The conference cliché strikes again.

The highlights of my time at the Sarasota Design Summit were found in the spaces outside the formal sessions. One theme pervading the interstices inspired by Dave Gray and Josh DiMauro was the renaissance of paper as a medium in a mixed digital/physical world – as prototype spime.

Following Josh’s Paperbit’s work, Aaron’s Papernet thinking and Dave’s investigations of the changing form of books, we came up with a nascent plan for a PaperCamp – a weekend of hacking paper and it’s new possibiities.

I scrawled some ideas.

  • Way-new printing
  • Protospimes
  • Ingestion/Digestion/Representation
  • Bionic sketching
  • Folding/structure
  • Paper’s children

As per usual, I don’t really know what any of these mean exactly. It was kind of automatic writing.


It does feel like there’s something here, and I’m really intrigued at what might happen at a papercamp(s).

Who’s with me?

The Bond Villain of the Long Now.

Bond is captured – manacled and attached to a slab of cold steel bracketed by lasers and buzzsaws, suspended high above a pool of sharks.

Out of the shadows cast by the harsh arc-lights illuminating his base hewn from the caldera, steps The Bond Villain of the Long Now.

He straightens his Nehru jacket, adjusts his monocle to better see the figures scrolling past on it’s HUD and clears his throat.

Bond suppresses a chuckle.

Time for the speech.

“Now Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.

In real-time.

with me.

and all of us.”

He takes a step closer to a suddenly frozen Bond.

He kisses his cheek with a brotherly tenderness the agent has never known.

And cuts him free.

12 years later. A park bench in Cambridge.

A dishevelled man in a raggedy tuxedo idly burns tiny marks in the wooden slats with his laser watch and stares into the middle distance.

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Instorematic update

Chief Engineer Henry writes:

“Hello there,

We’re doing ok – slowly, but surely. I’ve been continuing to build & test in the evenings and weekends – I’ve built a ‘unit revolution’ of the new helix, using the original framework but with 00 gauge model railway to convey the postcard, which is supported on cardboard and held in place by some natty adjustable brackets which i’ve built from odd bits of plywood and acrylic which was hanging around.

test-build of one revolution of the spiral

Attached are some (in build) pics…
The parts were easy enough to make (especially with my natty new tabletop bandsaw) but I’ve been being extra cautious and testing what happens to the structure over time – I don’t want any of those subtle changes that were frakking things up with the last ‘design’.
The brackets need a little more work, in order to induce controllable camber – I think its a matter of a bolt per bracket, connected to the copper pipe.
customisable camber brackets
That way, I’ll be able to ‘dial in’ the amount of camber needed for each quarter of the helix (at the top, too much camber is a bad thing – it stops the truck because it hasn’t started moving very much, at the bottom you need quite a bit – the truck is moving rather quickly and has a tendancy to fly off – more camber required…)
The next stage is to complete the entire helix – which is a matter of manufacturing more of the same standard parts and slotting them together. The helix can then be tuned and the rest of the layout completed.
So, the carrying postcard should be able to decend via gravity. Hopefully the more finite adjustment of the track will mean that this will work fine…. hopefully.
the postcard carriage
I was giving quite a lot of thought to how the truck would get itself back up to the top – the last meeting with Russell fixed me on having a powered arduino controlled shunter to do the work.
All the other methods seem too complicated in one way or another. The shunter is simplest – it can either be battery powered (with a recharge station at the shop end of the track) or can be powered through the track itself, just like a model railway.
I’m inclined to go for the battery powered option – because then the track doesn’t have to be cleaned (which is a pain in the arse, and will be tricky considering how delicate the track supports will be….)
In *theory* once the helix part is complete, the rest of the track is very easy – about as easy as it was to make that bit of track we built previously. The next complicated part is the postcard pickup, and following that the part that pushes the postcard off the truck at the other end.”
Slow and steady wins the race!
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EamesPunk T-Shirt, originally uploaded by moleitau.

From The EamesPunk Manifesto:

“We will take our pleasures seriously. We will remember that everything connects. We will live and breathe powers of ten. We will accept constraints, but we will never accept compromise. By learning of the process of problem solving we will structure the information to be conveyed. No detail is insignificant, the detail will make the design. We will learn that the process of arriving at the solution is what counts. By separating sciences from the arts, the hand and the machine, work and play, we only cheapen our experience, the human experience. By integrating parts into a meaningful whole, we understand the connections.”

Neal Stephenson and the current System of the World

I attended a reading by Neal Stephenson at Foyles bookstore this evening. He read a couple of passages from his latest book ‘Anathem’ before a wide-ranging Q&A prior to a signing.

I was lucky enough to be able to ask him a couple of questions. Aleks called me greedy, but I felt like the characters he describes in Anathem that only get to ask questions of the elders periodically… Who knows when I’d get to do this again?

My first question was around the fact that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the passages in his book, The System of the World where the birth of the modern financial system is described. I asked him whether he had been asked to comment on where that has led, to the current apparent systemic failure of that world.

He said he had, but hadn’t been able to come up with anything more insightful than the essay George Dyson had written about the current situation “Can You Have Your House And Spend It Too?’. He advised we all google for “Dyson” and “tally sticks” – thanks to Sascha Pohflepp for getting there first…

It’s a great read, but I’d still like to read Stephenson’s take.

My second question a little later, was about his role in Nathan Myhrvold‘s Intellectual Ventures.

His answer surprised me.

I had imagined that as a writer, he wrote scenarios or stories from possible futures as briefs or devices to frame invention or discovery in some way.

From his answer it seems that he uses his time there as an escape from writing, to engage in using his hands and mind in a different way in his afternoons from the mornings of writing fiction.

Can’t wait to see what comes from that…

Bionic Noticing on Irving Street

Irving Street

Didn’t manage to get to designengaged this year in Montreal, but it seems they continued the tradition of an afternoon walk, semi-guided to immerse oneself in the city your visiting, and do some deep noticing.

There’s been a flurry of writing on the skill, innate or learned of noticing. I like to think I have a little bit of the innate, but I’ve been *ahem* noticing that my increasingly mobile personal-informatics tool-cloud seems to be training me to notice more.

Location tracker and sports-tracker on my N95,  Fireeagle, Dopplr, (+ Paul Mison‘s excellent mashup ‘Snaptrip‘) and of course Flickr are the main things helping me build up my own personal palimpsest of places.

I recently renewed my Flickr account. I have 19,404 pictures at time of writing from 4 or so years, and, though slow starting, now 1,507 geotagged. This to me, represents a deep pool of personal noticing.

Adam Greenfield recently has been presenting a fascinating flip-around of the original Eno conceit of the Big here and the long now.

Adam talks of the ‘long here, big now’ where information overlaid on place creates a ‘long here‘ record of interactions with the place, and a ‘big now’ where we are never separated from our full-time intimate communities.

The long here that Flickr represents back to me is becoming only more fascinating and precious as geolocation starts to help me understand how I identify and relate to place.

The fact that Flickr’s mapping is now starting to relate location to me the best it can in human place terms is fascinating – they do a great job, but where it falls done it falls down gracefully, inviting corrections and perhaps starting conversation.

Incidentally, I’m typing this with tea and toast in a little cafe on Irving Street called La Chandelle, accross the street is a cafe called Little Italy.

Next door is “The Italian Restaurant” – is this london’s little italy? Why such a concetration of italian restaurants here? how did it start? That statue is of Henry Irving, the actor at the end of the street. So, what was it called before being rededicated perhaps to him?

What is the Long-here of Irving Street?

Robert Elms would have a field day. I use to love listening to his phone in show, which was really, all about ‘noticing’ between the music. Maxwell Hutchinson‘s roving reports, taxi drivers, lovers of mother london and it’s tapestry of histroy and trivia all contributed to a wonderful shaggy-dog style story that would assemble about a place or a custom or a thing every morning. Perhaps the BBC and it’s new controller of archives will start investing in geolocated bionic noticing and storytelling?

But why the Little Italy on Irving street? Why the clustering? I can’t ask Robert Elms’ future-bionic noticing community yet. I wish I could – the playful aggregation of the story of a place that tumbled through his shows would be just the sort of thing I would love to read right or listen to now, right here.

Apart from the tools of bionic noticing, this play of noticing is amplified by the web beautifully – flickr,, placeblogging, things like – and increasingly ARGs and ‘BUGs’ – Big Urban Games making use of the increasing locative abilities of our devices, and perhaps more importantly – the increasing ownership of those devices.

For instance, I’m on Irving Street, noticing all this stuff for instance because my friend Alfie has staged a wonderful, casual locative game to raise awareness for XDRTB, where people follow clues embedded in blog posts like this one, to places where they can find the game rewards. Alfie’s hoping the time is right for a whole lot more people to participate in these types of games with the advent of mass adoption of location-aware mobiles like the iPhone.

I’ve written before about the dearth of casual BUGs before. Til now, often necessarily they have required an awful lot of staging and concentrated participation from a dedicated few.

Area/code’s Plundr was an early inflection point away from that. Alfie’s game isn’t quite at the Slow Urban Game stage I hoped for a few years ago but it and things like “And I saw” by Jaggeree point the way towards a slower, more inclusive play with the city, based around the rich rewards of noticing, rather than competitive and basic game mechanics.

All of this though leaves me again reminded of Stephen Johnson in Emergence, building on the thinking of the late, great Jane Jacobs on the way that cities iterate on themselves, encouraging the clustering and gathering of businesses and communities – and hopefully through Alfie’s efforts for, a community made aware and inspired to take up it’s cause.

As Johnson, Jacobs and Greenfield point out, our cities themselves are slow computers, but quickly our personal computers are becoming mobile and embedded within them, and as we play so our noticing superpowers grow…

The Macguffin Library at Somerset House by Noam Toran and Onkar Kular

Went to the last-but-one day of Noam Toran and Onkar Kular‘s “MacGuffin Library” as part of the longer “Wouldn’t it be nice” exhibit at Somerset House.

They have a 3d printer constantly making macguffins for imaginary movies, which are then placed next to it’s unmade-film’s synopsis. The macguffin, so often never even seen, is celebrated right through to the theatrics of fabbing them in the gallery.


Particularly liked this nice little touch to the warnings generally found in galleries:

Wouldn't it be Nice / The Macguffin Library at Somerset House