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Archive for July, 2008

50 Years of NASA

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

Today, July 29, 2008, marks the 50th anniversary of the inception of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The year was 1958, the race for space was heating up fast with the Soviet’s successful launch of the first orbiting satellite, Sputnik, in October of 1957. NASA was, in many ways, a reaction to this event. That first team for NASA came out swinging, though, and they set about an intense range of projects motivated by the urgings of a passionate President. The first 25 years saw amazing accomplishments (Mercury, Apollo, putting astronauts on the moon, Viking, Voyager, Mariner, Skylab, the space-shuttle…) relatively swelled budgets, and endless manpower. The next 25 also saw great accomplishments (Hubble, ISS, Cassini, Mars exploration…), but mixed with the challenges of changed national priorities, increased international competition, the limitations of the space-shuttle, the slowed progress of the ISS, and budgetary constraints. Along the way there have been horrible tragedies and incredibly prolific failures, but when you push the technological envelope and seek to expand the boundaries of human experience there are inevitable risks involved. The astronauts that have died knew these risks well, and still came to work. I would like to believe that the tragedies have been more than balanced by the successes, by the amazing discoveries, and by the advancement of science. NASA has inspired generations, myself included, and provided the United States with a vital rallying point for an optimistic belief in the future of our nation, and for humanity. From those that have been inspired by NASA have sprung incredible private space ventures like that of Burt Rutan and Richard Branson, the Lunar X Prize, and the inevitable development of space tourism.

NASA is definitely not without its problems, but what large publicly funded organization isn’t? The fact is that NASA has been with us for 50 years, has achieved a great deal, and has a plan for the future of the United States in space.

OMA’s “The Rotterdam”

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

Time to distract your attention from the deluge of architecture going down in Dubai and Beijing for a moment. I just watched this short animation of a building is doing in Rotterdam, aptly named “The Rotterdam”, in conjunction with progressive development concern MAB. Note at the beginning of the animation the brief review of the program for the building, which takes a very literal and typically separated use division and mashes it up in an incredibly hyperrational manner. This approach to defining building program has been used with success by OMA and is essentially what in 2006 with regards to OMA’s approach to the Seattle Public Library (a project that has met with some controversy before and after completion). This hyperrational approach is one that seems to tightly entwine form with function to the degree that function begins to bring definition to form. While this may be an accepted best practice in many design fields (UX rules!), it is still surprisingly novel in the world of architecture design.

Found video via

The Icy Solitude of Rhea

Saturday, July 26th, 2008

I subscribe to the NASA RSS feed for the mission and just came upon this image taken back on June 10th of this year. This simple black and white image taken by Cassini conveys so much detail about the icy moon. There is the surface, riddled with impact craters and covered in ridges and striations. If you look at the upper right edge of the moon silhoetted against the blackness of space you get a sense of the dimensionality of the moon’s surface. Rhea is the second largest of Saturn’s moons at about 950 miles across, this image definitely gives it presence. Some more detail on Rhea:

  • Rhea was discovered in 1642 by Giovanni Cassini, the namesake for the Cassini space probe and the astronomer who also discovered the Saturn moons Iapetus, Dione, and Tethys
  • In direct sunlight the temp is as warm as -281°F, and in the shade -364°F
  • Rhea has a rocky core that is about one-third of its mass, the rest is water-ice
  • It is about 527,000 km from Saturn

The Future of Beachfront Real Estate

Friday, July 25th, 2008

That’s because with the current prognostications of global warming and climate change the beachfront real estate that we all know and love may be disappearing. With focus being put on the possibility of complete loss of Arctic ice, rising sea levels, and the resulting inundation of cities like New York, London, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, most of Japan… places where some huge percentage of the world’s populations make their homes and places that many also like to travel to while on vacation, who is preparing themselves for this possible bleak future for the coastal areas and vacation prospects? The wealthy, with the help of and in the UK. By 2010 those with means should be able to choose from a fleet of 40 different yachts of the future designed by Foster + Partners. Actually, I exaggerate a bit as the plan is for these yachts to be leased for vacations in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean complete with a captain and support staff. YachtPlus claims this scheme is a “financially sensible” way for you to partake in the joys of luxury yachting. I have no idea how financial sensibility and luxury yachting can mutually coexist, but I digress.

The most interesting story here for me, though, is that an architecture design firm is designing this fleet of 40 luxury yachts. This is oddly coincidental as the week before last a co-worker asked me if we had considered diversifying our services into yacht and cruise ship design. Honestly, up to that point I do not believe that we had. Perhaps, in the interest of business model innovation, this should be seriously considered. Perhaps not. Everything else asside, the design of the yachts does indeed strike me as innovative and interesting:

The Journey East

Friday, July 25th, 2008

This animated short is going to be used by BBC Sport to introduce its coverage of the upcoming Olympics being hosted in China. It’s definitely interesting. The short is based on the classic Chinese story recently adapted by and of the . I especially like the appearance of the Beijing National Stadium, the “Bird’s Nest,” that we’ve discussed here previously.

This is so much more interesting than the typically insipid animated graphics used to intro news programming on mainstream news broadcasts. It’s actually a well told story all its own, and will be used not only for the televised Olympic coverage, but also web, mobile, and radio.

More on the .

Dubai’s Worker Housing Problem

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

Dubai is undergoing a very visible, rapid and dramatic transformation. The intensity and quality of the building happening there is staggering, and this is to serve the needs of a relatively small elite segment of the population as well as a burgeoning population of investors. Servicing this population is a growing mass of foreign service workers who make their way to Dubai for the opportunity to earn better wages. As of 2007 nearly 85% of Dubai’s 1.3 million population were foreign workers. This percentage is increasing, and by 2015 it is estimated that Dubai will require over 1.3 million in foreign service workers alone, essentially their total current population. Currently, the armies of construction workers and craftsman who are building the future of Dubai live in temporary worker camps outside the city, but the city is growing at a pace to soon surround those camps. What to do?

The video above is an angle on addressing this challenge. Proposed by a team from , it presents solutions that are frank, pragmatic, and at some level take into account occupant quality and quality of life for the service workers. It’s definitely an interesting piece, and nothing if not just a bit controversial.

I found this video at , who found it at . Both are excellent.

Building Delete

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

Nothing stands in the way of progress. The celebrated decisions of a couple decades ago are today’s eyesore, an obstacle to a bright and shiny future. Around this reality has grown the fascinating industry of building demolition. There are a number of ways to remove a building structure from the landscape. Some involve timed explosions, others are a matter of removing structure a piece at a time and carting it away, like large-scale surgery. It is impressive to watch buildings that in many cases took years to complete be edited out of modernity in a fraction of that time. Demolition is a very powerful tool for urban planning, and it allows the erasure of ideas that, with their brick and concrete, were probably thought to be permanent. I came across the video below of a Japanese demolition crew demolishing a building floor by floor, like the Japanese toy . This video has been posted on quite a few sites, but it is what got me thinking about this post:

A few more videos of building demolition, but by precision implosion. The second video below should be noted for its smart, incisive commentary:

An Energy Protection Force

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

I have been reading and researching more intensely about and the intricacies and intrigues of U.S. energy policy. I found an excellent resource in the comprehensive blog , as well as , and the . It was at The Oil Drum that I came across this video of Bill Moyers from June of this year. Moyers ties a few things together, and makes some assertions that are worth serious consideration:

“Walk In Stupid Every Day.”

Monday, July 21st, 2008

Dan Wieden, founder of , said that line about being stupid when asked about his job by Polly Labarre of . I believe that the full quote was “My job is to walk in stupid every day.” His point is that there is no way he could know everything, that he is aware of the obstacle of expertise, and that he will not always have the best ideas. So, coming into work “stupid” keeps his mind open to ideas from anywhere, and open to valuing them when they happened. Clearly, that strategy has worked well for Dan.

I read that Dan Wieden quote at Mavericks at Work a few days ago and have been thinking about it over the weekend. I believe it is a very powerful attitude about how we could approach our work and maintain important perspective. I think there is tremendous value in, every day, going to work ready to learn, anxious for surprises, and anticipating the new. In coming to work looking for change, for improvement, and to challenge convention. We need to go to work knowing that ideas can come from anywhere, and should, and that those ideas should be acknowledged, encouraged, and supported… arriving every day with the intent of building this, of making it happen, of not standing in the way. Every day we need to know that somebody, somewhere is better than us… and that is totally cool because we want to learn from them. We need to come in every day hopeful, hungry, and focused on being in a different place than we were yesterday, on being in a different place this afternoon than this morning. We need to spend more time listening than talking, more time trying to understand and see from alternative points of view and work to avoid reaction and to lessen our reliance on instinct and instead give ourselves the time to own our decisions, and be thoughtful about it. We should spend as much energy on building our team as we do building our careers, and realize that our team is better when it is made up of people who just might be, and probably need to be, smarter than us. Instead of adopting the persona of an expert, we should try that of a student. Being a student was fun, everything was about newness and possibilities. Being an expert is limiting.

We all see the well-worn grain of company “culture” begin to show in ourselves and the others we work with. We see the behaviors that are counter to doing things better, to doing them the right way, and we allow this to happen. We see people who have stopped learning, people who no longer have wonder and curiosity and no longer have passion and drive. This is a form of giving up, or retiring from what is important. This is not an option. Dan Wieden nailed it.

In a similar vein, I found an excellent, direct and honest speech by Dan Wieden on the W+K London blog , which I have followed for a long time. Both the speech and the blog are totally worth reading.

Oil Power Contrasted Against Human Power

Monday, July 21st, 2008

put together a really interesting piece for that captures a number of perspectives on the value of human labor power as compared to the power generated by a barrel of oil, and goes some distance in explaining why oil is such an efficient energy source, and why we are addicted to it. The post is fascinating, especially as the conversation gets increasingly complex, so definitely read it. Here’s a quick overview of some of the calculations that inform the comparison:

  • One barrel of oil is equivalent to about 25,000 hours of human labor, which is about 12.5 years at 40 hours of labor per week.
  • The average American uses about 60 barrels of oil or oil equivalent (coal and gas) per year. This is about 360 billion joules of energy.
  • For a human to generate labor equivalent to the energy created by a barrel of oil would take an average of 10,000 hours would cost about $200,000 at $20/hour.
  • A barrel of oil generates 1,700 kwh. A human averages 150 kwh per year.

I suppose a subtext of this discussion is the hard reality that we are still very challenged to offer serious, viable alternatives to oil as an energy source. This reality, coupled with a history that has seen industry, and by extension our economy, establish and refine an oil based energy infrastructure over most of the last century, perhaps explains why we still struggle with energy policy and change. Oil has become an integral, integrated part of not only our economy, but also our culture and society. Creating change in this situation is analogous to turning the proverbial freight train.

Cool On So Many Levels

Sunday, July 20th, 2008

from on .

Came across this video yesterday and was mesmerized by it. I grew up skateboarding but was not particularly good at it. So, cool on one level by the moves these guys are pulling off, things I could never have dreamed of attempting without suffering a massive concussion (which I did, several times) or a broken wrist.

Cool on another level is the quality of the video. This short was shot with an HD digital video camera, which is considered to be the current pinnacle, of sorts, of accessible high definition technology. The video above is incredible in detail, quality, and richness. It is not so much that it is film-like, but that it is something beyond film.

Echus Chasma: A Martian Grand Canyon

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

Definitely a highlight of my rather long day today was seeing these images taken by the ESA’s robotic probe. The images depict the series of canyons mentioned in the title, and I find them absolutely stunning. Planetary geologists believe that these chasms were formed by flowing ground water, and that they were carved over thousands of years. More images:

I absolutely geek out seeing the surface of Mars in such incredible detail. Our base of knowledge for Mars is growing rapidly, and it seems that with the Phoenix Mars Explorer, Mars Surveyor, and ESA’s Mars Express we have a trifecta of data and images streaming to us from the red planet.

One Year Later. Rock on.

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

On July 11th schneiderism crossed the one year mark, and is closing in on 250 posts. It has been a great experience. This effort has introduced me to and allowed me to cross paths with smart, cool people from all over the world. As an outlet, researching for schneiderism has brought me to amazing stories and discoveries, and kept me on the hunt for the bonds between design, innovation and leadership. It has also been a good time. Thanks for visiting.

Sleep is totally overrated.

John F. Schneider – author of schneiderism

Mercury: That’s Going to Leave a Mark

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

Catching up on the deluge that is my RSS reader lately, I came across this image from of the (also called Caloris Planitia) on Mercury recently snapped by the Mercury Messenger robotic explorer. It’s huge, and one of the largest impact basins from an asteroid-sized object in our solar system. The basin measures over 1,500 km across. The image above is a image in order to enhance details not visible in a true color image. The yellowish object dominating the image is obviously the impact crater of the Caloris basin, but the orange spots above denote volcanic activity on Mercury, which is new evidence provided by Messenger that the smooth plains of Mercury are actually lava flows.

I had previously written about Mercury and NASA’s Messenger mission here and here.

Das Auto of The Future

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

One company’s vision of the automobiles of the future. Volkswagen recently launched , a website that explores VW’s perspective on a number of issues and how those issues might manifest themselves through design twenty years from now, a perspective rooted deeply in Volkswagen’s longer term brand strategy (read that as marketing). This is not so much about showing us futuristic concepts as much as demonstrating the response to different needs, constraints, and technologies. Responses that are increasingly important to people. Specifically, Volkswagen provides us with some detail in how, in the near future, they might respond to issues of sustainability, networked mobility, customization and personalization, and accident prevention. All of the concepts offer hypothetical technologies that either replace the traditional human-car interaction, or enhance it by steamlining and focusing the action of driving. It’s a good exercise, and I have no doubt that the issues and ideas addressed by VW here are the beginnings of some pretty sophisticated changes that we will see in automobiles. While I imagine that all automobile manufacturers are digging into these concepts, at least to some degree, it is interesting to see Volkswagen put it out there in such a cohesive and comprehensive way, though this is clearly as much about marketing as it is about showcasing advanced engineering thinking.

The Changed Landscape of Influence

Saturday, July 12th, 2008

Matt Dickman recently conducted a really interesting over at his blog Techno//Marketer to get a sense of what people felt the most influential medium might be. The results are presented in the graph above. I believe it is a safe bet that his readers skew massively to the internet, but I believe they are still representative of the paradigmatic changes that have occurred in the greater media landscape. The broader theme here, that the ways in which people interact with information is changing, is something I am actively exploring myself. What is absolutely not surprising from Matt’s survey is the incredibly low performance of newspapers and radio. The of newspapers has been trending down for years, and many historically prominent rags are facing irrelevancy to their audiences. Audience preferences and expectations with regards to how they engage information is changing, this interaction is very fluid, and while some struggle to adapt to this reality others have been slow to respond and are suffering the consequences of a dwindling subscription base and shrinking advertising revenues. That spells doom for those newspapers. The same is happening in radio, and the is tracking similarly to that of newspapers. At the heart of this is the reality that we are increasingly moving away from having things pushed at us, and increasing moving toward technologies and mediums that allow us to engage media and information in ways that are dynamic and customizable to our preferences. Also, there is an informational frequency issue and newspapers, especailly, have struggled to compete with the 24/7 nature of the informational engagement model of the web. Those that have moved to a comprehensive web strategy have struggled to find an appropriate revenue model, especially one that can scale. We are watching media evolution and the survival of the fittest, of the most innovative.

Going back perhaps a decade, many newspaper publishers failed to appropriately survey the landscape for strategic risk to their organizations. As a result, they missed important opportunities to substantively investigate and innovate their business models. The web has moved incredibly quickly and efficiently in becoming pervasive in our society, in our culture, and many publishers now face the incredible challenge of trying to change a business model when it is absolutely too late.

Business Model Thinking

Sunday, July 6th, 2008

There are several components of varying complexity that make up any business. It is the quality of these components, and their unique combination (hopefully), that provide businesses with a competitive advantage in the marketplace. From the investment side, understanding the quality of an enterprise is very much tied to understanding the business model of that enterprise, and how it contrasts to its competitors – what advantages that business model creates for the business in the marketplace, and how those advantages will scale over time. Additionally, there is tremendous value in understanding at a deep level that the framework of a given business model gives an edge as companies survey the competitive landscape for strategic risk, and the opportunities inherent to that risk. It is common for businesses to take a very haphazard approach to analyzing, understanding, and building the foundation of their own business model, it is also common for businesses to miss the opportunity of conducting the same analysis of their competitors. This oversight with regards to understanding their own context in the marketplace is most likely due to myth of complexity as it relates to “putting the pieces together” and taking a hard look at the constituent components of the business in question.

I was excited to find the slideshow above, and the , by . Alex has put forth a model for analyzing, understanding, designing, and contrasting business models that is easy, straightforward, and, I believe, incredibly valuable. He provides detail for what actually makes up a business model . There is a lot of writing in business pubs right now about business model reinvention and business model innovation due to the nature of the economy and the competitive environment of different industries. This is all good, but often what is missing are the practical matters of creating an effective baseline from which to engage in exercises and experiments into innovation and reinvention. I believe that Alex succinctly provides us the tools for creating this baseline in a way that is quickly revealing of problems and opportunities, and tied to creating understanding.

Take a moment to review the slideshow and then read Alex’s at his blog Business Model Design and Innovation.

For CCTV, The Fog of Reality

Friday, July 4th, 2008

I came across the image above, taken by  on June 20, 2008, this morning at . I have been following the progress of the OMA team’s CCTV tower in Beijing for the last few months as it has been an incredibly interesting project to see come together. I said before that the construction of this tower is at least as interesting as the design itself.

This picture of the CCTV tower blanketed in the thick smog of Beijing is quite a contrast to the other crisp, clear images I have shown here. Sadly, this will be how people experience this structure a good part of the time, at least those times that there is a lack of the strong, but infrequent, northerly wind that can clear the air of the city. In the brief dispatch from James Follows at The Atlantic, he points out that the Olympics are less than two months away. This pollution is creating a serious image problem for the city of Beijing, especially given the enormous emphasis the Chinese government has put on hosting the Olympics this year, and the symbolism of hosting this event to the rest of the world.

Graphic Visualization of Male Death

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008

I’m guessing that title is misleading to some. No gore here, just cold hard facts for men in the United States. Chances are that if you are an American male, the way in which you will die is listed here. Look at the positive, for most of these you will have a lot of company. It appears to be lonely when dying from a shark attack:

You can click on the image to enlarge and make more readable. I found this graphic at the .

Making Fuel Efficiency Cool (and Sexy)

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008

I don’t think this is an issue for most of the rest of the world, but for the United States this is a serious design challenge. This is mostly due to our long established culture of valuing big and fast when it comes to our personal transportation. In the U.S., we’re just catching wind of small and efficient, and this is being driven by our pocketbooks at the moment, and not necessarily by doing what is right. Whatever works to achieve change…

Being an absolute gearhead has presented some interesting dilemmas for me, personally, as I reconcile this fact with my work in sustainable design. I love cars, but I do not love the current range of high-mileage fuel efficient vehicles currently on offer. Yes, the is sexy and it is indeed fast. It is also around $100k and only six or so have been made and delivered (far below the pace for the 650 promised this year). More options are going to be available in the near future from a range of manufacturers, and these options will begin to push into performance territory while also delivering on great design.

The concept pictured above appears to be one of these options, at least from the perspective of design. A concept car from a couple years ago, and not tentatively scheduled for production until 2012, the One-Liter seems to be getting more attention from VW. There are plans to produce limited numbers of this 282 mpg, two seat microcar (around 1000 vehicles) over the next year or so with planning being done around it being a mainstream production model by 2012. I like this car. I like the influences of mid-century automobile and aircraft design that doesn’t feel too retro. I like that you access it via a pop-up cockpit canopy, and that the passenger sits behind the driver. I especially like the interior, which looks purposeful and performance focused:

Engineers at VW made good use of materials like magnesium, titanium and aluminum to greatly reduce the weight of the One-Liter, down to a third the weight of a Toyota Echo. Carbon fiber also figures prominently in the design of the vehicle, and is actually a big reason VW is considering production much sooner for this car. The cost of carbon fiber has dropped dramatically much faster than VW had expected, making the production of the One-Liter much more viable. I want to drive one very badly.

via via (thanks Garrick)