Honoring or "pimping" the Billy Bookshelf

I think I bought my first Billy bookcase from Ikea when I was at Brunel University, which would make it about 1990. It wasn’t until I joined Microsoft in ’95 that I really filled my apartment with them. Then I read Douglas Coupland’s Microserfs that same year. It’s a fictional account of the lives of some Microsoft employees that eerily mirrored some of the experience I was having at my new job. The mention of the Billy bookcase as a prime component of these character’s lives was the part that really freaked me out. I’ve tried to avoid them since.

Here’s a cool set of projects that in some way honor them as the Model T of the bookcase world. I particularly like the idea of tilting a bookcase to avoid the need for book ends.


Cool Hunting: Ding 3000: Pimp my Billy
“Billy Wilder takes the form of green branch growing across the Billy Bookshelf. Billy Heidenreich is a shelf with a lectern attached for displaying your most beautiful photography books, while the Stütze functions as an extra leg to tilt the bookcase at an angle so there’s no need for book ends. All the designs are beautifully made and will probably last longer than your Ikea shelving unit.”

Microsoft Research SenseCam

I work in the Socio-Digital Systems group, which is part of Computer Mediated Living (CML). One of our peer groups in CML is the Sensors and Devices (SenDev) group, which is the home for SenseCam, a project that has had a lot of attention since its inception quite a few years ago.

SenseCam is a wearable digital camera that records all the time. It captures fisheye images as well as some sensor data such as ambient light and acceleration/deceleration. It has a whole bunch of potential applications including helping alleviate memory loss or building up an archive of a persons whole life.

The SenDev group have put together a great web site that summarizes the project, and work associated with it, for those who are interested in more detail.


Ray Lamontagne

Shannon and I went to the Albert Hall on Monday evening to see out first bit of live music in a while. It was one of those rushed trips. I arrived home after my hour and a half commute from Cambridge, Mum took over, we sped out to the train station and just over an hour later we were in the right neighborhood knowing we’d have to head back home soon because it was a “school night”. It was one of those events that we might have considered skipping, put off by the sheer effort of getting in and out of London. Glad we didn’t.

I think I saw Ray Lamontagne on Later with Jools Holland around January. I already had his Trouble and Till The Sun Turns Black albums, which I really enjoy. The first was a gift from my Sister, the second from our friend Amy in Seattle. His live performance really struck me as “pure”, somehow. He’s really focused on the mic when he sings, and sort of crouches, singing upward into it at the more intense bits. On the back of that I booked to see him live when he came to England.

The concert didn’t disappoint. He’s clearly into the music and his band and little else. The Hall is huge, and regularly hosts big acts, but the stage was set really simply for this one, with a cloth backdrop behind the four band members, and a few simple spotlights. Not big screens.

Lamontagne is clearly not into bantering with the crowd. Other then hearing him whispering the count-ins to the songs to the other band members, he didn’t actually say anything until at least the sixth or seventh song, and even then it was a simple “Thank You”. He stood on the right-hand end of the curve created by the other musicians, looking in at them. At one point someone from the area of the crowd towards which his back always faced heckled him to turn around so they could see him properly. He ignored this and just kept going. Somehow, the focus on the music, and the quality of the band as a whole, gave them plenty of charisma, though.

The acoustics in the Albert Hall are stunning, by the way. We were right up in the circle and you could hear all the instruments really clearly. Possibly the best sounding concert I’ve ever been to. Anyway, the whole evening was a real surprise, as all the best things are, and Shannon and I came away really impressed by the quality of Lamontagne’s performance. Really recommended.

Nice duet between Lamontagne and Damien Rice here on YouTube, BTW.



Hacking hardware and software

I’ve been buying a lot of “hack friendly” books recently, that give a dangerously semi-technical person like me a lot of tools and ideas for hacking together software visualizations, as well as hardware and software interfaces. Although I’ve started working a little in WPF/Silverlight there’s not a lot of resources out there specifically for that platform with a focus on designers like me, who want to get their hands dirty programming and prototyping ideas, but don’t have the rigor of someone with a CS degree. Flash has a long history of designers doing this, and a lot of books that encourage it, so I’ve been translating much of what I read between different platforms, which isn’t that hard to do. Mostly it’s a question of finding the algorithms that do what you want and moving them to a new context.

Some books worth considering include:

image Roger Penner’s Programming Macromedia Flash – With this book it doesn’t really matter if you’re working in Flash or WPF. It gives you a lot of the basics for on screen, maths-based dynamics. It’s easy to adapt the algorithms that Penner describes for physics-based motions, for example, to any platform.

image Processing A Programming Handbook for Visual Designers and Artists by Casey Reas Ben Fry – A new book on the basics of Processing, but it really does start from basics. The concepts are really adaptable to other platforms.

image Flash to the Core by Joshua Davis – Pretty much the first book I had that introduced me to doing dynamic stuff in Flash. Out of print now, and a bit pricey second hand. Wish it would get a re-release, though.


Here’s a really inspirational video, as an aside, showing some of the kinetic work of Bruce Shapiro. He has some wonderfully poetic ideas, which is really his skill, because if you’d HAD the idea yourself a lot of his work feels eminently hackable with a hardware such as Phidgets. I’m sure I’m underselling what he does.