Monthly Archives: March 2003

Shelter brands?

Leica offers hope for stick-in-the-mud analogue brands. The gorgeous MP rangefinder camera is packaged explicitly as a device for digital refuseniks – ’100% mechanical’ boasts the brochure. Jean-Jacques Viau, marketing manager for the MP says in the FT (I think you’ll need a subscription or a free trial) “We could be the shelter for people who react to the changes of model every six months.”

I know that I treasure the mechanical charms of my old Nikon as a tactile, ‘clunk, whirr’ contrast to all the digital gadgets in my life. I wonder if there’s any mileage in hybrid products for people who want digital flexibility and control as well as the older pleasures of hand-made, mechanical instruments? Why can’t I snap a digital prism onto my Nikon, for instance?

False alarm

142 bpm
Friday we spent some time at the lovely Watford General Hospital mentally preparing ourselves to meet our (third) baby about six weeks early. In the end we were sent home, baby unborn, following a check up and lots of reassurance that it’s “better to be safe than sorry”. Click the picture for an MPEG4 – you can hear the baby’s healthy 142 heartbeat!Update: here’s Juliet’s latest column at Tigerchild in which she explains why we wound up in hospital in the first place.

(you might need to right-click and download to play the video (like you’re going to bother) – I can’t get the MP4 format to work in my browser – why not?)

refrigeration figures

From a feature about low-tech refrigeration for rural Africa in The Ecologist I learn that “refrigerators and freezers account for 25% of the UK’s average household electricity bill” and that “US refrigerators use about 7% of all US electricity; that’s 25 large power plants’ worth”. Can these numbers possibly be right? They look to me like they might be the kind of mad extrapolation that gives the environmental movement a bad name.

Tangled web

Andy Rowell and Jonathan Matthews in The Ecologist have done some forensic Googling to uncover an unsavoury and potentially deceptive (but not surprising) pact between the former Living Marxism entryists at Spiked, the three hundred and fifty year-old Royal Society and the agri-business lobby to promote GM agriculture. The unlikely co-conspirators have set up a lobbying group called Sense in Science and, as usual, the question is ‘who’s duping whom?’

The article doesn’t seem to be on The Ecologist‘s web site so you might have to go out and buy it.

Sarcastic link title of the month award

Via demented (in a nice way) Snackpot and branding newsletter LucJam I learn from Food Navigator that targeting kids is getting more difficult. The article is interesting (lifestage vs. demographic segmentation and so on) but LucJam’s link is much more entertaining than anything in the target article: ‘Generation Y not sure what they want to eat’.

Hacking networked reality

google_hacks.gifThe Last Whole Earth Catalog, 1971
I think Google Hacks is an important book. It’s important because our lives are increasingly dependent on the Internet and because the fabric of our networked lives – from the web to wi-fi to mobile phones – is getting richer, more meaningful and more tightly woven. Content, applications and communities are more interconnected than ever and a new layer of interconnection is emerging on top of the infrastructure we’ve taken for granted for most of a decade.

As the usefulness and accessibility of the network climbs, its value to us all is necessarily always at risk – from growing complexity, from the opacity produced by proprietary dead ends and from old-fashioned corporate and political short-sightedness. Google Hacks is a tool. It reminds me of The Whole Earth Catalog, a hippy resource book subtitled ‘Access to Tools’ and inspired by the legendary Buckminster Fuller. The Catalog, first published in 1968 (and edited by Stewart Brand), was all about taking control, making interventions – hacking real life. It was stuffed with the most practical of tools, from composting toilets to the early personal computers; from personal aeroplanes in kit form to really useful pen knives you could build a house with. Google Hacks is a tool for hacking the new, networked reality.

The book contains 100 specific, clearly worked examples of ways to take advantage of Google’s openness (the Google API) to achieve concrete results – some projects are useful, some intriguing and some just playful. I’m no techie (You’ll certainly find better technical reviews elsewhere) and most of these hacks are entirely beyond me but the book has loads of insights into the way Google works for non-techies and plenty of low-tech projects I could try for myself.

Since I can’t pretend to be reviewing this book properly and since you’ll be reading about it everywhere, here’s O’Reilly’s press release for some background information (click ‘more…’)

Continue reading

Making homes smart

Genevieve Bell, Senior Researcher, Intel Research
Genevieve Bell, anthropologist and top researcher at Intel, was star turn at a fascinating seminar run by the iSociety research group at the Work Foundation. The topic was ‘the smart home’. Bell’s current project is aimed at understanding the use of technology in homes across Asia. She understands how deep-rooted religious, social and cultural practices influence the reception of technology in homes.

If there was any conclusion it was that attempts to add intelligence to our homes had better be respectful of the needs and beliefs of their inhabitants, otherwise they’ll just join the long line of forgotten household gadgets – egg slicers, the thing with the plunger that makes cream. The whole thing reminded me of Stewart Brand’s How Buildings Learn, a book about the way humans adapt their habitations and continually turn them to new uses, usually despite the architects and planners. If we’re to augment our homes in the ways advanced by the technology vendors the kit will need to fit properly into the lifecycle of a home.

It should be cheap, reliable, modular, interoperable and easily replaced or upgraded. Homes exist on timescales measured in centuries, a family will occupy a home for decades and make continual, incremental changes. Wi-fi hubs, entertainment systems and central heating controllers can’t aspire to this kind of longevity but should aim to fit into these cycles unobtrusively, helpfully, without expecting families to bend to new ways of living.

Houses will get smarter in much the same way they acquired their current intelligence – looms of copper wire, electric light, telecoms, wireless and television, modern additions like insulation and heating, older ones like plumbing and drainage – piecemeal and over a long period of time. The best the smart home business can hope for is to get their kit onto the makeover shopping list, to become must-have lifestyle items and to slot into the cycle of home fashion… like decking and rag rolling, really.

Tait on Puttnam’s rebellion

Richard Tait in FT Creative Business on the likely parliamentary clash over media ownership rules and the so called ‘Murdoch Clause’. Written before Lord Puttnam announced his intention to oppose “in every respect” the relaxation of the rules designed to permit Sky to buy Five (link to Tait’s article requires FT.com subscription or a free trial).

Sleight’s hands

ross_sleight.jpg
Lunch today at Blacks with Ross Sleight. Ross has been doing important things in the digital departments of various ad agencies since 1994 – apart from the obligatory (and exhausting) detour through the dot.com valley of death with fascinating but doomed Fingertips.com, of course. These days he works at Chime‘s Heresy, where he is trying to work out what a ‘customer relationship’ really is. Click the picture for an MPEG movie of Ross waving his hands (1.8MB)