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:

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.



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

Introducing Jayne Vidheecharoen

The Near Future Laboratory is going through a revamping and an expansion of sorts. There’ll be some changes for #2012 — new people, new projects, new initiatives, new strategies for global domination in the realm of thought-provoking unprofitable improbable unbuildable designed things.

First, we are all pleased to welcome Jayne Vidheecharoen to our little design laboratory. I had the pleasure of helping Ben Hooker teach a class Jayne was in at Art Center College of Design’s Media Design Program last Spring. Then we had Jayne as one of our summer interns at the Advanced Projects Studio at Nokia, which was tons of fun. She’s a really thoughtful playful designer now in her last moments of grad school at Art Center.

I’d like to say we sat down to chat cause we’re in the same city. But, as it turns out — we’re on opposite sides of the 5 freeway so we just did a little introduction Q&A by electronic mail.

> Q: Hello?

> Q: Where’s home for you?
It was St. Louis. Then Seattle. Now it’s LA.

> Q: Describe your creative background? Where did you go to school? Do you consider yourself a designer? An artist? A maker-of-things?

I got my BFA in Visual Communication Design from the University of Washington, but then I also got into motion graphics after I graduated. And now I’m in the process of getting an MFA in Media Design from Art Center. So I like to consider myself a designer-illustrator-animator-maker-speculator, but maybe when I graduate I can just consolidate and call myself a Media Designer.

> Q: What’s the last book you read?
The last book I actually finished was “Hackers & Painters” by Paul Graham. But right now I’m in the middle of Jane McGonigal’s “Reality Is Broken

> Q: What’s the last “thing” you read?

Does checking my Facebook feed count? Otherwise, probably The Fox is Black blog, although I mostly just look at the pictures 🙂

> Q: Screen or sketch book?

Definitely sketchbook for thinking. (I’ve been using these sketchbooks for about 10 years and have gone though almost 30 of them so far..)

> Q: Who’s the last creative-type you creatively or intellectually fawned after?

Jonathan Harris! This summer, I got to spend an amazing week with him at his workshop in Colorado. After that I decided he’s my official creative and philosophical guru.

> Q: If you had a favorite color that would also be an ice cream flavor if you asked for an ice cream by color..what would it be?

Mmm. Tastes like magenta.

> Q: There’s a strong undercurrent of wry humor in your work. Where does this come from? Is it a conscious creative influence or way of addressing complicated, sometimes formative terse topics? Or does it help with the nervousness many people have with the subjects that you seem to deal with — life, technology, community, interactions with things and people?

I just like to make things that make me happy, and try not to take world too seriously. I also think a lot of the things we just accept as normal in life are pretty absurd or full of alternate potential. So sometimes just tweaking something exposes our expectations and ends up being kind of funny as a side effect. Plus, I think being a little silly makes these ideas a bit more approachable.

> Q: What do you imagine yourself as when you finish school?

Hopefully after school I’ll still be making fun things. I’d love to work with at a start up for a while, and maybe start something new with some other people eventually.

> Q: Is there a person who you consider a creative influence?

Everyone I meet influences me!

> Q: Do you have an influence that isn’t a person?

The Internet. I love the internet. Probably too much.

> Q: Is there a model for doing creative work that you like to think of while you’re doing, you know…creative work? Can you describe how you go from an idea to its materialization?

Sketch some things. Pick whatever idea won’t leave me alone. Prototype it. See what I think. Be sort of underwhelmed. Find an interesting nugget to save. Put the thing aside. Talk to some people. Look at some interesting things. Repeat as necessary until I’ve collected enough interesting nuggets to make something else from those nuggets.

> Q: How does your imagination work?

Mix cartoons I grew up with, videogames I use to love, and a dash of feminism.

> Q: Are you working on a curious project now?

I’m figuring out what to do for my thesis project so I’m sort of just quickly experimenting with a lot of different things. I’m still collecting nuggets so I can’t exactly describe it. Lately, I’ve been playing around with some of the amazingly boring things we take for granted every day: like email, presentations, google street view, and shared docs. I’m trying to liberate them from their “jobs” and see what other things they could be used for and what type of values I can promote through them. I think every experience we have online (even a really banal one) has the potential to be a “magic circle” and make our lives more enjoyable.

> Q: Tell me about Souvenirs From The Internet — those fantastic commemorative plates and pillows and stuff you did? Where’d that idea come from?

To be honest, I’m pretty sure the seed was planted several years ago after watching Harry Potter. Dolores Umbridge’s office walls were covered in plates with moving cats. And I remember thinking how amazing it would be to have my favorite internet-famous lol cats on plates like that. Fast forward to this spring where I started working on a project about the current excitement about 3D printing. I’m fascinated with it but at the same time it’s like we’re just getting excited about being able to make more plastic junk faster. But the fact that these printers are connected to the internet means they could print anything, which opens up a whole realm of possibility.

At first I imagined people would use it to print spam, like a 3D fax machine. Or, since every print is machine made and the craftsman’s mark is completely removed, maybe printed objects would be dated and valued by the type of internet junk embedded in them. Maybe not junk but actual internet memories. Maybe these objects could help us remember that time we went to the internet and saw that really interesting thing. And even though we all saw the same thing at different times and from different places, it’s like we were all there together. And that seemed significant enough to put on a plate, by commemorative plate standards at least.

> Q: Tell me about this Customer Service Romance project? How’d the idea come about?
It probably stems from my own relationship with my phone. I had a “dumb” phone at the time and I didn’t particularly care about it much. I would leave it at home all the time, rarely answer it, and forget to charge it. I sort of felt a little bad, like it might have felt like I didn’t love it. At the same time I was reading about Attachment Theory and how ambivalence could result in especially needy behavior from other people. I imagined my phone would probably come off as being pretty needy if it could communicate to me. And it seemed like the only way phones are really able to communicate to us is through the phone tree. But phone trees weren’t typically used to convey emotions and personal problems. So I thought, what if it was?

> Q: When you did Customer Service Romance, did you know you were basically prototyping what will happen when Apple’s Siri begins to suffer ennui?

I like that Siri is already pretty cheeky, I’d love to see what the “I’m too good for this job” Siri is like.

> Cool. Thanks Jayne. Welcome to the Laboratory.

Continue reading Introducing Jayne Vidheecharoen

Weekending 11202011

Ack. Just a few short notes from the week previous.

Well, we got some more clarification on the graph of possible-probable-desireable but I wasn’t able to spend as much time figuring out how to employ it as an approach to design — I mean..not that I’d figure out anything crazy in the midst of a work week. But, then John Marshall sent a note that tipped me back into this idea of Device Art which has notes of things that are like “devices” perhaps in the sense of an instrument designed to achieve in the product sense, but then also art.

..device art is a form of media art that integrates art and technology as well as design, entertainment, and popular culture. Instead of regarding technology as a mere tool serving the art, as it is commonly seen, we propose a model in which technology is at the core of artworks.

So aside from this idea of the tool serving the art, but the tool itself being the art — you’re going to begin to flirt around in some curious territories in the possible-probable-desirable Venn diagram seeing as much art deliberately avoids that center sweet spot and confronts common-sense ideas as to what is, should or could be.

*shrug. It’s a start anyway. Besides, I like the idea of lots of small, little device-y things that do very unexpected, unusual but, maybe at the end of it, desirable and profitable things, but they have to be made by hand by artistans. Or things that are desirable, but not profitable but easily made. What would they be?

There was a curious visit to the Oblong Industries loft-y-studio in downtown LA late last week. You’ll know Oblong as the place where John Underkoffler evolved his diegetic prototype of gesture-based interfaces developed in Minority Report. So — that’s what they do there..and this time around rather than paying lots of attention to what the gestures were doing. I’ve decided they’re weird. It’s just one of those things where — whey you look at the world from a slightly different angle, everything looks different and then you start to wonder. It’s like closing one eye or standing on your head or putting on weirdly lensed glasses and you see something that makes you go, “huh..”

There were a bunch of things that drew my attention — first the scale of the gestures is a bit much. If you do a two-thumbs-up-and-throw-them-over-your-shoulder you perform a kind of screen-reset to put everything back to state zero. That’s useful. The gesture is a good sort of — get-outta-here sort of thing. It’s very articulated. Then there’s this one you see above — the Meatloaf-y “Stop right here!” gesture. There are others.

I’m not faulting the system. The technology works and its fun to try and its fun to watch. It makes good sense in specific contexts where you have big display systems and doing micro-gestures (relative to the scale of screens) with a mouse does not really make good sense. And I can clearly see how this bigger system them have works well in the context of certain work environments, like the guy doing operations stuff for Seal Team 6 while they’re charging into some crazy part of the world. It seems very tactical in a way.

What I was most intrigued by was the scaling-down of their systems to smaller environments and environments without those nasty gloves and big IR tracking configurations. They had a set up with what looked like an Xbox Kinect sensor for doing just broader gestures, without all the finger-twiddling of the bigger set up. This is interesting for simple navigation of things in, perhaps — a retail environment. So now we’re closer to the Minority Report thing of advertising talking to you.

Last thing was some continuingly somewhat frustrating prototyping of some audio objects. Frustrating because once you’re spoiled by the ease of working with kits like the Arduino or, for that matter — iOS — getting to know a new poorly documented chipset is like having your eyeballs dried out. But — at least the tech support guys are prompt with little hints as to what they mean when they describe something that needs a secret decoder ring to comprehend.

Continue reading Weekending 11202011

Weekending 11132011

Hello. It’s time for the weekending post. A few things.

First — I was introduced to this graphic above from @bruces. It shows a Venn diagram showing a kind of perspective of what-could-be. For that reason, I chose to interpret it as another “graph of the future”. How’s that? Well, because it indicates the measure of what can be a product and therefore, what can enter into the world at a particular scale — it’s represents things that can exist at some point in the future. It’s a really simple measure of “product” or “possibility”, but because of its simplicity, its admirable. It says that what can be a product must be desirable, profitable and possible/buildable.

Update: @bruces posted his notebook drawing that I originally saw three, wine-fueled hours into a midnight dinner in London. It comes from Hugh Dubberly.

I pondered this a bit over the week. I shared it for a moment at the recent Society for the Social Studies of Science conference, as a way to think about the future. But, what I want to consider are the unexplored, peculiar areas that are not at the super-sweet spot there in the middle. Are these various terrains that can be explored — perhaps to shift the meaning of what is desirable, profitable and possible? Ultimately, that sweet spot in the middle has to become some sort of least common denominator. What about the impossible? Or the barely possible? Or the unprofitable, but possible and desireable? You see what I mean? How do yo get out of the rut of assuming that everything must be a product — desirable/profitable/possible — and actually innovate? Make new impossible things? Or new, weird things only desirable to 17 people?

Update #2. Here’s Hugh Dubberly’s drawing — at least I think it is. I never saw the one from which Bruce did his notebook sketch.

Yet to be considered.

Well, also this week was a bit of frustrating time figuring-out-new-stuff. Can you believe that we still have to use USBSerial dongles by Keyspan in 2011 in order to talk to modern bits of development hardware? What gives with that?

This is a development board for a VS1000 chip which does audio decoding. I’m hoping to learn more about how to make it do interesting things for some real-time audio hacking and making-of-things. Look for cool stuff soon. Definitely desirable, possible and unprofitable little gizmos and hatchapees.

The last thing is that the video of the Thrilling Wonder Stories thing I did in London last week with Bruce Sterling and Kevin Slavin is available online now at the Architectural Association web site. It’s worth a look. If you fast forward to about 1/2 way through, you’ll get to the start of the presentations from myself @bruces and @slavin_fpo.

Finally, had a lovely coffee time chat with David Kirby who was in town to do some interviews for his upcoming projects.

That’s it for what happened.

In upcoming news, you’ll find more people blogging and doing things through the Laboratory.

The band is getting back together. Yeehaw.

Continue reading Weekending 11132011

Weekending 11062011

Last week was fun and busy. The big thing that stands out was a sort of prodigal son’s return to the academic swampland — I went to the 4S — the Society for the Social Studies of Science conference in Cleveland Ohio. There I participated in a lovely little panel that had the overarching theme of the relationship of science, entertainment, fiction and fact. I shared my insights on the whole “design fiction” enterprise. I was humbled and happy to be there with David Kirby who continues to be a major catalyst for my thinking and lots of other people.

We called the panel The Fiction in the Science (full-colon, of course and then you say what you actually mean by that) : The Intersection of Fiction and STS. (STS is “science, technology and society”).

The basic idea is to discuss and describe and then (what I see as my role) operationalize insights into the prolific relationships amongst ideas and stories and the primary movers of societies today — science & technology. If the STS and 4S sorta people understand or are able to bring an analytic eye to the ways in which, for example, forensic science in television has shaped and informs popular understanding of law, investigation and jurisprudence — then what? So what? How are you able to turn that around and “operate on” those insights? Turn fiction into fact? Turn insight and observation into an actionable, doable creation — how do you do design with fiction, but really?

That operationalization comes from the observations of Kirby and others who have seen the ways that technical consultants of various sorts are able to have their particular perspectives turned into stories that large audiences engage and then accept as the way things are. I’m interested in this reality effect and how it can become part of what design does, to make things hopefully conscientiously better than they are.

We had one of those great dinner discussions the night before that is basically the main reason to go to these things. There was discussion about creating a center to study and produce things; to formalize the relationship between science, technology and science-fiction so that there is no more embarassment when a scientist/technologist draws from science fiction. So that there could be something like the <a href="How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional UniverseInstitute for Conceptual Technology — for real.

Other than the 4S, which was the highlight — there was continuing work on the prototypes for Project Audio. Printed circuit boards came in and got stared at as I’m out of solder paste and should’ve realized that a week or so ago. Hopefully it’ll be in this week. As well, ordered some more little parts for construction of a set of concepts from the workshop in London with RIG two weeks ago. Unrelated, but related — there was the second annual Girls Combi Pool Classic which marks a year of work on the photography book project. And I’m still not entirely done, but I did start a Kickstarter to hopefully get a limited print run of the book done.

Continue reading Weekending 11062011

Weekending 10302011

Oh, okay. Last week I was in London.

There was some fun, cool Nokia stuff going on — besides Nokia World, which I didn’t attend only because there were also other things going on, including this event at the Design Museum called People Made in which a well-curated exhibition of Nokia’s contribution to the world of mobile social networked stuff. Despite assy and snarky remarks on the influence Nokia has had on the design of these sorts of things, I thought this was quite good, quite legible and just small enough to be digestible and large enough to note the important bits, like the evolution of mobile picture taking, degrees of portability and things to come in the near future.

There was a swell two day workshop for Project Audio with the fine folks at the Really Interesting Group. That included some days inside at Whitechapel Gallery and a field trip to the Science Museum, which has a great exhibit of audio things from the early 20th century into the networked age. Old radio sets and things with knobs are great for thinking about what the future holds for sound design and audio devices and talking to people. And, it was fun to see Listening Post there — I didn’t know that the science museum had bought one. That’d make the third exhibition space in which I’ve seen it — first at The Whitney when it premiered, I believe way back in the day. Then at the San Jose Museum during ISEA in 2009 I think it was. It holds up remarkably well. It’s quite prescient, too — in particular as regards this idea of “trending topics” in some sense. I’m not sure precisely what algorithm Mark Hansen is using to extract content (obviously chats and discussions in text) — but one gets the sense that the statistics is identifying things of import or interest. Now — it might not be what *most people are talking about, but they seem to become poignant statements indicating states of mind. There is also quite excellent use of silence in such a way that one is not thinking — this thing broken? Some ambience and machine noises give the device its mechanistic quality that is nice and sculptural and real and that of a thing with momentum. Which is very much unlike most digital/computational devices. I really like the machinic character of this thing, Listening Post.

I had a visit with James Auguer over at Design Interactions at the RCA. Nick Foster was there as well. That was fun. I’d never been. It felt like an art college. I gave a little impromptu talk to a clutch of students. And Noam Toran was there and gave me some lovely documentation of his projects. I especially like the series of objects he made called The Macguffin Library. It beautifully captures the way Hitchckock’s use of these opaque plot devices are objects to move a story — which is a concept that can be directly applied to the Design Fiction notion. These are things that are props that stand in for whatever it is that motivates and moves a story along. They’re nice as a concept because the thing itself matters even less than its functionality — except insofar as its functionality is to motivate a story.

There was a nice afternoon spent with the partner-in-crime Nicolas Nova discussing the future of the Near Future Laboratory and some exciting evolutions of our activities that will happen quite soon. Expect more to be going on here and some new folks coming along to make more things and create more weird implications and provocations. All discussed over toast, beans, sausages and eggs.

I was super excited that Geoff Manaugh rang to see if I’d be around to participate in this event at the Architectural Association called Thrilling Wonder Stories. I don’t know how to describe it except to say it was a full day of a seminar of presentations and discussions on a variety of Thrilling Wonder Story-like topics. I shared some thoughts and perspectives on designing with science fiction at the end, together with Bruce Sterling and Kevin Slavin. That was swell — fun and a great way to end the week in London.

That was pretty much it, except for one little thing that Bruce left me thinking about after that four hour dinner the last night. Venn diagrams. Evidently done by this fellow called Hugh Dubberly and the diagram contains the three circules and one is “DESIRABLE” the other is “BUILDABLE” and the other is “PROFITABLE”. The overlap in the center is what markets and capital understand as “real” stuff. You get these annoying debates within making-industries where that is the “real” deal. It was the introduction to my brief 15 minute talk at Thrilling Wonder Stories — people get shy and apologetic when they discuss things outside of that center “sweet spot” of things that are all-of desirable, buildable and profitable. “Oh, sorry — this is just an idea” or — “Oh, this is only a demo” or — “Oh, this is just a concept/video/bit-of-fiction”

Needless to say — we here in the Shameless Speculation Department of the Near Future Laboratory think that position is rubbish. There should be no apologizing for the imagination. Everything counts. I’d say even that the things outside of the sweet-spot even more than those in it. That sweet-spot is modifiable. Just cause something can be built does not make it “more” than the thing that can be massively manufactured because it fits in someone’s measure of what that sweet-spot consists of — what its parameters of “sweet-spotiness” are. And then this introduces a discussion about those parameters and scale and what profitability consists of.

That’s it.

Continue reading Weekending 10302011