which meant upgrading it, which meant upgrading the other thing, which meant upgrading that other thing, which meant upgrading that one other thing, which meant upgrading Windows, which meant upgrading the thing that one other thing that didn’t want to upgrade itself, which meant planting my face in both palms and cursing lots of things. I’m also using this new debugger device — the AVR JTAGICE 3 — which as best as I can tell is a smaller thing than the huge AVR JTAGICE that came before it but otherwise the same. That’s finicky, too — but the single wire debugWIRE protocol for debugging is quite nice, although it can get you stuck in debugWIRE unless you know about the one little buried menu item to force the DWEN fuse to reset. That was another thing. I’ll have to do a little action-item post about the process of working with these new tools, for the tool-y people out there.

The result? Thursday night we had a functioning Ear Freshener (or should I say — EarFreshener?) in prototype mode, which you see above. It has a proper continuous adjustment knob that you might think is volume, but you’d be wrong. We went with the microcontroller to control the audio channel selection rather than writing code for the other device, which we’re definitely less familiar with. The extra chip and such won’t make a difference in scale or fitting or anything like that. The goal for this week is to produce some more audio and get Ted or Nick or someone to sit alongside and think about more of the IxD for the thing.

That was good progress by Thursday evening so I gave myself the rest of the week off and went to the Salton Sea for the afternoon.

That’s it.

Continue reading Weekending 12102011

Short Note — The Product Design Venn Diagram: Updates

This is maybe even less than a short note to point to a little more conversation that @bruces and others are having regarding the Hubberly Venn Diagram I mentioned a few blog posts ago. @AnneGalloway took some fast-furious notes of Bruce discussing it an event: http://www.designculturelab.org/2011/12/09/critically-making-the-internet-of-things-session-i/. Here’s what she says:

* pretty much impossible to take notes but…

“All the gloss of wonder gets scraped off” when the dreams of science fiction become real and commercialised. But also, why is the design in science fiction so bad?

Theory Object for anticonventional products

Theory Object for Anticonventional Products

Design fiction instead. See Postscapes’ Best Design Fiction 2011. (Ed. See Note Below)

But what about real products? What science fiction can’t do.

RFID + Superglue + Object ≠ IoT

“It’s easy to be bewitched by the apparent beauty and logic of this. But the map is not the territory.”

Design fiction is a form of design, not fiction.

I’m glad that Bruce mentions this idea that “design fiction is a form of design, not fiction.” As I see it and what hope I have for it as an approach to doing and making is that it isn’t fictional or meant to be disputed because it is “less real” than “real design”. That would be terrible — but that’s entirely up to designers who deploy it as a way of working. If it materializes things that others see as imminently real, tangible — things that cause action, then the question as to its “real-ness” and its factual/actual-ness won’t be disputed. So — make things.

There it is. Glad to see more discussions happening around this. We’ll back-fill it with meaning and utility and make it actionable through making-of-things. I think the Ear Freshener may be the Laboratory’s first test.

Note about Postscapes Best Design Fiction 2011 — Our opinion is that it is fab to have a bit of an awards category for things. It draws attention to the activity and all that. We’re not terribly into awards here — in fact, we cleared out the 7th Floor where we had our Division of Awards and Wall of Gallantry to make space for another solder reflow machine.

But, in any case — there was our Trust Clock listed as an entrant — you can vote for it if you like. It belongs in a different category though because that clock was *made and *works. It still sits in the studio, ticking away the time, ready for someone to get up the gumption and nerve to actually live with. I think there are some great and well-tested bits of design in the form of video prototypes, and they’re fun to look at and ponder.

And then — I think the building-of-the-thing is important and shouldn’t be underemphasized, but not to get puffy about. If there are going to be awards, then perhaps it makes sense to divvy things up a bit and indicate the idiom of design fiction that the design works within? Just a thought. But, that’s to say that the building of that clock forced considerations and questions that I don’t think would’ve occurred had one not had to write firmware and solder and all that. We could’ve stopped at that video, but we had more questions that came directly from writing software and discovering interaction rituals based on making activities — where buttons go, how the alarm fob is given and to whom..real material things that wouldn’t come out in a video. Those questions led to other considerations that really made for actionable design — that can *then be delivered in a tangible way to teams who make products that are closer to the center point of the Hubberly Venn Diagram. You see what I mean? There are things that happen when you make design fiction objects that turn on, can break, have byte code uploaded to them. These are things that make the design thorough — which obtains because of the pain of making the thing *work in a different way from animating it working.

Why do I blog this? To capture more discussions and thinking about the goals of design in a broader sense.

Continue reading Short Note — The Product Design Venn Diagram: Updates

Weekending 12042011

Well. Another *tardy weeknote. Doesn’t matter, I suppose. It’s just a log entry.

Last week was a busy one. At the Nokia studio there were many visitors and engagements with the work in the Advanced Design studio. It was a chance to get direct feedback from colleagues on the work that we’re doing and figure out what language around the work, like..you know..works. Oftentimes projects will start with a bit of a hunch and a nudge and a curiosity with lots of “I dunno..” half-baked thoughts about what is leads the projects in a particular way. Practicing describing the project over and over to visitors begins to refine and hone the thinking and begins to percolate up the significant insights, principles, design axioms. Presenting work eight times over a couple hours does a bit of brain-polishing. One thing I thought a bit about and brought into the discussion — something I learned for the sharing eight or nine times: It’s a thing that some things don’t get powered off, like digital connectors. At least for me, it isn’t a ritual to shutdown computers, phones, iPads, ebook readers. They get put to the side or asked to go settle down a bit, for me. Another thing — audio seems to always want to go up-and-to-the-right in its fidelity. It’s Hi-Fi..not Lo-Fi..the next iteration of sound reproduction technology won’t be worse — or won’t advertise itself as worse. That’s interesting. What’s the inverse of that, and what sort of world would it be where one could settle for Lo-Fi, or where Lo-Fi would make perfectly good sense. If that thought of an inverted world like that makes you think I’m crazy, or if you can’t imagine why such a question is important, or if you still think the Eurozone couldn’t completely disappear — then I don’t think you get what we do here.)

It’s a luxury to start something in that fashion. The freedom and trust to follow one’s curiosity often always leads to better things. The question was asked several times — I was sharing Project Audio — where does this go? How does it *end up in things*? And now with enough projects done it becomes easier to provide examples of how we work and how ideas from seemingly no place end up in a place with the integrity and principles of the thing-from-nowhere actually in there. It’s a translation of big principles and provocatively simple statements into a little nudge and refinement or rethinking of something. There’s still the large-ish gap between ways of working that exists between teams that work at a very fast cadence of product-ion and teams that are meant to look around a corner or who are incentivized to think a bit to the side and provoke. Still — sometimes if you whisper in the ear of the right people over and over again, you get that nudge to happen. Good ideas are worth saying many, many times.

What else?

Will stubbed out a bit of code for an *App I’ve been wanting to do for a bit. It’s a small simple thing, really. I’m sure it’s been done. Maybe its better that I do it to get back into the muck of Xcode. It simply shows a photo from a year ago. I’m interested in time and representations of it and the little puff of delight that comes from recollecting a moment and going back there. That came from Photjojo’s Time Capsule — which I love. It’s deceptively simple of course. But, it had me experimenting with seeding my future with the things I’d like to remember and go back to. That behavior is intriguing. Why an *App? *shrug. I need to get more comfortable writing code to do experiments and projects.

Berg released Little Printer which caused the Berg-o-spheric Cloud to rumble thunder. Curious device. I like the making of small things that do one thing. It got us thinking about the possible meanings of the Venn diagram from a couple of weeks ago.

Things go in certain places — where would the Little Printer go? It’s a product certainly — perhaps in the middle. It is not least-common denominator crap-product, so maybe not squarely in the center. It’s way more substantial and meaningful than SkyMall key-hiding stones or back scratchers with your favorite sports team logo on it.

I imagine long, slender 22 year old boys with grown-man full-beards, MacBook Pros and exquisitely curated and color’d fixies loving Little Printer. Where would it go in the graph of future things?

It’s a thing manufactured and designed to be produced — it’s not a realized thought-provoker or evocative knowledge object. It works, so it isn’t a prop/MacGuffin. It got me thinking about things that are meant to circulate an idea and start a conversation that may push or tip or tweak the relevant arena in new directions. It may not work, or it may work and it may even say — I’m going to work and be super relevant and live on people’s shelves..live in the world, but then doesn’t really. Or does, and then gives out a last shriek and death-cry and then remain silent forever, as Fabien described the last moments of his Nabaztag. This isn’t a normative assessment, just wondering about the category of things that change the way people understand something like the old, sad, forgotten printer and then it gets reinvigorated and reassessed and remade to be something fun and different, like Little Printer.

That’s it.

At the Smart City World Congress

This week was dedicated to the Smart City World Congress in Barcelona. It was my first outing in a comfy Near Future Laboratory jumpsuit. With Nicolas, we are indeed slowly shutting down the mainframes at Lift Lab and relocating our immaterialities to the Near Future Laboratory facilities. These things take their good share of time and energy, but we are pretty excited to merging our operations with a new gang of scouts dispersed hither and yon. The event collided with two other important milestones of projects steered these past few months.

First our client BBVA, presented publicly some of the measures and indicators of commercial activities in cities we have been producing and investigating. The visual supports of this project take the forms of maps (pdf), dashboards, and tools that each reveal a city and its quantified streets under new spatio-temporal lights.

Second, my peeps at Bestiario have working endlessly to release Quadrigram, a tool for individuals and organizations that work intensively with data and information. We are now running in private beta. More on that later.

Captured preaching the word in the near future laboratory gear
Captured preaching the word and proudly exposing a near future laboratory jumpsuit

So, in the margin of the multiple discussions on the definitions of a *smart* city, I could not help but contribute to the congress with my experience on the field in making urban data work. My discoursed focused on the necessity to treat data as a living material that must be crafted and manipulated at the different stages of knowledge and service production. I name that “sketching with data” and as with any creative work with digital technologies, it comes with tools and an undisciplinary process. Here are the slide deck + notes of my talk:

Sketching with urban data (PDF 6.9MB) presented at the Smart City World Congress in Barcelona on 29.11.2011.

In the audience, Alexandra Etel Rodriguez, Partner at Connected Brains produced visual notes of my talk. Thanks Alexandra for sharing this graphic recording!

Visual notes of my talk at the Smart City World Congress in Barcelona

Thanks to the organizers for the invitation!

At the Smart City World Congress

This week was dedicated to the Smart City World Congress in Barcelona. It was my first outing in a comfy Near Future Laboratory jumpsuit. With Nicolas, we are indeed slowly shutting down the mainframes at Lift Lab and relocating our immaterialities to the Near Future Laboratory facilities. These things take their good share of time and energy, but we are pretty excited to merging our operations with a new gang of scouts dispersed hither and yon. The event collided with two other important milestones of projects steered these past few months.

First our client BBVA, presented publicly some of the measures and indicators of commercial activities in cities we have been producing and investigating. The visual supports of this project take the forms of maps (pdf), dashboards, and tools that each reveal a city and its quantified streets under new spatio-temporal lights.

Second, my peeps at Bestiario have working endlessly to release Quadrigram, a tool for individuals and organizations that work intensively with data and information. We are now running in private beta. More on that later.

Captured preaching the word in the near future laboratory gear
Captured preaching the word and proudly exposing a near future laboratory jumpsuit

So, in the margin of the multiple discussions on the definitions of a *smart* city, I could not help but contribute to the congress with my experience on the field in making urban data work. My discoursed focused on the necessity to treat data as a living material that must be crafted and manipulated at the different stages of knowledge and service production. I name that “sketching with data” and as with any creative work with digital technologies, it comes with tools and an undisciplinary process. Here are the slide deck + notes of my talk:

Sketching with urban data (PDF 6.9MB) presented at the Smart City World Congress in Barcelona on 29.11.2011.

In the audience, Alexandra Etel Rodriguez, Partner at Connected Brains produced visual notes of my talk. Thanks Alexandra for sharing this graphic recording!

Visual notes of my talk at the Smart City World Congress in Barcelona

Thanks to the organizers for the invitation!

Airport Timer

 

There’s a passage in David Pascoe’s book Aircraft where he talks about how none of the airports of the time were prepared for the introduction of the 747. Specifically there was no part of the physical infrastructure of an airport that wasn’t overwhelmed by the size of and volume of the “jumbo” jet.

None of the waiting areas were large enough to accommodate the number of passengers getting on or off the planes. Often the planes themselves were too big to fit in the loading bays outside the terminals and the few enclosed jetways that had been in use up to that point were too small to even reach the doors on the planes.

Later in the book he goes on to describe a similar clusterfuck ushered in by the hostage taking during the 1972 Munich Olympics and the decision to install security checkpoints and passenger screening areas in airports. The just opened Dallas/Fort Worth airport was particularly hard hit. Although its design was modular and extensible from the outset (with all the terminals as simple semi-circles that could be snapped together like Lego up to the 10 miles in length) the buildings themselves were too narrow to retain any design or aesthetic after they been cut in two by x-ray machines and the lint trap of people waiting to go through them.

I was thinking about this last month when I had the misfortune of flying out of Terminal 7 at New York’s JFK airport. Architecturally, Terminal 7 resembles two staggered butter sticks. The first butter stick is where you check in and is connected to the second “stick” which houses the departure gates by a short flight of stairs. In between the two, just in front of the stairs, is where you go through airport security.

United Airlines flies out of Terminal 7 so at least some of the misery of the security process can be blamed on United poisoning any and everything it comes in to contact with. The rest, though, is a combination of the need for the Transport and Security Administration (and their international counterparts) to indulge itself in ever greater security theater of Broadway musical proportions; the inability of people to imagine any kind of personal efficiency or shared responsibility getting through the line; and a New York City scale “Fuck you, never again” attitude to the process born out of the reality of the 9/11 attacks. All multiplied by the ever increasing numbers of people flying to and from, and especially to and from New York City.

There isn’t much to say about the other terminals at JFK. Both Terminal 4 and the newer addition to Terminal 5 are little more than oversized cargo ship containers with drywall and designer handbag shops but at least they are big enough to dampen the indignity of the fear and paranoia that define contemporary air travel. Put another way: Terminal 7 is just too small and the security line is where everything grinds to a simultaneously depressing and rage-inducing halt and forces everyone to in to a shared despairing for all humanity, all the while with too little space to comfortably take off your shoes.

Untitled Intimacy #1076031825

So I made a website: http://airport-timer.spum.org

Airport Timer is a simple web-based stopwatch application to record how long it takes to get through security at the airport.

Before you get in the screening line you enter, by hand, the three-letter airport code and the name of the terminal you’re in and then press the start button which launches a timer in the background. Then you put your phone (presumably) back in your pocket before you are disappeared for spooking the security agents. When you make it through to the other side you press the stop button which stops the timer and, after a confirmation screen, uploads the airport code, the terminal and the time you spent (measured in seconds) going through security to Pachube. There’s also an option to send a pithy message to Twitter.

That’s it.

The site uses the Twitter API as a single-sign-on provider but that’s mostly as a kind of half-assed throttle on the API that proxies and sends the timing data up to Pachube. Because of the way that the Twitter kids have built their Javascript widgets and because there’s currently no place to store the Twitter user associated with a given report in Pachube there’s a reasonable argument that you shouldn’t need to log in at all. Modulo the part where even Instapaper gave in and forced people to create user accounts on the site. Anyway, you need to log in with your Twitter account.

The sites also uses Pachube as a datastore because it seemed like an obvious place to test the claim, in a networked world, that “every human is a sensor”. Pachube’s data model consists of three nested pieces: Environments (airports), Data Streams (terminals) and Data Points (individual time through security reports). The first two can be assigned additional metadata (tags, location, etc.) but the data points can only contain a timestamp and a value.

Which makes sense but right away the inability to add metadata to individual data points means that I can’t record who just went through security or generate, easily, the “your stuff” style personal reports that people expect from social websites. Arguably Pachube is not a social site except for the part where, in a world where we are all sensors, any centralized time-series service that has humans as inputs will be measured on its ability to abstract the data. Robots may not care (or need) to see all that information bucketed by airport or by Wednesday versus Tuesday but we do.

You could just as easily write a backend for this kind of site using MySQL or Solr. Solr’s ability to facet by date and eventually to do nested faceting (for example, to facet by airport and then for each airport by week or to facet by user and then by airport) makes it an attractive possibility but I’m choosing to use Pachube because it is a logical meeting of minds.

There are no “report” style pages for individuals or airports yet. There’s actually a lot of stuff the site doesn’t do yet. It does not try to retrieve your GPS coordinates automatically or use them to auto-detect your airport or validate that you’re really at Charles de Gaulle aiport and not sitting at a coffee shop in Winnipeg. It does not have a magic auto-completing list of terminals for each airport. It does not (and will never) have heat maps.

Some of these things will come with time. I have already imported all of the whereonearth-airport data in to a Solr instance so auto-detection and validation are both more than theoretically possible. Auto-complete for terminals is little more wrapper code around the Pachube API to pull out the titles of terminals (datastreams) for a given airport (environment/feed). But for now, it’s just a simple thing to record the data and put it somewhere safe and public.

Portals

 

I love the magically mundane virtual real world of Google Streetview, and like others I’ve longed for my 15 frames of blurry low-res Street View fame. So I’ve been wondering, how can I get into Street View without having to stalk the car and chase it down? Actually, I don’t just want to appear in Street View, I want to play in it and add things to it too. And I want to be able to invite my friends to join me on the street. I want to use Street View for more than looking at a random piece of the past. I want to use Street View as a place to make alternative presents and possible futures.

To help me fulfill this desire (and part of my thesis project), I’ve been prototyping magical portals to get into Google Street View.

I’ve also decided to launch a Kickstarter project to help take the prototype to the next level and see if other people might be interested in exploring this and other related ideas with me.

 

It turns out, making portals is also happens to be a good way to think about a lot of other things as well. For instance, why does the screen still feel like a glass wall between me an an interface? And how could I get around this wall in a fun and fluid way?

Lately, people have been really into using touch screens (pictures under glass) and gestures (lick a stamp!). But as cool as these things are, they still keep us on one side of the screen and the interface on the other. Not that I think we need to get rid of screens entirely and just have holograms in dark rooms every where. Screens are actually quite magical and we can take advantage of them. But what would happen if we could just make a little space for the real world between the screen and the interface?

Also, what other ways can we think about being co-present with people? There’s the completely CG virtual worlds, full of anonymity and low polygon fantasies. We also have plenty of banal desktop sharing and collaborative white boarding applications. Then there’s standard video conferencing which keeps people in their own separate boxes awkwardly avoiding eye-camera contact. And of course there’s always Real Life, but that’s bound by the rules of space and time. What if we could take a little from all these things and combine them into something that is both more real and more magical?

These are some of the things that I’ve been researching through making these portals. I’m not sure what other questions might come up as I move forward, but it’s a starting point for now.

If you’re interested in helping me explore these ideas while making these Portals, check out the Kickstarter project!

Continue reading Portals

Weekending 11272011

Whoa. Last week? Well — it was a short one. It was quiet ’round the studio. Which meant that quite concentrated bits of work could happen.

Advanced Projects Tippy-Top News — the Project Humbo set is done for Project Audio in the Advanced Projects Wing. That’s work, work. By “done”, I mean — built and tested. They work. The studio will hum with the sounds of a new wave of radio audio micro-local broadcasting. The world’s been turned upside down. RCA/Victor win! McCaw Cellular never was in this little parallel universe. More later.

Advanced Projects Near-The-Top News — major breakthrough with the Project Ear Freshener for Project Audio. I took a blurry little photo which is just a blur cause I think I was tired and the light was lousy. And, anyway — it’s a small breadboard with some bits on it. Imagine. As it turns out, poor documentation was the cause of the snags and hassles. And fortunately technical support was forthcoming and informal and conversational, which likely has to do with the outfit that makes the chips being nice and small. But — I’ve been spoiled by the Arduino kits. They’re way easy. I suppose I shouldn’t expect much clarity and convenience for a chip that basically winds up in stuffed talking teddy bears and the like. ((We’re not making talking teddy’s, by the way. Much better things.)) I have a little draft post of some of the technical gotchas we faced just to document the ways of working with this chipset.

Laboratory Tippy-Top News — Jayne Vidheecharoen has become more formally and less informally a part of the studio. You’ll notice the little post with an introductory Q&A with Jayne. She’s a clever creative with a lovely playful sensibility. There’ll be some fab projects and provocations in the future. I recommend you look closely at Jayne’s prior work, especially Customer Service Romance and Souvenirs From The Internet.

And in Just The News, came across an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review, which finds its way into the kitchen and livingroom of the studio but I don’t normally read it. I think I was waiting for the microwave to bleep at me and starting absent-mindedly flipping through it. There was a curious article on what makes a functioning, innovative, creative team. It came down to less management and more trust and some mechanisms for individuals setting their tasks and objectives based on a simply stated, tangible overarching organizational goal. That feels quite a bit like what happens in the Advanced Projects studio. The article is called First, Let’s Fire All the Managers.

Continue reading Weekending 11272011