Things We’ve Learnt About…Search and Web Use

We have a new issue of the “Things We’ve Learnt About…” magazine, a regular publication we release each issue of which summarizes the research work of the Socio-Digital Systems team around a particular theme. This one is all about “Search & Web Use” and has been primarily authored by Richard Harper and Sian Lindley, with a LOT of hard work by Nick Duffield, who did all the design work on it.

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The digital version is available for free, or you can buy a printed version if you want (they’re really nicely printed, but done print-on-demand so are a little pricey – we don’t make any money from them).

This issue is a summary of the SDS “Beyond Search” theme, focussing on Sian’s “5 Web Modes”, and showcasing various projects that have come out of the work, including Seeds, Cards and our work with Aalto University on “Domesticating Search”. I’m pretty proud of this magazine series, and this is another great issue for us to give out both internally and externally, to showcase what we do.

As a reminder, there are now three issues of the magazine, on Communication, Memory and Search. All of them are available from the here.

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SXSW Day 1: Bre Pettis (MakerBot) opening Keynote

I’m at the SXSW Interactive festival in Austin Texas for a few days. It’s a huge event made up of talks, workshops, films and lots of other stuff to see. I’m going to a number of the talks, and I thought I’d try and post some of my notes online here.

The first of these is the opening keynote, given Bre Pettis, the founder of MakerBot, which produces a cheap 3D printer, and of Thingverse, an online forum for sharing 3D models that can be printed out with these kinds of printers.

Questions for Bre were posted to Twitter under #AskPettis.

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To be honest, other than describing 3D printing as “The Next Industrial Revolution” and saying that “Creativity is now accessible in the world of things”, Bre’s talk was a little shallow and vision-free. He didn’t really paint a big picture of the changes that 3D printing will bring to society, commerce etc, but instead showed lots of little examples of things that people had made, mostly with the MakerBot printer.

FWIW, he was wearing a jacket by Sruli Recht, produced using 3D printing and laser cut wood. It reminded me an awful lot of the wooden textile produced by Elise Strozyk at Central St. Martin’s in 2009. I’m not sure which part of this, if any, was 3D printed.

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Here are a bunch of the examples Bre gave of things made with Makerbot:

Markerbots are starting to show up in schools (there’s an interesting thread at SXSW about how kids are embracing digital creativity – drawing, coding, electronics etc., despite the feeling that school curricula fail to keep up with the times).

Other examples include someone who created the part to fix an espresso machine, a guy who created shoe inserts to make his daughter tall enough to go on some fairground rides, and another person who replaced expensive piano parts with 3D printed version.

Bre presented a prototype of the “MakerBot Digitizer” for the first time. This is basically a rotating platform that uses two lasers and webcam to scan 3D parts so that they can be reproduced using the printer. Bre described this process as "…like when Flynne gets scanned into Tron", and a way of “building out a "3D ecosystem". He admitted that the technology has been around for 25 years, but requires a lot of post-processing, the implication being that the secret sauce for the Digitizer is the software, which must make it easier to create closed meshes that can actually be printed.

Bre also mentioned the MakerBot partnership with Autocad. In the “Create” tent at SXSW they are teaching people to use Autocads “123D Creature” iPad app to make monsters, then printing them out on the spot using a row of Makerbots.

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Favorite Photos of 2012

Oxford Street FlagSnow Creations #3Snow Creations #4Street Rabbits #2Balloon Musketeers #25 Views of the Barbican #3
Schlumberger Cambridge Research Center #2Steps of St. Peter's Basilica #2Vatican Head #4Brick Lane Food #3SXSW Columns #3Moving Headlight
Violin MonsterShannon, Maddie and the castleA passengerSpaceship Earth #2Umbrella FlightHanging Kids #4
Easter Egg Hunt #1King Creosote & Jon Hopkins in RedGrand Canal Theatre, Dublin #14New Home for CSM #2Bloomberg Cockpit #3Group + 1

Favorites of 2012, a set on Flickr.

Here’s my ninth (gulp) annual set of favourite photos that I’ve taken this year with my Lumix GF1. I still love the camera, and picked up a new lens which zooms (a little) and goes pretty wide. I’ve primarily taken these shots with the fixed 20mm lens, which I still love. It lets in lots of light.

For some reason, I thought I’d had a slow year for photography, but looking back it doesn’t seem to be the case. I’ve taken 7,400+, which is a couple of thousand above what I usually take. It’s been a busy year, though, with visits to Rome and Disney World, and with the Jubilee and Olympics at home. With those and our recent close call with flooding, there’s been plenty of subjects to shoot.

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Support my half marathon!!

I’ll be running Nike’s “Run to the Beat” half marathon in London on the 28th of October, and am madly training with my wife, Shannon, who is also running. We’re raising money as part of the run in support of Lupus UK. Lupus is an auto-immune disease with a whole bunch of nasty side effects that’s had an impact on my family, and Lupus UK provides support for the 50,000 sufferers in the country and their families, as well as raising awareness of the illness.

Please don’t feel any pressure to support, but if you’d like to make a donation towards our run than we have a web page through which you can contribute:

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/RiversideRunners

Cheers
Richard

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Technology Heirlooms in the National Media Museum

I was lucky enough to get a request from the UK’s National Media Museum in Bradford for the use of our Technology Heirlooms prototypes in their new exhibition, Life Online, all about the development of computing and the internet.

The exhibition opened in April, but I only just had a chance to see it in August when I travelled North to Yorkshire for a spot of camping. It’s a great exhibition, with a lot of old bits of technology leading to more contemporary content. A timeline made of glass, embedded in the floor, runs all the way through the gallery, counting off the years next to examples of technology of the time. At the end of the timeline is a glass exhibition case, with our prototypes in them under the banner “Into the Future”. Really nice to see them put to good use.

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P1140625 Stitch (2771x3000)

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RCA Degree Show 2012 & Microsoft Design Expo

Microsoft holds an annual design competition for students from around the world who are usually studying either interaction or product design. It’s called the Design Expo. Students work in groups at their school, usually over the spring semester, to a brief that we set and they then select their best team, who travel to Redmond, Microsoft’s home, to present what they’ve done to an audience of employees.

This is the fifth year that I’ve acted as a liaison between Microsoft and a design school in the UK or Europe. I’ve done 2008 [Dundee], 2009 [Dundee], 2010 [Central St Martins Textile Futures] and 2011 [Venice], sharing the load with Tim Regan and Alex Taylor.

This year’s the Royal College of Art represented the UK in Design Expo. We’ve had a long-standing relationship with their world-class Design Interactions program, and this year we liaised with James Augur to help select students to go to Redmond.

I had a preview of the RCA student work earlier in the year, then we picked the two projects to send to Redmond, which were shown at the colleges degree show in early July, before heading to the US. Rather than taking place at the RCA’s “head office” near the Albert Hall, this year the Design Interactions students showed their work over the river at Battersea in a very cool creative space called Testbed 1.

Testbed 1

The first of the two student projects we picked for Design Expo was The Superstitious Fund by Shing Tat Chung. Shing has developed a fully working investment fund, but one who’s algorithms for buying and selling are based on superstition. It primarily uses numerology, looking for example for lucky and unlucky numbers, as well as phases of the moon, to decide when to buy and sell. The amazing thing abut this project is that it is fully working. It is trading live on the stock market, has £4000 pounds worth of investment put it in by people from around the world, and includes a contract, stock certificate and every other legal requirement.

This is a classic example of the schools critical approach to design. It both forces us to think about the random nature of the stock market, for example, or the illogical sense that people have of numbers and data, while at the same time being very real.

Shing had a trade board mounted at the degree show, showing live data for the fund. He also presented some of his other projects which all look at superstition and illogicality.

The Superstitious Fund Project A Manual for an Uncanny Stock Market

The second student project which went to Redmond was Neil Usher’s beautiful Pareidolic Robot. Related to Shing’s project, Neil’s interests are in human’s capacity to look for shapes, meaning and data in our surroundings where there often isn’t any. According to WikipediaPareidolia is a psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being perceived as significant.

Neil built a fully working robotic system, which uses face recognition to look at clouds. He’s got a lovely selection of images that the robot has found, many of which are face like. The robot is beautifully engineered, with two cameras that look like eyes, and can reorient themselves on the end of stalks.

Again, this is a fully realised object, but one that asks questions about our past times, and what it means to do idle activities. Do we feel so much pressure to use all of our time “efficiently” that we might have to give over the pleasures in our lives, like cloud spotting, to some piece of technology?

Cloud Watching Robot Cloud Watching RobotCloud Watching RobotCloud Watching Robot

So that’s the two pieces of work that went to the design expo. You can see the other participants work here. Neil and Shing did a great job compressing their joint presentation down to 10 minutes. Hopefully the video will be up soon.

A few other pieces of work stood out for me from the RCA Degree Show. Here’s some shots:

All That I AmAll That I AmAll That I Am

Running Lives with DataDr. Weiskind's DayRotifer FarmRotifer FarmA Brief History of PowerPeckham Community GamblingThe Thread-Wrapping MachineThe Thread-Wrapping MachineThe One-Way Ticket

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Central Saint Martins Degree Show 2012

My phone shots from the CSM show this year, in their cool new King’s Cross building. Most of these are from the Textile Futures program, which was, as usual, really thought provoking.

Project from the TEXTILES FUTURES MA students. I’ve managed to link these mysterious looking shots to their project pages up on the course homepage. They’ve been pretty smart, and made dedicated project pages for each, which hopefully they’ll keep alive now that the students have graduated.

Protocells by Shamees Aden Urban Insect Habitats by Catherine Verpoort
The Transformative Chronotype by Julie Yonehara The Transformative Chronotype by Julie Yonehara
Random Methods by Lynsey Coke Random Methods by Lynsey Coke
Random Methods by Lynsey Coke Daily Poetry by Ingrid Hulskamp
Blooming Body by Langdi Lin Blooming Body by Langdi Lin
Material Symphony by Cindy Wang Material Symphony by Cindy Wang

The following is a combination of shots from the MA in Communication Design, the BA in Graphic Design and the MA in Industrial Design. Sorry, I don’t really have any details about these projects.

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WP_000364 WP_000365
WP_000369 WP_000370
WP_000373 WP_000374
WP_000372 WP_000376
WP_000378 WP_000379
WP_000383 WP_000384
WP_000389 WP_000390

Here’s a few other bits and bobs, including a rather prominent example of the New Aesthetic.

Tim on the peddle powered video show Bridge
"New aesthetic"? Possibly based on a crate from Doom "New aesthetic"? Possibly based on a crate from Doom

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Slow Technology Workshop | Part 1

I was in Newcastle for the Designing Interactive Systems conference from the 12th to the 15th of June. This conference takes place every couple of years, and looks at the social science of technology, with a particular emphasis on design. This year it was hosted by the University of Newcastle, and organized primarily by the Culture Lab, the university’s technology research group.

I helped co-organize a workshop on Monday with Will Odom, David Kirk, Abi Durrant and James Pierce. By co-organize I mean that I drafted on the coat-tails of the slightly over-achieving Will, who seemed to do 90% of the work. Anyway, the workshops title was Slow Technology: Critical Reflection and Future Directions. It was very well attended, with about 24 participants, which shows a general interest in the area.

‘What area?’ you might ask, which seems like a fair question. I’ve been thinking about the idea of slow technology in the context of design work I’ve done like the Backup Box in which part of the point of the work is to think about what it might be like to keep our digital things, like our tweets, for decades as a record of our past, like a diary of our life. It’s ‘slow’ because it contrasts with the quickness of our online lives in which things only matter if they happened really recently.

Part of my interest in the workshop, then, was in seeing what the phrase “Slow Technology” meant to the participants. Fortunately, our day was structured to help get a sense of that, with a morning of presentations by everyone who had submitted position papers when we originally announced the workshop. We put the emphasis on artifacts in this workshop, with each presented asked to talk about their sense of Slow Technology, ideally through some kind of object that they had designed (or not).

So here are my very rough notes of what each participant presented. They’re rather extensive, so rather than wait another week to see them all, here’s my first set. I’ll follow with a second set soon.

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Presentations

 

Rachel Jacobs, Mark Selby, Steve Benford – University of Nottingham
Paper: Engaging With Slowness: A Temporal Experience of Climate Change

Rachel and Mark had designed a beautiful system that played back year after year of climate change data, showing the increase in CO2 in the atmosphere. Each year was drawn on a large, circular piece of paper, using an automated system that created marks with a soldering iron. From a slow technology perspective, Rachel and Mark’s goal was to find some way to time-shift climate change data, from (in real-time) being extremely slow, and barely perceptible by the public, to being faster and more consumable. Their system has a performative aspect to it, and was presented in a gallery environment. It raised issues of the authenticity of scientific data versus designed experiences and of what it means to make slow-time tangible.

As each year of marks came off the machine it was hung in a row with others, creating a physical visualization over the years, not just within a year. Visitors to the exhibition inevitably found themselves seeking their own birthdays in the data, making human lifespans a part of the experience.

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A Conversation Between Trees from Rachel Jacobs on Vimeo.

 

Tim Regan – Microsoft Research, Cambridge
Engineering Slow Technologies

Tim’s artefact was a piece of code. Tim’s been working on the deployment of a device called Photo Box. This was originally created by Mark Selby, and is being deployed by Will Odom in the US. It’s a box that lives in the corner of a house, randomly and very rarely printing out photos from its owners Flickr stream. It might only print a couple out a month, and is intended to explore not just slow technology, but also the nature of physical vs. digital things. Will will have it in the field with his subjects for at least a year (he published a separate paper on this work at DIS this year).

Tim made some interesting points about the technical aspects of deploying technology for research over a long period of time, including questions of robustness and resilience of code, how to deal with crashing, as well as changes in APIs and other issues with drawing from online services over time.

 

John Fass – Various
Designing for Slow Technology: Intent and Interaction

John outlined a number of attributes for slow technology, that are useful for thinking about the space going forward. Slow technologies…

  • …reveal their function over time.
  • … are resilient to degradation.
  • … are adaptable.
  • …are modular.
  • … have redundancy built in.

His artefact was a beautiful, hand drawn data visualization of the genealogy of an Inuit tribe, created over many years by (I think) the explorer and anthropologist Knud Rasmussen. It shows the complex relationships built up over time, and the overlap between members of the tribe, sometimes just connected by name, or with ancestors in common.

 

Jo Briggs, Jon Hook, Mark Blythe – Newcastle/Northumbria Universities
No Oil Painting: Digital Originals and Slow Prints

Jo is playing with notions of time in artistic creation, as well as what it means to create “authentic” artwork. She is working with an artist who painstakingly takes four months to create a single painting in a hyper-realistic style. Once he has finished a piece, many people think it has been digitally, rather than manually, generated.

She is installing a camera system into the artists studio to record and reveal the process of painting over time. The assembled time-lapse film will be displayed, itself, in the context of an art venue. If the video itself is available for purchase, it raises questions about authenticity, and what it means for a digital create to have provenance.

 

Veronica Ranner – Royal College of Art, Design Interactions
From Hardware to Wetware: How Sericulture Could Shift our Manufacturing Attitude in an Age of Biotechnology

Veronica is a graduate of the Royal College of Art’s Design Interactions course in London, which uses designed objects as a way of telling stories and raising questions about possible futures. Biophilia was her graduation project, and it explores the centuries old tradition of raising silkworms for cloth, and its potential for the very modern application of organ creation, using the worms to build ‘scaffolds’ onto which synthetic organs could be grown.

Although a very conceptual project, it raises questions for slow technology in contrasting the 5,000 year old tradition of Japanese silkworm farming, which is quite primitive, slow and simply executed, with the fast, mysterious and unknown world of synthetic biology. The irony in synthesis is that there still isn’t a man made substitute for silk that is as soft and durable. In her work, Veronica therefore draws a contrast between the speed of biology and biological processes and contemporary pace.

Silkworm are part of the scientific process now. Their DNA was basically sequenced in 2008, and since then genetic work has been done to increase silk output, and even make luminous silk. Some questions that Veronica raises include:

  • What would a silkworm organ factory look like?
  • Do bio-materials require a ‘humane’ process. even crafted.
  • If so, what might the designed experience of visiting a craftsman to pick up your organ look like?

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Costas Bissas and  Stefan Agamanolis – Distance Lab, Scotland
Cow-Cam.tv: An experiment on Slow Technology

Cow-cam tv was part of a project called ‘Neuromatic’ looking at “encouraging rural modern life through the use of ‘slow’ technologies”. As its name implies, Costas and Stefan literally strapped a webcam onto a large cow, and started transmitting images from the cow’s perspective onto the internet.

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So in some ways the project is about the frenetic pace of urban life and our perceptions of rural life as slow and steady. Interestingly, though, Costas and Stefan did an analysis of Twitter looking for the words ‘slow’ and ‘technology’ and found that most people weren’t complaining about the pace of technological change, but instead were complaining when their devices weren’t fast enough, or new technology wasn’t being released quickly.

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Part 2 of my notes coming soon.

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The personal blog of Richard Banks. Combines both home and work life.