Sustainable computing

How green is your laptop? A thread on the awesome Barbelith Underground about sustainable computing musing about more viridian design alternatives has emerged:

“Machines are constructed to obsolescence – especially computers. That’s about as environmentally friendly as disposable batteries and plastic bags. It’s a lunacy.

So where are the computers built to last? The boxes made of something other than plastic, where modular components can be inserted, discarded, or added on as new levels of power become available?”

I have a very beautiful sliver of titanium, silicon, polycarbonate etc. on my desk that is the result of some fairly intensive and wasteful wittling down from enormous lumps of ore and rock.

At Doors6, John Thackara questioned precisely this myth that computing technology was ‘lightweight’ by asking the audience to imagine the ‘ecological rucksack’ that his powerbook actually represented – the raw materials discarded in order to manufacture the objects that power what we perceive to be lightweight, modern and immaterial. He paced the stage describing the 50ft by 50ft by 50ft cube of material that had to be winnowed down into the A4-sized plastic clam of his powerbook. Very powerful mental image.

» Barbelith Underground >> Laboratory >> Sustainable computers?

N.B. Doors7 earlybird registration closes tommorrow. I just registered. Andrew Otwell has posted an eloquent description of why it’s such a great event. I;d only add that, at the time of going to my first Doors I was left baffled and unmoved by a lot of it, and thought I may have wasted my money… only to find themes and ideas from the event percolating up through my thoughts and into my work for the rest of the year…

Stuck behind a firewall, but want to chat?

Zelda’s got just the thing for you:

“ZeldaChat came about because information wants to be free…well actually because I was working for a company that made using instant messaging a sackable offence. This little chat app will work through firewalls, and doesn’t store your conversation…so no one’s any the wiser!”

» Secret Chat

Modern romance

From the excellent growing debate and commentary section “The People Vs Copyright” at

“Quite simply, then, copyright turns symbolic forms into property, and market conditions ensure it is held and exploited by corporations. But this is not a reality which sits very easily with public opinion. For while the concept of private property in tangible goods, or chattels, is deeply ingrained in Western societies, the same cannot be said about symbolic works. A strong consensus, emerging first in the Enlightenment, has it that culture should circulate freely. The Romantic movement then contributes the idea that art and commerce are opposed, that the artist is in heroic opposition to the drive for profit.

It is something of a contradiction, then, that in the modern era the figure of the Romantic artist is invoked to justify copyright – the very basis of commerce in culture.”

» “Beyond romance and repression: social authorship in a capitalist age” by Jason Toynbee

Said it once before but it bears repeatin’ now.

architect wins air guitar world championships

Zac Monro, a British 30-something architect has won the World Air-Guitar crown for the second time, with a spirited rendition of ‘Fell in love with a girl’ by the White Stripes.

Three points I’d like to make:

Okay. Sorry. I promise I will write something about design soon. Although I find leaping around doing air-guitar integral to the process of creating great user-experiences.

Humans and technology (again)

Iain Banks interviewed in today’s Grauniad (my emboldening):

‘Does he genuinely foresee a bright future for the human race like the one laid down in his Culture series? “The optimistic answer is that perhaps we can alter ourselves. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with genetic modification; and if there is a bigotry gene, then they should start work modifying us. We are our technology, and we can’t turn our backs on it.“‘

» Guardian: Books | Iain Banks interview: “The word factory”

TV redux

This post comes with a very big “my views may not be representative of my employer” sticker.

Channelsurfing in New York last weekend made me realise how very very lucky were are in the UK. We get the best television from the USA, filtered and aggregated – with none of the visual spam. Written about this before, but it’s suddenly a hot topic again amongst industry-leaders, with a leader on the very same subject in today’s Grauniad.

“He [Mark Thompson, CEO of the Uk’s Channel4] complains of British TV being “dull, and mechanical and samey” and looks enviously at the United States for complex modern TV, such as Six Feet Under or 24. The glib response to this is that the best place to watch American television is not over there but over here: because you can enjoy the comparatively small number of big creative successes, while avoiding the multichannel dross that goes with it.

The argument that we need more creative risk in British television – which Lord Puttnam drew attention to earlier this month – is important. (There is a case for saying that allowing US takeovers of British television companies, as the government would like, is more likely to produce extra outlets for existing US shows than nurturing indigenous talent.) But no one seems to know how to switch on this creative talent.”

Okay – well here’s a half-baked suggestion from someone who knows almost nothing about the TV industry. Clay and myself had a good debate about this when he was over in July.

It’s a structural problem.

In the USA, the ‘winner-takes-all’ nature of the TV industry means that all is risked on successfully ‘creating worlds’ – franchises that can live in syndication and other mediums.

The typical 22 episode (24, obviously in ’24”s case…) ‘season’ that US television has as it’s basic unit of commissioning means that rich, complex characters can be developed; sophisticated, intertwined story-arcs can be woven and worlds can be built

Compare and contrast if you will ‘Spooks’, which while trumpeted as an example of how Brit-TV can match the USA in terms of production values and ambition; failed miserably in terms of building characters*, story-arc and worldbuilding. Some of the writing was promising, so what would have been built if the creators had 22 episodes to paint their world rather than the measly 6 x 1 hour episodes that the BBC gave them?

The only British TV series I can think of doing this apart from soap-operas like Eastenders, are long-gone: The Prisoner, The Avengers and of course, The Doctor.

HBO‘s business model rests on the fact that people will only pay for stuff that is scarce – namely excellence: writing, acting and direction that is of an astounding quality. These factors plus the tendency that the rewards to creator-ownership of these franchises makes a market for quality that we simply cannot realise in the UK right now.

» The Guardian: Leader: “TV’s creative deficit”

* apart from the terrific Hugh Laurie who played an insanely brutal and stylish head of MI6 worthy of the pen of Grant Morrison or Garth Ennis, the dramatis-personae of Spooks were bunch of wishy-washy second-hand soap-opera ciphers – Jack Bauer would have kicked the crap out of the whiny lead character in Spooks who’s name I can’t even remember without refering to the website in a nanosecond