Weekending 12062012

Nicolas: last week was quiet because of May 1st but I spent few days on different things. First, I worked on preparing a wall of game controllers with Laurent Bolli for a summer exhibit at mudac in Lausanne. Since the collection of official gamepads are already in Yverdon, we’re going to show the ones that reveal various aspect of interface evolution: personification (a pad with the shape of a game character), miniaturization (small pads), hybridization (the merging of a pad and a keyboard, etc.).

I also prepared the summer project at Art Center in Pasadena, discussing with potential interns there over Skype. The idea is to work on gestures and rituals in the 21st Century:

Teaching design ethnography and conducting various projects in this area, I am interested in how people use artifacts (digital or not). Especially given that it helps framing the design space, find some inspiration and understand people’s needs. But I am also fascinated by how exploring human practices can be a way to speculate about the future, in order to create design fictions.

This project is about gestures and digital rituals that typically emerged in the 21st Century : gestures such as recalibrating your smartphone doing an horizontal 8 sign with your hand, the swiping of wallet with RFID cards in public transports, etc. These practices can be seen as the results of a co-construction between technical/physical constraints, contextual variables, designers intents and people’s understanding. I see them as a very intriguing focus of interest to envision the future of material culture.

The aim of the project will be to envision the future of gestures and rituals based on:
1. A documentation of existing “new” gestures
2. The making of design fictions that speculate about their evolution

(“The Boat Of Love: Playing Disaster”, Franco Brambilla)

Finally, I went to Paris for a design jury at ENSCI and visited an interesting exhibit about steampunk and “yesterday’s tomorrows”.

Me? In Los Angeles? *shrug. Well – a bit of organizing of things for the Detroit Design Summit this fall. I’ve slowed down on the Ear Freshener for the time being as the Marshall Stack project’s first most refined prototype (of three different types of prototype) is completed and sent off to some folks. I wish I could say more about it — but, I will sometime later. There’s lots of good insights and experiences learned from that project.

But, on the other hand — I’ve been getting back into programming stuff, which has been torturous and fun, but mostly fun.

Also, some planning for a couple of talks and workshops coming up over the next couple of months. I want to try some workshopping techniques that Nick and I had planned for a team here — but that workshop got postponed. They are some fun but I think highly evocative approaches to designing new, disruptive things.

Here in Barcelona, we celebrated the release of Quadrigram, “The visual programming environment to gather, shape, and share living data” created in collaboration with our friends at Bestiario. The 8-months journey from shaping a software product to shipping it has been particularly gratifying. Aters years in academia and then consulting, it is a territory I wanted to discover, learning and applying new methodologies to create both from technological and user experience stand points. I will probably need to write a post-mortem to properly debrief the adventure. Expect to hear more on the subject in the upcoming weeks.

Weekending 15042012

For me in Los Angeles, I spent the week debugging the Ear Freshener project and designing a new circuit board. More about that in a subsequent post. There was general following-alongs on the #NewAesthetic developments — mostly to say that it’d be nice to not over-theorize a thing that is basically a result of living the Algorithmic Life. But, it’s good therapy to say it so, to have some awareness and set of observational tools to document and capture these things, like this weird rabbit I saw in the Sacramento Airport on my way back from the Gaming the Game conference.

And that was the other thing I did last week. Thursday and Friday I was at UC Davis at this conference. It was quite good fun. Unfortunately, I missed Tim Lenoir’s keynote, but I did get to catch Mackenzie Wark talking about the cultural and political implications of the strategic elements of Debord’s Game of War (and Alex Galloway’s controversial digital edition of Game of War). Also, Tad Hirsch was there and mentioned his Trip Wire project, which I first saw at the Zero One conference in 2006. It’s one of my favorite, favorite “art technology” projects. I still think it’s a weak signal for a future of meaningful Objects that Blog (which was consistent with 2006 sensibilities — now, maybe it’s Objects that Tweet or something, such as Superball by Stamen.) It’s also, I was reminded, an audio project in that the coconuts phoned a hotline for noise complaints and then spoke. Embarrassingly, I had never heard the actual audio that was delivered in these phone messages — Tad played them and I now see that they are plainly on the project’s web site.

On the European front, I (Nicolas) spent the last week actually not in Geneva but in South of France for a mix of vacation and heavy writing. It’s good to have finally some time to focus 100% on the game controller book project. More specifically, I spent most the week researching and writing about the early instances of video game controllers that paved the way for the arrival of joypads. Our point is of course not to tell the whole history of video game but since we want to show how looking at the joypad is a good way to understand this culture, it’s important to spend some time on it. And naturally, it lead me to write about switches, knobs, dials, old-school joysticks from the beginning of the 20th Century and oscilloscope. The point is to show the different lineages, how they disappear or recombine over time. This chapter’s almost done. The difficult thing is to be accurate and try not to focus only on facts and observations since we think it’s important to discuss the implications.

Back to Geneva, I spent last Friday teaching in a design school in Annecy (France). A mix of lectures and workshop activities, the idea was to show various foresight-related approaches.

Here in Barcelona, we are approaching the release of version 1.0 of Quadrigram. I completed the list of approx. 350 modules that made the final cut and have started to plan the road map for the release cycle of the application. Arrange all the elements of a programming language is daunting task at times, but I hope people will enjoy the coherence of this first set of modules. They are categorized into five distinct Libraries. Each Library groups modules according to their purpose in developing a solution (e.g. load, manipulate, analyze, convert, filter and visualize your data). We setup a javadoc-style Language Reference web site that documents the structures of all the modules.

Quadrigram Language Reference

Weekending 12022012

This week in Barcelona started with the pleasure of having Quadrigram making the cut of the finalist of the Strata 2012 Startup Showcase. The tool is a couple of weeks away from seeing the light and the teaser video is now online. At Strata, I will present the tool with my friends at Bestiario right after my session on Sketching with Data.

On the invitation of Claro Partners to present the lab, I took the opportunity to present my experience working with network data, particularly focusing on the methods we employ to help innovate in the domain of ‘big’ data. Have a look at the slide deck: it starts with a reference to Napoléon Bonaparte ‘Un bon croquis vaut mieux qu’un long discours’, goes through the uses of sketches as part of any creative work exemplified by Le Corbusier, and concludes with Picasso and the art of sketching.

Okay. What else? In Los Angeles, we used a solder paste stencil for the first time. Impressed. Good stuff. Definitely worth $25-$50. You can tell in this video I haven’t used solder paste in awhile..I forgot to put the proper hot, hot air on so I’m basically just blowing balmy air on the board. More practice, again. I have to say, the stencil is definitely a time saver. Although, I’m still going to get a big-ass pick ‘n place machine cause that’d make it even faster to get boards done. ((That’s EarFreshener up in that video, by the way.))

Nicolas came to town on Saturday and Sunday we went to the crazy flea market at the Pasadena Coliseum, home of the Rose Bowl. We found weird things and Nicolas found a fantastic mint-condition Polaroid in its crushed red velvet case. Lucky old salt. Prior to that, his week was focused on both phone call with Lift12 speakers and the final presentation for the head-mounted display project, which went fairly well. Results from this field study are kind of secrets so far but there will eventually be a publication about that.

Weekending 05022012

In Geneva, where the cold winter is striking back, the week had been, for once!, very quiet with data analysis (head-mounted display project) and book writing (game controllers!). We’re also preparing two workshops for the upcoming Lift12 conference. The first one is about location-based games organized with Mathieu Castelli, who used to be the founder of New Game, a pionneer in this domain (they released Mogi, one of the first commercial LBG). The session will consist in a series of group activity based on Meatspace Invasion, a location-based game recently developed by C4M and Mekensleep. After a quick introduction about these, we will form groups who will test different combinations of game parameters. We will then go on the field in Geneva to test these scenarios and regroup after the game session to debrief the outcomes. The second workshop is organized with the friends from Superflux (Anab Jain and Justin Pickard). It’s called “Foresight suprise” and as the name indicates, I won’t tell much about it except that it’s going to be about futures and futurescaping.

Hi. It’s Julian. In Los Angeles last week we got back the PCBs for Ear Freshener. One thing that was wrong is I mucked up the holes for the little audio card that plops onto the controller card. It won’t go all the way through, but it’s fine for testing. I’ll also be trying out these PCB stencils for the solder paste process The entire week was devoted to audio design and prototyping and team wrangling, I’d say. Nick Foster was in the studio for the last few days of the week so we had time for planning the project, eating tacos, working on the future of the whoopie cushion and the like.

It was actually a bit of an existential week for the audio project insofar as I had to figure out what the fuck was up with a bit of anxiety I felt during the previous weekend’s bike ride. I don’t like anxiety on bike rides. It was best summed up as a consideration as to new team configurations and advanced design team best practices. The conclusion? In this particular Advanced Design team a few things happen. First, we are asked to put eyes on an existing project and help make it better than it would’ve been were it not possible to have an experienced team of thoughtful designers who are comfortable working in an unstructured. We are asked to work on new, emerging things that are being done in a traditional structured way. And we are expected to come up with new things. I’ve come to the conclusion that we treat the “asks” — the things that come from outside — with more urgency than the latter projects — the things where we’re expected to come up with new things. It seems that we respond to the “battle stations” klaxon as if it matters more than the things we believe in first. Those things disappear into the closet and desk drawers. Which felt a bit like self-loathing in a really horrid way. Like — when someone *else says jump, we jump. When we believe in something enough to jump, we sorta *shrug. Or put it to the side when a “client” asks for something from us, *even *when *we *don’t *believe in it.

(Although, have to say — not believing in something someone else is doing is often a great opportunity to collaborate to make it better and believable. Not to be too normative about it, but there are plenty of things that seem like lovely fancy door knobs with awesome new mechanics and latching technologies that someone will bring to us and basically ask — what sorta house do you think this should go on? And the problem is that the door knob was thought of without really thinking about either the house..or the people who might have to use the door knob and, pray — live in the house. That’s the curse of the technologists and accountants/business people and the opportunity for more collaboration with design from the get-go.)

I hope to correct this through the audio project because otherwise — what’s the point?

So, I’m treating this quite as if someone from somewhere else came down and “made” the team get to work. Which effectively they did. The team will consist of folks who can commit the majority of their time to the project — it’ll run short and sharp and be quite deliberate. Sorta no nonsense; no whining. Polite..but ruthless.

This week in Barcelona has been almost exclusively dedicated to Quadrigram performing some interface polishing and documentation tweaking with the help of Tim Stutts and Brava Büro. In the backstage, the pipes and wires are gently coming into place with some mind blowing resulting reaching the frontiers ‘Quine computing‘. All this will make sense in the near future.

I also took some time to step back and order my thoughts for an upcoming talk at Strata that will focus on our approaches and tools to work with network data. This week, I will test and rehearse a first iteration responding to the invitation to our friends at Claro Partners.

I will use our study hyper-congestion at the Louvre as one case study. A work that was actually featured yesterday in the newspaper El Periodico as a consequence of Yuji presenting some results in Sweden last week.

Finally, our measures of mobile phone network activity in Geneva have led to some beautiful visualizations and animations produced by Interactive Things. Keep your eyes wide open if you happen to stroll around the Geneva main train station during Lift12.