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Monthly Archives: December 2006

My vox blog seems to be the place for these sorts of 'LiveJournally' things, so I hope Webb doesn't think I'm cheating.

Here are five trivial things that most people won't know but couldn't possibly be used to socially-engineer me (I have a theory that all such memes are a masssively-distributed I.D. theft scam) – enjoy!

1) I illustrated a two-page Judge Dredd story at age 14.
It was in the 1987 Judge Dredd Annual, and was the only story ever to feature Dredd and Ace Garp. I'd won the chance to do it through a children's TV show called 'Splash'. It was written by Alan Grant who was wonderful about it all (as were the entire editiorial team, including Steve McManus/Tharg) and spoilt me rotten with advice and help. I got paid for it (handsomely, I thought) and put the money towards buying an Atari 520STFM. I never got to draw comic books professionally, but perhaps I will when I grow up.

2) I wanted to study graphic design or typography at college,
but got disuaded by a combination of my father, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (I thought graphic designers would be on the Golgafringian B Ark) and having a massive unrequited crush on a girl who was going to university, not art college. Hence, architecture – and all the fun since. The irony, of course, is that I now have a job that is deeply 'B Ark'.

3) I had glandular fever through my 'A' levels (the final exams you do before leaving secondary school around 17/18) which meant that I kept falling asleep during the exams and had to be nudged awake by the invigilators. I got it from snogging someone on my 18th birthday, who then dumped me. All I remember about her now is that she wore pop socks. I probably benefitted from some kind of lucid dream recall effect, as I got pretty good results.

4) I got a travel scholarship from my university to visit Los Angeles in 1994
and stayed with an alumni of my architecture school who was working for Richard Meier on the Getty Center. I got back to Cardiff and couldn't afford to publish my report in order to claim the balance of my scholarship, so I taught myself HTML and published my first website, which got me my first job working on the web back in 1995. My queries on web design and HTML were answered by Rob Hartill, who was at Cardiff working on the very first version of the IMDb and Heather Champ, who was creating lovely websites for the architecture school at Princeton.

5) I have pissed against what is widely accepted to be one of the most magnificent pieces of 20th Century Architecture – The Salk Institute, La Jolla. This is a secret shame I share with Matt Webb.

I guess this is where I'm meant to tag five people? So I would like to hear from Jack Schulze, Dan Hill, Chris Heathcote, Desiree Milosevic and of course, Foe Romeo

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“‘The lists in this book,’ I ventured to a Kylie momentarily caught precisely midway between a cynical world and a romantic one, ‘locate us somewhere, I hope beautifully, midway between the slight and the complete, between the incomplete and the deep.’

Kylie fainted. I think my audacity had penetrated the barrier of fame that separated her from everyday speculation, and had caused a couple of vital wires to snap. She had a way of fainting in slow motion that was both alarming and alluring. I had to explain that, yes, the list often just a nice way of passing the time, of showing of the hipness of your choices, a sketchy part of a self-portrait, a way of wallowing in a bubbly nostalgia that returns you to a simpler, sweeter time, of trying to contain sheer chaos in little patches of consoling order, of making plans for a future that seems so blank and featureless you have to impose shape on it by transferring things in easily wrapped packages. Lists help you believe that there will be a future – by reminding you that the things you are listing have happened, in a time that was once a future, and that therefore there will be a future where things will happen that can then be listed and taken forward to remind us of a past where stuff was generated that made us believe there is a present and so, ultimately a future.”

Words and Music, Paul Morley

Which is the best preamble I can think of to my obligatory last.fm rolling yearly top 20 (sort-of) chart of albums:

1 Tunng – This is… Tunng: Mothers Daughter and other Tales
18
2 Sigur Rós – Agaetis Byrjun
17
3 Jim Noir – Tower Of Love
16
4 808 State – 808:88:98
14
5 Broken Social Scene – Broken Social Scene
9
5 Richard Hawley – Coles Corner
9
7 Hot Chip – The Warning
8
8 Television – Marquee Moon
7
8 Sébastien Tellier – Sebastien Tellier Sessions
7
10 Viva Voce – The Heat Can Melt Your Brain
6
10 Gorillaz – Demon Days
6
12 Grandaddy – Excerpts From the Diary of Todd Zilla
5
13 Various Artists – Lost in Translation
4
13 Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On (Deluxe Edition) (disc 2)
4
13 Gary Jules – Trading Snakeoil for Wolftickets
4
13 The Auteurs – New Wave
4
13 The Go! Team – Thunder, Lightning, Strike
4
13 The Raconteurs – Broken Boy Soldiers
4
19 Brian Eno – Before and After Science
3
19 Bloc Party – Silent Alarm
3
19 Wilco – A Ghost Is Born
3
19 Mull Historical Society – Us
3
19 Sufjan Stevens – Seven Swans
3
19 Charlotte Hatherley – Grey Will Fade
3
19 We Are Scientists – With Love and Squalor

And top ten tracks

1 Television – Marquee Moon
7
2 Justice Vs Simian – We Are Your Friends (Radio Edit)
6
3 Nick Drake – One of These Things First
5
3 The Automatic – Monster
5
3 Sébastien Tellier – La Ritournelle
5
6 Sigur Rós – Intro
4
6 Jim Noir – Key of C
4
6 Sébastien Tellier – Fantino
4
6 Arctic Monkeys – When the Sun Goes Down
4
6 Belle and Sebastian – Funny Little Frog
4

By comparing both of them, it’s clear that my last.fm usage is a reflection of where my music is - i.e. I listen to last.fm a lot at work, where I have very little music stored on my hard-drive(s).

There’s a smattering of iTms purchases which tend to be earworms I need to purchase and listen to immediately, DRM-be-damned. In this category I would place Justice Vs Simian’s ‘We are your friends’, ‘Monster’ by The Automatic and ‘Key of C’ by Jim Noir.

Sidenote: it is extremely gratifying for the reader of Paul Morley’s ‘Words and Music’ to find while referencing the wikipedia definition of ‘earworm’ that it’s first example of an earworm in popular culture is ‘I can’t get you out of my head’ by Kylie Minogue.

There are also things revealing of deeper needs, flaws and habits here – but again related to place. I often have a overwhelming need to play Television’s ‘Marquee Moon’ loudly on my speakers when everyone else have left my little bit of the office – which is well represented here.

It’s also clear that aside from these ‘hits’ that I placed on heavy-rotation I spent most of my listening year in my own long-tail, as it were. Heh – I think I might be disappearing up my own buzzword there. Ahem.

Revealing, in review, in terms of Last.fm’s character: it’s radio-station metaphor seems to have a powerful hold on me. I walk away from it, I leave it running, I come back to it.

There’s an implicit ‘passivity’ pitch: ‘just enjoy the music, it’ll be exactly what you want’ which belies the activity you have to invest in it: rating, banning, skipping.

To quote Paul Morley again, the list is a way: ‘of showing of the hipness of your choices’ but a last.fm list is a mix of my choices, a machines choices and a multiplication of the two via the choices of others.

When I look at this list I see things that have a high rating that I would never actively ‘select’ e.g. Gary Jules (Gary Bloody Jules?! That’s putting a major dent in the ‘hipness of my choices’) but have probably played to no listener and multiplied their way up the list each time they have sung to no-one but the database.

So presenting a last.fm list of your year can feel an oddly-outsourced form of self-portraiture. A partly ghost-written musical memoire.

Yet – there are some gratifying things there – things which I discovered through last.fm and social-music-discovery-technology (clumsy!) – like Broken Social Scene, Tunng, Sufjan Stevens (late to the party on all three, another hole in the hipness of my choices…)

Richard Hawley ranks highly too – one of the albums which I think I always played as an album – a rare thing in this shuffle-culture, and also one that on a road-trip to West Wales I found that myself, my wife and my father all enjoyed. Again – rare!

So the list ends, 2006 ends – but last.fm keeps on cataloguing, “reminding you that the things you are listing have happened, in a time that was once a future, and that therefore there will be a future..”

Happy new year!

An end of year message (solicited by the good people at WorldChanging), from every interaction designer’s favourite curmudgeonly spirit-of-Christmas-yet-to-come, John Thackara:

“We’re swamped by innovation, but starved of meaning. So what steps should we take, and in which order?

I believe the solution is to scout the world for situations where the question has already been addressed – whatever the question may be. The Danish theatre director Eugenio Barba describes this as “the dance of the big and the small”. We need to be global hunter-gatherers of models, processes, and ways of living that already exist.

In the same way that biomimicry learns from millions of years of natural evolution, we need to adapt lessons learned by other societies to our present, ultra-local needs.”

And showing that he can aphorise as well as Sterling:

“Where there are gaps, we can invent stuff. But let’s ease up on inventing for it’s own sake: it delivers as much smoke, as solutions.”

Wonderful stuff.

And timely – in the year where BusinessWeek became Ideo’s company brochure, and they seem to have taught everyone else to search-and-replace “design” with “innovation” in order to get into the boardrooms.

Design can be taking away, it can be doing less, it can be doing the-same-but-better. And better. And better.

Sometimes the inventions you need are already exist, but haven’t been honed or applied correctly. We went through a big design exercise this year with our business (and some great help – thanks Scott!) and came to similar conclusions.

The dance of the big and the small continues.

Happy new year.

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For Foe's birthday we went to see Frank Langella and Michael Sheen as Richard Nixon and David Frost respectively in Frost/Nixon by Peter Morgan.

It was absolutely fantastic – funny, sharp, pugilistic, poignant.

In this piece in The Guardian on Morgan the playwright, it reveals this to be his first play, following a series of successful political docudramas on TV. Makes sense after the fact. The play had the jump-cutty, hyperlinky texture of modern TV at it's best.

It also had late 70's international jet-set moderne set dressings and fashions a-plenty, which made me think that Adam Greenfield would have 'lost his shit' over had he been there.

Americans – when it goes to the States, as it must – see it.

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Will tidy up and edit later, but for now, here’s the raw stuff:

eno vs johnson: ica : 4.12.06

eno introduces the long now foundation
this is it’s first manifestation in the uk
he is only non-american

listen to stephen in the context of ‘long now thinking’

his books represent a connection to the deep future

how embarrasing: johsnon starts with the enoquest story.

the ghost map is about the cholera epidemic of the 1850s. informaiton design, detective story.

telling the story as one of urbanism: cities create problems, and solve them.

2.5 million ppl – largest city in the history of the world. falling apart – Elizabethan infrastructure. vast scavenger class of 100k improvising recycling and waste disposal.

miasma theory was the orthodoxy of the time. relatively intuitive seeing how horrible the air quality was.

sense of impending doom: everytime you had an upset stomach, there was a fare chance you and all your family would be dead within 48hrs.

noone had done this before i.e. cram so many people into such a small area. a frontier of density people thought ‘this is not something humans are meant to do’ -

after the solution of the cholera problem moved to a new paradigm: sustainable metropolitan living began to be seen as something that would be possible.

“a crucial week in the invention of modern life as we know it”

—-
johnson outlines the way Snow and Whitehead investigated the water-borne cholera theory that is in book
—-

important to remember this was about scale out of control, cities out of control and people not thinking rationally.

even with limited resources it took just 12 yrs to solve the problem of cholera. the map was key to the solution.

map was a marketing vehicle for his theory, not a ‘theory object’ to help him work it out.

jumping up 1 scale and seeing the broad patterns involved enabled lay-ppl to understand the problem. it resonated with ppl. and thats what helped eliminate cholera.

—–
eno:

next yr: 50% of humanity will be city-dwelling
WE still harbour the thought that cities are not our natural state and the megacities we are entering will collapse

Stewart brand argues that our future are in cities as they have a small footprint for the amount of humans they can sustain. (also cf. richard rogers)

another big date coming up – milestone of how many ppl in the world will not have access to clean water (200m?) known, solvable problem. could be solved if there was the motivation.

local level of power is not there – sucked up to the national level, but also not released at the global level (.e.g. USA not signing global treaties) lots of global problems that it’s not in the interest of single nations to solve.

tragedy of the commons.

one thing that happens in SJ’s book is that you keep zooming between the local, short-term level and extrapolating out to more global levels to see the impacts.

lester brown book: ‘plan b’ environmentalist
SJ said it made eno look ‘unusually optimistic’

“world is like USSR in 1988 – everything looks stuck, but within a year it’s all gone.”

like a chrysalis, all the change inside waiting to burst

SJ: ‘what sort of bursting will it be?”

SJ: 1800 3% of humanity was living in cities. the change to us being an urban species. this is the most overwhelmingly most important fact.

demographics/population plateauing, and then imploding in 2056 (?)

people have far fewer kids once they move to cities
‘having a bunch of hands around the farm is useful, having them around a small apartment is not so useful…’

when you move into a city since victorian times, your life expectancy increases.

jane Jacobs: cities became great disease conquerors

‘red states’ in US politics are really states without big cities.

[what about exurbs though? aren't they red?]

mountain states are now urbanising at a great rate.
this is going to change the electoral map.

-
i asked a question about exurbs. SJ’s answer about reaching density where ‘city’ nodes appear in exurbs.. e.g. LA has done this.
-

eno start talking about SL. philip rosedale talked at longnow. said that old cities will be museums for where we will live (in SL) ‘a very long now thought’

SJ starts telling SL anecdotes about ‘lazarus devine’ who bought infinitely thin strips of land and built infinitely thing skyskrapers on that land to extort money out of landowners who’s view he stole – not brekaing any laws, so encouraged the users to start a debate on what the laws of the land should be.

It’s a revival of ‘utopian’ thinking and conversation which has not been seen in the intellectual landscape.

the thought that the internet will replace cities is an old one – george gilder/telecottages etc. didn’t happen. internet drives people to live in cities. the internet enhances cities as the connections multiply.

internet gives the power to create more kinds of f2f encounters.

eno: games point to a new way for humans to find knowledge. you don’t have to take things apart, you just see if you can emulate it. e.g. the sims: gave kids the opportunity to see if they could make a city that work. it makes clear the complex interconnections in systems.

q: very struck with the idea of cities collaborating with each other, not with national governments. global warming is going to effect the big cities (on coasts, or nr rivers) shouldn;t they collaborate on solving it?

SJ: tension operating on climate change -regions are operating on the problem. california is effectively a country when it comes to this – very active and so large as a force equivalent to nations elsewhere.

nations are too big for us to be comfortable with – why we have abstractions such as flags to help. if you can express problems at a(/your) city-scale, then its more affecting/engaging.

q: why are you talking about 1st world cities and SL, when the real 50% becoming urban are in developing countries: e.g. squatter cities / slums

ENO: bob neuwirth: shadow cities – he found that new forms of governance and economies, emergent communities. While I might not choose to live there, perhaps they aren’t dead-ends.

SJ: RN’s book is an interesting counterpoint to Mike Davis (mentioned by questioner) – are cities engines of better living or prisons for those driven off the land? a parallel to the situation in the west in the 17th/18th century. there are reasons for hope and despair.

the questioner responds: is it really parallel?, because, in the 1850′s the rich and poor lived together so necessary to solve the problem. with modern megacities, rich live in enclaves, isolated from these problems.

ENO: the rich city doesn’t have such an impermeable wall over time – takes a long time but these things break down and raise standards throughout.

Q: is the rev. whitehead the real scientist, as he proved himself wrong, whereas Snow went in with preconceived ideas?

SJ: Snow was what you might call ‘a consilient thinker’ – he was looking at things on a number of different scales. he built a theory that worked on the very small and the very large scale at the same time.

Eno: new ideas, new media don’t replace old media. had a very long email friendship with all of the people in the long now foundation. speed of feedback loop is as important as physical prescence. there is a quality of relationship in f2f communication which is not in electronic media. but humans are good at assimilating new things – we just treat it as technology.

SJ: public space, sidewalks, contact with strangers – public sphere (cf jjacobs again). question is does the internet potentially reduce or increase the contacts/converstions between strangers?

q: didn’t choose to write ‘SimCholera’ – you didn’t write a game, you wrote a book. you wrote about the diff between narratives/simualtions in ‘everything bad’ – do you think narrative is holed below the waterline or revived?

SJ: to persuade, there is no better medium than the book. no better way to move people through a linear argument. ‘gosh, ppl really like stories’ – realisation while writing ghost map.

what are the devices that make people think in ways that they don’t necessarily intuitively think in – e.g. the clock of the long now.

Nokia Design: Explore Concept 2012 on VimeoConcept work here by the lovely people in our Calabasas studio illustrating what Nokia Nseries could do in 2012.

Just the device to have around for the end of the Mayan Calendar and the arrival of TimeWave-Zero/Barbelith/VALIS/The Solar Maximum/Whatever.

Our team was peripherally involved in brainstorming it with them, but they have put together a rather lovely thing here. There had to be a Welshman involved…

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