August 2005

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I just want to brag a little about my current employer.
While most places would be horrified that anyone might take a few minutes out of the day to check on the status of areas hit by Hurricane Katrina, my intranet just published a quick item with links to various resources (National Hurricane Center, Red Cross, etc) encouraging people to keep tabs on the event “and about friends and relatives in affected regions.”
Even a cynic like me has to admit that’s a mark of a pretty excellent company.

And yet, there are still news reporters standing out there in parkas with nerf-covered microphones.

Louisiana – Non Precipitation Warnings


I’ve wondered the bit Denham says in the last sentence quite a bit myself. So many vendors sell software, and services to help you integrate it, but they don’t do anything about change management or cultural conditioning for their clients.
Do they think that offering such a service would make their software look bad?
Or maybe they actually *believe* that their software will solve all ills?
I suspect it’s more along the lines of what any manufacturer thinks: you buy my product, and what you do with it is your business.
Plus, hey, lots of companies are shelling out millions for ERP, CRM, CMS and other megalopolis-size products without demanding that kind of service.
The more I’m in this business, though, the more absurd it seems to me.

From: Knowledge-at-work: Sharing knowledge – do we know enough?

Asking WIIIFM (what is in it for me) before you start to share defeats the objective, you are getting off on the wrong foot. In the same vein, asking you to enter a password protected space with the aim of sharing should send up warning signals. If your CEO comes back from a KM conference and sets up Lotus, LiveLink or eRoom with complex access privilege’s, you should question if they have really got the message. Is giving in the knowledge economy just being naive?, How about the groupware vendor that sells tools, but sponsors no work on understanding collaboration, group processes or conducts no ethnographic research?, do you believe they have collaboration at heart or are they just selling more software?

JSB trove

I’ve been rolling around in an orgy of reading on design and innovation lately. And JSB’s site is a fine treasure trove. I just heard him on Talk of the Nation, discussing China. I felt like calling in just to be a fan-boy, but figured that would just annoy the radio producer. chief of confusion

Why can’t we keep things simple? Sure, we all complain, but why can’t we design stuff that mere mortals (like you and me) can use? There are many reasons why this doesn’t happen, but one of the main ones is that we, technologists, continually overlook the social resources that people use to orient themselves, to navigate through complex territory, and to help each other figure things out. Some of these ideas Paul Duguid and I cover in our book, The Social Life of Information, but others go to the heart of how we can design transparent systems that fade into our subconscious and are just there, not in our face.
Take the U.S. Constitution. Part of the constitution’s strength was keeping it simple and honoring the social resources that a community of imagination (i.e. the nation) could deploy to evolve its interpretation as the world evolved. Design applies to institutions and nations, and individuals as well- the freedom to design your own life…

Google Talk

For once, I’m not the last person to hear about something months later.

Google Talk sounds exciting. No voice-capable Mac client for it, but Adium and iChat both work. If nothing else, it’ll educate the masses about the “Jabber” protocol.

Google does have gobs of cash, and it’s lots of fun seeing what they can do with it. What I wish they’d really do is start a mobile phone company, because I would imagine it wouldn’t suck nearly as much as Verizon and others. But that’s merely a pipe dream.

Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see how this affects IM users, if it’ll catch on or not. I still don’t understand why AIM and MSN and others don’t open up their protocols. Maybe Google is what it takes to get people to realize if they use an open protocol (Jabber) they can talk to *anybody.*

However, I wonder if Google plans on using its ads technology for scanning IM’s and displaying ads while chatting or the like? That would kill it for me. I can put up with it in emails, somehow. It’s unobtrusive, and they’re giving me a couple of gigs of space. But for IM’s … for some reason that would cross a line for me. Not sure why.

It will be fun, though, to see if they can do a lot of cool integration like they’ve been doing with their other services. Phone messaging, search, blogging, etc.

Yesterday morning I heard this interview while I was getting ready for work, and immediately wished I had a transcript. But I did manage to type out the last question and answer. I think Nuovo’s response a good lesson in design: focusing on what competitors are doing, and recycling the same ideas, isn’t how you innovate.

Interview with Frank Nuovo (about a new $700 Nokia phone)

Morning Edition: Is there a moment whenyou take a box full of everybody else’s phones and dump them out on the table and try to figure out what they’re doing right or wrong?

Frank Nuovo: You don’t gain that much from looking at your competitors. You really gain forward momentum from focusing on the end-customer. Knowing where they’re going… Otherwise all you’re doing is following …very brief moments … little leap-frog moments from competitor to competitor. What you have to do is take your eye further forward and understand where the customer wants to go and that’s the real magic.

(From the Site: Frank Nuovo, chief designer for Nokia phones, discusses the company’s new 8800 cell phone. Nokia is betting on the phone to reenergize its sales and compete against Motorola’s hit phone, the Razr. Nuovo has been designing phones for Nokia since 1989.)

Edited to Add:
I’m sure Nokia does plenty of competitive research. I’m positive they rip apart every competitor product and understand its every atom. The point he’s making, though, is that you only get a small, incremental boost from that work. It’s necessary — if you don’t do it, you’re crazy. But it’s just a small fraction of the work necessary to innovate.

HBO: Six Feet Under – Obituary

The last episode was one of the most heartbreaking and tender things I’ve ever seen.

Here, HBO has actual obituaries … well, don’t go looking if you haven’t seen the episode yet. But when I ran across them just now, I gasped.

It’s miraculous, when you can feel so close to fictional characters. I’m not a sap for stuff like this, really. But Alan Ball is a bloody genius.

No, more than that. It’s not just intelligence that made this show work. It was courage to map the real contours of human hearts.

Bah. That sounds cheesy. But I don’t care.

If you’re a freaky stalker type, you can take a trip to the actual address of Fisher & Sons, at least according to the obituary from a few weeks ago.

In this article, BW has a friendly chat with Michael Graves about his industrial designs. He waxes about how important it is that designs be more useful.
Michael Graves: Beyond Kettles

I realize Graves’ designs are a lot of fun. I realize his work with Target brought an awareness of beautiful (or at least whimsical or interesting) everyday product design to the middle class.

I also realize that he’s now in a wheelchair (because of a sinus infection? damn, that’s scary … I’m stocking up on decongestants) and is a very nice man.

But I’ve had several Graves design items from Target, and I’ve never liked any of them. For example, the clock-radio. The button functions are simply bizarre. They’re labeled so subtly (so as not to interfere with the sleek look of each part) that one has to lean a few inches away from it in order to read their functions.

The one under the minutes adjusts the hours, and vice versa. The pretty little semicircle of buttons under the display controls the two different alarms, but it’s really hard to tell how they work. They’re too small and hard to press without pushing the clock off the endtable. The sound of the radio is mediocre at best. And there’s little rhyme or reason to much of the design in general.

But it is definitely cute. Synthesizer innovator Robert A. Moog dies at 71

I remember when I first encountered a Moog synth. My grade school was hosted at a huge suburban Christian church around Atlanta, and the music minister there was also our music teacher. One day he took us into the cavernous “sactuary” and pulled the vinyl cover off of a space-age contraption with knobs and plugs and dials and what seemed to me an absurdly small keyboard — somehow the smallness of the keyboard next to the piano beside it registered just how futuristic and new-paradigm this thing was. I must’ve been eight or nine.

The teacher went on to play with it and show what it did. I was blown away. Since then I’ve been fascinated with all such things, though I’ve never bought one or even played one. Still, it was one of those childhood moments that’ll never leave me.

Once I heard an interview with Moog on NPR and jotted this quote down:

I don’t design stuff for myself. I’m a toolmaker. I design things that other people want to use.

This seems to me to be quintessential Design thinking: the fact that a guy who innovated something so futuristic and unconventional managed to remain committed to the principle of “use by others.”

Sleep well.

David Milch is my new hero. His incredible work on Deadwood is one of the great works of (literary? dramatic? cinematic?) art in the 21st century. And I’m not one who is normally given to such statements. Honestly, I think that extremely well-made “series” such as Six Feet Under and Sopranos that have a coherent long-term story arc over four or five years are *the* new great art form that we’ll look back on in 10 or 20 years and say “damn the 90’s and 2000’s were the golden age of that.”

Anyway, Milch is amazing. Anybody who has heard an interview with him or seen the commentaries on the Deadwood DVD’s has to either be a stone idiot or completely enthralled with the guy.

In this interview I found from 2002, I discover that he studied under Robert Penn Warren, managed to kick a heroin addiction, and was an even bigger part of the best years of NYPD Blue than I realized.

Here’s a link, and a quote I found awfully helpful in my own striving to make something literary.

David Milch’s Active Imagination

I don’t linger a lot in self-delusory exercises in control – don’t describe too much or even have to have an objective idea of what a scene is about. My only responsibility to an active imagination is to submit myself to a state of being where characters other than I move around and I try to serve that process. I just get to that – I don’t plan scenes. I don’t outline. I feel my way along because I have come to believe everything you believe about writing instead of writing is bullshit. It doesn’t apply. You can make an outline but an outline is not going to work because it doesn’t apply to what is actually written. I am content to work in uncertainty much more than I used to be – content to not know where I am going.

The Onion nails Intelligent Design with this bit of satire. What I find disturbing is that the story sounds completely believable, which only illustrates how crazy the real situation is to begin with.

The Onion | Evangelical Scientists Refute Gravity With New ‘Intelligent Falling’ Theory
“Things fall not because they are acted upon by some gravitational force, but because a higher intelligence, ‘God’ if you will, is pushing them down,” said Gabriel Burdett, who holds degrees in education, applied Scripture, and physics from Oral Roberts University.

Wake-Up Call

Companies of the world, pay attention. These are your future customers.

Pay attention not just to the fact that they’re online, but what they’re doing and how. Pay attention to how integrated their physical space is with their infospace, and how relational their infospace has become. They bounce between applications, they earn and spend “virtual” money in massive multiplayer environments. They live in this place.
And your cute little web-widgets that *might* be finished at the end of their 3-5 year development programs are going to feel to them about as sophisticated and useful as a tire swing feels to a circus acrobat.

Pew Internet & American Life Project Report: Pew Internet: Teens and Technology

Today’s American teens live in a world enveloped by communications technologies; the internet and cell phones have become a central force that fuels the rhythm of daily life.

The number of teenagers using the internet has grown 24% in the past four years and 87% of those between the ages of 12 and 17 are online. Compared to four years ago, teens’ use of the internet has intensified and broadened as they log on more often and do more things when they are online.

via JOHO/Blog

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