Weekending 17062012

Here in Los Angeles it’s mostly been programming and book editing and talking to humans. Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley stopped by to do an interview for their curious cross-country mobile blog/interview platform/landscape exploration vehicle called Venue. That was good fun to discuss the various ways landscape, urban space, data-based representations of places, things and flows of humans has informed and influenced the work we do here. Curiously — that seemed to be the topic of the weekend in one way or another. By that I mean that Sunday evening Zoe Ryan and Karen Kice to talk about the same set of topics for a forthcoming exhibition that the Art Institute of Chicago will do. It was a good opportunity for myself — to refresh my memory about a number of projects that sometimes I forget about, like Drift Deck and PDPal. So fun conversation time last week.

The programming has been good and fun as well. It’s quite nice to get back into that and maintain that skill as well as check off the to-do list a number of ideas and projects that have been lingering. I’m currently working on a little social browser/viewer that inverts the way I “catch-up” with my Friends — other than the “friends” that I find online or who ask me to be their friends but, really? I have little idea as to who they are and often quite a small/nil stake in what they’ve been doing or what they’ve taken a photo of. So, in the app I basically go through the social services for these true-blue Friends and show their latest photos, tweets, etc., so that I don’t have to trawl for them amongst the kruft of illegible feeds and all that crap. I go to people first rather than social services.

And then Rachel Hinman’s new book “Mobile Frontier” showed up with a little interview she did with me. So..that was fun.

Additionally, there’s been more planning and phone calls for this Design Fiction workshop we’ll be doing in Detroit this fall. More about that when I’m not rushing off.

Otherwise..looking forward to the summer with Nicolas here quite nearby in Venice Beach.

Continue reading Weekending 17062012

Weekending 03062012

Um. Well, here in Los Angeles it’s been lots of fun/frustrating days getting back into programming the computer. I’ve been getting a bit overwhelmed by the growing list of “ideas” that I thought would be good ways to get back into it. They’re mostly exercises that I thought would be better than following on in the usual lot of slightly mundane book exercises. The one I’m most curious about is a sort of social browser that, like Windows Phone 7’s live tiles, lets me flip through my friends social service “updates” and the like — but do so without having to go to the services, search for my friend, and then see what they’ve done. So — people first, rather than service first. Nothing brilliant there in that, but more a personal preference. Plus, also being able to see stuff from ancient history (many months or even a year ago) along with the latest stuff.

Some folks have mentioned that Path does this in some fashion. I’m still trying to see how. Right now? Path seems as noisy as Twitter. I’m looking for something a bit more — calmer. And the fact that Path is a kind of mobile Facebook status update yammery thing makes me want to enforce a simple rule that limits the number of slots for people. Or puts individuals in a special “Joker’s” slot based on which of your chums are being more yammer-y. Something like this. But, a couple week’s usage of Path leaves me thinking that there’s something that I want that is missing yet still. It’s still everyone. And sometimes you don’t want to share with or hear from everyone.

I also spent a bit of time preparing for a workshop at the Walker Art Center, where the staff is doing some work on the possibilities of speculation and interdisciplinarity for their own internal work. Looking forward to that a bit — especially to try some of the techniques we use in the studio on a group of people who I basically know nothing about.

Oh, that photo? That’s me programming a networking app while flying in an aeroplane. I know it’s not a big deal, but it sorta is for me in a nostalgic sorta way. I think the last time I did that I was heading to the Walker Art Center in, like..2003. Programming in an airplane, that is. Certainly there was no networking going on at the time — but still. It’s sorta nostalgic and fun to get back to that sort of work.

On my side (Nicolas), the beginning of june is packed with different talks in Europe, the organization of a 3-days conference about video-games, preparing the Summer in Los Angeles and the writing of the game controller book… hence the quiet participation to the weeknotes here.

Weekending 19062012

Nicolas: A quite academic week with two days as an expert in a design school in Switzerland (Neuchatel) and polishing a research project submitted to a funding body. Being external jury judging student’s work is always intriguing, especially when projects are very diverse. In this case, it ranged from a new generation of mouses to kite-surf devices and mountain bikes parts. Industrial design is fascinating because of the whole range of constraints that have to be taken into consideration: physical, cognitive, social, political, etc. Commenting on the projects, I realize how hard it was to play with all these parameters and , at the same time, create something new and meaningful.

Julian: Quite a busy programming-the-computer-at-night week. Yes. Programming it to make it do things. I have a hunch of an idea for a thing that wouldn’t make my life easier? But would make it more fiddily. Based on an observation: most social network services require that you go to the service to find out what your peoples are up to // have shared // took a photo of // checked-into // &c ad infinitum. What about going to the people first? An Internet of Me & Mine rather than an Internet of Things or an Internet of Services. You know? As if all my friends had a stats card like a 1970s era baseball player. Or something. Like — shouldn’t your people be the point of entry for these things in a very bold, upfront fashion? And you get to pick who you browse rather than seeing *everyone/thing as if you could sift through it all? Maybe you have to pick some small number of true-blue friends — or the algorithm enforces true-blueness by making sure the relationship is two-way. You know? So — ObjectiveC land for me last week/weekend/nights-til-late.

Oh — also? The Marshall Stack speaker project came to a happy point of a milestone with a very good share and a lovely looking thing. Thanks to Simon and Vids for their hard-making-things work. That’s Simon up there. He’s not a grumpy fella, but sometimes I ask him to do a lot. He also had a new little one the other day! Congratulations Simon! Take the rest of the week off. 😉

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 04292012

Julian: Literally? I spent the week in the model shop doing three things, sometimes at the same time. First, getting ahead of myself and making a third edition of Ear Freshener. That’s right. A third edition. I think I’m deferring/procrastinating doing the sound design until I can find a proper sound designer to help out. What I’m thinking now is to add multiple tracks because the layering and transitions between one sound and the “next higher up” sound might be more effective and less rocky if you have two sound sources at once. That’s the thinking. Best test I think is to build the hardware.

Otherwise, sculpting the framework for a design workshop next week with the Gear team. I’m actually quite excited by the prospect of working together with a team that knows how to do production properly. And swirling around the design of design workshops is the prospect of taking some of these templates for creating new things and working them in other contexts to test the way they work. I mean — they work quite well in the studio, but we’re used to them, understand their rules and the general guidance around how they are wielded. It’ll take several runs to refine them for consumer use.

And I’m working more diligently on Nostalgia, a little prospect of a just-for-me iPhone app, which means a ridiculous amount of time relearning how to get my head in a place to program the computer to make it do things.

Fabien: I started the week giving a 1-day seminar at BDigital on the materialization of value from network data. With a group of participants mainly made of engineers, I first launched into my spiel about a ‘new world of data’ and the implications of this evolution. I particularly stressed my discourse on the necessary skills necessary on projects aiming at extracting information from large datasets and present something of use to non-data experts (i.e. a definition of a ‘data scientist’). I like use Ben Fry’s dissertation Computational Information design (acquire, parse, filter, mine, represent, refine, interact) to lead the audience through various examples of each skill. Then I illustrated the mulch-disciplinary process we employ at the lab to transform data into sketches, prototypes, insights, indicators or evidences. This quote from Dan Hill in a recent interview summarizes quite well the state of our practices:

The basic principle is that all urban problems today are multidisciplinary – […] so no one discipline can solve anything meaningful by themselves, nor can one discipline ‘lead’. So the basics of collaboration – respect, openness, listening, sketching in an ‘open’ fashion, pushing back on ideas but not blocking them, constantly learning – are absolutely paramount.

Consequently, the tools we employ and build embrace this evolution. I find this a rather good introduction to Quadrigram with which we want stakeholders to build feedback loops where they can actually figure something out collaboratively (e.g. find answers and ask new questions). In the seminar I highlighted this important shift that consists in manipulating data in real-time. The second part of the seminar was dedicated to hands-on activities focused in the design of urban services, their evaluations and their implications. Thanks to Marc Pous for the invitation!

This week I also gave an interview to Mosaic in which I discuss about personal heroes, curiosity, the lab, network data, Quadrigram, linking these elements into what I hope is a coherent whole. Thanks to Zzzinc for the inspiring questions!

The rest of the week was filled with meetings and clean up tasks to get Quadrigram ready for its launch. More on that next week.

Nicolas: Last week was a mix of teaching (innovation and foresight in Annecy on Thursday, creative approaches at EPFL on Wednesday), lecturing (about the evolution of space/level design in video games in Geneva on Tuesday) and participating in a panel about User Experience approaches in Lausanne. I also spent some time writing the game controller book, after a good meeting with our editor in Lyon, France last Friday. And oh, one last bit, there’s a new game controller exhibit that we’re working on… with a specific focus on odd and peculiar controllers that reveal various insights about the evolution of these devices, as well as game culture.

Weekending 03222012

Nicolas: the week was packed with different meetings and discussions about a trip this summer to Los Angeles… two months to be spent on a *secret for now* laboratory project in a design school in the area. I also made a quick hop to Lyon in France for the WWW 2012 conference where I gave a speech about how the web is turned into a generative material for designers and artists… which led me to discuss bot poetry, blogjects and New Aesthetic. I also finished the final touch to the first chapter of the game controller book and received some good feedback from the editor. On a more academic side, I set up a tumblr for a 3-days sy Continue reading Weekending 03222012

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 08042012

Pfft. Turns out Nicolas is on some island in the Mediterranean “writing” the game controller book.

Well, here in Los Angeles it’s been mostly Project Audio. It was lots of time in the Model Shop, shaking the rafters in the Electronics Bay trying to get the EarFreshener awake and alive. More about the details of that in a subsequent post, but there was a little bit of thinking around: what is the design fiction conceit behind it? is it a prescriptive, medicinal thing? an alternative to the screen-y world, or the thing that helps cure us of screenlock? or some other medical sounding ailment?

And then also some conversations planning for a big design seminar-y getaway event perhaps in the fall. And, also in the meantime, it was a pleasure to host an afternoon with Kevin Slavin in the studio helping reflect upon and check upon some work going on and adding a little creative and conceptual seasoning, in particular to the Tracks project.

In Barcelona, we entered into the final days of work on Quadrigram polishing the list of pre-programmed modules that will be part of the Visual Programming Language. This last effort also consisted in defining the roadmap of periodic release of new modules that will complete the environment along these upcoming weeks.

Also, we are now plotting a follow-up investigation to the Streets of BBVA project. More on that later.

Anything news from SF?

Weekending 03312012

For Nicolas, it was a week devoted to teaching with different lectures and workshops in Geneva (digital failures, Monday), Lausanne (creative approaches in design, Wednesday), Paris (open innovation and design ethnography, Thursday) and Annecy (Innovation and foresight, Friday)… and writing for the game controller project… and a quick trip to the accountant.

Well, Julian also went to the accountant and, for better or worse, it was a quick trip. Also, and more interestingly, there was lots of work getting back to the Ear Freshener hardware. It’s one of those things where you step away from something for a couple of months and then almost feel as though you are starting over — finding the source code for things and recollecting the toolchain and build process. And it’s spread across three platforms as well. Hardware CAD on OSX; software for the sound chip on the PC with its own toolchain; software for the AVR microcontrollers on the PC with the AVR Studio IDE for debugging. What a pain.

But..what else? More introductory planning for a possible design gathering in the fall and thinking about good, big questions to frame such a thing. I like the idea of the Venn Diagram of Design — the possible, profitable, desirable graph — as a framing provocation.

Weekending 03252012

Nicolas was, once again, in the train for two workshops about design ethnography and object repurposing: one in Paris at ENSAD, and another one at the HKB in Bern. The idea was to show students the value of this kind of field investigation by asking them to go observe how people repurpose objects in physical space. Giving the same brief to different students is interesting as it allows comparisons between the results and the different cultures (swiss german versus french). Nicolas also gave a talk about the game controller project at the HKB and animated a visit of the Playtime exhibit. The rest of the week was devoted to writing a research grant about design ethnography and the game controller book!

Fabien returned to his homebase in Barcelona and started plotting follow-up work on our network data initiative. Our engagements will range from strategic advisory and seminars to hands on work on urban data analysis and workshops. He dedicated the rest of the week polishing some key elements of the Quadrigram visual programming language. He teamed-up with interaction designer Tim Stutts to produce a brief 3-minutes video that explain how Quadrigram can reveal different dimension of a single dataset. We used real-time traffic information from our friends at BitCarrier in that demo:

Julian down here in Los Angeles was, huh..what went on last week? Hold on..okay. Looks like mostly Project Audio activities, specifically the Marshall Stack project. Hardware for that was meant to be done at the end of the week, but there were the inevitable delays. Now it looks like it’ll be today, which probably means the end of *this week. *Sigh. Whatever. There are curious lessons in here about rapid development, prototyping “platforms” and the like. That’s good stuff to learn from. But, while waiting (I have to admit to having a day of boredom..) I went back to Ear Freshener and dramatically simplified the PCB by taking all the power boost circuitry and the fancy “turn-on-when-audio-jack-is-plugged-in” circuitry and figured — just get the audio bits working. For the power boost circuitry, I sourced a little boost regulator from which is effectively what I’d put on the board anyway in a subsequent iteration.

The other thing I did was go to Art Center College of Design and talk to almost-graduated Media Design Program grads about “Industry Practices” – basically what I do, how I got to where I got, and why I like it and why I don’t. It was a fun thing to do and the chance to be honest about where I am professionally was cathartic. What else? New Laboratory jackets arrived, so those’ll start going out to the local affiliates; goading more of the staff to contribute to the blog; finishing the photography book; tricking my Nike+ Fuel Band wristband thing to accept my cycling as fitness fuel; the usual.

And late night strategy/vision work, too.

Oh, wait — also there was this fun interview in The Atlantic with the video from Corner Convenience — on Nick’s Vimeo, Corner Convenience has had over 10,000 views, which is cool for a squirrely little Laboratory that only several hundred people check out every week.

[pullquote author=”Christensen, Clayton M. (2012): Disruptive Innovation. In: Soegaard, Mads and Dam, Rikke Friis (eds.). Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction.”]Disruptive innovations, in contrast, don’t attempt to bring better products to established customers in existing markets. Rather, they disrupt and redefine that trajectory by introducing products and services that are not as good as currently available products. But disruptive technologies offer other benefits—typically, they are simpler, more convenient, and less expensive products that appeal to new or less-demanding customers

Continue reading Weekending 03252012