September 29, 2006

Identity and Identification in a Networked World / Ian Kerr

Identity and Identification in a Networked World started today. It's a free conference held only minutes from my home so my attendance stems mainly from convenience mixed with mild interest in the subject. That means I walked in without any expectations and that's great cause I walked out pleasantly surprised despite a rather uneven selection of talks.

Ian Kerr keynoted on the topic of DRM and was quite enjoyable. It was pretty much Adam Greenfield's Everyware rewritten by a law professor. The QA was frustratingly short, but from his quick answer to my question I have a sense he's way too far into the technodetermanistic side of life for my taste in the end, but he managed to provoke and stimulate quite well. I believe in a degree of technodetermanism too, but what frustrates me about those who take a harder version of it, is that they never seem to be able to grasp the concept of cultural responses evolving over time in order to deal with a problem.

Good thing Kerr is a professor, for he was far more entertaining and thought provoking than convincing. His whole argument about DRM somehow veered entertainingly into the world of shopping carts, via the example of carts that lock their wheels as they leave supermarket property. But is that digital rights management? Somehow it seems a bit more like physical rights management to me...

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September 27, 2006

More Press

'Big Game' Safari In Manhattan, Cubicle Warriors Compete In Super-Sized Games Between Skyscrapers - CBS News, I don't make this article, but my game makes the lede, not bad.

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Saving Through Destruction

BLDGBLOG: City of the Pharaoh At the end of this pretty incredible post (not an unusual thing at BLDGBLOG) is mention of an archeological discovery from back in 1850. But by digging stuff up in 1850 was evidence we could use here in 2006 destroyed? Is our current archeological practice, so intent on discovering the secret past, actually destroying it as much as it is discovering it?

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September 25, 2006

News Worthy

'Payphone Warriors' call on New York streets | CNET Always nice to get some good press.

"I've never had a more fun--or exhausting--half-hour of making phone calls in my life."

"This is my favorite of all the games,' said Dennis Crowley, founder of the mobile social software service Dodgeball. "'It's the perfect mix of athleticism and strategy.'"

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September 15, 2006

It's Only Value Is That It Has No Value

All my bicycles are street bicycles, there are no dirt trails, half pipes or beautiful mountain passes in their future, only the torn urban asphalt of New York City. But there a whole variety of urban bicycles out there, and my latest frame finally emerged from six months of bike shop limbo with a working bottom bracket, which gives me three bikes, or one too many for an apartment dweller like me. The only question is which bike to get rid of, and it's proving to be a trickier problem than expected.

From a purely bike riding perspective its an easy question, the one I call my neighborhood cruiser has practically no value at all, it's worth more as parts than as a complete bicycle and those parts are not worth much.** It shouldn't be too hard to part with, should it? But that is exactly the problem. I live in New York City and this bike is actually tremendously valuable based on the sole fact that it has no value.

This is a bike I can lock up on the street and not stress about in the least. I can, and do even leave it out overnight. From an economic standpoint this creates quite an interesting situation, a value that can not be monetized, for the very act of this feature taking on a monetary value would eliminate any value that existed. A bike with a real monetary value is worth stealing and that translates directly into both financial risk and psychological stress for a bike owner.

From a purely urban perspective this is an easy problem as well, the nicest bike, with the nicest parts has the least use in the city. Sure it's nimble and quick, and the Phil Wood hubs are both buttery smooth and the most capable of handling the urban grit and grime over a lifetime that via sale or theft will probably be far longer than I will own them. It's both a little to valuable and little too sensitive to be an everyday, no matter the weather, vehicle. It's tight track geometry can zig and zag through every urban obstacle, but it also translates every bump and crack in the road back to the rider with far more precision than comfort. It is quite literally a physical manifestation of the phrase "too much information". As beautiful as thing is to ride it tells me a bit more about the state of the streets beneath me than my body wants to know. But as much as I love the city this is far to sweet a machine for me to just let go of and so it stays, it's visceral aesthetics trumping pure practicality.


Tactically the best maneuver would to take the middle machine, and somehow make it "street stable", somehow degrade it's value to a point it can be left locked up along overnight without much stress. It's perhaps an impossible task, how do you devalue a bicycle without eliminating just what makes it a good, fun thing to ride? This is a frame that's been evolving into what might be called an "inverse hybrid", a new style monster uniquely suited for urban riding.

The bicycle industry currently pumps out some hideous beasts it calls hybrids, essentially overgrown mountain bikes designed to be ridden fully upright. Basically they make it easier to ride over potholes while sucking the joy out of every other aspect of urban bike riding. The inverse hybrid is the reverse, fixed gear gives you control and real sense of the road, while chopped riser handlebars put you in the ultimate urban riding position. Higher than the drop bars of a road bike, but lower and narrower than the chunky riser bars of a mountain bike. It handles almost like an overgrown BMX, if a BMX was capable of any real speed and efficiency on the city streets. It's a stance that gives a unique combination of maneuverability, visibility, hopping ability and just the right feel of the road in your hands.

The challenge now is to make an inverse hybrid that no one wants to steal. So just how do you make something that's only value is that it has no real value?

** This is particularly true at this time of year, the beginning of the fall and the end of the bike season. Odds are for a few months in the spring this bike will be more valuable than the sum of it's parts, only to lose that property as days begin to get shorter.

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September 14, 2006

Payphone Warriors, Come Out and Play!

The Come Out and Play Festival is the first ever festival devoted to "big games". That is game designed to be played on a scale slightly (or not so slightly) larger than your standard board games and sports. Often it's a larger playing field, but sometimes it's a longer time span or larger number of players, or something else entirely. Regardless the festival should be a blast and it also will host a game I designed along with Greg Trefry and a whole lot of other talented people. It's called Payphone Warriors and it will be played on Sunday September 24th in New York as part of the festival. This version features a radically new scoring interface programmed in Asterisk by the remarkable Cory Forsyth, making it even more fun to play and even easier to run. Come out and play!

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September 10, 2006

Emergence 06: Closing Panel

Jeanette Blomberg is an anthropologist from IBM. So funny how easy it is to write a sentence like that now, as opposed to say 5 years ago...

Mark Jones
is the service design lead at IDEO Chicago. He looks like Andy Dick.
Rick E. Robinson is smart, but I missed his particular credentials, beyond the Ph.D that shows up on his slides.
Jennie Winhall of RED.

"people live differently because of what a service allows them to do."
calls for a return to "longitudinal research" - focusing on continuity and change. big, expensive, expertise intensive.
Communispace has a 100% client renewal rate.
Noah takes a photo of himself everyday for 6 years.

"Service designers have no way of measuring costs of changes to design."
"Strong argument against over designing of services."

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Emergence 06: Birgit Mager

Birgit Mager founded the first department of service design, at the Köln International School of Design and just now has founded the Sedes Research Center for Service Design Research. Her talk was quite good, a recapping of her work in Germany. At the same time it was a bit disappointing, Mager had been asking the sharpest questions repeatedly through the conference so I walked into the talk with expectations perhaps a bit too high. (But expectations always should be high!) Either way her work with the homeless in Köln is great.

random notes:
Gulliver: using service design to create a homeless center. "they found dignity there"

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Emergence 06: Daniel Letts

<a title="Service Usability" Daniel Letts is a founder of Service Usability. Hist talk was a welcome dive into the nitty gritty of what actually gets produced by a service research organization. So nice to actually get a look at some of the deliverables.

random notes:
Services are not getting tested properly.
Web companies are rigourous testers though.
Apply the methodologies of online usability to the offline world.
SU Index, a one number score generated by there service usability audit.

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September 09, 2006

Lunch Design/Conference Design


Actually breakfasts are always worse, but I forgot to photograph it. One thing conference designers never seem to think of is what food is best for creating a great environment. Lunch was a sandwich, which is mainly carbohydrates, with a bit of veggies and a modest amount of protein. There was also potato salad (more carbs), a banana (more carbs) and a cookie (more carbs). That's a formula for a food coma. The talk or two after lunch are never the most fun are they?

Breakfast as I said is worse. Pastries and muffins, all carbs, no protein, another recipe for putting people to sleep. In America this diet gets counterbalanced in part because people have plenty of energy after sleeping all night and in part because it's offset with large amounts of low quality caffeine. Downers cut with uppers, not exactly the path towards a healthy day, nor necessarily for the best conference experience. It works for the most part, minus that hour of post lunch coma, but can it be designed better?

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Emergence 06: Oliver King

Oliver King is the founder of Engine a UK service design consultancy. His talk was pretty much a service design textbook as a powerpoint. He's also by far the most dynamic and charged of the speakers, perhaps he is the natural public spokesperson/sales person for the service design movement?

Random notes:

Started as a product designer, wanted to take it in a new direction, define the product brief, not follow the brief.

"Translation space", in between corporate strategy and implementation

Recommended Pine and Gilmore "The Experience Economy"

Making services U2D2: went by too quick for me to write down what this is.

5 Types of Projects
Specifying (most important from service design perspective)

Principal Methods of Service Design:
Systems Thinking
Service Blueprints
Design Research
Design Probes
Customer Personas
Process Design

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Emergence 06: Stefan Holmlid

Stefan Holmlid has the most intriguingly titled talk: "Introducing White Space in Service Design: This Space Intentionally Left Blank". Conceptually it's also the most enticing idea presented so far. Unfortunately though there is perhaps too much white space in Holmlid's talk, a bit too much left unsaid to stimulate the mind to the full extent of the concept. Still the core question is key, what is the roll of white space, blank space, empty space, in the design of a service.

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Emergence 06: Chris Downs

Chris Downs of livework :: service innovation & design talked about the evolution of his company as the first ever service design consultancy. A good talk, they do good work, not sure what I can add.

random notes:
"service envy"
"try and speak the language of business and not design"
"difference between systems design and service design"
"system is really efficient but the service really sucks"
"we design more products now as service designers then we did as product designers, but we design them from a service perspective"

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Emergence 06: Jennie Winhall

I'm a pretty awful notetaker, I'd rather listen than write. The better the talk the less I write down. Jennie Winhall of RED gave an excellent talk on the work RED is doing in the UK with "Co-created services" in collaboration with various local government organizations. Plenty of info is up on their site.

RED currently is in the process of transitioning from an organization relying upon government funds into something... else. It will be interesting to see how that goes.

random notes:
"service that enables, rather and service that delivers"
"transformation design"

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Emergence 06: Mary Jo Bitner

I'm out in Pittsburgh at Carnegie Mellon's Emergence 06 Conference, focused on Service Design.

The opening keynote is Mary Jo Bitner, Director for the Center for Services Leadership at Arizona State University.

The reason I'm here, and I suspect a healthy part of why this conference is being hosted by a design school, is due to a particular vision of services exemplified by the environmentally centered service vision exemplified by Interface Carpet and Paul Hawken. Bitner is a nice lead off as an explicit reminder that services are a far bigger, older and more staid world than the Hawken/Interface eco-revolution vision. She leads an institute firmly rooted in the business school and marketing world.

Coming from this space of academic business thinking, Bitner of course wants to talk about "innovation" in 2006. Unsurprisingly though nothing is particularly innovative about her talk and this is a good thing. Innovation is overrated and what Bitner has to offer is experience, a less exciting but far more valuable service. Service makes up as much as 80% of the economy in America, and according to Bitner yet service innovation lags significantly behind product innovation. It's probably true, but I have to wonder if that might have something to do with many services, hotels and restaurants for instance, have been evolving for thousands of years, while something like portable music players have at most a handful of decades behind them. The exact relationship between product innovation and service innovation was left unsaid. The airline industry can draw upon thousands of years of transportation services, yet at the same time many of it's core particulars are obviously dependent on airplane and airport technologies.

Bitner stresses that services are intangible (more on this later) and processes. She is also keen on pointing out that it's a very person driven industry, she quotes several CEOs talking about taking care of their employees, which somehow translates into taking care of the customers. The customers in Bitner's view are "in the factory", and studies apparently show that the more they get involved the more satisfied they are. Just how taking care of the employees translates into taking care of the customers is left unsaid and unproven.

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September 06, 2006

Social Hardware

Somewhere off on the periphery of my online home there is a whole conversation brewing about the merits of "social software". The spark for this round apparently is someone named Ryan Carson and his blog post on why he doesn't use social software. Now this is the sort of conversation I try and filter out and ignore. It was sort of pitiful from the start, a blog post is a piece of social software, so using it to proclaim you don't use social software is pretty much a nonstarter. Then there was Carson argument, which is essentially "I'm too busy, plus I'm married now", or in other words he's too lame and important to be interesting...

Now somehow Carson elicited a ton of response from some rather smart people, although Fred Stutzman's is probably the one most worth linking too. What was interesting to me though from these response was not what was said, although some was certainly insightful, but what was not. There was plenty said about social software but nothing at all about social hardware.

Now it's easy to say you don't have time for social software, although if you have time for email then clearly you are lying, as email is social software in it's purest form. More than that, do you have time go into conference rooms for meetings? Do you have time for drinks after work with colleagues and clients? Do you have time to attend conventions for work? Do you have time to meet friends for coffee, or go to a concert or ballgame or maybe head to a museum? Or if you are a married man like Carson, do you have time to go to a restaurant with your wife? A conference room, a convention center, a bar, a coffee shop, a stadium, an art gallery, these are all pieces of social hardware. Large objects constructed to allow you to interact with other people in a wide variety of styles. If you have time to be social you have time to use social software. Maybe you prefer other forms of socializing, but that is a choice you make. Everyone has time to be social, so to argue that social software is in trouble because it takes too much time is absurd.

A computer by itself, is a piece of antisocial hardware. It is all about a person alone in from of a glowing, captivating screen. But once that computer is connected to a network it has potential to become a social tool, but only if unlocked by software. This software can come in any flavor, look and feel capable of being generated by a Turing machine. And making new flavors and fads is pretty cheap, certainly a lot cheaper than creating a new bar, restaurant or convention center. Yet while what can go on the screen may be infinite, the social aspect of it all remains deeply tied to the hardware, making the machine social is simply the act of linking various nodes of a network together.

Social software is the art of managing links on a network over time. Instant messaging is a temporary and private link in real time. Email is temporary and private but time shifted. A blog post is also time shifted, but is public and if not permanent than at least has a much longer half life than a typical email. The classic social network apps like MySpace, Friendster and Facebook are different. Instead of turning links on and off when needed, they establish links once and then make them essentially permanent. What happens next is just a series of other social software styles overlaid onto this network. Most of the fuctionality of these sites is as blasé as it gets, replacements for email, blogs, photo albumns and bulletin boards, usually in a somewhat inferior form to the more deadicated versions of those apps. What makes them unique is merely that you can now use your social network itself as a modulating factor. It's a classic case of constraint unlocking potential. By constraining functionality to just a space determined by the semi-permanent links of a person's social network, these sites can channel other existing pieces of social software into a more vibrant, and from the looks of the use numbers, addictive form.

It's not quite a "nothing new under the sun" thing, there is a new twist to the new social softwares, but there is not that much new. To say that you don't have time for social software is essentially the same thing as saying you don't have time to be social at all. Maybe you prefer more of a hardware setting, to socialize at a country club or dive bar or at church or at ballfield. Maybe that leaves you too drained to keep up with your Facebook feeds. But it's not because you don't have time for social software, it's because you've made a simple choice to pursue a different social avenue. One that presents a different set of nuances and twists then what is available online. That's your choice and perhaps it's a great one. But social software is no more time consuming than any other social structure and it will continue to evolve in interesting directions. Now keeping up with those directions might indeed be tiring, but only if you are conscious of it. The people who actually are using these things without thinking about it are the ones truly pushing the form, to them their community lies in part in software, and from here on in, that is pretty much something to take for granted.

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September 05, 2006

Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World

Picking up a copy of J.R. McNeill's Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World was my own personal response to my earlier question on how to deal with issues of scale. While I'm not quite sure it answered that particular question, I certainly can recommend the book highly and widely. It's quite simply the best thing I've read on the relationship between humans and the environments around us.

Of course I should note that I'm no expert, nor particularly well read on that subject. More than that though, it's a book that pretty much confirmed what I was thinking before I had stumbled across it in San Francisco's classic City Lights bookstore. Any book that tells you what you want to hear of course needs to be treated as suspect, but to McNeill's credit I suspect a lot of people with quite different viewpoints than mine would put down the book feeling similarly justified. That sounds contradictory of course, but McNeill is grappling with an enormously complex problem, one that is perhaps a bit too large for any one human to fully understand, and he does so in an incredibly clear and factual manner. He avoids preaching as best possible, and lays out a vast array of details spanning both history and nearly the entire scope of the earth, air, fire and water of our planet.

If you open up the book thinking the world is catapulting towards environmental disaster, you'll probably close it thinking McNeill has given you all the evidence you need to seal the deal. If you fall in the opposite extreme, if you think environmental problems are a figment of our imagination, well then actually you'll be disappointed with this book. But if your take is a bit closer to mine, that humans are capable of enormous problems, but also capable of solving just slightly more than we create, then well you'll find as much evidence of that as there is of the sky falling fast...

If there is a real problem with this book, it's probably that it's too damn short. It clocks in at a healthy 360 pages, but scope of facts and concepts compacted into those pages make it seem a bit meager. From tales of murderous fogs of coal smoke suffocating London and Pittsburgh to the stories of irrigation projects destroying entire seas, from war reports from the battlefields of the Green Revolution to deep sea journeys of whalers and fishermen, the book spins you around the globe enough to make the jet set jealous. In a slower time and place perhaps this book would have gotten the 800 or 1000 pages it deserves, but of course 21st century readers like me and you are probably both happier with and more likely to buy the 360 pages it actually delivers. Either way though I suspect the conclusion would be the same, sobering yet with just enough room for optimism to slip in:

It is impossible to know whether humankind has entered a genuine ecological crisis. It is clear enough that our current ways are ecologically unsustainable, but we can not know for how long we may yet sustain them, or what might happen if we do. In any case, human history since the dawn of agriculture is replete with unsustainable societies, some of which vanished but many of which changed their ways and survived. Perhaps we can, as it where, pile one unsustainable regime upon another indefinitely, making adjustments large and small but avoiding collapse...

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The Abstract Dynamics Bookstore

Occasionally I've thought it might be a good idea to build up a little Abstract Dynamics bookstore of sorts using Amazon's rather powerful API and referral setup. But given how little money I've ever made off my experiments with their setup and given how much time it would take it has never happened. Until now, when Amazon decided to make it ridiculously easy to set up. So easy that it was live before I even really got to mull over the appropriateness of it all. Basically it's a store dynamically generated by Amazon using 9 of my selections as a base, it's an experiment do with it what you will, while I figure out if there is a way to get way past that nine selection limit...

Abstract Dynamics || a store (beta)

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September 04, 2006

US Passports


and they used to be so expensive, wonder if there is a decline in demand or if they are just cheaper to make in China...

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