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Fine Nonsense

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



Sad & Hairy, originally uploaded by moleitau.

A while back, two years ago in fact – just under a year before we (BERG) announced Little Printer, Matt Webb gave an excellent talk at the Royal Institution in London called “BotWorld: Designing for the new world of domestic A.I”

This week, all of the Little Printers that are out in the world started to change.

Their hair started to grow (you can trim it if you like) and they started to get a little sad if they weren’t used as often as they’d like…

IMG_6551

The world of domesticated, tiny AIs that Matt was talking about two years ago is what BERG is starting to explore, manufacture – and sell in every larger numbers.

I poked at it as well, in my talk building on Matt Webb’s thinking “Gardens & Zoos” about a year ago – suggesting that Little Printer was akin to a pot-plant in it’s behaviour, volition and place in our homes.

Little Valentines Printer

Now it is in people’s homes, workplaces, schools – it’s fascinating to see how they relate to it play out everyday.

20 December, 19.23

I’m amazed and proud of the team for a brilliant bit of thinking-through-making-at-scale, which, though it just does very simple things right now, is our platform for playing with the particular corner of the near-future that Matt outlined in his talk.

The way to LDN's heart is on a brompton

I got my Brompton six years ago, while I was still reverse-commuting every day from central London to Hampshire. Nokia’s UK design studio was located in glamorous Farnborough at the time, and quite a few of us travelled west from Waterloo for an hour or so, where there was a incredibly-depressing shuttle bus to the anonymous office park where we drank a lot of tea and tried to seduce implacable engineers and product managers with endless flash mockups of what we thought were better UIs than s60.

But that’s a tale for another day.

The train ride you could cope with – competitive crosswording with Matt Brown, Joe McCloud’s stream of consciousness narration of the suburban landscapes we trundled through (think Jonathan Meades meets Bill Hicks), Eddie’s terrible puns – but wait for the shuttle bus and the cramped, smelly bus ride itself were the last straw for many, who opted to bike the last couple of miles to the office every day instead.

There were a few tribes – the fast and furious fixies of Adam and Silas, Tom and Mattias the oak-legged mud-loving MTBers… and then, me… initially on a Strida, with its rubber belt, tiny wheels, pennyfarthing-seating and terrifying twitch-steering.

1st commute

Despite it’s quirks, I loved the Strida – at least compared to the shuttle bus. It was perfect for the train -> work -> train -> pub -> first floor flat daily life I had back then.

Strida Day #1

The lack of gears started to be noticed on even the slight climbs between Farnborough station and Nokia HQ, so after only a few months, in September 2006 I upgraded to my Brompton.

Wheels for yr mind

Up until last year it was my primary bike – until I started cycling my entire route to work rather than folding up and getting on the train. It sat forlorn in the studio, and then my kitchen – until last Saturday when I sold it to welovebromptons.co.uk, from where it will hopefully find a new home.

I loved my brompton as I’ve not loved many of my possessions. Not only for it’s utility and efficency – but also for what it represented: British design, engineering and manufacture.

I was fortunate to be invited to the Brompton factory in 2010.

Visiting the Brompton Bicycles factory, July 2010 - 17

I believe that at the time it was (and it still maybe) the only full manufacturing site in London. It was fantastic to see the skill, care and attention to detail that was given to every process.

Visiting the Brompton Bicycles factory, July 2010 - 04

Also the integration of design, engineering and manufacture – the continuum of concern that the designers had for the material and human processes at work in the factory.

Visiting the Brompton Bicycles factory, July 2010 - 14

Visiting the Brompton Bicycles factory, July 2010 - 06

Visiting the Brompton Bicycles factory, July 2010 - 07

Design was not an abstract activity, but an integral one – with a tight feedback loop from the shop floor, the testing suites, the customer service.

And the shop floor itself was a treat for a designer – a rainbow of coated metal…

Visiting the Brompton Bicycles factory, July 2010 - 08

So, sadly it’s goodbye to all that for now, no longer will I be able to tuck my green machine into the convenient parking bay provided by The Shepherdess…

The Bromptronozord

But I dare say I’ll own one again, one day.

Handsome, handsome machines.

In Adam’s post on reinventing cars, I had a little brainblip when I read the sentence:

“Bolt-on kits. Adaptive reuse. Provisional and experimental rezoning.”

I read it as something like Rezoning. Something like ‘reasoning’, but heavily-accented with the future.

Then again as Rezoning. Rezzing-up. Evoking the photon-lathing of Tron, or the synaesthesia-landscapes of Rez itself.

Of course, Adam actually means Rezoning. As in re-zoning what areas of cities are designated to be used for in urban plans.

Sometimes it’s nice to trip up on a word and see where you stumble.

"GET EXCITED AND MAKE THINGS" arrives in the Howies store,  Carnaby St

It’s fair to say this post is a little behind-the-times, but I finally want to get round to recording the story behind my “Get Excited & Make Things” image – and also releasing the files, which was always my intention…

I was a little frustrated with myself and the world one day, and went to sit in Hoxton Square to do the Guardian crossword as a remedy.

Flicking through the G2 section I came across a short article about the “Keep Calm & Carry On” WW2 poster phenomenon.

18/03/2009

It occurred to me that this was exactly the wrong sentiment for this age – and in fact the stoicism it recommends was been viewed ironically in the main by those who purchased it.

I started sketching on the paper a contrary statement, where stiff upper lip was replaced by a stiff upper arm from soldering…

GET EXCITED AND LASERCUT THINGS

The royal crown was replaced by one made of spanners (or wrenches, for our yanqui friends) – and Get Excited & Make Things was born.

Don't keep calm and carry on.

I posted it to flickr, where to date it has had over 90k views. It got turned into t-shirt of the week by my friends at Howies (and became their fastest selling shirt ever, apparently!) with the proceeds going towards their Do Lectures.

howies® - t-shirt of the week

Then, an art print by Jen and friends at 20×200 – with proceeds going to Creative Commons.

Along with that, It got featured in various press articles, and there’s a flickr pool for spottings in the wild.

Get Excited & Make Things Pool

It’s still available via my mates at Mule Design – with the proceeds going to Smallcanbebig.org.

Apparently "sullen" is a "thing" which can be "made"

I only mention it’s success (though gratifying personally, obviously – and I’m very happy that it’s provided some small contributions to good causes) – because it seems that it has resonated with so many people.

And that’s the really amazing thing – that there might be a determination, en-masse – to really get the blood pumping and make our way out of the messes we’ve created.

With that in mind, I’m offering the original files under a CC-non-commercial, attribution, share-alike licence.

If you want to use the images for commercial means, we can talk of course – about you giving some donation to a good cause in exchange. I say that, as it’s cropped up in a few places being used without prior permission for commercial ends…

So here they are.

Thank you to everyone so far who has bought a shirt, a print – or just printed it out and stuck in up in their work place or college.

Please stay excited, please stay making.

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