Matt put up a nice map of the startups in Shoreditch, glad we’re somehow web2.0 enough for that map :)
Archive for July, 2008
I’m writing this, half thinking I should probably wait to leave the country.
Walking through Singapore, you cannot but wonder who really lives here. Impeccable streets (and I really mean impeccable, not a single piece of rubbish on any lawn or anywhere), very little public space or street benches, ads on the telly about parental planning, and an airconed shopping mall at every corner.
A friend of mine called it “the most american city in Asia” and I think that’s probably true in the 1984 sense of the word America.
The Wikipedia page is strangely absent of any political history section and Google reeks of not so happy reports on what the situation might be like and how people have been taught to feel about it. I met a few people this weekend who went to jail or had been arrested for what seemed like quite foolish reasons.
All slightly unsettling. I leave tomorrow evening.
It took me a while to digest Janne’s post on why ubicomp is a broken concept, mostly because on principal I tend to disagree. It’s also a bit in response to Tom Coates’s altered version of his talk with Matt Jones that he gave at Foocamp called “Personal Informatics”.
Firstly I think the starting point for thinking about ubiquitous spaces, objects etc is not necessarily that they are meant to be smarter, but perhaps more that they are meant to report better. Not smart, just less dumb :) Andy’s house is the obvious example of this. I think there is tremendous interest at the moment about being able to gather more efficiently stuff that is just lying around, invisible and not particularily useful. Innovation often comes from taking things we know and mashing them up with things we didn’t know we didn’t know. Someone pointed out the other day that we’re ultimately creeping towards AI with all these “clever” systems, but I think it might just be the reverse, we still hold the brain, we’ve just outsourced the synapses.
Also I think there are plenty of areas to think about in regards to the results of ubiquitous systems, information and data. One of the most important things, in my opinion has to do with evaluating the amount of behavioral or operational change based on the digestion and synthesis of all this data. It’s no use collecting the temperature and light levels inside a building if it isn’t with the aim to perfect your heating system or prevent collective seasonal depression for eg. Even on a personal basis, its no use me being able to monitor my heartrate everyday, because it only puts me in the “now”, an ephemeral place of thought and decision-making. One thing about technology, is that it tends to make people generally lazy about their levels of commitment. Perhaps we should push instead for the development of technologies and applications that encourage people to invest time and effort in an activity (think Honey we’re killing the kids).
Furthermore, what’s interesting about this idea of personal ubiquity is that some of it could possibly be shared online, so no longer relying on a sturdy and professional infrastructure other than the internet itself. Seeing people play around with Pachube and the Ethernet Arduino shield, makes things really exciting.
All in all I think the ubicomp ideas of the future will be more personal, more persuasive and lighter than what we’ve seen so far.
I never thought ubicomp would come out of an iPhone app. If anything, Exposure has the power to connect us with objects and lives that were lived around us in the past, as long as they’ve been geotagged first. Matt and I had a look, sitting on our couch at home, and found pictures of people who are probably our neighbours having a bbq, portraits, etc. There was something uneasy about seeing pictures of people who cease to become strangers yet aren’t familiar at all. A whole future of perception lies ahead.
A by-product of traveling so much as a child was that I ended up learning English in an American schoolin Kuwait and have never been able to shake off the middle of the road accent that came with it. This makes for interesting conversations with bewildered Americans who can’t believe I’m Canadian and that my mother tongue is actually French. Perhaps that’s what I resent the most when I travel to the US: I can blend in so perfectly. I’m used to sticking out like a sore thumb in Europe and there’s something nice about that, it keeps me eager to learn about local flavours and let them rub off on me.
I’m also the first to admit that I greet everything American with an unhealthy dose of cynicism which would explain why an 8 day trip to San Francisco wasn’t exactly something I was looking forward to (11h flight from London, argh). Everyone around me, especially Matt, has always been a big fan claiming that SF and NYC “weren’t like the rest of America” and were much more European. In hindsight, I would have settled for “nice” instead and let the city impress me on its own for what it was. Here are a few random suggestions of things you might not have accounted for:
There’s a little phenomenon called fog that somehow people forget to mention. Huge and fluffy fog rolling down from the top of the city’s hills downward, lowering the temperature dramatically in mid-afternoon. Doesn’t matter if it’s mid-July, it’ll get cold, trust me. Bring layers.
2. RENT A CAR
The city is essentially made to be driven through, most blocks being quite short and interrupted by 4 lane, 2 way streets, making the number of interactions with cars quite frequent. Biking isn’t out of the question, but the rolling hills are really steep, so a car comes in handy if you want to see more than your neighbourhood. If you don’t rent a car, expect to spend your time hailing taxis or mostly looking for them. Having the exact address of where you’re going to helps as taxi drivers don’t need to know the city very well to get a license and you’ll get the odd n00b who will charge you 40 dollars because he got lost.
3. DON’T STAY DOWNTOWN
“Nestled between successful commercial areas and high priced residential areas, parts of the Tenderloin have historically resisted gentrification, maintaining a seedy character and reputation for crime.”
Unlike most cities, the area which one might assume is the most touristy, is adjacent to a poverty and crime ridden area that will make any Parisian suburban ghetto look like a walk in the park. Stay in Hayes Valley or in the Mission.
4. GET A COMPLETE MAP OF THE CITY
Somewhat related to the point above, the city’s downtown area is actually not the most interesting, and the nice walkable parts of the city are a little more southward.
5. GET A COFFEE AND CHECK YOUR EMAIL
This is of course the best wifi-friendly place by far but be prepared to have to sit in a caffé to have access to it. Not that many consumption-free environments in general. Some cities are good at public space (benches, parks, etc), this isn’t one of them.
6. DON’T LOOK FOR ONE STYLE
From winding streets, 40 degree hills, silli cake-like art-deco mansions and refurbished cinemas, this city has been influenced by many an earthquake, fire and economic ups and downs, making every street a different and totally unexpected experience.
Just went through 2 “secondary security” checks at San Francisco airport today and got introduced to this delightful contraption.
“To collect microscopic particles for analysis, the EntryScan3 takes advantage of a natural upward airflow around the body called the “human convection plume.” By not using forced airflow from a fan-which stirs up dust and other contaminants-cleaner samples are collected.”
What this means is that you walk into this box with glass doors on one end and without warning they will spray you with air quickly and at every angle. Not only is it really scary and unexpected, but you also get the added pleasure of having it blow your shirt upwards… not usually what you’re looking for from a security device.
Gotta love the US.
So I find myself in the unlikely position of having bitched about an event I got invited to this year.
Since that post, I can say that the state of interaction design conferences and education has dramatically improved with This happened in London and IxDA in the US. Hopefully this is a “future trend” :) as the schools on the subject are also starting to mushroom:
- The Institute for Information Technology at Thames Valley University is opening a MSc in Computing Interaction Design in the UK in January 2009.
- Even Carnegie Mellon is
getting on board keeping up the good work with a Masters in Tangible Interaction design.
Le roi est mort, vive le roi!
WordPress ate my first attempt, so here I go again. After several years of recommendations I finally decided to make it to Reboot, the much-loved Copenhagen-based conference orchestrated by Thomas Mygdal-Madsen. I was there primarily for Tinker mind you (we ran a workshop on the second day) but I attended a few talks and thought I’d jot down some quotes and thoughts from these 2 days.
FAVORITE TALK: Marko Ahtisaari spoke about wellbeing from a philosophical and economics point of view which I quite enjoyed. The theme of the conference was “free”, which a lot of speakers seemed to interpret as an invitation to add the word “free” to the title of their talk. Marko didn’t make that mistake and spoke eloquently revealing his background as a professor of philosophy. Quoting from 3 different perspectives (those of John Rawls, Esa Saarinen and Amartya Sen) he presented different approaches to how wellbeing and happiness are evaluated, how we approach our establised institutions and the impact they have on our happiness and issues of perception of freedom. Fantastic stuff.
TALK WITH THE MOST POTENTIAL: Molly Wright Steenson spoke about the concept of space and modularity by comparing the work of Cedric Price in his Generator project and the war tactics of the Israelis during the mid-90s also referred to as “walking through walls”. I thought it was interesting to think of the different intepretations of space especially from a historical perspective. I’d like to see more cross-overs with the way we look at the web from a historical perspective (especially in the light of recent debates) I think we have a tendancy to be too much “in the moment” when we think of new technologies and to bridge out to other areas of specialisation would be really useful in geek conferences. Molly’s perspective was really welcomed in that respect.
A quote I thought Brendan would enjoy from Molly’s talk “Designing for delight and pleasure should very seldom be seen to happen and must encompass doubt, danger, mystery and magic”.
I went to see a few other talks, most of them not really worth reporting though as they were either really badly structured or product pitches in disguise. Not my cup of tea in a conference context but part of the dynamics of Reboot as the schedule is pretty much decided in an un-conferency kind of way. The weather was beautiful though and this gave me an excuse to go in and out of sessions and catch up with a few people who I hadn’t seen since my Amsterdam days.
I gave a talk on the challenges of building a business that is part of the ecology of an open-source hardware platform (not posting the slides right away, as I want to test this talk on the Americans next week) and even made it to Danish radio!
In general, I loved the city and the context of the conference. I can’t say I came back with any great new ideas on the state of things and I thought a lot of it was rather old stuff being presented for the nth time, which of course affects the level of enthusiasm of the speakers. Having said that, perhaps that’s not what conferences are for these days. They’re maybe just a way to meet up with old friends and make new ones, because really, the rest is all online :)