Cities and Signs 5

No one, wise Kublai, knows better than you that the city must never be confused with the words that describe it. And yet between the one and the other there is a connection. If I describe to you Olivia, a city rich in products and in profits, I can indicate its prosperity only by speaking of filigree palaces with fringed cushions on the seats by the mullioned windows. Beyond the screen of a patio, spinning jets water a lawn where a white peacock spreads its tail. But from these words you realize at once how Olivia is shrouded in a cloud of soot and grease that sticks to the houses, that in the brawling streets, the shifting trailers crush pedestrians against the walls. If I must speak to you of the inhabitants’ industry, I speak of the saddlers’ shops smelling of leather, of the woman chattering as they weave raffia rugs, of the hanging canals whose cascades move the paddles of the mills; but the image these words evoke in your enlightened mind is of the mandrel set against the teeth of the lathe, an action repeated by thousands of hands thousands of times at the pace established for each shift. If I must explain to you how Olivia’s spirit tends toward a free life and a refined civilization, I will tell you of ladies who glide at night in illuminated canoes between the banks of green estuary; but it is only to remind you that on the outskirts where men and women land every evening like lines of sleepwalkers, there is always someone who bursts out laughing in the darkness, releasing the flow of jokes and sarcasm.
This perhaps you do not know: that to talk of Olivia, I could not use different words. If there really were an Olivia of mullioned windows and peacocks, of saddlers and rug-weavers and canoes and estuaries, it would be a wretched, black, fly-ridden hole, and to describe it, I would have to fall back on the metaphors of soot, the creaking of wheels, repeated actions, sarcasm. Falsehood is never in words; it is in things. – Invisible Cities


Complex systems

A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system. — John Gall


Filling out your Pie, Maxing your Triangle

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When I was in Don Johnson’s trumpet studio years and years ago, one of the many concepts he tried to ensure we remembered was to divide our work into a pie chart. He wanted us to diversify the sources and types of income we generated to both ensure we could weather tough times and to create a balance in the type of work we were performing. It was a survival and growth technique.
Jack Cheng has a different approach to a similar equation which he calls the love-growth-cash triangle and I like it very much.

I find that most people take on new jobs, projects and hobbies for three reasons: 1) To learn something new, 2) To pay the bills, 3) Because they love doing it. These three things fulfill some of our very basic needs—they give us stability, excitement, ways to contribute and opportunities to grow.

He goes in greater detail and it’s a worthy read. Via.


Communication through micro-blogs and IM [Bits]

Will Microblogging at Work Make You More Productive?
The central question on Twitter, “What are you doing?” is transformed on Yammer to, “What are you working on?” There are other features specific to the office. Unlike Twitter, which limits users to 140 characters, Yammer’s users can type as much as they want and reply to specific messages. They can attach photos, documents or videos. Yammer also has user profiles and will soon add groups, so people can have conversations that other employees cannot see. It has plans to include vendors or consultants outside the company network. Users can check Yammer and post updates from the Web, instant message services or phones.
Instant Messaging Proves Useful In Reducing Workplace Interruption
Employers seeking to decrease interruptions may want to have their workers use instant messaging software, a new study suggests. A recent study by researchers at Ohio State University and University of California, Irvine found that workers who used instant messaging on the job reported less interruption than colleagues who did not.
Communicating Persuasively: Email or Face-to-Face?
Our intuitive understanding is that face-to-face communication is the most persuasive. In reality, of course, it’s not always possible to meet in person, so email wins out. How, then, do people react to persuasion attempts over email? Persuasion research has uncovered fascinating effects: that men seem more responsive to email because it bypasses their competitive tendencies (Guadagno & Cialdini, 2002). Women, however, may respond better in face-to-face encounters because they are more ‘relationship-minded’. But is this finding just a gender stereotype?
Helping Others Adjust to Your Communication Style
Twitter is usually for mass sharing, wikis or collab apps are for project discussions, while email is for almost everything else.
We all have our own preferences when it comes to communicating with others. I prefer email for general communication, instant messaging for answering quick questions, and my land line for long, personal conversations.
But not all people understand this – especially if they aren’t web workers. In fact, before I had a system in place, I felt like a doctor who was on call 24 hours a day. The good news is that there are some things we can do to get people to reach us through the channels we prefer.


Joikuspot

As I can’t seem to get a reliable wifi connection this morning at the ITRI campus coffee shop – I keep requesting a password and it never comes – it seems like a good time to put Joikuspot through it’s paces. JoikuSpot is software for S60 series mobile phones which allows me to connect my laptop to the internet using my Nokia’s 3G connection. In effect Joikuspot turns my mobile into a portable wifi hotspot for myself and others. It works pretty well. Though it has slow through-put the experience over all is superior to the broadband connection I have at home which always suffers severe latency problems. I’m using the free Light version but even after this limited trial I’m sold – I’ll be purchasing the premium version.


Notes on Digital Storytelling

I’m not a real writer by any stretch but I have been thinking of stories lately as a means to explain information to both my kids and coworkers. As a designer I think it’s important to develop some kind of narrative to communicate a message, give a device a sense of humanity, and as a means of conveying data (which hopefully changes data into information). I did a rough presentation a number of years ago on the topic and below are snippets from my notes.
Digital Storytelling feels like a dated term – not sure what else to call it.
Digital Storytelling is a fundamental way of organizing data. “For example, I’ve heard that when the U.S. Secret Service needs to convey a lot of important information quickly – say, briefing the Secretary of State during a ride across town – they use a storytelling format”. [source]

We believe that literature isn’t just for English majors, art isn’t just for pouty snobs, and life is about collecting and sharing true stories. We believe that the web gives us a rare and wonderful opportunity to create shared story spaces, and those shared spaces help remind us that we are not alone. -The Fray

Intuitively we all know what a story is, although we may not be able to articulate all its elements. Generally, a story is an organization of experience which draws together many aspects of our spatial, temporal, and causal perception.

A story is… “that which has a beginning, a middle, and an end. A beginning is that which does not itself follow anything by causal necessity, but after which something naturally is or comes to be. An end, on the contrary, is that which itself follows some other thing, either by necessity, or as a rule, but has nothing following it. A middle is that which follows something as some other thing follows it. A well-constructed plot, therefore, must neither begin nor end at haphazard, but conform to these principles.
Aristotle, Poetics [source]

Digital Storytelling is the modern expression of the ancient art of storytelling. Throughout history, storytelling has been used to share knowledge, wisdom, and values. Stories have taken many different forms. Stories have been adapted to each successive medium that has emerged, from the circle of the campfire to the silver screen, and now the computer screen.
Digital Storytelling uses digital media to create media-rich stories to tell, to share, and to preserve. Digital stories derive their power through weaving images, music, narrative and voice together, thereby giving deep dimension and vivid color to characters, situations, and insights. The digital environment provides a unique opportunity for stories to be manipulated, combined and connected to other stories in an interactive, and transformative process that empowers the author and invests the notion of storytelling with new meaning. Using the internet, and other emerging forms of distribution, these stories provide a catalyst for creating communities of common concern on a global scale. – Story Center

One of the most important yet least appreciated facts about story is that perceivers tend to remember a story in terms of categories of information states as propositions, interpretations, and summaries rather than remembering the way the story is actually presented or its surface features [source].
Resources: Hilary McLellan’s Story Link, Storybox, Second Story.


Two countries

In a few hours half of the US will be weeping while the other half rejoices. The fact that this election is as close as it is has had me perplexed for weeks.
You have a president who is universally derided, a wrecked economy, disastrous wars of dubious if not criminal purpose, record budget deficits, and a foreign policy that has ruined the country’s standing abroad. The list goes on, with little to no positive counterpoints. How could so many people fervently support the party which holds the ultimate responsibility for the debacle of the past eight years?
Perhaps there are two Americas one that looks back and one that looks forward. Perhaps it’s cultural or class based. I don’t have enough insight to have a real answer but if you look at the results from previous American elections you see that when it comes to electing a president America has been somewhat evenly divided through-out it’s recent history (The Reagan era may be an exception).
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That gives historical perspective but not an answer. It’s going to be hard to focus on work this morning.
Via How will it feel on Nov 5th? and Where’s my country…


Twitter and politics

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This was one of the most interesting moments on the web I have experienced in years. I was watching a high quality live broadcast of the last Presidential debate in a window above realtime responses in Twitter.
The quality of the conversation is not always the best but it’s pretty clear how important services like twitter can be for debate, critique and fact-checking of political candidates. These a great tools for democratic journalism.
I’ll be monitoring twitter election night as well.


A Review of Creative Thinking Models

There are many models proposed in the creativity literature for the process of creative thinking. Arieti (1976) cataloged eight such models that were proposed during the period 1908 to 1964. There have been several additional models proposed since. Analysis of these various models reveals some consistent patterns.

  • The creative process involves purposeful analysis, imaginative idea generation, and critical evaluation — the total creative process is a balance of imagination and analysis.
  • Older models tend to imply that creative ideas result from subconscious processes, largely outside the control of the thinker. Modern models tend to imply purposeful generation of new ideas, under the direct control of the thinker.
  • The total creative process requires a drive to action and the implementation of ideas. We must do more than simply imagine new things, we must work to make them concrete realities.

These insights from a review of the many models of creative thinking should be encouraging to us. Serious business people often have strong skills in practical, scientific, concrete, and analytical thinking. Contrary to popular belief, the modern theory of creativity does not require that we discard these skills. What we do need to do, however, is to supplement these with some new thinking skills to support the generation of novel insights and ideas.
From The Directed Creativity Cycle by Paul E. Plsek.
He has a full review, which I linked to 5 years ago (!), where he explores ‘the various models for creative thinking that have been suggested in the literature over the past 80 years. We will extract common themes from these various models and present a composite model that integrates these themes’. Good stuff.


Arts and design interviews [Bits]

Jack Mama and Clive van Heerden of Philips Design at the DeTank.tv Studio
Jack Mama, Creative Director at Philips, and Clive van Heerden, Senior Director of design-led innovation at Philips, discuss the aims, benefits and outcomes of the Design Probe programme at Philips Design.
Interview with Inga Sempe
Designboom interviews French designer Inga Sempe.
Interview with Patricia Urquiola at the Design Museum
Gemma Curtain talks to designer Patricia Urquiola about Purely Porcelain, an exhibition of her work at the Design Museum.


General Philosophy for Increasing Data Comprehension

Notes based on the work of Edward Tufte.
High density is good: the human eye/brain can select, filter, edit, group, structure, highlight, focus, blend, outline, cluster, itemize, winnow, sort, abstract, smooth, isolate, idealize, summarize, etc. Give people the data so they can exercise their full powers — don’t limit them.
Clutter/confusion are failures of design and not complexity
Information consists of differences that make a difference: so you can “hide” that data which does not make a difference in what you are trying to depict
In showing parallels, only the relevant differences should appear
Value and power of parallelism: once you have seen one element all the others are accessible
Important concepts in good design: separating figure and background (for example, a blurry background often brings the foreground into sharper focus), layering & separation, use of white space (e.g., Chinese landscapes emphasize space, as in the painter known as “one corner Ma”; oriental music is often there to emphasize the silence and not the sound).