Archive for November, 2007

Evel Knievel… “No King Or Prince Has Lived A Better Life”

Friday, November 30th, 2007

Evel kicks some serious ass

That’s a quote from Evel Knievel last year. He died today at the age of 69. Definitely the end of an era, and the loss of a personal childhood icon (a pre-Hunter S. Thompson childhood icon… and just as weird and cool). The man jumped his motorcycle over big and scary things. Buses, sharks, and canyons… all were but opportunities for Evel Knievel. And he fractured over 40 bones in the process. Crazy? Yes. Cool? Yes. An American hero? Most definitely, in the most American way, which is to say honest and imperfect. A memorable quote from the man:

“You come to a point in your life when you really don’t care what people think about you, you just care what you think about yourself.

Evel Knievel (1938-2007)

Update: And not moments after posting I find this kick ass tribute via Coop at :

“He was the last relic of the way America used to be, before the lawyers and pussies took over. A holy fool, watched over by angels who drank Old Style and smoked Lucky Strikes. A crazy, fearless, larger-than-life crackpot, last in a long line of same, heir to Davy Crockett, Wild Bill Hickok, P.T. Barnum, Horatio Nelson Jackson, “Cannonball” Baker, and every other kook who refused to listen to reason. The world is a smaller place without him.”

Do You Have A Mobile Strategy Now? How About Now?

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

Big mess-o-people

I just read that a new study from has revealed there are now 3.3 billion mobile phone subscriptions world-wide. Yes, this number is misleading as more than a couple countries showed subscription rates in excess of 100%. But still, just last month it was reported that mobile phone subscriptions had reached nearly the level world-wide. Either way, we are talking about roughly half the world population having mobile phones. That should give all of us pause, at least for a moment. If you have avoided thinking about a mobile marketing strategy, and you know who you are (!), maybe now is a time to broach the topic. Nothing says I love you like half the world’s population.

via

This Is A Terrible Idea: In-Car Robots

Saturday, November 24th, 2007

pivo in-car robot

Nissan is determined to stake a claim on technological advancement and the future of the automobile. To this end, Nissan CEO recently set the R+D goal of launching . This effort will go a great distance to instill in Nissan a focus on innovation and the opportunity to very strategically explore and re-investigate how our cars interact with us, and how we interact with our cars.

One technology that Ghosn highlighted, and believes holds significant promise, is that of the in-car robotic assistant/companion, called the Ghosn feels that there are major opportunities for Nissan with the advancement of robotic technology, and has previewed concept cars, check out the , that hint at how this may manifest itself. Despite the potentially enormous distraction to already enormously distracted drivers that this may present, Ghosn believes that a personal robot, able to chat with drivers while highlighting driving conditions, or offer advice based on traffic reports, will eventually make it to a production vehicle.

I know I ask the obvious, but what happened to driving being about simply focusing on the road? As much as I adore my personal robotic assistant I have absolutely no desire to chat with him while driving. He should be balancing my bank account and picking up my dry cleaning during that time.

via

Happy Modernists: The Usual Suspects

Saturday, November 17th, 2007

The Usual Suspects

In 1961 Playboy magazine brought these gentlemen together for a photo. From left are , , , , and . I found this photo to be incredibly cool as sitting together here are, really, six pivotal individuals in the development and perpetuation of modernist design. Men who both individually and collectively left a lasting design legacy. Heavyweights, if you will. These six also had significant influence on the concept and execution of the open plan office environment, and its relationship to modernism, working with companies like , and . How little we have progressed in the intervening time and how much potential still remains.

the image and commentary from Jens Risom about the photo shoot and the accompanying article in Playboy.

We’ve Been Quietly Infiltrated

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

Smallish robot army

Don’t for one second think that I feel anything but optimism with regards to the increasing prominence of robots in our lives. Yeah, they’re seemingly everywhere… but they can be so damn cute. And helpful. This post is a semi-comprehensive robot survey, a high level review of just how thoroughly robotics has become relied upon to provide a diversity of services. Services either undesirable or considered potentially harmful to humans. Services that, in some cases, are just impossible for humans to perform. How have robots had their presence expanded? By us. Voluntarily. The following list is of many of the places you can find robots in our world today working very effectively, and without emotion:

  • - exploring the surface of
  • - in orbit surveying and investigating
  • - IED’s in Iraq
  • - on the high seas
  • -
  • - and our floors
  • -
  • -
  • - admitting patients and showing them to their room in
  • - in combat situations
  • - competing in complex autonomy for
  • -
  • -
  • - filling orders and managing
  • - replacing our physical presence in the
  • -
  • - for leaks and failures
  • - starring in music videos
  • -
  • -
  • - performing
  • -
  • - preparing to
  • - underwater oil spills
  • - , our future robotics specialists and innovators, about robotics
  • -
  • -

From the unbelievably mundane to the incredibly dangerous, robots are there and in many cases have been for years. Applications of robotics technology is diverse, and this diversity is creating momentum for the investigation into increasingly complicated applications to complete increasingly complicated tasks… on our behalf.

If you think that I have left out any important robots, please let me know and I will update the survey.

The Collision Course In Workplace Design

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

Bad Office Design

That headline is a riff on a sentence in a written by and cognitive psychologist for the (ASID). The report, titled “Better Sound Solutions” is a comprehensive analysis of the state of open plan office design, especially as it relates to the human factors around acoustics and sound attenuation. The line from the report is:

“We have long been facing a collision course between privacy and space utilization and the economics of space have won the battle so far.”

I don’t think that this statement should surprise anybody. Those of us who have any exposure to the realities of workplace design and the economics of space leasing and acquisition understand that companies are constantly trying to do more with less. The result is an open plan office that is at best dysfunctional and awkward, and at worst so disruptive as to damage overall workplace productivity and very negatively impact employee health and well-being. Much of this revolves around the concept of privacy within the workplace and as it is yet very difficult to present the economic argument for privacy, the situation continues to deteriorate. It is simply much too compelling and easy to make an economic argument based on space/lease costs, one that can be glaring on a cost analysis of a move/remodel.

The report goes on to describe a series of strategies for approaching this problem, and perhaps constructing an effective argument for the economics of designing effective environments, and those that support employee productivity, health and well-being. If you work in this space I suggest you download a PDF of the report and give it a review. I will be posting some of the key points from it over the next few days/weeks. You can download a PDF of the report from Haworth’s website.

Atmoshpheric Effects of Nuclear Explosions

Monday, November 12th, 2007

Nuclear explosion

With the post on The Energy of Nuclear Weapons Ed Wilms commented and posed a question regarding any known effects of the dozens and dozens of test detonations of nuclear weapons on the atmosphere. I knew that there were detrimental effects, and responded, but wanted to take that question and put some real meat behind the answer.

I found a quite comprehensive report from 1997 titled from the written and compiled by Carey Sublette (no biography yet found). The report details the harmful environmental effects of nuclear detonations as they relate to impact on the atmosphere. Basically, the intense heat created by an explosion causes large quantities of nitrogen oxides to form from the nitrogen and oxygen already present. This is very similar to what happens on a much smaller scale inside of an internal combustion engine. On average, each megaton of a weapon yield will produce ~5000 tons of nitrogen oxides which are carried into the upper atmosphere as the post explosion mushroom cloud gains altitude. In the larger weapons these oxides will reach the ozone layer, significantly depleting it. We know that there were multiple +megaton test detonations by the United States and the Soviet Union during the 1950’s and 1960’s, which caused significant damage to the atmosphere by depleting the ozone layer on a mass scale. Unfortunately, ozone measurements from that time were not significant nor specific enough to provide substantive data to detail this data, though at the time scientists were concerned that the test detonations were causing irreversible damage.

Incidentally, the image above is the resulting mushroom cloud from the image shown in my previous post. I have yet to identify when and where this test detonation happened, but the research team at schneiderism is hard at work.

UPDATE: This image, as well as that from the previous post, are of a French nuclear test codenamed , which was fired on August 24, 1970.

Cassini Takes Us To Saturn In A Big Way

Sunday, November 11th, 2007

Saturn with rings

This story started back in 1979 when the robotic space explorer did a fly-by of Saturn. This was followed a year later by . These craft sent back primitive but compelling , obviously far beyond anything we had yet seen from Earth, that created more questions than answers and compelled a generation to learn more. Now, Pioneer and the Voyager twins only captured images as they slingshot through the solar system on their way out as emissaries of humanity, so to speak. It would not be until 2004 that we would again visit Saturn, and this was when the robotic probe Cassini settled into Saturn’s orbit, the first craft to do so. Officially named the , it is an international collaboration between three space agencies (NASA, ESA, and the Italian Space Agency) with 17 nations contributing to the building of the craft. There is an army of 250 scientists throughout the world studying the telemetry being beamed back to Earth. One of them is , a planetary scientist and leader of the Cassini mission who gave an excited, emotional, and amazing presentation at TED earlier this year. Definitely . She showed some amazing images of Saturn, like the one here:

Saturn

This Image was taken by Cassini as Saturn eclipses and is backlit by the sun. Stunning. Her focus, though, quickly moved to the moons surrounding Saturn and what Cassini-Huygens had discovered. The moon stole the show, as Cassini dropped the Huygens probe to the surface to end decades of speculation of what that surface might be like. It has been a successful mission, and Huygens has sent back incredible imagery of an environment not that much unlike Mars, but with characteristics also quite Earth-like. Carolyn’s excitement by the implications of the imagery was readily apparent. The image below is one of my favorites taken by Cassini and is Saturn’s moon . That large crater that dominates the image is called and it is about 400km across, roughly 1/25th of Tethys’ surface. On exactly the other side of Tethys is a series of large trenches cut into the moon’s surface and these were most likely the result of the impact that created the Odysseus crater. That’s cosmological drama.

Saturn’s moon Tethys

Some intersting facts about Cassini-Huygens and Saturn to drop into conversation this week:

  • - The total cost of the Cassini mission will be about $3.27 billion ($2.6 billion from the U.S.)
  • - More than 5000 people worldwide have worked on or contributed to the Cassini mission
  • - Saturn averages about 890 million miles distance from Earth
  • - Cassini traveled nearly 2.2 billion miles to get to Saturn slingshotting off other planets
  • - Traveling at the speed of light you could make it to Saturn in 84 minutes
  • - Cassini took six years and eight months to reach Saturn
  • - On the way it flew by and took images of Earth, Venus, and Jupiter
  • - The atmosphere of Saturn is primarily hydrogen and helium
  • - Saturn is a gas giant (made up mostly of gas) and is less dense than water
  • - That means that in a large enough swimming pool, Saturn would float
  • - Saturn has a core made up mostly of rock and ice with a radius of about 3700 miles
  • - At its poles Saturn exhibits auroras similar to those on Earth

More about Cassini-Huygens and Saturn:

A Life Lived Hard, Not Hardly Lived

Saturday, November 10th, 2007

Norman Mailer 1987

Norman Mailer has left us. His work influenced a generation of writers and readers, and his legacy will last a long, long time. He was nothing if not controversial, and also immensely memorable. A literary man with the numbers to back it up… 40+ novels, 6 wives, 9 children, 2 attempts at becoming mayor of New York… his life seemingly a quest for better subject matter.

One of my favorite Mailer quotes:

“Revolutions are the periods of history when individuals count most.”

Norman Mailer 1923-2007

Hyperwords. You Need To Check This Out.

Thursday, November 8th, 2007

hyperwords logo

This is an unbelievably useful tool. Everyone is well familiar with hyperlinks. But what about all of the other words on a page? What if you want to investigate them? Now, you can… and very, very easily. They’re called , and I strongly suggest you check out the demonstration as I feel this will be one of the most useful web tools you’ve come across. Ever. I’m not kidding.

Basically, hyperwords allow you to click or hover on any word on a web page and surface a menu that provides you with a whole range of search, capture, translate and organize options. Very, very cool. I just activated the program for Firefox and experimented with it for about five minutes and literally had my jaw dropped. It took me about two seconds to decide to share with you here.

The Energy of Nuclear Weapons

Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

Nuclear explosion

In the previous post we learned that the average thunderstorm releases power that roughly amounts to a 20 kiloton nuclear explosion. Well, that got me thinking…

A 1 nuclear explosion is equivalent to an explosion of 1000 tons of TNT. Therefore a 20 kiloton nuclear weapon will yield an explosion that is equivalent to 20,000 tons of TNT. The United States dropped a on the Japanese industrial city of during the closing days of WWII on August 9, 1945. In terms of the nuclear arms race that followed WWII and dominated the Cold War, 20 kilotons was incredibly small. That incredibly small nuclear explosion still vaporized most of a city and killed over 80,000 people. Let’s review more for the sake of perspective:

During the Cold War nuclear weapons proliferated, and so did their size… disproportionately so with regards to destructive potential. The largest weapon test detonated by the United States was in 1954 and it measured 15 megatons. A is equivalent to 1,000,000 tons of TNT. A 15 megaton nuclear weapon releases energy equivalent to 15 million tons of TNT. The Soviet Union exploded a device with a yield of 50 megatons and a theoretic potential yield of 100 megatons. That is a bomb with the power of 100,000,000 million tons of TNT, or 5000 times the size of the weapon exploded at Nagasaki. That is equal to roughly 50 billion kilowatt-hours of energy.

The average hurricane releases about 12,000 times the energy of the largest nuclear weapon developed during the Cold War. Per day. It simply amazes me that our planet can absorb that level of energy release multiple times each year.

Heavy Weather, Too…

Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

Thunderstorm forming

In comparison to hurricanes, the energy the average thunderstorm releases equals about 10,000,000 kilowatt-hours. That is roughly the energy equivalent of a 20-kiloton nuclear warhead. A large, severe thunderstorm might be 10 to 100 times more energetic. All of this is only a fraction of the energy generated and released by a hurricane. The kilowatt-hours equivalent from a hurricane is on the magnitude of 600 trillion. Per day.

Heavy Weather

Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

Hurricane seen from orbit

That title is a riff on the of the same name, which is what I thought of when I came across the website for the , a division of the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research(OOAR), a division of the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML), which is a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which is a division of the United States Department of Commerce. Yikes. Government.

Anyway, at the HRD site I found a very cool report about the energy created by the average hurricane. The total energy released through the formation of clouds and rain per day is equal to 200 times the world-wide electrical generating capacity. Per day. The total energy generated through the wind of a hurricane per day is equivalent to roughly half the world-wide electrical generating capacity. Again, per day. That means that a hurricane the lasts five days will generate roughly the equivalent of 1000 times the total electrical power generating capacity of the world over the same period of time. That makes me feel small, in a good way.

Toyota: Culture of Curiousity, Curious Culture…

Sunday, November 4th, 2007

It’s a box!

There is a lot of talk around the successes that Toyota has enjoyed as of late, especially when contrasted against the slow demise of the traditional automotive industry leaders G.M. and Ford. Toyota’s success has been remarkable, and here is a quick recap from a recent article in :

  • - Toyota has not lost money in a quarter for over 55 years… since 1951
  • - In 2006 Toyota posted net profit of $17 billion (while Ford and G.M. circled insolvency)
  • - Over a 25 year span Toyota went from veritable industrial startup to diversified global empire
  • - Toyota is now the largest automotive manufacturer in the world

There are a number of reasons why Toyota sustains success in a fiercely competitive industry recognized for unrealistically low margins. The most obvious of these is that Toyota continues to defy convention and determine its own course. In that Business Week article author reviews by and digs deep into what has contributed to the success that Toyota enjoys and comes up with some pretty powerful themes. Magee’s book looks at:

  • - Focusing on the long term
  • - Jumping beyond the current trend
  • - Making quality everyone’s responsibility
  • - Managing individual strengths

These themes essentially define Toyota’s corporate culture and you see them at work every day. They are operational practices for the entire company, but modeled and executed with prejudice by the executive management. This is consistent with the reality that effective and innovative cultures begin at the top. Beyond all of this, though, McFarland identifies another quality of Toyota’s culture that has helped drive success. Curiosity.

Toyota’s culture was conceived by curiosity. Sakichi Toyoda, the company’s founder, set out to revolutionize weaving technology and build the best looms possible. Not just in Japan. In the world. He went on a tour of looms in Europe and the United States and brought the best ideas and practices back to Japan where he improved on them and secured over 100 patents in the process. His son and successor, Kiichiro, went on his own tour of Detroit automakers in the 1920’s and upon his return moved Toyota into the automobile manufacturing business. 70 years of this approach has empowered Toyota and allowed it to always bring the best back to the company, to continuously improve, and to reward creative thinking. Toyota is not necessarily propelled by the unending belief that things can be done better as much as it is compelled by the constant search to find better ways to do things. This is institutionalized continuous improvement, it is institutionalized curiosity.

Toward Intelligent Workplace Design

Saturday, November 3rd, 2007

windowless

I was interviewed last week by a reporter investigating the limitations in open plan workplace design. It was a good discussion, and he was pursuing what I felt to be a very appropriate theme… that most open plan offices are a result of economic decisions and fail to provide workers with a supportive workplace. Despite the fact that we all experience and acknowledge the challenges of being productive in most open plan environments, they persist. There is an abundance of research to challenge the open plan, but the reality is that workplace environments are first a product of the economics of the space lease or purchase, and second the result of the powerful drive to keep the investment in that space as low as possible and to expedite the process. The result is that decision makers continue to miss an enormously valuable opportunity.

People. The people that make up their organization. The people that do the work.

What company today wouldn’t rush to tell you that the people who work there are their most valuable asset? Nearly everyone says this, and it is reflective of the way the economy in the United States has dramatically changed over the last fifty years. And yet, these same people will also make workplace design decisions that have absolutely nothing to do with their acknowledged most valuable asset. But what if they did?

If they did they would find they have created environments for their people that are infinitely more supportive of activity and tasks, reflective of their culture, and supportive of employee health and welfare. They would have done this with minimal additional cost to the project and would yield tremendous gain with a work environment that supports their people. We would be remiss to not think that all of this together might have a positive impact on worker and workplace productivity.

I am incredibly optimistic. There is tremendous opportunity to think differently about the workplace, and bring research supported assertions to the decision making process that are supportive of human factors and the user experience. Through the effective use of we have the opportunity to effectively challenge assumptions, to challenge the status quo, and create environments that inspire and stimulate people, environments that are more enjoyable and healthful. This is really very practical stuff and at its simplest is being smart about how we think about sound attenuation, lighting and daylighting, thermal comfort, and empowering the individual to self-create micro-environments that are ideal to their happiness, efficiency, and productivity.

It should be noted that much of this is not new. We have understood that open plan environments are problematic for some time, and research has existed to support dating back to the 1970’s. We have entered a time, though, where companies depend on every advantage possible to be successful in the marketplace and as a result are increasingly accepting and demanding that there is a better way to do things, and that doing it better is in fact supportive of their business strategy and a competitive advantage. Now, the challenge is in convincing the design firms to change their approach, to invest in the research and understanding to redirect design efforts in support of the individual and to provide organizations with environments that are a positive influence and that enhance the success of the companies for whom they are designed. This is thinking beyond the aesthetic of environments, beyond the beauty of edifice, and understanding that the design is on behalf of interaction and in support of the people who will ultimately inhabit the space.

Carl Sagan Was Cool

Thursday, November 1st, 2007

Carl Edward Sagan

It was 1980. I was 11. PBS aired the documentary which would go on to be viewed by over 600 million people worldwide, becoming the most viewed PBS documentary of all time. For many of us, this was our introduction to the history of the universe, to astrophysics, and to planetary science. I remember being totally riveted. I remember thinking that Carl Sagan was cool.

I still think he is cool, but I had not thought much about him over the years. I was sad when I learned that he had died in 1996 at the age of 62, but beyond that had not really thought much more about how important an influence he was on me when I was younger. I believe that my love of the planets and my passion for learning about the universe started with watching Carl Sagan on television while laying on the family room floor when I was 11.

In a strange but happy coincidence, a friend loaned me a copy of Sagan’s first book which I had not yet read, and somebody sent my wife a Carl Sagan clip from Youtube. This was within a 24 hour period. For me, it signaled the beginning of a Carl Sagan rediscovery, which I have been happily conducting for the last couple of days. Here is a choice Sagan quote that I came across:

“If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.”

Carl Sagan (1934-1996)

has several segments of both “Cosmos” and another popular Sagan documentary, “Origins.”

Thanks Nick!