Archive for April, 2008

Space Travel and Human Survival

Sunday, April 27th, 2008

The Lego Stephen Hawking

Last Monday Stephen Hawking at an event commemorating the 50th anniversary of NASA. Hawking has long been a proponent of the value of humans exploring space, and again called for a determined effort by humans to colonize the moon and Mars. He put special emphasis on putting humans into space, and not relying solely on robotic explorers, which is largely driven by the survival of humans, longer term, and is an insurance policy against war, catastrophe, and disaster here on Earth. A great quote from the speech:

“Robotic missions are much cheaper and may provide more scientific information, but they don’t catch the public imagination in the same way, and they don’t spread the human race into space, which I’m arguing should be our long-term strategy. If the human race is to continue for another million years, we will have to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

With regards to life on other planets, Hawking offered three possibilities: that life in the universe, of any type, is rare; that simple forms of life may be common, but intelligent forms of life rare; or that intelligent life typically destroys itself. He went on to say:

“Personally, I favor the second possibility – that primitive life is relatively common, but that intelligent life is very rare. Some would say it has yet to occur on Earth.”

Stephen Hawking

The Water Cube

Saturday, April 26th, 2008

The Beijing Aquatics Center (The Water Cube)

Having recently discussed the Beijing National Stadium it seems only fitting to also take a look at its immediate neighbor, the Beijing National Aquatics Center. This building is the manifestation of the winning designs presented by the team of Australian architecture firm PTW, Arup, and the China State Construction and Engineering Corporation (CSCEC). It is made up of a steel space frame fitted with polymer pillows allowing more light penetration than traditional glass while providing a potential 30% reduction in energy costs.

The rendering below shows the Water Cube next to the also very recognizable Beijing National Stadium, or “Bird’s Nest”.

The Water Cube and The Bird’s Nest

It is a gorgeous building, and for the Olympics will hold 17,000 people for the swimming, diving and synchronized swimming events. After the Olympics it will be converted into a community recreational center. The facade can be lit and animated, adding another level of dynamism to an already dynamic design.

The Water Cube lighting show

I found the following video via , a favorite blog of mine by an expat living in Beijing:

MX Conference: Graphic Recording

Saturday, April 26th, 2008

MX Graphic Recording: Opening Presentation

Many of us have used some variation of capturing meeting/brainstorming content with a large pad or whiteboard. At the this week a team from Adaptive Path worked diligently behind the scenes capturing the content from the various presentations through and reflected it back to us via boards like above (thank you for doing that!). You can see all of them . I am pleased to say that these boards map mostly well to my notes, but I prefer the boards created by the Adaptive Path team. They seem more complete and my notes are sometimes too linear. The above board is essentially an overview of all the main points discussed in an effort to address four key challenges facing us as we embrace the emerging discipline of managing experience through creative leadership:

  1. How do we lead in a changing environment?
  2. How do we sell experience design to our organizations?
  3. How do we balance our new jobs with our old responsibilities?
  4. How do we keep what doing what we have to and still do what we must do?

Over the course of the conference there were some excellent and successful attempts to provide answers and directions to these challenges. I still think that the best line came from Cordell Ratzlaff of Oracle when he said “Sometimes you have to kick some ass.” There was the well known story of Steve Jobs making an example of an executive at Apple who clearly leaked sensitive product information, and whose ass Steve figuratively kicked.

Conference content aside, the results of the graphic recording really have me thinking, and also rethinking how I capture information during meetings and work sessions. There is a visual mapping of information here that is incredibly efficient and useful, and ultimately creates a more complete picture than the note taking technique I have employed essentially since school. This begs the question… really, how often do we investigate our practices in business? How often do we really look for better ways to do things? Ideally, this is all of the time but I suspect we are all guilty at some level of getting stuck in the protocol of habit. I think sometimes you have to smash the system, sometimes you need to throw some stuff out. Sometimes you need to kick some ass.

I encourage you to check out the graphic recordings for each of the presenters. There are valuable ideas and practices there.

44,000 Tons of Steel

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

The Bird’s Nest via toomanytribbles

That would be 44,000 tons of steel and the equivalent of $423 million in construction cost. The Beijing National Stadium (pictured above in a gorgeous photo by ), often referred to as Herzog & de Meuron’s “Bird’s Nest”, is essentially completed after four years of very high profile construction. Though Herzog & de Meuron are usually given credit for the design, credit in fact goes to the incredibly effective team made up of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, ArupSport, and the Chinese Architecture Design and Research Group in collaboration with the team from Herzog & de Meuron. Regardless, this is an incredible project to have pulled off.

It’s a stunning structure. The massive yet delicate quality of the steel skeleton seems to defy the enormous scale of the building. The image below is a detail of the steel super structure while under construction:

Herzog & de Meuron’s Bird Nest detail

I love this image below with the light glinting off of the steel at night:

The Bird’s Nest at night

Reflecting on What I’ve Heard

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008

San Francisco skyline

That is essentially the view that I’m looking at right now. The MX Conference that I am attending here in San Francisco just wrapped and I am now sitting at the top of the Mark Hopkins Hotel Intercontinental enjoying an incredible glass of wine and an incredibly full brain. Truly amazing conference, and my compliments to Adaptive Path for putting it all together. This is my second year attending MX. I’m back again for a reason. I really enjoyed the conference last year, which was the first MX put on by Adaptive Path, and found the spectrum of speakers and the topics discussed immensely compelling. I met a lot of great people that I still maintain contact with, several of whom have become valuable resources for me, and a few of whom even read schneiderism. This year’s MX pretty much kicked serious ass, and was a dramatic add to last year’s event. The speakers were all excellent and the subject matter presented was of a nature to keep me actively engaging it for a very, very long time. That’s value.

MX 2008 – Idea Sticking and Ass Kicking

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008

MX Conference Header

The first day of the MX Conference was spot on and full of great presentations by smart, dedicated people. I ended the day tired, inspired, and full of ideas. I was also excited by how well much of what was presented mapped to ideas presented here on schneiderism. There is synergy, and most probably because these ideas and issues are real, face us every day, and have significant impact on our organizations, our clients, and our industries. There is synergy around supporting innovation, creating the cultures of innovation, and of the obstacles we face in our work presented by legacy notions of practice and by a reliance on outmoded tools of measurement. There is synergy around the foundations of strategic thinking, and the importance of execution to the success of strategy. It was invaluable to me to hear the experiences of those who presented, of what is working and not working.

Additionally, it was interesting to see themes develop over the course of the day from the various speakers, despite their diversely different ideas and presentations. An overarching theme was the importance of simplicity in everything we do, that complexity is an obstacle to success. I think that every speaker had a perspective on simplicity and its value to their work. The first speaker was Chip Heath, and he focused us on what it takes for ideas to be successful.

Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die – Chip Heath

Chip started with the point that in order for ideas to be successful they must persist and cross boundaries, they must navigate complications. He introduced SUCCESS – Simple/Unexpected/Concrete/Credible/Emotional/Stories as a way of testing ideas for success and set us on the path of ruthlessly prioritizing our message. He had a great quote, that “if you say ten things you say nothing.” Highlights on SUCCESS:

SIMPLE – Focus on the high concept pitch for your idea and the one or two most important things to convey. Hold the rest.

UNEXPECTED – To get attention find a pattern and then break it.

CONCRETE - Avoid abstractions, say what you mean and eliminate jargon.

CREDIBLE – You have to believe in ideas for them to be successful.

EMOTIONAL – Feature sets is not the answer. You need to connect with people, you need to focus on what you can do for people and not on what you can sell them. Find the WIIFY (What’s in it for me), convey the WIFFY, and you will connect with people’s emotion.

STORIES – Make your idea portable. The best ideas are stories, and as such can be carried everywhere. Stories are flight simulators for the brain, and can be effectively used to overcome setbacks and challenges.

Chip also talked about the curse of knowledge, something discussed here as the handicap of expertise, and he used this to contrast the differences between innovators and experts. Innovators focus on simplicity, experts on complexity and nuance. Innovators focus on concrete realities, experts on abstraction. Innovators tell stories, experts make flow charts.

The second speaker of the day was Rachel Hinman of Adaptive Path. She has been focused on the mobile platform and how the emergence of this platform has dramatically changed the ways in which we interact with information.

The Emerging Mobile Mindset – Rachel Hinman

First, Rachel is a fellow Iowan and it always pleases me to encounter Iowans in cool places doing cool things. Instant credibility for Rachel in my book having grown up in Iowa myself. With her presentation Rachel sought to impart to us what we need to understand about mobile, and that mobile is an indicator of future expectations around computing and information access. She talked about the PC legacy in technology, and how the metaphors of how we work with information in a PC context are broken by a mobile context. 2007 was a watershed year for the mobile platform with the introduction of Apple’s iPhone and the mobile platform Android from Google. This watershed forces a rethinking of how we engage information via the mobile platform, and that it is not really about being “mobile,” but more about mobility, about transferability of information in a way that is effective. She had three killer points when considering mobile and to eliminate the friction between the current mobile experience and the promise of mobile technology:

1. Design for partial attention and interruption

2. Don’t give people URL’s, give them information and make it easy

3. In most cases mobile platforms are cobbled together, so improve the cobble

As in anything, identify the real needs and provide people with a tool that helps them better manage their identity. Make it simple, take the large page structures we are familiar with in a PC context and break them down into pebbles for mobile technology.

Creating The next iPod – Cordell Ratzlaff

Bad title for a great presentation. Cordell is the Director of User-centered Design at Cisco but he is widely recognized for leading the team at Apple that created OS X. We’ve been hearing some version of “create the next iPod” from our clients for years now, whether they’re in financial services or waste management. This is indicative of a shift in focus for businesses to design, but they are fixated on the end product, not on the culture that forms is. This focus on the end product is what often leads to failure as design typically reflects culture. Ratzlaff put out three conditions necessary for the change to a design culture:

1. A critical business need – Design is the application of creative expertise to solve problems, most often the problems of people with money. Design needs to be connected to a business problem, otherwise it is fine art.

2. A committed leader – Change takes time, and people will resist. A leader needs to champion this change and defend it. A leader needs to be focused on overcoming corporate inertia. A leader needs to be the most committed to the vision and set the example for the culture.

3. A compelling vision – Setting a clear end goal helps in getting people to move towards it. You cannot expect different results from doing things the same way, so separate from the status quo with a compelling vision as a launch statement. Convey this vision by building a “prototype,” something that people can see, that they can touch and interact with, and that they can use to share the vision and focus people int he same direction.

There was a great quote by Satoru Iwata, the CEO of Nintendo and who championed the Wii despite a tidal wave of doubt and which has obviously brought Nintendo tremendous market success:

“If you are simply listening to the requests of your customers you can meet their needs, but you will never satisfy them.”

Satoru Iwata, CEO of Nintendo

A significant piece of Cordell Ratzlaff’s presentation was around successfully driving cultural change. The critical elements:

- Top management must show visible and consistent support for change

- Over communicate and reiterate the change, the value of this change

- Reward steps in the right direction and stand firm. Make an example of somebody. My favorite quote from the conference so far:

“Sometimes you need to kick a little ass.”

Cordell Ratzlaff

- Be a rebel, it’s hard to change in the face of conformity so follow the pirate’s code:

“Those that fall behind get left behind.”

Pirate’s Code

- Set and enforce high standards

- Show, don’t tell and use the power of prototyping.

Essentially, if you want to create a great product or a great experience, create a great culture. Focus on fewer things and on doing them really, really well. Focus means getting good at saying NO.

The Ascendancy of Customer Experience – Secil Watson

Secil leads the 100+ strong Internet Strategy group at Wells Fargo Bank. Her group is responsible for the customer experiences of 11 million Wells Fargo customers and is resolutely focused on creating positive customer experiences for these people. Her presentation, and what she has accomplished at Wells Fargo, was simply amazing. And inspiring. When she started at Wells Fargo her first challenge was figuring out how to manage sideways and up to ensure that the customer experience (CX) was appropriately influencing strategy. She created a guide to CX management, and presented a four step process:

1. Establish credibility – CX needs to be an equal partner at the table, but that place must be earned through success.

2. Establish CX as a competancy – Everyone must know the CX mission/methodology/language.

3. Prove the value of CX – All CX initiatives must be linked to business partner value, to business value.

4. Champion CX – Good CX is everyone’s goal, it influences strategy.

She summarized by highlighting the importance of creating simple and engaging customer experiences at every touchpoint, that this will drive usage but only by “doing it right by the customer.”

The Manager as Tailor – Margaret Gould Stewart

Margaret leads the Consumer UX team at Google, and is an excellent presenter. She dug deep into what makes an effective manager in creative disciplines, and used the metaphor of a custom tailor to make these points about being an effective manager:

- Custom fit to needs and to the specifications of the client

- Assume that one size does not fit all

- Provide multiple fittings to get it right

- Work tirelessly to make others look great

Self-awareness is the first step to being a great manager, and this self-awareness is born out effective needs analysis, a smart leadership plan, a shared vocabulary with your team, and open communication with a multitude of ways to do so. Building self-awareness is absolutely critical, and is essential for:

- You as a manager and a leader

- The individuals on your team

- The team as a whole

There is tremendous benefit in working through needs analysis and self-awareness together, as a team, and there are great tools (a couple provided to us at the conference) to facilitate this understanding. She presented the “Super Friends Model of Leadership,” which simply states we cannot all be good at everything, so find out what each person is great at and magnify that. Find out what each person sucks at, and make that work with the team. Don’t just tolerate difference, explicitly value it.

Design is The Future of Business – Nathan Shedroff

Nathan is the program chair in the newly created MBA program in Design Strategy at the California College of the Arts (think Dan Pink, 2004, “The MFA is the new MBA…”). Innovation is critical to organizations, but typically companies only look at legacy path’s to growth that are not sustainable like operational efficiencies, asset sell-offs, M+A, rebranding and IPO’s. These are incredibly limited int he value created. Innovation creates better solutions, creates better processes, and creates better organizations and in so doing creates better value in things that are sustainable and meaningful. Nathan gave us a hard look at why organizations cannot innovate effectively:

- They don’t have the context for innovation.

- They rely on market research instead of market insight.

- Marketing is not PR & advertising, marketing is the inhale and PR/advertising is the exhale.

- They don’t have the culture.

- They don’t have the creativity

- They don’t have the courage.

- They don’t understand sustainability (IP/Finance/Environmental/HR).

- They don’t understand meaning.

Design is the process of meaningful innovation, and design-led strategy is probably the best approach.

Interactions & Relationships – Richard Anderson

Richard presented an incredibly sharp spectrum of approaches and ideas as they relate to how successful managers and executives have addressed critical interactions and relationships. Below are quotes from executives who were part of a course taught by Richard. He moved quickly and I was not able to capture who said what:

- Learn how to work the system. Think like an executive.

- There is no ultimate design. There is only the best solution given the resources available.

- Don’t be treated like a service.

- Be opportunistic. Take every opportunity you can.

- Be the glue that binds. Work collaboratively. Bring people together.

- Get others to originate ideas themselves, and ideally your ideas.

MX Conference Update

Monday, April 21st, 2008

MX Conference Header

I’m currently in San Francisco for the that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. This week will be exciting and busy with two days at the conference and then two days of meetings and site visits as part of my Innovation Tour 2008. More on that later.

Today’s lineup at the conference is incredibly interesting and diverse, and is being kicked off with a keynote by . I am planning on posting a recap of today’s speakers and the ensuing discussions this evening.

Network Science and Predictive Models

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

Nodes and networks

I cannot help but be riveted by the concept of , actually an emerging scientific discipline that combines interacting physical, informational, biological, cognitive, and social networks… and in a way that scares me a little bit. It seems that the Department of Defense shares my fascination, but not my hesitations. The Pentagon is devoting resources (now up to $7.5 million in research grants) to what it deems a priority area of investigation and research in the effort to understand complex and variable networks. This is directly related to how the Pentagon and related constituents can then work on an understanding of the structure of the diffuse networks employed by our nation’s enemies. An underlying goal of this research is the ability to anticipate who might join such a network, which takes threat assessment to an entirely different level. So, network science would seem to be a holy grail, of sorts, for the abstract goal of developing predictive modeling. Again, very interesting and very scary, and surprising that it only garners $7.5 million currently. I suspect that will be increasing once efficacy is established. How does the military view network science:

“Initiation of a field of network science would be appropriate to provide a body of rigorous results that would improve the predictability of the engineering design of complex networks and also speed up basic research in a variety of applications areas.”

That’s from a , which I have excerpted from a post at , Wired’s national security blog that pretty much gets my attention every day, and where I first came across this story.

Solving Your Customer’s Problems

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

The Scots charge

I had an interesting conversation with a co-worker this afternoon that was essentially an analysis of what we can do to effect change for our organization in the marketplace. It was a quick strategic assessment of what was realistic, and what was not, with the focus on what we felt we could achieve if we mobilized the organization behind it. It was a great discussion, definitely focused on our client audience, and reminded of an article I had read recently at about exactly this topic.

Often, organizations undertake major strategic initiatives with goals of market penetration, diversification, growth, and perhaps all at the same time. All too often, these are challenged to move beyond an internal analysis. Also, there can develop groupthink when leadership teams begin to get down to strategic direction, and that groupthink often loses touch with the reality of what is actually strategically possible. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as initiatives are connected to operational realities, and it is typically born out of the passion and energy that thinking about possibilities, innovation, and the future can instill in people. These thinking processes can be energizing for a company, and deliver tremendous value to both directional strategy and team building.

While there is a strong element of truth to the point made in the article by the CEO of A.T. Kearney, Paul Laudicina, that strategy is more about the journey than the destination, I believe that can set a difficult and dangerous organizational precedent. If strategy is not directly linked to a strategic objective, to a destination, we run the risk of expending time, resources, and valuable thought on exercises that are not linked to value creation, that are not directly related to organizational goals. Perhaps this is an argument for incremental strategy, I’m not sure and I am not entirely convinced of that myself, but I am incredibly weary of creating strategic plans that sound good in the conference room but are unbelievably difficult to execute. This sets up failure without purpose and is not good. I am cool with failure, when there is a purpose. That’s called learning.

Where I believe that Paul Laudicina nailed it was in relation to A.T. Kearney’s customers. He put his company through a valuable strategic risk assessment exercise, something discussed here before, but not for the risks posed to his company. His team assessed the risks to their clients, and then organized their efforts around how best to position to help them. That is the sort of audience/customer focused vision that is incredibly difficult to sustain when you operate in a competitive environment, but if you can will bring great opportunity to your team. It begs the old adage that your customers problems are your problems, or you won’t have any customers.

Orbital Debris

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

Objects in LEO via ESA

This is unbelievable given the incredibly short time, only 51 years, that humans have had access to orbit around Earth. Via the (ESA) come high resolution images of all of the human-made objects that litter our previously pristine orbit. The image above only depicts those objects in low Earth orbit (LEO). Here are some staggering space garbage facts:

  • We have put upwards of 6000 satellites into orbit from 4600 orbital launches
  • 400 of these are beyond geostationary orbit or are on interplanetary trajectories
  • Only 800 satellites of the 6000 are considered operational
  • Most of the debris has come from explosion events (200) or collision events (10)

As we contemplate commercial orbital access, and look to things like space tourism to make the experience of space travel viable for many more people, this is a difficult reality to process. First, the amount of space debris is only going to increase, and most probably exponentially as the number of active space programs, both private and government, continues to rapidly increase. Second, there is real concern around protecting space vehicles, space stations, and future satellites from imminent collisions with this debris. That adds tremendous cost, complexity and weight to programs that are already stretched for budget and capacity. This is not impossible to overcome, and engineers have been thinking about this issue for awhile given some of the close calls with the Space Shuttle and the ISS. Still, another complexity added to an already very complex process.

Winning is Everything

Saturday, April 12th, 2008


I actually watched this race live last year, and was so excited I woke up our sleeping baby daughter. I tend to do that. I had forgotten about this finish until seeing it again on the new blog dedicated to all things gearhead and cool, . I love it.

This footage says a lot to me about the lengths we go to in order to win. Let me set the stage… This race at Sebring in Florida is a 12 hour endurance race. That is a lot of laps, and winning is an incredible combination of planning, strategy, durability, avoiding fatigue, and seizing opportunities. Multiples of opportunities. The track itself is brutal with pavement breaks and cracks. It is very hard on the cars, I’ve been there to see it myself. In most cases, races of this type are won by a number of laps, and tend to be anticlimactic. This was a rare and wonderful finish, with two very evenly matched and similarly performing racing cars battling it out to the very end. Both drivers were at the limit of their abilities and of the performance envelopes for their cars. Both drivers were intently focused on finding and seizing an opportunity. Both drivers knew that second place may as well be last place, that losing is not an option. Both drivers were risking everything. This is competition, this is what it takes to win. The driver of the winning Ferrari sums it up nicely at the end when he says “I never give up.”

In Marketing, Innovation is Strategic

Saturday, April 12th, 2008

Throw the brick!

There is a struggle underway inside the marketing teams of many high profile and recognizable brands. It is essentially a two-sided struggle. On the one hand are the traditionalists, usually those that cut their teeth on marketing methodologies in the 1970’s, 80’s, and in some cases the 1990’s. On the other are the change agents, those that are not married to methodology and understand the power and impermanent nature of the new channels available for interaction. In the center, between these two sides, is the idea of innovation.

I just read an excellent post by that very clearly puts all of this together, and strongly counters the assertions of the traditionalists. At the core of his post, Idris reacts to a line in a recent article in AdAge (sorry, subscriber only…) from the esteemed Al Ries who states:

“Innovation should be seen as a tactic, not a business strategy.”

Al Ries

Al makes some interesting points in his article. He points out that a strategic focus on innovation will potentially undermine the brand position of a company, and confuse customers. Al, representative of the traditionalists in this schism, argues for brand focus in place of innovation, and on the traditional efforts around brand strategy believing that success comes from a narrow focus on an attribute or market segment. The traditionalists will point to endless case studies of this being so. They want to protect what is working. They want to protect their well worn methodologies.

But it is not working. Markets are changing. Customers are changing. The way we make decisions is changing. Consumers move quickly, and the value propositions that drive this movement can change overnight. This is not because we are fickle, it is in fact because we have become smarter. We are armed with information that has raised our expectations and are increasingly dissatisfied with product or service status-quo that does not perform. We also talk to each other, and network around interests and affiliations sharing our perspectives on all manner of things. This is a really big deal. If a product or service does not speak to us, if it is not meaningful, and if it does not do what we expect it to do… we move on. And these days there are a myriad of choices in each category that are differentiated by innovation, by thinking differently about how we use a product or what we need it to do, that brand loyalty is increasingly directly linked to the effectiveness with which something meets or exceeds expectations. Increasingly, though, we also talk about the fact we are moving on, why we are moving on, and what we are moving on to. This is good, but it is putting incredible pressure on companies that have historically dominated their categories or markets. Think about the changes in the automotive business over the last twenty years. Where has the center of innovation been? Not in Detroit. Think about the cleaning products category. Companies like Method have shaken the stalwart brands to their core, and Method came out of nowhere. Think about airlines and the last flight you took. I am guessing you hated the whole experience. How long will we take that until we demand access to the airlines that get us, those that are innovating in that category? We already are.

The net result here is that we have a growing passion for innovation. We, the consumers, seek out innovative products and services that meet our needs and provide us value. This is not about attributes, it is about effectiveness and the value created by this effectiveness. This is as true for B2B companies as it is for B2C, and we should all pause a moment and think hard about the marketing stratagems that we have in place. Are they relevant? Do our customers really care?

Phobos, The Doomed Moon of Mars

Saturday, April 12th, 2008

Phobos via HiRISE

Last month the took some incredibly detailed images of the Martian moon , as pictured above. It is incredible to me to see something so far away in such crisp detail. The simple reality that there is so much to learn and see is probably the biggest reason I continue to be fascinated by our solar system and by cosmology.

Mars has two small moons, the other being . Phobos is the bigger of the two, and is about 13 miles across. HiRISE captured a lot of amazing images of this tiny moon, but perhaps the most interesting was a focused shot on the large crater feature named Stickney and shown in the image above. It is the enormous dent on the right side of the moon. If the object that had struck Phobos had been fractionally larger it would very well have blown the moon apart and we would now only know Phobos as a dispersed ring of dust and rock orbiting Mars. Here is an image of the crater in detail:

Phobos crater Stickney via HiRISE

Those lines emanating from the crater are enormous stress fractures caused by the impact and that run outward across the surface. Surviving this impact was an enormous event, but that pales when compared to the realty that the orbit of Phobos is in slow decay (at 1.8 meters per century) and will eventually bring the moon to crash into the Martian surface. Eventually being about 50 million years from now.

The Changing World Around Us

Sunday, April 6th, 2008


You might remember the original video that made the rounds just over a year ago. It put forth some pretty startling information about the modern realities we face with regards to globalism, the internet, and the exponential rate of change in technology. I was recently sent this “updated” version that builds on some of the information put forth in the original. It’s well done, very interesting, and a little bit awe inspiring. We live in interesting times. The updated version above is from around June of 2007, meaning that much of the information is already outdated.

Apollo 6, Forty Years Later

Sunday, April 6th, 2008

Apollo 6 leaving Earth

April 4th marked the 40th anniversary of the launch of , the last of the unmanned Apollo missions and the second time that a rocket was launched. This was also the day that Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee, and as such Apollo 6 was minimally covered in the news. The Saturn V would play a significant role in getting astronauts to the moon and this launch, forty years ago, was to be the final test of the Saturn V before qualifying and readying it for the planned manned missions. For the Moon program, this was an incredibly important mission and would complete an important phase of systems testing. Apollo 6 did have serious problems which prevented the mission from reaching the designated orbit. These problems were quickly identified and addressed in the next mission, Apollo 7, and in the end, it was the only Saturn V launch that experienced operational challenges. It was the Apollo 6 mission that proved the integrity of the Saturn V launch vehicle. Since Apollo 6 was a test flight, NASA positioned cameras in places that would not be possible on a Moon mission. One of these took the famous set of images of the Saturn V first stage separation and the jettisoning of the interstage ring, pictured above.

After Apollo 6, all future Apollo missions were manned. After the Apollo program was terminated for lack of funding, indicative of a tumultuous time in American history and a changing domestic agenda. At program termination there were three Saturn V rockets that had been completed in preparation of future Moon missions. Of these, one was ultimately used to , America’s first space station, into orbit on May 14, 1973. The remaining two are on display at various places around the country, including the complete Saturn V at the Johnson Space Center in Houston which is composed entirely of never used flight hardware.

As we near the end of the Space Shuttle’s operational life, and work continues on the replacement Orion/Constellation program, it is interesting that NASA has in some ways gone back to the future and put in place a program that is a direct descendant of the successes of the Apollo and Saturn programs, in some cases using identical systems technologies.

Progress Photos of OMA’s CCTV Tower

Sunday, April 6th, 2008

CCTV Tower by toomanytribbles

The author of , a blog that I follow and really enjoy, lives in Beijing and periodically posts her progress photos of the looming CCTV tower (posted about here previously) designed by Rem Koolhaas and the team at OMA. She just posted a set of beautiful photos on that I highly suggest viewing. The CCTV tower is impressive as a design, but I find myself even more intrigued by watching it be constructed.

He’s Mad. He’s An Architect.

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

Jean Nouvel. Intense, moody and in shadow.

was recently awarded one of the most prestigious prizes in architecture… the . I cannot say that I found this surprising given the sheer volume of high profile projects his firm, , have been awarded over the past decade. The work of his studio is incredibly creative, innovative, and impressive and despite the niggling issues around functionality and usability (damn those people!) I continue to marvel each time I experience this:

Guthrie Theater cantilever by Jean Nouvel

Rumor has it that after presenting the building design concept with the giant cantilever to the Guthrie Theater client team, somebody quipped about the expense of building something so novel, something so seemingly frivolous, to which Nouvel replied:

“If you remove the cantilever you might as well cut off my arm.”

rumored quote from Jean Nouvel

He then threatened to walk away from the project. I so want to believe that is true. Suffice it to say, the cantilever was built and it is impressive. Every time I see this structure in person, though, I cannot help but think of this:

Giant German mining excavator

Which, when you think about it, is actually a pretty cool thing to come to mind in relation to a high profile theatrical arts building in Minneapolis.

In honor of Jean Nouvel winning the Pritzker I offer the following Quote of The Moment, which is incredibly appropriate given the dizzying pace of materials exploration in architecture today:

“My work deals with what is happening now. I like to use the techniques and materials we are capable of today.”

Jean Nouvel

Then, Now, & Some Point Beyond Now

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008

We’re all talking all of the time.

THEN

You interact with your friends/contacts/resources/anybody in person, via written communication that exists in hard copy, or on the phone. Those are the options. You need to seek people out, you need to connect in real time to avoid a serious time delay. Information exchange happens, but in fits and starts and you cannot easily catalog or file for future review, not without a hard copy of some sort. The shared base of knowledge exists in libraries and is impossibly difficult to update, and inconvenient to access unless you live in a library. Personal knowledge grows incrementally with each contact or interaction, but this takes time. A lot of time. It is an investment in time. Networks tend to be based around a shared niche interest or experience. Things are dimensionally very simple, and incredibly slow relative to Now. Communication occurs mostly in person and technology serves as a somewhat inferior stand-in for actually being there. Information exchange platforms are incredibly limited. Personal networks are predominantly local and regional.

NOW

You interact with your friends/contacts/resources/anybody whenever you want, and increasingly wherever you want. Sometimes this is in real time. Sometimes it is spur of the moment. They don’t need to be there. You don’t need to be “there.” Information exchange platforms allow you to retroactively review the activities/postings/information of your networks. You can easily catalog and file for future review. You can access what your network contacts are reading, doing, researching, watching and listening to. The shared base of knowledge grows exponentially and is manifested in all manner of social networking sites and through social media, and begins to link us together through idea, intent, and inspiration. You have multiple and many networks based on niche interests and experiences, and some of these overlap. Things are dimensionally interconnected and massively distributed. Communication is predominantly, if not near totally, technology based and in many, many cases the preferred mode of interaction is virtual. The information exchange platforms are diverse and expansive in reach. Personal networks are national and global.

SOME POINT BEYOND NOW

Ubiquitous communication. Technology is transparent as it supports us in our interactions. Platform choice is automatic and relative to location, connection, ease and efficiency. The collective base of knowledge and experience permeates reality in its total accessibility and instantaneous upload/download. Video, audio, and the printed word merge into one big seamless information amalgam. We’re on all of the time, and we love it. When we need to know something, we know it. Interconnectedness is not an abstract concept with those who have it and those who don’t. We pretty much all have it, or can have it if we want it. Interconnectedness is reality and reality is interconnectedness. Personal networks are vast and global.

Some Point Beyond Now is very probably really close. That means that Now will have only actually occupied maybe a few years, perhaps a decade or so at the most. Then was measured in nearly an entire century, 60-80 years depending on how you see it or how you lived it. The time previous to Then… well, that would be almost the whole of human history.

The Most Complex Machine Ever Built

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

Large Hadron Collider

You’ve no doubt already heard of the (LHC) due to the recent resurgence in mainstream media. This is partly because it is a really big deal, connecting us to the earliest moments of the formation of the universe, and partly because some people are worried that when scientists, physicists, and researchers fire it up that it will end reality… and as a result these people are pretty active. That’s , the world will not be consumed by tiny black holes. Rest easy.

So, what is the LHC for? It has been constructed to recreate the conditions that occurred just after the Big Bang. In recreating these early moments of the universe we may be able to understand how the first particles were conceived, and thus help us better understand how the universe actually works. The LHC will do this in a very controlled environment, and be heavily measured, recorded and monitored. It will allow us to repeat this experiment with frequency, greatly increasing our ability to study and understand. In short, this is an enormous step towards enlightenment, understanding the nature of reality, and will fill in many of the theoretical blanks that physicists and cosmologists have struggled with for a long, long time. In the name of epistemology, this is a very, very good thing.

LHC Facts:

  • It is made up of 2000 super conducting magnets
  • It will utilize the most complex cameras ever made
  • These cameras will be able to capture impossibly small time horizons
  • The LHC is the culmination of over two decades of work
  • Construction involved 7,000 physicists from 80 nations
  • It is located 175 meters underground and is 27+ kilometers in diameter
  • Once operational, protons will be accelerated close to the speed of light
  • Every second there will be 800 million proton collisions
  • Only a fraction of these matter, and will captured by cameras mentioned above
  • Particles created will exist for a thousandth, of a thousandth, of a billionth of a second
  • These collisions will generate heat 1 million times hotter than the core of the sun

To achieve this, the LHC team has had to build an incredibly complex machine of enormous scale. Just one of the superconducting solenoids contains more iron than the Eiffel Tower. There are many of these making up the LHC particle accelerator. The receptors and detectors are housed in giant rooms that are as big as cathedrals. The cost of this project was of such a magnitude (estimates range in the $6 billion and up range) that the United States halted its own Superconducting Super Collider back in 1993.

Excellent video of the LHC and the planned experiments (part 1 of 3):