Archive for May, 2008

On Mars, Phoenix Scores Big

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

View under Phoenix on Mars shows exposed ice table

This image is the result of the Mars Phoenix mission team instructing the robotic arm camera to look under the vehicle. What you are looking at is the surface of Mars, and it shows that the Martian soil has been displaced by the landing thrusters on Phoenix to expose what is most probably ice. The simple action of Phoenix landing on Mars has potentially exposed polar ice directly under the vehicle, ice that was covered by a very loose and thin layer of soil.

There is a rumor that when the mission leaders saw this image the first words uttered were “Holy cow!”

Living in The Age of Dean Kamen

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

Pretty incredible video of work in robotic prosthetics being done by Dean Kamen and his team. Knowing that prosthetic limbs have not really progressed much, technologically, in the last fifty years it is stunning to see the leaps that Kamen’s team has made. The initial prototype of the robotic arm was completed in one year at the behest of the Department of Defense searching for a solution to soldiers who had suffered the loss of their arms.

Venus Via Express

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

Venus Explorer images of vortex in southern polar region

Posts lately have been all things solar system, and that is because there is so much going on right now with regards to robotic exploration of Jupiter, Saturn, Mars and the their various moons. It is an exciting time to be a space exploration geek. I just came across the above image taken by the explorer of a vortex occurring in the southern polar region of the planet. This image was captured by Express back in 2006. I also found an excellent of Express approaching Venus that shows some detail in the cloud covering that surrounds Venus.

Venus Express is essentially a reconfiguration of the ESA’s explorer technology and left for Venus back in 2005. The goals for Venus Express are to explore the atmospheric composition and circulation on Earth’s closest neighbor, as well as how the atmosphere interacts with the planet’s surface. Venus is definitely inhospitable, with an atmosphere mostly comprised of noxious gasses and an incredibly hot surface temperature. Surprisingly, given the close proximity of Venus, we still know very, very little about the planet. Venus Express is helping to change this.

The View From Mars

Monday, May 26th, 2008

Image of Phoenix landing pad on Mars 5/25/08

The Phoenix robotic explorer has been on Mars now for about 27 hours after an incredibly successful entry, descent and landing. It has been very busy. Incredible images are already streaming to Earth, and those of us geeked out by things of this nature are absolutely riveted. I was excited to discover how many people I know were following @MarsPhoenix on Twitter.

Many images are coming back, and most right now are of the explorer itself and the immediate vicinity as the mission managers check systems and get their bearings. The above image of one of the craft’s landing pads is one of my favorites because that image is of the pad of a man-made robotic explorer sitting on the surface of Mars millions of miles away from Earth, and it was taken in the last 24 hours. Astounding. Even more astounding is this of the Martian surface, terrain and horizon taken by Phoenix today.

Phoenix is Go

Sunday, May 25th, 2008

Martian Weather 5/25/08 via Phoenix Mission Control

We are at just under four hours before Phoenix lands on the surface of Mars. I am checking periodically at the website in anticipation of this event. Martian weather is clear and the landing later today is green for go. I suspect there are a lot of very excited and anxious people at JPL right now.

The above animation is of weather on Mars around its north pole from 5/16 through 5/22. The small cigar shaped outline in the upper left quadrant is the planned landing zone.

The Price of Oil

Sunday, May 25th, 2008

The price of oil from 1990-2008

The graph above and the recent editorial by intersect with some grim realities. The steadily rising price of oil has created petro-authoritarian states that no longer see the United States as a nexus of power in the world. In fact, they actively work to counter American interests globally, and do so fairly effectively right now. Huge amounts of money is flowing into states like Venezuela, Russia and Iran, and power and influence follow money. Energy and security expert testified to Congress last week and pointed out that as oil approaches $200 a barrel, OPEC will have amassed the wealth to:

“…potentially buy Bank of America in one month worth of production, Apple computers in a week and General Motors in just three days.”

Gal Luft

In his editorial, Thomas Friedman points out that the really startling issue here is that despite the confluence of so many negative catalysts around oil for our nation, and catalysts that will have long term socio-economic implications for us as individuals AND globally as a nation, we still do not have an effective energy policy in place that moves us past this desperate reliance on oil. What is it going to take?

12,000mph to Zero in Seven Minutes

Sunday, May 25th, 2008

It’s not just a big day for race fans, its a big day for science and space enthusiasts. In August of last year the left Earth to start its journey to Mars. Its mission is to arrive safely, land on the Martian North Pole, and dig into the soil there begin looking for the building blocks of life. It arrives today at around 4:45PM PDT. Arriving is the hardest part, as now the explorer has to successfully enter the Martian atmosphere (at 12,000mph) using parachutes to slow the rapid descent from 900mph to 250mph, and then fire landing rockets to prevent it from slamming into the Martian surface (see the video above). Its a complex landing, and the mission control team probably hasn’t been sleeping much these last few days, as the last five years of their work culminates today in about seven minutes of anxiety. That’s okay, though, as they have a number of ways they can distract themselves while keeping us updated on the the mission’s progress. For instance, you can follow the and get frequent updates and mission facts. The mission team also that is full of information and that will be used to post what the mission team is thinking and what Phoenix sees and discovers, as well as an information rich .

So, the entire Phoenix mission is going to be captured for us via an array of online tools. This is incredibly exciting, and it serves to connect us to the exploration and science that NASA leads in a way that is not only meaningful, but also basically real time.

“Racing Is Life. Anything That Happens Before or After is Just Waiting.”

Saturday, May 24th, 2008

The headline quote is a favorite line from Steve McQueen’s character in the movie Le Mans. It sums up well my current state of mind.

The events of this weekend are such as to make my wife feel like a single mother. That is because for those of us that favor motorsports, this weekend is it. There are races, and then there are RACES… and this weekend is definitely all about those. Yesterday kicked it off with the start of the , which runs through Sunday and is raced on one of the most complex and exciting racetracks in the world, one that I’ve been fortunate enough to lap many, many times. Today is the start of the , the coolest, most challenging, and dangerous series of motorcycle races which run through June 6th. Tomorrow is huge, with the run at the racecourse in Monte Carlo, definitely a favorite race. Check out this racecourse narrative from the BMW-Sauber F1 team to get a sense for how challenging Monte Carlo really is:

Tomorrow is also the day for the venerable , raced at the “Brickyard” in Indianapolis. Honestly, this is a weekend that makes me seriously reconsider not owning a television. I must strategically plan the entire long weekend with opportunities to intersect with places I might be able to catch the races on television. In between those happy accidents, I’ll be watching the live feeds from a series of about twenty websites.

Is Print Dead, Or Is It Just Really Sick?

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

Gutenberg proofs the printed piece

The convergence of seemingly random events (the , this , by Charlene Li and Josh Bernhoff, and by Lynne d Johnson) has put the “Print is Dead” mantra in front of me several times in the last week. Oddly coincidental or representative of a growing sentiment, you decide. Obviously, print is still very much alive, but how we use print has changed, is changing, and will continue to change. Dramatically. The reality is that for some, print is in fact very dead. For others it is dying, and for a shrinking portion of the population… print is all there is. Print isn’t dead, but it is pretty ill and the prognosis is not good. You would be hard pressed to argue otherwise, that print is alive and well, as there is so much happening that clearly supports the hard reality that the ways in which we interact with information has quickly tilted to the digital.

Our mobile technology increasingly breaks down the usability barriers between where we are and the content we want. This is not just about convenience, either, it is very much about connectivity and the ease with which we can leverage diffuse networks to find what we want. How can the printed page compete with that? Print publishers are struggling with this reality, and working hard to figure out how to transition their content assets in a meaningful way to the array of digital channels before them. Some have pioneered great strategies for this, and benefit from not just increased audiences, but from the concept of content adoption. That’s what we do on the web, we adopt content and send it around. We point people to it. We fold it into how we navigate information, and personalize its place in our information networks. This is incredibly useful, and is the reason why I no longer subscribe to a physical newspaper and only a few printed magazines (that I subscribe to because I like them and there is not yet an online channel for that content). I don’t even hit most newspaper and periodical websites anymore as the content I want finds me through a myriad of personal technologies that do all of the work of searching for me. Popular and free technologies like RSS and Twitter. I have always been a reader, but I have never read as much as I have the last few years and I would say that close to 90% of what I read is online. wrote a somewhat related post about this a few weeks back, and in that post he passed on a line that is unforgettable to me from an article in the :

“If the news is important, it will find me.”

Print is the opposite of that.

The Workplace of Now is Not About Furniture

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

The Office of The Future

For some, that is an incredibly inflammatory statement. As inflammatory as saying that the workplace of the future is not about real estate, which it’s not. That is because the workplace that many of us already operate in is boundless, and is defined by where we are at any given moment. The workplace of now is our home, hotel room, car, airport lounge, coffee shop… wherever we are. The workplace of now is not a desk, chair and filing cabinet. It is our laptop, mobile phone, and other tools that support us in our tasks wherever we are. This is not a new development, but one that has been in motion, and gaining momentum, for over a decade. There are individuals in the workforce now who have never worked another way. This change has been driven by innovations in the ways in which we communicate, in connectivity, and in how we do business. The “virtuality” of business is not something that can be overstated, really, as so many tasks that required meeting in person twenty years ago are now completed without the involved parties ever needing to occupy the same geographical location, or ever actually talk to each other. That certainly devalues the importance of an office with regards to the effectiveness of business process. Or does it?

There is pressure on the office to change in ways that support this boundless workplace. The reality is that the office is not going away, and it shouldn’t as there are many circumstances where we need to work together in the same place, but how we use the physical space of an office environment is changing and evolving rapidly. As such, the ways that our organizations think about the office needs to change and begin leveraging notions of flexibility, adaptability, and customization to task. The physical office is an important node in our network for bringing us together for interactions that cannot be bested virtually, but this is very different than the typical archetype on which most offices have been built, which is the idea of warehousing workers to make operational control more efficient. Our work is increasingly defying the effectiveness of this archetype, and as a result we are experiencing productivity levels in the United States that are staggering. Organizations are learning that we can share a “mission and vision” without actually having to be in the same place at the same time. Some companies are way ahead in their thinking with regards to the boundless workplace, others are stubborn in the face of this change. The reality, though, is that there are many, many factors driving everyone to begin working in this manner and at some point the entire traditional 1950’s corporate office metaphor is going to collapse and be called out as an obstacle to effectiveness, productivity, and employee health and wellness.

That’s the point of the headline for this post. The office today is in so many ways defined by the furniture that fills it. This doesn’t really work anymore, and the office we increasingly require is one that supports business process, and that meets the requirements of being an effective node, one of many, for the ways in which we do business. There will be furniture in this office, it just won’t be defined by it.

Superflat

Sunday, May 18th, 2008

is a master of the mashup, smashup, and mixing of ideas. A genius in the finding of inspiration. Murakami’s superflat is the liberation of the intrinsic value from his efforts. It is turning art into commerce in a way that Warhol probably envisioned, but did not have the chance to manifest.

The Productivity Industrial Complex

Sunday, May 18th, 2008

Time, money, and productivity…

A friend shared with me. We’ve discussed the workplace of the future and productivity issues previously, especially as these relate to the tension between controlling your time, how you use it, and the pressures exerted by a production focused mindset in so many businesses. The Alternative Productivity Manifesto is an excellent response to the present realities of the 40 hour work week, a productivity system visited upon us in the 1940’s and not revisited since. This despite the doubling in worker productivity over the last sixty years. We’re twice as productive, yet real wages are going down as compared to a historical average. We’re twice as productive, but there is ubiquitous pressure to put in more time, not less, and to sacrifice more to productivity. When did productivity become equated with quantity of time? Why does the worker not also benefit from their own efficiency and productivity? This disconnection is partly driven by our own ignorance of and inability to exert influence over the value systems within corporations, and partly by the enormous industry that has grown to help organizations squeeze every ounce of productivity out of their workforce. Productivity is big business, and big businesses invest big money with consultants that help them optimize and maximize the people that make up these companies. Not only that, but there is an enormous productivity industry focused on individuals promising enlightenment through productivity. This, of course, is achieved through the reading of endlessly published productivity books, blogs and through the purchase of innovative new productivity products. We struggle with ourselves.

In response has put forth The Alternative Productivity Manifesto to provide some perspective, and perhaps challenge the status quo. Here are just a few tenets from the manifesto that resonated with me:

  • If your productivity increases, but your pay stays the same, then you’re effectively taking a pay cut (same goes if you begin working longer hours for the same pay).
  • Productivity should be designed around our lives, not the other way around.
  • The via productivity are failing us.
  • Hyperfocusing on productivity often gets in the way of the messy, circuitous, and discursive routes of personal development.
  • Massive value creation often happens during times when no work is ostensibly being accomplished and productivity levels are ostensibly nil.

The Global Distribution of Water

Sunday, May 18th, 2008

water

I came across the graphic below this morning and found it really interesting, and startlingly revealing of the fragility of freshwater on the planet. It was put together by UNESCO’s , a program that monitors freshwater issues to properly inform decision making and ensure a comprehensive understanding of the status of our planet’s most valuable natural resource. WWAP puts out a report, the , that comprehensively reviews the state of freshwater on the planet. This relates to an earlier post here, What is Important, to Scale, that used a compelling image to represent the proportion of air and water to our planet. The graphic below supports the tenuous nature of freshwater on our planet:

Global Distribution of Water

Let’s summarize:

  • Of the total water on the planet, only 2.5% is freshwater
  • Of that 2.5%, almost 69% is in glaciers
  • About 30% is groundwater
  • Only 0.4% is surface and atmospheric freshwater
  • Of that 0.4%, 67.4% is freshwater lakes
  • 12.2% is made up of soil moisture
  • 9.5% is in the atmosphere
  • And just over 10% is in wetlands, rivers and plants and animals

It is interesting to realize how overwhelmingly abundant freshwater is in certain areas of the world, so much so as to be taken for granted, while in contrast how overwhelmingly scarce it is in others. The net is that there is just not that much freshwater on the planet.

Make The Complex Easy

Saturday, May 17th, 2008

If you use Twitter, how many times have people asked you about it and what it does… and you totally butchered the answer? Probably at least a few. Struggle no more, as the video above is one of many from the cool cats at . I have used their descriptive presentations more than a few times lately, and quite effectively. That’s because they are masters at taking something like RSS, and explaining it in simple, straight forward, and understandable terms. They are excellent story tellers and utilize paper models in a very simple and unobtrusive manner to support the information they are communicating. It works really, really well. Earlier today I used their to help a person who is internet challenged understand the benefits of that technology, and how it can impact their business. They got it.

You can see many of their presentations at on You Tube.

On The Subject of Io

Friday, May 16th, 2008

Jupiter’s moons Amalthea and Io

The image above is via the Galileo explorer and depicts the volcanic moon Io previously discussed, with its neighboring moon . Amalthea is small, and has been misshapen by the incredible volatility of existing in close proximity to Io and Jupiter. It’s a tough neighborhood. As Io is swept by Jupiter’s electromagnetic field huge amounts of material are scoured off of Io and spiraled towards Jupiter. At times Amalthea orbit takes it directly into the path of this material, and the total intensity of the power generated, and it is thought that this has created its intense reddish color and elongated shape.

via

OMA’s CCTV Tower Fetishists

Friday, May 16th, 2008

CCTV Tower construction photo

It would seem that I am very much not alone in my utter fascination with the design and construction of the CCTV tower going up in Beijing. I recently came across a mother load of incredible images on that are expansive in capturing the progress of building the tower, and beautiful in the quality of the photography. Last night these images cost me close to two hours of sleep.

Tvashtar Catena Caldera on Io

Friday, May 16th, 2008

Moon Io - Tvashtar Catena composite detail image

I came across this composite image last evening and it stopped me in my tracks. Click on it to view larger, it’s worth it. Here is an enormous, active chain of , named Tvashtar Catena, on Jupiter’s moon and we get to see it in amazing detail and color. This is a color intensified composite made up of images taken by Galileo back in 2000 and composited by .

Back in 1999 the Galileo Orbiter snapped some pictures of an active fissure eruption in this caldera. The eruption let loose lava flows that were 30km long and 1.5km high. Here’s a composited image from those pictures:

1999 eruption on Io at Tvashtar Catena via Galileo

Io is the most volcanic body in our solar system with its surface literally covered in lava lakes, giant calderas, and active lava flows. The color of Io is mostly due to the huge amounts of sulfur that blanket its surface from all of this activity, which has remained continuous as long as we have been able to observe this moon. We have measured volcanic eruptions on this moon that have created sulfurous plumes 500km high. Because Io orbits closely to Jupiter it is subject to intense electromagnetic radiation. As Jupiter’s magnetosphere rotates it sweeps Io and strips away nearly 1 ton per second of volcanic gases and other materials. Io actually acts as an enormous electrical generator as it moves through Jupiter’s magnetic field developing 400,000 volts across its diameter and generating 3 million amperes that flow across the magnetic field and into Jupiter’s ionosphere.

UX Intensive Week in Minneapolis

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

Recently I had the opportunity to enjoy another put on by the team at in San Francisco. It rocked and was absolutely full of great information, stories, and people all focused on the developing practice of effectively managing experience design teams. I’d say the rapidly developing practice. We are under a lot of pressure to perform and to deliver value, and often success is largely determined by the effectiveness of how creative teams are led. MX is a window into the practices that have led to success.

At the conference I was asked to extend a pretty generous offer to the readers of schneiderism for the upcoming UX Intensive that Adaptive Path is hosting in Minneapolis, Minnesota from June 16-19. If you work in interaction/experience design in any capacity, really, I highly encourage you to check this workshop out. You can choose specific sessions or pony up for the full week. Adaptive Path knows what they are doing, and they are intensely focused on providing value to the people that attend their events. I speak from experience on that one.

Here’s the offer. If you and use the promotional code UXIM, you will receive a 15% discount on top of the early bird registration 10% discount. That is compelling. Here is a choice quote from the UX registration page:

“Three things I loved about UX Intensive: 1. presenters who totally know their craft and aren’t shy about saying it’s at least as much art as science, but that you can develop the art by first learning the science; 2. a room filled with smart, motivated participants who are expert in many things, some included in the conference topics and some not, working very hard with great joy, to everyone’s benefit; 3. the whole is totally greater than the sum of the parts.”

Laurie Kalmanson, Request Marketing

Awake After 9000 Years

Monday, May 12th, 2008

The lightning clouds of the Chaiten volcano in Chile

Incredible images recently of in Chile. This volcano is awake after 9000 years of dormancy, erupting with a fierceness this past week that has sent a plume of volcanic ash 12 miles into the atmosphere and stretching from Chile to the Atlantic ocean. The photo above is of the intense lightning that has erupted in and around the enormous plume, the result of static electricity released in incredible intensity by the density of the ash and the multitude of particles hitting each other and becoming charged. Between the earthquake in China, the cyclone in Myanmar, and the volcano in Chile it is hard to not remember how very much active our planet really is.

The Client of The Future

Monday, May 12th, 2008

The tiger goes for the meat…

The phrase “The Agency of the Future” gets thrown around with some abandon (yes, I use it too…). This is partly because it is catchy, but also because it succinctly indicates we are in the midst of change with regards to how people engage media, brands, information and advertising… change mostly driven by the digital channel. This phrase seems to point to a mythical agency that has navigated this change successfully, but that I am not so sure yet exists. Things are very fluid.

I was thinking about this phrase recently and remembered reading the . In that report, on page 26, AARF writes a smart piece on “The Client of The Future,” noting that agencies are not the only ones who need to change. This is a fresh and smart perspective.

Basically, many client organizations have not evolved from an optimization model that found its inception in the 1950’s, and has been refined over time but largely left in place for the last fifty years or so. This is a model that subscribes to a linear “consumer purchase funnel” that begins at the top with brand building via traditional media, and ends with purchase usually driven by direct marketing or some such. Pretty ubiquitous, and increasingly irrelevant.

Kokich points out that this model is becoming more and more unstable, and this is both because of how consumers have changed as well as the level of specialization within client organizations, and the inevitable creation of silos based on that specialization each tasked with successfully managing a specific consumer touch point. Thing is, consumers don’t move neatly from touch point to touch point anymore. They surf, and search, and refer, and work information to streamline their own process of seeking. They seek truth and authenticity, and as marketers that is a really tough thing to put a finger on, to generate or control. We see a development that has rendered much of marketing, in the traditional message-based-push-sense, specious, annoying and/or dishonest in the minds of the consumer. This realization is not new, and thousands talk about this on their blogs every day. There are a number of agencies and marketers that are well aware of this change, and have changed the ways in which they work and how they engage audiences. To Kokich’s point, maybe now is a good time for the marketing orgs inside of companies to embrace this same change, and to begin thinking differently about how they set about communicating the value of what it is their company does or provides, to have new and clear expectations for what that communication entails and what the new relationship with the consumer really means.