Building into the land

This little Hobbit-hole, which is a real family home in Wales, was built to strict environmental guidelines about 3 years ago. The website for the building has some great shots of its construction, using local materials like found wood, stone, soil, bales of straw and much mud. I really admire a family that can let their imaginations go, and have the skills and guts to just dive in and change their lives so completely.

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From the site: “You are looking at pictures of our family home in Wales. It was built by myself and my father in law with help from passers by and visiting friends. 4 months after starting we were moved in and cosy. I estimate 1000-1500 man hours and £3000 put in to this point. Not really so much in house buying terms (roughly £60/sq m excluding labour).”

The project reminds me a little of an episode of Grand Designs that Shannon and I watched a few years ago, and that we found totally inspirational. The house that was featured was built by a woodsman in the New Forest in Sussex, completely by hand with help from friends. He is one of the few people who are allowed to live and work in this protected area. His business is making charcoal from fallen wood. We’re talking a simple life, literally living off the land, and spent mostly in tents ( before and until construction was completed). The house he built was made so simply, constructed from a-frames of tree trunks, filled out with straw bales and plastered then whitewashed. The results were stunning. Really inspirational. And the bitter irony (or beauty) of the home is that no one else will ever be allowed to live there. Planning permission allows only for him, and the house will have to be destroyed if he ever leaves or dies.

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Thanks Hillel.

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Privacy is a matter for individual choice

image In this article on Spiked, Alex Taylor (who’s also in Socio-Digital Sytems) talks about privacy. He draws attention to how the current debate around this issue is so alarmist, focused primarily on the extremes of the invasion of personal liberties, and the dystopian future that envisages. The reality of privacy, though, is much more subtle then that:

“What I want to draw attention to is how the privacy versus openness debate around technology sets up extremes that feel removed from real-world experience. In reality, don’t we routinely move between these two apparent opposites, deciding in often unremarkable ways what we keep to ourselves and what we share? With this in mind, I think we would do well to reconsider our obsession with eliminating all the possible threats to our digital identities, thinking, instead, about how it is we manage ourselves and how, in our mobile futures, we might be enabled to go on doing so.”

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Laptop-based multi-touch

Multi-touch is all the rage at the moment, but is something that Microsoft and members of the team I’m in have been looking at for quite a number of years. Steve Hodges, manager of the Sensors and Devices team in Cambridge, reveals a new technical approach to multi-touch in the video below. The key to this approach, which was develops in collaboration with the Socio-Digital Systems team, is using cheap off-the-shelf infra-red components attached to the back of a laptop screen to give multi-touch on a thin display, helping avoid some of the bulk of projection systems.


Microsoft Research laptop multi-touch

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Little bit of self promotion

Last November Tim Regan and I traveled to Brussels for Innovation Day 2006. This event was originally started by Microsoft Research Cambridge as a forum to show the work that we do to a broad, primarily academic audience across Europe. A way of avoiding them all having to travel to the UK. It’s grown quite a bit, and now is as much an opportunity for Microsoft more generally to demonstrate its innovation credentials to European politicians and media. In addition to academics, the event now also hosts a few hundred MEPs and many members of the press.

Anyway, it was a great couple of days of showing 5 of our prototypes to a lot of people. Highlights for me were showing TimeMill and BubbleBoard to Bill Gates and Matti Vanhanen (the Prime Minister of Holland Finland), and then also to Janez Potocnik, the European Union Commisioner of Science and Technology.

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Bill gets his degree

image 30 years after dropping out of Harvard Bill gates goes back to get his degree. Although much of his commencement speech deals with the serious issues he’s attempting to tackle with his foundation, there are also quite a few lighthearted bits, like this: “Radcliffe was a great place to live. There were more women up there, and most of the guys were science-math types. That combination offered me the best odds, if you know what I mean. This is where I learned the sad lesson that improving your odds doesn’t guarantee success.”

Thanks Shannon.

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