Blue Tit at home

Blue Tit at home by rbanks.

After a good degree of jelousy over Shannon’s cousin Andrea’s nesting (American) robins I’m pleased to say that we have some ‘pet birds’ of our own.

We’ve seen a grey shape flitting in and out of the sparrow box that I set up in the porch for a number of weeks. We can see this box really clearly through our kitchen window. The birds finally slowed down enough to tell that they are Blue Tits. Tiny little birds. Why Blue Tits would move into a sparrow condominium block I don’t know. Possibly the sparrows don’t like the location, but the Blue Tits are happy with how close they now are to our hanging feeders. Who knows what goes on in the minds of birds?

Gas meter intsallation

So, we’ve just received a letter from British Gas saying they need to change our gas meter. They need us to be home between 8am and 8pm on the scheduled day. Does a requirement of someone being home for 12 hours seem reasonable to you? Particularly when the later half of this cuts straight through dinner time? It doesn’t seem reasonable to me. Surely they can say morning or afternoon?

Zelda’s Twilight

Ok, I ran behind my prediction for completion. I said April and it’s now well and truly May. But various trips threw a spanner in the works and put me behind schedule. Tonight, though, after 53 hours of playtime, I finally completed Zelda.

Beautiful game. Great story. And for me a great balance between action and exploration. And not TOO hard so I never hit the ‘oh, screw it’ point. Mr. Miyamoto, thanks for a wonderful game.

Update: See Shannon’s opinion of my little saga-playing.

A second and 34 years

I’ve been in the Microsoft Research division working as an interaction designer for just over a year, after 10 years working on software products like Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office. One of the recurring issues I’ve hit, on both the product and research side of the business, is explaining how designers work to people with a more structured education, and particularly where designer’s ideas come from.

There are many aspects to this question, some of which are about techniques, tools and processes. One aspect is about instinct, and how ideas can just ‘pop’ into designers heads. I’m not saying design always happens that way. Sometimes it takes a lot of work. But this question of instinct, and how designers exploit it, can be the toughest to explain, particularly to those people who have very scientifically rigorous approaches to their own disciplines. This video of Paula Scher from Pentagram communicates that aspect of what designers do – trusting their instincts – in the best way I’ve seen.

A few choice quotes:

  • ‘I operate very strongly with my instincts’.
  • ‘It’s problematic because a lot of clients like to buy process and they think they’re not getting their money’s worth because I solved it too fast…’.
  • ‘If I don’t get it in the first crack I get it in the second. If I don’t get it in the second I almost never get it because, like I said, it’s a very intuitive kind of process’.’I drew the Citibank logo, after we had the first meeting, I drew it on a napkin and walked out’.
  • ‘It is done in a second. It’s done in a second and 34 years. It’s done in a second and every experience and every movie and every thing of my life that’s in my head’.




Really like this idea, caught by Nicolas Roope at Poke, and implemented by Haringey Council in London, for a heat map that allows you to tell at a glance whose house in your area is emmitting more or less heat. Red = hothouse. Blue = Koolhaus. Quickly pinpoints the spots using more/less insulation.

“Set up to embarrass residents and businesses into sorting out their insulation the test borough Harningey happened to feature my gaff as seen above which seems to be somewhere in the middle between good and bad.”

Sun tower

Pretty amazing story in the BBC about a new tower in Spain that generates electricity through steam produced by the sun reflected off 600 large mirrors. The ambient lighting it creates is quite odd.

“It is Europe’s first commercially operating power station using the Sun’s energy this way and at the moment its operator, Solucar, proudly claims that it generates 11 Megawatts (MW) of electricity without emitting a single puff of greenhouse gas. This current figure is enough to power up to 6,000 homes. But ultimately, the entire plant should generate as much power as is used by the 600,000 people of Seville.”
BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Power station harnesses Sun’s rays

CHI2007 Student Design Competition

I’m just about to head out to the San Jose airport for my flight home. I’ve been attending the CHI (Computer-Human Interaction) Conference here, which is an annual event for researchers focused on the design of technology and its use by real people. It’s now in its 25th year.

My main contribution has been helping out with judging the student design competition. Having a chance to chat with, and see the work of, 12 groups of students from a diverse set of schools was a lot of fun and an honor for me.

The brief for this years competition was around the relief of traffic congestion through the encouragement of public transport use. A tough one, I think, and wide open to interpretation. The competition was organised by Ilona Posner and Steven Wall, who did an amazing job coordinating everything and keeping the students both excited and on their toes.

There were 3 judges this year including me, from quite diverse backgrounds. Silvia Zimmerman works for the Swiss Usability Center and Apala Chavan for Human Factors International. We found the task of picking a ‘winner’ next to impossible, with so many different focusses, methods and solutions from the different teams.

All the teams should be proud of the work they did. Whittled down from an original total of 54 entries to the 12 teams that actually attended the conference they represented the ‘best of the best’. They then had to man their posters all week, which can be gruelling. The ‘top 4’ were selected from this group on Monday and had to endure a 10 minute presentation to a packed room, which seems like an odd prize to me, before they were ranked 1 to 4.

Well done to the team from the University of Michigan’s School of Information who won with their entry entitled Alt Verto! (Their summary of the event is here).

Apala, Silivia and I.

Steve and Ilona.

The 12 teams that made it through to CHI.
(Thanks Ilona for the shots!)