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Conferences and events

The session I staged at FooCamp this year was deliberately meant to be a fun, none-too-taxing diversion at the end of two brain-baking days.

It was based on (not only a quote from BSG) but something that Matt Biddulph had said to me a while back – possibly when we were doing some work together at BERG, but it might have been as far-back as our Dopplr days.

He said (something like) that a lot of the machine learning techniques he was deploying on a project were based on 1970s Computer Science theory, but now the horsepower required to run them was cheap and accessible in the form of cloud computing service.

This stuck with me, so for the Foo session I hoped I could aggregate a list people’s favourite theory work from the 20thC which now might be possible to turn into practice.

It didn’t quite turn out that way, as Tom Coates pointed out in the session – about halfway through, it morphed into a list of the “prior art” in both fiction and academic theory that you could identify as pre-cursors to current technological preoccupation or practice.

Nether the less it was a very fun way to spend an sunny sunday hour in a tent with a flip chart and some very smart folks. Thanks very much as always to O’Reilly for inviting me.

Below is my photo of the final flip charts full of everything from Xanadu to zeppelins…

Foo2014-PriorArt_session

A quote I used in Dan Saffer's session on smart devices using data collection to attempt predictions around what their users might want:

“Today's devices blurt out the absolute truth as they know it. A smart device in the future might know when NOT to blurt out the truth.” - Genevieve Bell

Also got to point everyone there to Steffen Fiedler's fantastic 2011 project "Instruments Of Politeness"

If only more conference speakers felt this way…

I give very few talks about anything. I am terrible at knowing what I know. I assume that most people in the audience of any conference I attend will know more than me about anything I could talk about. For similar reasons, I’m no good at thinking of things I could write about for magazines. You all know what I know.

It turns out that I need to run a website on a very specialised topic for eight years before I’m in a position to feel confident talking about it. This may be a little extreme.

Probably something I should bear in mind.

“More hammering, less yammering” as Bleecker puts it.

John Thackara writes in his always-excellent Doors Of Perception newsletter, that he may have finally squared-the-circle of the environmental impact of travelling to events to speak about environmental impacts…

After years traveling the world in airplanes to speak at sustainability events, my low-emission online alternative is now available. In recent weeks I was compelled by a family matter to substitute my physical presence with a virtual one in Austria, China, Canada, the USA, and Brazil (Curitiba and Rio). These online encounters have a simple format: I make a customized-for-you 20 minute pre-recorded talk, which is downloaded in advance; this film is then shown at an event; this is followed by a live conversation between me and your group via Skype or POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service). The films are neither fancy nor glossy, but this simple combination seems to work well.

It occurs to me though, that part of the pleasure – and reward – of travel to conferences (apart from the well-documented serendipity of what happens outside of the scheduled sessions) is the chance to visit a new city and experience it’s culture.

Often, if you are lucky, this is in the company of locals that you have met at the conference, who will show you ‘their’ city rather than the official version.

I wonder if John has considered asking the those locals at the conferences he will ‘attend’ via video, to send him back a 20 minute customised-for-him film of their city or town?

Might work nicely, no?

, originally uploaded by moleitau.

Thanks to Justin McGuirk for the invitation to http://www.iconeye.com/iconminds/.

Below, my (very) raw unedited, incomplete notes from the morning session on ‘Ornament’ – Charles Jencks was most enjoyable, must admit I tuned out as the morning went on…:

icon minds event

the return of ornament: intro by Justin McGuirk

100 yrs since ‘ornament and crime’ aldolf loos- amazing that that is still so potent. digital tech in architecture schools is driving this – in icon office they joke about ‘return of victoriana’ – but then it was incredibly theorised where as no it is not…

charles jencks
farshi mousavi (check) foriegn office architects
marjan colleti, bartlett school of architecture

Charles Jencks
———————-
(shows front page of the FT, picture of hank paulson)
book ‘sense of order’
3 depths of ornament
‘all arts aspire to the condition of music’
rhythms that control and affect / effect us without us having to know to much about them
from simple to complex / abstract to meaningful
distinction between decoration and ornament
in the last ten year, ornament has been ornament as eye candy
paulson’s frown is a piece of decoration rather than ornament
i’m defining decoration as something you wear as a sign as a way to communicate in code to a group.
‘the blush on the face of a virgin in every novel is completely conventional’
(now frowns on the faces of capitalists is ‘the blush of the virgin’)
shows koolhaas morphing into zidane
(angry passionate reluctant – architect and designer’s ‘blush of the virgin’)
morphing is… one of the strongest influences on ornament today… morphing is somehow ‘musical’ – from Koolhaas to crescendo… of Zidane..
the construction / structural elements, repeated in a kind of ‘symphonic’ way in each fact of the OMA’s seattle library… organisational diagram informs the ornament – intersection, interlocking, ornamental use of colour for ciruclation to take you through a grey abstract concrete space… ornament is being used to underscore organisation
shows prada building in tokyo (?) herzog de merreon
rem: “dubai is vernacular zaha” – everyone is doing the same tricks with form – in adevrtising and magazines and academia… cliched images, rather than reality
venturi’s ‘dumb box’ / ‘decorated shed’ – done by FOA in spain… hexagonal tiles… that wobble nicely – ‘i call it the hexiwobble’
eberswalde library by H&dM – ornament not guaranteed to last 8-10 years by concrete manufrs
‘age of mechanical reproduction’ -photograph, but double – the facade is mechinaical reproduction
birds next stadium by h&dm – getting closer to mimicking nature
FOA work – pleats and plates of folded.
the 19th criticised construction – they said ‘don;t construct you ornament, instead decorate your construction’ – then poiret (?) teacher of corb said don’t do that… decoration always hides fault, and so the truth.
argument: philospophical/’moral’ – don’t think it is moral… we all ornament, we all decorate
transformational ornament is the 3rd degree
my own work based on fractals (cosmic garden in N. England?)
ornament should tell a story, should be narrative
shouldn’t stop at the level of semantics
the two great theories underlying nature:
plato – behind nature the underlying forms are regular solids (modernism) unbroken plato -> classical -> cezanne -> corbusier
based on the metaphysics of getting to the underlying forms of nature, the organisation of matter – self organisating relationships between them
1977: benoit mandelbrot: the fractal geometry of nature
things are more or less platonic when viewed from our scale, but in reality – mostly crinkly, self-similar, scale-free, always changing.
a symphonic scaling, between scales… recent work of FOA
gaudi – still the master of doing this… mediating between scale with ornament and structure.
the 4th degree of ornament is where there is an overall story that is seen in every element that the architect/designer/client has worked out whih gives it greater resonance.

Farshid Moussavi / FOA

book: ‘the function of ornament’

how do we define and construct ornament today?

it is part of how they ‘perform’ (structurally, environmentally) – they have a function
architecture has a very outmoded and narrow concept of function
sensorially roles should be part of function
opposition of function to ornament is representative of our dualist thinking between matter and mind
natural / symbolic
structural / symbols
louis sullivan was the last architect of ornament before modernism?
‘form follows function’ dictum reduced function to utility
related forms to culutre – often added inbetween structure and function – not considered together
but now they are – and start transforming each other
it’s no longer possible to isolate forces in the environment: cultural, societal, structural
cities are spaces where multiplicity rules, novelity emerges
materials are now joined by what she calls ‘supermaterials’ – economics, virology, systems, information
cinema
spinoza: affect / affectation

(I have to admit I tuned out at this point…)

In the corner at Icon Minds

My talk at “From Business To Buttons” in Malmo has been recorded and is online with all the rest of the event here.

It was a gentle ramble through some territory Tom Coates and myself explored last year, with some added detail about the Dopplr Personal Annual Report.

It’s about 40 minutes or so if you’re really bored…

Malmo was a blast (literally, in terms of the weather and horizontal rain) thanks for the invite and hospitality from the Business-to-Buttons crew, especially all the interaction design student volunteers I hung out with and pointed us to the best bars and art exhibits in the city, including the fantastic Sonic Youth exhibition I snuck away and saw…

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Which I’ve written a little bit more about over at the S&W Pulse Laser.

I felt I rushed the talk, which was probably not wise as I was giving it in English to an Italian audience, but there’s stuff in there I want to dig into further in the coming months for sure. If you for some reason feel the need to punish yourself and want to see my lack-lustre performance it’s captured forever here, but deep thanks to (most of) the audience for indulging me and not falling asleep or wandering off chatting into the gorgeous Italian sunshine… I know I would have…

The concept of “Thingfrastructure” in the talk is something I’ve found myself scribbling in the margins of my moleskine for a few months now, and it’s something I want to come back to: resilience in services, especially when connected to things – and whether it’s possible to design ‘things’ that generate resilient services for themselves. I think it’s been in the back of my mind since Ryan Freitas gave an excellent talk on the subject at MX last year in San Francisco. Anyway – as I say, I’ll keep scribbling, and hopefully others will too.

Thanks very much indeed to Leander, Matteo, Manuela and all the team behind Frontiers for the kind invitation to speak and a wonderful time in Rome.

UPDATE:
The good folk at Adaptive Path have pointed out that (unbeknownst to me) Brandon Schauer was walking this path a few months ago. He’s a smart cookie is Brandon.

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