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“At 42 years old, Charlie Brooker is settling into his middle age, but in the world of current affairs, where few male presenters under 50 occupy top jobs, he’s basically a small angry child. At 66, Jon Snow is far closer to the likes of John Humphrys (70) and James Naughtie (62) at the Today programme, Jeremy Paxman (63) at Newsnight, Andrew Neil (64) at This Week and the Sunday Politics, or Question Time’s 75-year old David Dimbleby. The few female presenters on these shows are allowed – compelled even – to be under 50, but current affairs output remains dominated by 50- to 70-something white men. This even extends to the pundits – a very small proportion of panelists on Question Time are under 40, and those under 30 are treated virtually as cultural curiosities to be gawked at or patronised. Owen Jones’s TV career seems – through no fault of his own – to be predicated on the idea that by giving him a say, broadcasters have somehow ticked the ‘under 30′ box, as if one guy can somehow be the ‘voice of a generation’.”

From “How Jon Snow dissing the PlayStation 4 explains why no one cares you can’t afford a house”

I’m 42 in a few months.

I really enjoyed Andrew’s book. I thought I knew about the structure (and structures) of the Internet, but this is is a detailed, critical and fun illumination which quickly proved me mistaken. It’s also a travel book, about an unreal place that spans/permeates real places, lives, spaces. And a wonderful one at that. Highly recommended.

(My emboldening below)

Everything you do online travels through a tube. Inside those tubes (by and large) are glass fibers. Inside those fibers is light. Encoded in that light is, increasingly, us. [Location 94]

The Internet is everywhere; the Internet is nowhere. But indubitably, as invisible as the logical might seem, its physical counterpart is always there. [Location 276]

TeleGeography in Washington was asking a computer science department in Denmark to show how it was connected to a university in Poland. It was like a spotlight in Scandinavia shining on twenty-five hundred different places around the world, and reporting back on the unique reflections. [Location 418]

You can demarcate a place on a map, pinpoint its latitude and longitude with global positioning satellites, and kick the very real dirt of its very real ground. But that’s inevitably going to be only half its story. The other half of the story comes from us, from the stories we tell about a place and our experience of it. [Location 485]

“If you brought a sophisticated customer into the data center and they saw how clean and pretty the place looked—and slick and cyberrific and awesome—it closed deals,” said Adelson. [Location 1211]

But it wasn’t the machine’s mystery or power that terrified Adams most. It was how clearly it signified a “break of continuity,” as he puts it. The dynamo declared that his life had now been lived in two different ages, the ancient and the modern. It made the world new. [Location 1826]

He counted off the zeros on the screen. “This point is the millisecond … this point is the microsecond … and this one is usually expressed as nanoseconds, or billionths of a second.” I mulled all the zeros on the screen for a moment. And when I looked up, everything was different. The cars rushing by outside on Highway 87 seemed filled with millions of computational processes per second—their radios, cell phones, watches, and GPSs buzzing inside of them. Everything around me looked alive in a new way: the desktop PCs, the LCD projector, the door locks, the fire alarms, and the desk lamps. [Location 2045]

Nearly universally, they wore black T-shirts and zip-up hooded sweatshirts, handy for spending long hours on the hard floor of the server rooms, facing the dry exhaust blast of an enormous router.[ocation 2378]

The Internet “cloud,” and even each piece of the cloud, was a real, specific place—an obvious reality that was only strange because of the instantaneity with which we constantly communicate with these places. [Location 3159]

The Internet had no master plan, and—aesthetically speaking—no master hand. There wasn’t an Isambard Kingdom Brunel—the Victorian engineer of Paddington Station and the Great Eastern cable ship—thinking grandly about the way all the pieces fit together, and celebrating their technological accomplishment at every opportunity. On the Internet there were only the places in between, places like this, trying to disappear [location 3183]

The emphasis wasn’t on the journey; the journey pretended not to exist. But obviously it did. [location 3186]

“Want to see how this shit really works?” he asked. “This has nothing to do with clouds. If you blew the ‘cloud’ away, you know what would be there?” Patchett asked. “This. This is the cloud. All of those buildings like this around the planet create the cloud. The cloud is a building. It works like a factory. Bits come in, they get massaged and put together in the right way, then packaged up and sent out. But everybody you see on this site has one job, that’s to keep these servers right here alive at all times.” [location 3268]

“If you lose rural America, you lose your infrastructure and your food. It’s incumbent for us to wire everybody, not just urban America. The 20 percent of the people living on 80 percent of the land will be left behind. Without what rural America provides to urban America, urban America couldn’t exist. And vice versa. We have this partnership.” [location 3299]

Little Printer features in Alice Rawsthorn’s round-up of designs of 2011 in the NYT/IHT:

Some of the smartest tech products of the year also came from enterprising young companies. Jawbone and fuseproject, both based in San Francisco, collaborated on the development of the UP wristband, which uses tiny motion sensors to monitor the wearer’s sleep, diet and exercise. A London design group, Berg, caused an online sensation when it introduced the Little Printer, a cute device that scours the Internet for information likely to interest its owner, and then prints it out.

Which is nice.

THE INCIDENTAL 01, originally uploaded by dcharny.

The year of the papernet continues a-pace!

Very exciting this morning to see the first edition of The Incidental, a project done for the British Council by Schulze&Webb, Fromnowon, Åbäke and others, for the Salone Di Mobile furniture and design event in Milan, which is about the biggest event in the product design world

I was lucky enough to get contacted by Daniel of Fromnowon early on in the genesis of the project, when they were moving the traditional thinking of staging an exhibition of British product design to a service/media ‘infrastructure intervention’ in the space and time of the event itself.

Something that was more alive and distributed and connected to the people visiting Salone from Britain, and also connecting those around the world who couldn’t be there.

From the early brainstorms we came up with idea of a system for collecting the thoughts, recommendations, pirate maps and sketches of the attendees to republish and redistribute the next day in a printed, pocketable pamphlet, which, would build up over the four days of the event to be a unique palimpsest of the place and people’s interactions with it, in it.

One thing that’s very interesting to me is using this rapidly-produced thing then becomes a ‘social object’: creating conversations, collecting scribbles, instigating adventures – which then get collected and redistributed. A feedback loop made out of paper, in a place.

We were clearly riffing on the work done by our friends at the RIG with their “Things our friends have written on the internet” and the thoughts of Chris Heathcote, Aaron and others who participated in Papercamp back in January. In many ways this may be the first commercial post-papercamp product? Or is it an unproduct?

Anyway – very pleased to see this in the world. The team in Milan is working hard to put it together live every night from things twittered and flickered and sketched and kvetched in the galleries and bars. It seems they turned it around in good time, with the distributors going out with their customer-designed delivery bags and bikes at 8am this morning…

Can’t wait to see how the palimpsest builds through the week, and also how ideas like this might build through events throughout the year.

Remember, if you have quests or questions for the roving reporters of The Incidental, then you can get hold of them @theincidental on Twitter.

UPDATE

I asked the roving reporters via @theincidental to track down Random International with Chris O’Shea‘s installation at Milan ’09, and they did!

Action-at-a-distance = Magic!

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I thought that delivering my webstock talk, and finishing reading Welcome To Mars, Cold War Modern and The Bomb while on holiday would let me escape my obsession with the post-war and the high-modern. I had reckoned without James Coburn.

Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst"

Tom Armitage picked up on my love of the Derek Flint movies, and suggested that I had not really experienced Coburn at the height of his powers until I had experienced him in “The President’s Analyst“. The plot is a thing of gossamer, and the dialogue is probably best described as “very much of it’s time”, but the production designs and way that product and environment is photographed is wonderful.

I watched it on my flight to Etech, and went a little crazy taking screengrabs of every beautiful detail I saw…

Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst" - a set on Flickr

The complete set is here, but I want to just point out a couple of wonderful moments.

The Archigram-esque travelling gate-lounges of Dulles, shot to echo the infrastructure of Apollo, and foreshadowing somehow the decaying post-future of Lebbeus Woods. Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst"

The classic Cold-War combo of the long fluoro-lit corridor with tiny psuedo golf-cart.

Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst"

Amphibious vehicles and long-zooms…

Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst"

Headquarters of Corporate Evil, designed by Bruce Goff?

Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst"

With corporate communications by DePatie-Freleng. (What was the first in this line of ‘hi-modern corporate communications animation vernacular’ as parodied eventually in Jurrasic Park amongst others?) Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst"

My absolute favourite detail however, has to be – The Networked Shoe: Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst"

That controls the corporate automatons Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst"

Look at this… the way they are curled, and nested, and converging to a central control point… This might just be the ne-plus-ultra of command-and-control cybernetics of the cold war meets the high-modern consumer culture! Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst"

As Coburn himself might say “Beautiful… BEAUTIFUL!Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst"

Close Encounters of the Third Kind was being shown on TV this weekend. I happened across it accidently, and sat glued to it for a couple of hours, realising perhaps how burnt into my subconcious some of the images in it are for me.

I started watching it not for the story (of which there is not much, admittedly) but trying to watch the imagery, the iconography.

Obsessing over the production design in the last 20min of Close Encounters

So many of my hot buttons pressed! One of the first issues of Starlog I ever bought, about 1978/79 / a classic 2000ad cover by Brian Bolland / The Goodies / Syd-Mead-esque prefabricated pods and silky tracksuits / 1975 NASA Ames /Stanford Torus research illustrations / the italian-supermodern furniture aesthetic of Space 1999 /

Obsessing over the production design in the last 20min of Close Encounters

I’m currently reading Ken Holling’s excellent “Welcome To Mars”, in which the golden age of flying saucer culture is juxtaposed with the rise of suburbia and the military-industrial-entertainment complex.

Obsessing over the production design in the last 20min of Close Encounters

One could conside Close Encounters as the end of that trajectory – and the end of other trajectories: the last freak-out LSD scifi, the last ‘serious’ 70′s scifi before/during the starwarsification of the scifi movie.

Obsessing over the production design in the last 20min of Close Encounters

And the beginning of trajectories: the scifi conspiracy movie, the beginning of the industrial light-and-magic revolution, and an in-joke that would play out more than 25 years later in Alias.

Obsessing over the production design in the last 20min of Close Encounters

Aside from being lost in the imagery, one piece of dialog I had never heard before floated through as soon as I’d switched on. It’s the scene  where a young boy, Barry is about to be abducted.

His mother tries to block all the doors, windows and ducts but cannot stop screws being unscrewed and their hiding place being unwrapped by light, noise and apparent unseen malevolence.

Obsessing over the production design in the last 20min of Close Encounters

Barry stands smiling, points at the UFOs and cries with joy: “TOYS!!”

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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…

As you might be aware – Flickr launched video, and amongst much praise for it’s simple, clear implementation there’s been quite a lot of hoo-ha from us wonderful, grateful users, some of whom are afraid the addition of video will lower the tone of the service to that of others, that allow you a tube, if you will.
Part of the differentiating design of Flickr video is that only clips of a maximum 90 seconds duration are possible. In fact, Flickr themselves refer to them as ‘long photos’.
Matt Webb has a wonderful set building at the moment of 11 second video clips. One of them is a mesmerising shot of waves breaking on a beach, that I’ve seen him use to hypnotise his audience as the opening slide of his talks.
So – this led me to wonder if another differentiating design constraint could be set: what if all videos looped automatically as default?
Wouldn’t they then really be long photos?
I’d love to be able to loop the clip posted above, so that you can just see the little door-closing system they’ve erected at Flat White over and over to your hearts content.
A loop would be a captured action or situation rather than a narrative, where the duration of the loop is set but the loop goes on forever so you can study the layers, the detail, the figure and the ground in the same way you can a photo.
A bottled system not a short story.
Think about all the tiny clips you’ve played again and again on the internet just to see one aspect, one moment, act out – a goal or a dramatic chipmunk.

Not stories, but toy moments.
Think about those moving photos imagined in cheesy science fiction films or Harry Potter movies.
Tiny loops of video perhaps are the real long photos…

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