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?

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…

Picnic08: Internet Of Things

I missed quite a lot of Picnic, mainly due to getting together with the Dopplr team for a rare physical pow-wow – but I did manage to spend a good chunk of the Friday in the Internet of Things special session.

Speakers included Rafi Haladjian of Violet/Nabaztag fame and David Orban of Widetag/OpenSpime, and there were demos from Tikitag, and Pachube (Usman Haque‘s excellent new venture).

Sat in the audience was God-Emperor of Spime, Bruce Sterling which lent it an extra something. I managed to snag a Tikitag start kit, which I hope to have a play with this week – I’ll post some unboxing pics when I have chance.

It was one of those sessions where the palpable sense of the scenius is the thing, rather than the content so much (although there was a lot of good stuff in there too) – I came away with renewed enthusiasm for ‘practical ubicomp’ and all things spime-y.

I wasn’t sure whether the talks where being video’d, so I managed to record two of the speakers on my N95, so the quality of the audio isn’t particularly great.

So, with that disclaimer, here are the presentations by Matt Cottam of Tellart and Mike Kuniavsky of ThingM.

Jessica Helfand and Tony Stark vs. Don Norman, Paul Dourish and Joss Wheedon

Jessica Helfand of Design Observer on Iron Man’s user-interfaces as part of the dramatis personae:

“…in Iron Man, vision becomes reality through the subtlest of physical gestures: interfaces swirl and lights flash, keyboards are projected into the air, and two-dimensional ideas are instantaneously rendered as three and even four-dimensional realities. Such brilliant optical trickery is made all the more fantastic because it all moves so quickly and effortlessly across the screen. As robotic renderings gravitate from points of light in space into a tangible, physical presence, the overall effect merges screen-based, visual language with a deftly woven kind of theatrical illusion.”

Made me think back to a post I wrote here about three years ago, on “invisible computing” in Joss Wheedon’s “Firefly”.

Firefly touch table

“…one notices that the UI doesn’t get in the way of the action, the flow of the interactions between the bad guy and the captain. Also, there is a general improvement in the quality of the space it seems ? when there are no obtrusive vertical screens in line-of-sight to sap the attention of those within it.”

Firefly touch table

Instead of the Iron Man/Minority Report approach of making the gestural UI the star of the sequence, this is more interesting – a natural computing interface supports the storytelling – perhaps reminding the audience where the action is…

As Jessica points out in her post, it took us some years for email to move from 3D-rendered winged envelopes, to things that audiences had common experience and expectations of.

Three years on from Firefly, most of the audience watching scifi and action movies or tv will have seen or experienced a Nintendo Wii or an iPhone, and so some of the work of moving technology from star to set-dressing is done – no more outlandish or exotic as a setting for exposition than a whiteboard or map-table.

Having said that – we’re still in tangible UIs transition to the mainstream.

A fleeting shot from the new Bond trailer seems to indicate there’s still work for the conceptual UI artist, but surely this now is the sort of thing that really has a procurement number in the MI6 office supplies intranet…

Bond Touch table

And – it’s good to see Wheedon still pursuing tangible, gestural interfaces in his work…

Polite, pertinent and pretty: a talk at Web2.0expo SF, April 2008

To which you could add ‘tardy’: a shameful two months after the event the slides and notes from the talk are now up online here. Sorry to everyone who asked for them – and thanks for your patience!

It was a presentation by Tom Coates and myself on an area that fascinates us both – the coming age of practical ubicomp/spimes/everyware.

Although hopefully grounded in some of the design ideas explored in our respective current projects, it was a whistlestop tour around the ideas and conversations of many.

The title slide shows Timo Arnall‘s everyware symbols and obviously, Adam Greenfield‘s and Bruce Sterling‘s books loom large, as well as the work of Dan Hill, Matthew Chalmers, Anne Galloway, Schulze and Webb, Christian Nold and many others who I’ve been fortunate to meet, mail or read around this subject.

There’s certainly some scenius going on. As if to underline this, Nicholas Nova’s posted his slides from what sounds like a fascinating talk today: “Digital Yet Invisible: Making Ambient Informatics More Explicit to People”.

Looking forward to a summer of more digital/physical brainfood…

Giant things that blog

After the BLDGBLOG lecture at UCL last week, Mark, Russell, James and myself retired to the Malborough Arms for post-match analysis; and Russell dropped on us the fact that Roll-Royce’s jet engines are now prolific bloggers.

They twitter about what they are doing back home to Derby from wherever they are above the globe, 33000 feet up.

At the risk of sounding a bit like one of the guest publications on “Have I got news for you”, here’s a quote from Aviation Maintenance Magazine that Rusell found to back-up his pub-fact

“Engine diagnostics, and predictive analysis that our technical people are doing, feed into the operations control room, the hub of global fleet support for large engines, to see how they are performing, combined with flight log monitoring.”

The company is able to monitor 3,000 engines in real time, collating technical data streamed via satellite in flight.”

Of course, there must be an entire swathe of giant things that blog, and have been blogging since the dawn of telemetry; but it still seems faintly magical.


Unknown Pleasures Album Cover

“Context-Handback” is something I find that I want nearly everything – or my everyware, at least – to do.

What do I mean?

An inverse-concrete example: something that can’t perform context-handback is my new little iPod shuffle.

I bought it last weekend after a longish break from the Jobs/Ive Hegemon, in order to play some of the iTunes purchased DRM’d gear I’m stuck with, and also because it’s just gorgeous as an object.

More perfect than the perfect thing it seems in both build quality and simplicity.

Foe had owned an original shuffle before but I’d never tried it – I’m finding thought that I really love the surrender to the flow of your own music – music that you perhaps didn’t realise you owned or had neglected, surfaced by the pseudo-stochastic, inscrutable selectah inside the tiny metal extrusion.

Perhaps I’m prepped to enjoy this semi-surprising personal radio station by my other semi-surprising personal radios – and pandora.

I listen to a lot of at work, and I find its recommendations only more and more rewarding over time.

But I find I obsess now on feeding it more and more – I want to handback to it from all of my musical consumption – my shuffle, the radio on my N95, shazam-tags from something playing in the pub – everything.

I want to bring it offerings.

And there’s the rub – so little of that musical consumption, in fact the bulk of it done on the go – can be offered back to

It’s so frustrating that my musical discoveries and rediscoveries can’t feed back into creating more, or even that I can’t see what I enjoyed in iTunes when I synchronise with
the shuffle.

Faltering steps towards remedying this trivial problem can be seen in something like this hacked-up scrobbler for mobile in S60 python.

More context-handback hopefully in the next few years, until then – unknown pleasures.

Internships at Intel’s research labs up for grabs…

This from Eric Paulos at Intel – get paid to research ‘love and spirituality’!!!

Intel Corporation’s Domestic Designs and Technologies Research Group is calling for interns! As part of Domestic Designs and Technologies Research, the ethnographic and design research team within the Digital Home Group, you will work within a multidisciplinary team to explore and research ‘love and spirituality’ and its intersection with computers and technology, in and around the home.

DDTR is a driving force within the Digital Home Group: our charter is to develop a clear & actionable understanding of daily life all over the world, identify opportunities for our platforms to enable experiences that consumers value, merge original insights with technology, market, platform and planning intelligence to define usage models & platform requirements, and seed future research & platform opportunties. DHG’s vision is to make Intel the trusted foundation of your digital home. To that end, the Digital Home Group develops computing and communications oriented platforms that anticipate and satisfy the needs of consumers world-wide.

We will be offering 3 month paid internships starting in October ’06, January ’07, and April ’07, for graduate students in anthropology, design research or related social sciences. Interns must re-locate to the Portland, Oregon area to work closely with the research team during the entire length of the internship.

We are looking for individuals with experience in designing and conducting both qualitative and quantitative user or design research studies, including analysis of the resulting data. Candidates should prepare a concise yet thorough one-page proposal to explore some aspect of love and spirituality and its intersection with computers and technology in and around the home. Exact responsibilities of the position will be defined with the successful applicant based on the proposal you submit.

Please submit your proposal describing the research you’d like to do in this area over the course of your internship to . Applications (CV + proposal) must be received by July 31st, October 31st, and January 31st respectively for the Oct, Jan, and April start dates; successful candidates will be contacted by the 10th of the month following.

Inaugural Mobile Monday London: November 7th…

If you have arrived here by searching for MoMoLondon, let me be completely clear, this is not the site of MoMoLondon!

If you are planning on going to Mobile Monday London,

  1. please do go and join the group/mailing list at
  2. Visit and bookmark the nascent official site:
  3. Make sure you PRE-REGISTER on the mailing list


I’ve just been on a conference call with the group that are starting up the London ‘branch’ of the Mobile Monday events. If you’re not familiar with them, then they have been running ideas, debate and networking events about mobile technology, business and culture around the world for a few years.

The first London Mobile Monday (or, MomoLondon) will take place on the 7th November at Vodafone’s offices on the Strand in central London from 6pm. N.B. YOU WILL NEED TO PRE-REGISTER FOR SECURITY REASONS! Visit the MoMoLondon Yahoo Group for details.

The theme was tentatively set as “Connecting the physical and digital world” – with topics such as location-based services, optical code reading and some others to be agreed.

One of the messages that came out loud and clear from those participating on the planning call was that it should be idea-rich and powerpoint-light.


Also, it was stressed that what interested most people was to move forward the thinking as a whole at the intersection of business, technology and user-experience.

One other idea that was strongly supported was trying to get academic and industry research in the mix – so that we finally can move on from the “Joe arrives in a new city and wants to find his nearest pizza” use cases…

Personally, I’d like to see the definition of the mobile discussion stretch outside of just cellular – to personal media players, connected game decks (anyone from Sony London Studio still reading??) and ubiquitous computing.

From a very selfish viewpoint, I’d like a monthly event about mobile tech, design, business and culture that I looked forward to, so, I’ve tried to mail a few folk I know who work on designing user-experience for mobile to get them roped in, and hopefully posting here, cast the net a little wider and get more user-research and design folk involved.

Here are the details of the group if you’d like to join:

The main driving purpose is of course to get together those in working on mobile digital stuff to talk, drink, swap ideas and have a laugh. Please do pass this on to people you work with if they would be interested, and hopefully see you soon at one of the MoMoLondons…

Berrybites, and reality bites

Patrick, in comments to my early post about the effects of blackberries and other push e-mail devices, recounts his experience of a meeting where nine out of ten of the people present – well – weren’t:

“They would look up upon hearing a word they find interesting, then went right back into their text-messaging. Then during Q&A, one guy asked three questions in rapid succession (all of which pertained to topics we had already discussed in our presentation), then promptly went back to typing in his SK. After answering his questions in rather lengthy detail, the presenter (our Exec Creative Director) asked him whether or not we’ve addressed his concerns, he replied: “uh, more or less.” never once loosened his grip on his opium pipe.”

Was talking with Foe about this again tonight, and realised that of course, I have done the equivalent of this in meeting rooms that have wifi – checking my email, or attending to some other work, while being copresent, but not really concentrating on the content of the meeting. Is is again the effect of the tools? Having ‘prescence’ in buddy lists means you are available for chat or queries to others. Do we now think that it is enough to be ‘present’ in reality – available, but not concentrating – awaiting a call to participate rather than participating by default? Would we be more productive or creative and less stressed if we opted out of one ‘buddy list’ of prescence – perhaps even sometimes the physical prescence. Just be honest and say – “You know what? I shouldn’t be here if I’m not concentrating on this.”

I know that Joi Ito has written a lot about his thoughts on “m-time and p-time” before now – I really should go back and read it more thoroughly.

All of this thinking about berrybites and the technologies that create constant partial attention put me to mind of the first time I heard the phrase, on Neal Stephenson’s well page – and how much of the communication technology we think essential to productivity is nothing of the sort:

“Linda Stone, formerly of Apple and Microsoft, has coined the term “continuous partial attention” to describe life in the era of e-mail, instant messaging, cellphones, and other distractions. This curious feature of modern life poses a problem for a someone like me. Every productive thing that I do requires ALL my attention.

I cannot put it any better than Donald Knuth, who writes on his website, “Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of things. But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things. What I do takes long hours of studying and uninterruptible concentration. ”

Knuth also provides the following quote from Umberto Eco: “I don’t even have an e-mail address. I have reached an age where my main purpose is not to receive messages.”

One other thought – form factor.

Different form factors set up different spaces of interaction and particpation around them. Handhelds and laptops, while seeming quite different in form-factor – both create ‘private’ spaces for different reasons (size for handhelds, lids for laptops) which have similar impacts on the feeling of the social space around them.

I wonder what meetings feel like if the particpants are still connected but using devices with form-factors that create ‘semi-private/semi-public’ interaction spaces around them, e.g. tablet PCs. Does anyone have first-hand experience?