Thursday 25 October 2012

dConstruct 2012

Catching up on publishing my notes from the last few months… Here’s dConstruct 2012 — a conference more about inspiring and provoking new ideas than specific technology.

The highlights were Scott Jenson demanding we come up with a better way to discover UIs for the Internet of Things; Tom Armitage telling us why we should build toys (and why they are different from prototypes); and James Burke (yes, that James Burke) taking us on a tour de force whirlwind journey through the history of technology. Not to mention Seb Lee-Delisle turning the entire audience into a giant fireworks display!

The audio for all the talks is available from the dConstruct archive. What follows is my rough notes covering the points that caught my interest.

The Flower, The Field and The Stack

Ben Hammersley @benhammersley

  • “if your code isn’t elegant, it’s probably wrong”
  • levels above individual UX:
    • social UX
    • what the experience does to the rest of society
  • how do we make those layers beautiful & elegant?
  • media does affect society
    • we deny the Daily Mail fearmongering
    • but build gamification, add marketing, etc
    • you are changing society in some way
  • what messages can or should we put out?
  • first generation in the history of humanity to have exponential growth in our capabilities (Moore’s law)
  • yet we are ruled by people who don’t quite understand that…
  • government wants us to be individual billionaires
  • but it’s not like that — the web is all community based
  • think about how to expose the interconnectedness — the symmetries

Cure for the Common Code

Jenn Lukas @jennlucas

Beyond Mobile - Beyond Web

Scott Jenson @scottjenson

  • no way that 60s mainframe guys would understand mobile phones
    • even if we told them about it they still wouldn’t understand
  • default thinking
    • e.g. when TV first came out, they read radio plays in front of the camera…
  • Scott was first mobile designer at Google
    • worked on Google Maps
  • felt tectonic plates changing from mobile OSes, to apps, to web
  • built a simple test and sent it out to a google mailing list
    • got 90,000 results in a few hours…
    • web-based — viral spreading
  • whole new world opening up and apps is an old world model

what’s happening:

  1. app glut: is there really going to be an app for every different thing?
    • the apps are like the Hitchhiker’s Guide mice – experimenting on us
    • value must be greater than pain
      • SMS: great pain but bigger value
      • Google making page load 0.4s faster: reducing pain
      • if you get pain down to zero then people usage
  2. size & cost reduction
    • e.g. pill bottle that calls your phone if you don’t open it each day!
  3. smart devices leverage other platforms
    • e.g. withings scale has interface on your phone

seen this before? where’s it going?

  • yahoo: catalogued links — grew too big
  • google: just search
  • RFID & sensors in everything (Bruce Sterling spimes)
  • triggers from physical locations
    • e.g. at bus stop want to see that departure board, not the whole app…
  • just in time interactions
    • use it, then lose it

paradigm shift

  • kuhn cycle:
    1. normal science
    2. model drift
    3. model crisis
    4. model revolution (because old science still works for most stuff)
    5. paradigm shift
    6. and back again…
  • software: if it’s so important, you have to reuse it
  • need to move to experience: discover, use, discard
  • trapped in the browser:
    • awesome experience with a command-line on top!
    • doesn’t really work so well on mobile without a proper keyboard…


  • asking for a detente between native and web
    • phones should have a discovery service
    • google my room rather than my world
    • access a list of nearby services
  • get the pain down to zero so I can get to the web as soon as possible
  • but web apps suck!
    • native is awesome and will always be more so than web
    • but talking about basic small things that can’t do apps
    • toasters, movie posters, etc
  • smart toaster, really?
    • because pain is low, the value doesn’t have to be high
    • change the “done” sound
  • use my phone all the time?
    • once you’ve got the “digital soul” of a thing
    • you can access it from anywhere
    • e.g. Sonos system: only accessible from phone with app…
  • no company will do this, no money…
    • have to think in layers
    • discover
    • interact
    • export/communicate
    • organise

chicken & egg

  • need to start building it from both ends
  • are we all going to be using iPhones 30 years from now?
  • no company will make this:
    • we are the next Apple!

The Hacker’s Guide To The Galaxy

Ariel Waldman @arielwaldman

  • black holes are like super-massive hackerspaces
    • spewing out all sorts of stuff
  • SETI are starting to look for light pulses as well as radio waves
  • planethunters - find exoplanets using human pattern detection
  • instead of discovering life in the universe, what if we put it there…?
  • astrobiology
    • water bears can survive for several days in the vacuum of space
    • lichen good at breaking down bare rock surfaces, and can live in the surface conditions of Mars
  • citizens in space
    • cubesats: 10cm^3 mini satellites
    • gathering ideas to send into space
  • university rover challenge
    • annual competition for universities to build next-gen robots
  • beard detector at science hackday
    • USB microscope connected to OpenCV
    • picked up by particle physicist to detect cosmic rays in a cloud chamber

Pixels People Play

Seb Lee-Delisle @seb_ly

  • PixelPhones
    • synchronizes phones across wifi
    • then detects positions using camera
    • open source on github
    • nyancatch — catch the nyan cat as he goes past your pixel phone
  • MMOsteroids (multi-player asteroids)
    • but not actually real…
  • digital fireworks based on motion detection at the bottom of the screen
  • using digital media to bring people together in interesting ways
    • phones normally put you in your own private world
    • pixelphones makes a gathered experience using the same
  • putting power in the control of the audience
  • web-based games: playing with the audience
    • your expectation of the other players changes your experience

Imagined Futures

Lauren Beukes @laurenbeukes

  • “those who can’t imagine the future are doomed to fuck it up”
  • the Cosby Show laid the way for Nelson Mandela
    • he made it possible for racist white south africans to see black people as people
  • Novel: Moxyland
    • looking at the gaps between the rich and the poor
    • how an apartheid state might come into being again
  • science fiction’s imagination
  • makes the future personal
  • focusing on a single person allows you to get close and understand a shocking event
  • fiction allows you greater empathy than journalism
  • re-imagining monsters
  • “the universe is made of stories not atoms”

The Save Button Ruined Everything

Backing up our digital heritage

Jason Scott, Computer Historian, owner of @sockington

  • “when my cat was being interviewed for People magazine…”
  • the floppy disk icon has no meaning to kids these days
    • they don’t know what it is
  • Timeshare system designed at MIT 1964
    • based on IBM 7094
    • SAVE command to save status
  • originally saving was a slow process
    • saving geocities etc
  • don’t delete things just because you think you’re done with them
  • it’s a responsibility
  • always provide an export function

Making Friends: Toys, Toying and Toymaking

Tom Armitage @tom_armitage,

  • father worked as an amateur woodworker — made toys
    • very impressive ones too — I’m jealous!
  • “I wonder if I make toys today because my dad made toys for me”
  • what is a toy: something you can fiddle with — a simulation
  • SimCity: not actually a good simulation of a city
    • but does expose the moving parts
    • stuff left out also important
  • caricatures:
  • Toys as Culture: Brian Sutton-Smith
  • modern day
    • The Demoscene
    • elevated by RGBA (4k program)
    • craft by Linus Åkesson (runs off a 9V battery)
  • free of work constraints
  • restricted by other constraints (file size, hardware, etc)
  • often have no utility
  • but definitely have purpose
  • Ghostcar
    • a foursquare account of yourself - timeshifted from a year ago
    • made Tom checkin more ‘cos he wanted good data
  • a time lapse video, with the scrubbing controlled by how close the viewer is to the screen
  • “we expose purpose and meaning through the making”
  • seamful design
    • emphasising the edges and transitions
  • LEGO is seams everywhere
  • so is twitter: it’s a messaging bus
  • tower bridge twitter account
    • exposed seams by its interactions with other people
    • followed by cab drivers so they knew not to drive across when it was open
  • Toca Boca: helicopter taxi
  • Chris O’Shea: makego — incomplete car
  • Makies: custom dolls
  • Toys are finished, not prototypes
    • they have seams but not rough edges
  • Thomas Heatherwick (designer of the Olympic Cauldron):
    • get things into the world quickly
    • don’t keep things in your imagination
  • Toys are small scope — that’s important: it means you can finish more stuff
  • when you’re making a toy, you have to imagine the player
    • you have to play with it while you’re making it
  • problem-solving is convergent but it’s obeying the problem
  • toy making is divergent… creative
  • making is playing is making

Does Prediction Have A Future? Admiral Shovel and the Toilet Roll

James Burke

These notes in no way capture James’s talk. Please listen to the audio recording and marvel!

  • focus is for computers
  • creativity and imagination is humans’ strong point
  • Burke working on a learning system
    • 2800 historical figures, events & ideas
    • connected 35,000 ways
  • Laplace: you want me to predict everything? fine! tell me everything
    • may soon be possible to gather, look at links and spot inconsistencies
    • but institutions often exist to maintain the status quo


  • representative democracy
    • invented because roads were slow…
    • now we have much faster comms
  • most of our social and organisational systems are based on scarcity
  • but the nanotech cornucopia machine will turn that into abundance
  • what happens to us socially? all the organisations and processes?
  • we may have only 40 years to work it out!

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