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).


A Chiang Mai massage as a narrative for experience design

I was in Chiang Mai on vacation and had planned on visiting my favourite spa in the evening after a day of walking. I called the spa at about 1pm and was greeted with a friendly voice who spoke great English. I enquired about having an appointment that night and she said that it would be no problem and that she would have someone pick me up at my guest house and take me to the spa. That way I would save the trouble of finding a tuk-tuk or taxi.
A driver arrived at the guest house at about 8pm and drove me to the spa which was about a 10 minute drive away. I opened the door and entered the spa where I was greeted by a beautiful young lady wearing traditional Thai costume, who invited me to have a seat and served me tea. All the while making small talk and continuously showing the smile which Thailand is so famous for.
At this point I began to notice the environment of the waiting area. The furniture was comfortable, the room temperature was cool ( a contrast to the night air), the lighting was dimmed, the decore itself could be described as Thai. modern with warm earthen colours. The environment was designed to put you at ease.
My masseuse came out about 5 minutes later and greeted me with a ‘wai’ and asked me to please follow her to where she was going to give me the massage. At this point we were walking through a small secluded garden, it was dark outside and because the sky was cloudy there were not a lot of stars. Along the pathway there were lit candles guiding the way and you could smell the subtle scent of jasmine in the air. At the end of the pathway was a small, covered area, quite secluded and quiet and lit only by candlelight.
My masseuse asked me to please have a seat while she poured me a fresh cup of tea and turned on some very light relaxing music. Always speaking in very soft, soothing tones she preceded to give me a wonderful massage. During this massage, a very light rain started to fall, creating an interesting cascade of sound on the leaves in the garden further enhancing the overall experience.
At the end of the massage, the greeter came out to the massage area with an umbrella and took the masseuse and I back into the small building that housed the waiting area. I then paid a very reasonable fee and was given a drive back to my guest house where I preceded to have the best sleep of my life.
I like to use longer versions of this story to help illustrate how we can create wonderful experiences for our customers and though a leap this can translate to both online and offline interactions.
Creating a quality experience is conscious, not accidental. It can be designed, architected, engineered, crafted. Attention to detail is essential, as is empathy to your customer.
Experiences have an attraction, engagement, and a conclusion. They have a beginning, middle, and an end much like the experience I related above.
The spa in this story has long since closed. Great experience design unfortunately doesn’t always translate into long term business success. I met the proprietor, Khun Kitima, by chance at a Bangkok restaurant years ago and she stated that she was opening a ‘eco-friendly’ range of guest houses in the North. I haven’t looked them up yet but if they are anything like her spa, which was frequented by Angelina Jolie no less, it would be a worthwhile place to stay.


It’s oh so quiet shh shh

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In a country where people revel in clatter above 85db the relative silence I experienced when walking in Siangshan this morning is something of a revelation. I had forgotten that it could be so quiet in Taiwan.
At some point today I am sure someone will start lobbing firecrackers, deploy fireworks, race around on their hot rod scooters, or perhaps the contractor next door will start drilling into the concrete again. Until the ordinary happens I’m enjoying the quiet.


[Bits] Fear and American Politics

Identity, Policy & Character in Politics – America Idol Trumps All.
Deep down millions of Canadians and Americans “know” that something terrible is on its way. Middle and working class know that they in particular are going to be in the eye of the hurricane. No Golden Parachutes for them. Like Germans in 1931, they want to feel safe. Like Germans in 1931 they seek a Father and a Mother figure who will make it all go away. They want simple answers even if they know that they are wrong. Also, Why do the working class want to vote Republican or Conservative here in Canada?
The Palin-Whatshisname Ticket.
But race is just one manifestation of the emotion that defined the Palin rollout. That dominant emotion is fear — an abject fear of change. Fear of a demographical revolution that will put whites in the American minority by 2042. Fear of the technological revolution and globalization that have gutted those small towns and factories Palin apotheosized.
And, last but hardly least, fear of illegal immigrants who do the low-paying jobs that Americans don’t want to do and of legal immigrants who do the high-paying jobs that poorly educated Americans are not qualified to do.
From Hype to Fear in American Politics.
When the economy is doing reasonably well, the debate is dominated by hype — by the claim that America’s prosperity is truly wondrous, and that conservative economic policies deserve all the credit.
But when things turn down, there is a seamless transition from “It’s morning in America! Hurray for tax cuts!” to “The economy is slumping! Raising taxes would be a disaster!”
But there’s a powerful political faction in this country that understands very well that any real change will create losers as well as winners.
American Fear: The Causes and Consequences of High Anxiety.
Why, then, are twenty-first-century Americans more fearful than their counterparts sixty- five years ago or across the Atlantic? The “roots of American fear,” Stearns suggests, lie in traditions extending back to the colonial period of “fears attached to race and Evangelical fears associated with God’s wrath” (p. 74). He also invokes the post–World War II proliferation of science fiction scenarios of alien invasion and global annihilation, along with “the contemporary American sense of the strangeness of death” (p. 88). But the underlying cause is a “new fear culture” that began to take shape by the 1920s and that manifested itself most powerfully in childrearing advice and practices (p. 93). No longer taught to master their fear through courage, Americans were now socialized to avoid it or, when avoidance was not possible, to vent it. Meanwhile, an earlier sense of fatalism gave way to beliefs that most risks are preventable (as seen in changes in tort law and insurance practices)—beliefs that heightened Americans’ fears “when their expectations are contradicted” (p. 137). They were “left less emotionally prepared than desirable for unexpected intrusions” of fear and “more open to manipulations that either prolonged fear or promised decisive remediation” (p. 110). This “new socialization” combined with “decades of war-level alerts”—Stearns retraces the red scares, the nuclear threat, and a series of Cold War crises—to produce a populace prone to emotional overreaction (p. 198). Too much fear, in turn, has generated distorted psyches and policies. Via The Journal of American History.
Update 09/16: Jeffrey Zeldman’s A modest proposal is worth linking to. Imagine, discussing the the real issues and weighing each candidates resume and views on these issues. Revolutionary! Excerpt: “If you’re selling toothpaste, your claims must be vetted by legal and medical professionals. But not if you’re selling a candidate.
If you’re selling a candidate, not only can you lie about his record, but more to the point, you can lie about his opponent”.


The Aesthetic Hypothesis – Clive Bell

This essay is an excerpt from the book Art, originally published in 1914. It is in the public domain and may be freely reproduced.
It is improbable that more nonsense has been written about aesthetics than about anything else: the literature of the subject is not large enough for that. It is certain, however, that about no subject with which I am acquainted has so little been said that is at all to the purpose. The explanation is discoverable. He who would elaborate a plausible theory of aesthetics must possess two qualities – artistic sensibility and a turn for clear thinking. Without sensibility a man can have no aesthetic experience, and, obviously, theories not based on broad and deep aesthetic experience are worthless. Only those for whom art is a constant source of passionate emotion can possess the data from which profitable theories may be deduced; but to deduce profitable theories even from accurate data involves a certain amount of brain-work, and, unfortunately, robust intellects and delicate sensibilities are not inseparable. As often as not, the hardest thinkers have had no aesthetic experience whatever. I have a friend blessed with an intellect as keen as a drill, who, though he takes an interest in aesthetics, has never during a life of almost forty years been guilty of an aesthetic emotion. So, having no faculty for distinguishing a work of art from a handsaw, he is apt to rear up a pyramid of irrefragable argument on the hypothesis that a handsaw is a work of art. This defect robs his perspicuous and subtle reasoning of much of its value; for it has ever been a maxim that faultless logic can win but little credit for conclusions that are based on premises notoriously false. Every cloud, however, has its silver lining, and this insensibility, though unlucky in that it makes my friend incapable of choosing a sound basis for his argument, mercifully blinds him to the absurdity of his conclusions while leaving him in full enjoyment of his masterly dialectic. People who set out from the hypothesis that Sir Edwin Landseer was the finest painter that ever lived will feel no uneasiness about an aesthetic which proves that Giotto was the worst. So, my friend, when he arrives very logically at the conclusion that a work of art should be small or round or smooth, or that to appreciate fully a picture you should pace smartly before it or set it spinning like a top, cannot guess why I ask him whether he has lately been to Cambridge, a place he sometimes visits.
On the other hand, people who respond immediately and surely to works of art, though, in my judgment, more enviable than men of massive intellect but slight sensibility, are often quite as incapable of talking sense about aesthetics. Their heads are not always very clear. They possess the data on which any system must be based; but, generally, they want the power that draws correct inferences from true data. Having received aesthetic emotions from works of art, they are in a position to seek out the quality common to all that have moved them, but, in fact, they do nothing of the sort. I do not blame them. Why should they bother to examine their feelings when for them to feel is enough? Why should they stop to think when they are not very good at thinking? Why should they hunt for a common quality in all objects that move them in a particular way when they can linger over the many delicious and peculiar charms of each as it comes? So, if they write criticism and call it esthetics, if they imagine that they are talking about Art when they are talking about particular works of art or even about the technique of painting, if, loving particular works they find tedious the consideration of art in general, perhaps they have chosen the better part. If they are not curious about the nature of their emotion, nor about the quality common to all objects that provoke it, they have my sympathy, and, as what they say if often charming and suggestive, my admiration too. Only let no one support that what they write and talk is aesthetics; it is criticism, or just “shop.”
The starting-point for all systems of aesthetics must be the personal experience of a peculiar emotion. The objects that provoke this emotion we call works of art. All sensitive people agree that there is a peculiar emotion provoked by works of art. I do not mean, of course, that all works provoke the same emotion. On the contrary, every work produces a different emotion. But all these emotions are recognisably the same in kind; so far, at any rate, the best opinion is on my side. That there is a particular kind of emotion provoked by works of visual art, and that this emotion is provoked by every kind of visual art, by pictures, sculptures, buildings, pots, carvings, textiles, etc., etc., is not disputed, I think, by anyone capable of feeling it. This emotion is called the aesthetic emotion; and if we can discover some quality common and peculiar to all the objects that provoke it, we shall have solved what I take to be the central problem of aesthetics. We shall have discovered the essential quality in a work of art, the quality that distinguishes works of art from all other classes of objects.

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