Backroom boffins vs Apple aesthetes

On the same night! From Louise Ferguson’s events page:


Thursday 28 October: iMacs and iPods
Speaker: Jonathan Ive (Apple)
Time: 7.15 pm
Venue: Design Museum, Shad Thames, London SE1 (near Tower Bridge)
Charge: £10
Further information:

Thursday 28 October: Royal Institution – In search of boffins
Speaker: Francis Spufford (author of Backroom Boys)
Time: 7 pm – 8.30 pm
Venue: Royal Institution, 21 Albemarle Street, London W1S 4BS
Charge: £8 for non-members, £5 concessions
…[Francis Spufford] will consider the technologists whose work kept Concorde flying, created the computer game, conquered the mobile phone business, saved the human genome for the human race and sent Beagle 2 to burrow in the cinnamon sands of Mars.
Further information:

Thank goodness Louise has scraped the information from the otherwise inpenetrable Design Museum website…

The two John Grays

The two John Grays
Originally uploaded by blackbeltjones.

Conflated comically at Helsinki Academic Bookstore.

From a review of John Gray’s “Heresies” in the Guardian:

“Gray sees our faith in progress – “the Prozac of the thinking classes” – as the illusion that underlies the most egregiously mistaken political and social policies of the present day. Certainly there is such a thing as progress, but it is a fact only in the realm of science, while “in ethics and politics it is a superstition”. Throughout his work Gray hammers relentlessly against the notion, first advanced in the Renaissance and reified in the Enlightenment, that history moves inexorably in a straight line, and that human nature will necessarily improve as our knowledge accumulates. He grants that in some areas things do get better: we have abolished judicial torture, for example, and modern dentistry is a great boon. The mistake, he contends, the wilful, foolish and tragic mistake, is to imagine that more dental implants and fewer thumbscrews will make us into better beings. “Human knowledge grows, but the human animal stays much the same.”

From a review of John Gray’s “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus: A Practical Guide for Improving Communication and Getting What You Want in Your Relationships”:

“Unfortunately, his overuse of gimmicky, often silly analogies and metaphors makes his otherwise down-to-earth guide hard to take seriously. Here Martians (men) play Mr. Fix-It while Venusians (women) run the Home-Improvement Committee; when upset, Martians “go to their caves” (to sort things out alone) while Venusians “go to the well” (for emotional cleansing). While graphically illustrative, the hyperbolic, overextended comparisons, particularly in the chapters that refer to men as rubber bands and women as waves, significantly detract from Gray’s realistic insights. “

I am now pretty convinced that these books were authored by two different people who just happen to have the same name.

Flickr’s fruit at the bottom

A few new features at Flickr, including the highly-useful-but-not-immediately-obvious inline editing of picture titles (hover over the title of one of you pictures and click to rename, just like on your dekstop, very handy) but the one that caught my eye was the introduction of a task-oriented, mini sitemap on the bottom of every page.


This is something that I tried to get done while at the BBC, as an unobtrusive wayfinding strategy for the entire site. We (Gee-Kay, Byju and myself) got as far as paper-prototyping and user-testing the idea before hitting the wall of unavailability of resources and internal politics that often stops such things in such places.

The idea continued in a limited form in the iCan project, where we (Priya, Helen, Julie, Andy and myself) used the bottom-of-the-page reference design for a ‘cycling’ pattern of recent visited links and common tasks.

The bottom-of-the-page wayfinding idea was one that I first came across from Peter at PoorButHappy, and was struck by how simple and effective it was.

For what it’s worth, here’s a presentation that I used to try and sell the idea internally in the BBC, including user-test results.

» Download locatedness.ppt [2.3mb powerpoint]

I shared it with Stewart at the time (as we were arguing about spatial metaphors in navigation and wayfinding*) and he told me this week he remembered reading it while waiting for his car to get fixed in SF. Hopefully it contributed, and I’ll be receiving my Flickr options shortly… ;-p

The Ludicorp team continue to astound with their rate of innovation and invention. Well done all there!

Bonus link… while excavating BBJ for wayfinding links, found this reference to a Sylloge post from 2001… more evidence of Flickr’s RNA?

UPDATE: Peter’s entry on the same topic.

Neal loves Bees

Also from the Slashdot interview of Neal Stephenson, looks like he’s been following the axons:

As _Snow Crash_ was originally designed as an interactive game, and such landmarks as _Myst_ have regenerated as (usually bad) novels, do you see the arrival of a truly multimedia story, delivered simultaneously in multiple media, anytime soon? By whom, specifically or generally?


It has already happened in the form of the I Love Bees alternate reality game, which, as many of you must know, is a promotional campaign for Halo 2. I know the people who did it, but I have lost track of what I promised not to reveal publicly, and so will shut up for now.

Still no axons gone hot in Helsinki, AFAIK…

The battle of evermorefunny

I know the Stephenson interview is being linked to hell, but this passage is priceless; especially with Sterling now taking up residency as Emeritus Professor of Spimes at Art Center, Pasadena:

Before long my sword arm hung useless at my side. One of my psi blasts kicked up a large divot of earth and rubble, uncovering a silver metallic object, hitherto buried, that seemed to have been crafted by an industrial designer. It was a nitro-veridian device that had been buried there by Sterling. We were able to fly clear before it detonated. The blast caused a seismic rupture that split off a sizable part of Canada and created what we now know as Vancouver Island. This was the last fight between me and Gibson. For both of us, by studying certain ancient prophecies, had independently arrived at the same conclusion, namely that Sterling’s professed interest in industrial design was a mere cover for work in superweapons. Gibson and I formed a pact to fight Sterling. So far we have made little headway in seeking out his lair of brushed steel and white LEDs, because I had a dentist appointment and Gibson had to attend a writers’ conference, but keep an eye on Slashdot for any further developments.

» Slashdot: interview with Neal Stephenson

Mobile TV: Never say never

Mobile TV: Watching TV at work!
Originally uploaded by blackbeltjones.

While at the BBC, and for that matter, consulting for 3; I was a “Doubting-Thomas” when it came to mobile video / TV.

However smooth the picture, or compelling the content, other than a few niches, I didn’t think it was a flyer in the same way as we know that mobile music is, just because of the very human limitations of attention in a mobile context that would prevent you from being engrossed in mobile video in the same way you can be in mobile music.

Today I picked up internal trial hardware (the s90-powered 7700 that won’t be getting a commercial release, but Nokia uses as an experimental platform for new services) for mobile DVB-H digital TV broadcast, and it has immediately made me doubt my doubts.

It’s certainly got immediate wow factor (in a non-scientific survey of me and Chris, and the picture is smooth, a decentish-size (book of postage stamps, rather than postage stamp) and sound crisp over the headset.

Luckily there’s also a fair bit of english-language TV available on Finnish TV for me to understand. I have the handset for a month, so it will be interesting to see how mobile TV fits into my life over that time.

While I can’t go into too many details, the guys at the trial program have said it’s fine to blog general observations, so I will try to do so here.