Traffic As The Blood Of A City


This video, via , is utterly amazing. The organic, chaotic, nature with which this traffic flows, melds together, and merges at an intersection in Hyderabad, India is incredible to see. That it seems to work, despite a number of close calls, is a testament to the focus and mettle of the drivers and pedestrians transiting this intersection. The way the traffic fluidly comes together and then separates reminds me of how the blood mixes in the ventricles of the heart.

The Evolution of CCTV

CCTV via toomanytribles

I have been closely following the progress of with Chinese Central Television (CCTV). The initial design presented an iconic tension, but also seemed to be dangerously monolithic. The writer of , a blog that I thoroughly enjoy and subscribe to, was recently in China and snapped several gorgeous images from which she produced a cool video of the CCTV tower under construction and in the context of the neighboring buildings. Seeing this building take shape in its environment is exciting, and reassures me that OMA knows what the hell they are doing. This is a very, very cool building. I cannot wait to see the interior environments. Here is a rendering of the building design:

CCTV Tower rendering

The Value of Creative Generalists?

Swiss Army Knife

This is a question that is incredibly important to me for a number of reasons, and that I address directly whenever possible. Priority among the reasons this is important would be two, the first being that I have found great success by taking the creative generalist path, the second that I have found great success by the combination of creative generalists with specialists. One does not obviate the other, they are instead profoundly complimentary. I just read a very well written at that is a comprehensive survey of both the value of being a creative generalist, and the value of having them as members of your team. The author of the article broadly defines five areas in which creative generalists excel and create value, which I include below with excerpts that I found to be especially worthy of highlighting:

Wander + Wonder - Finding possibility

“Ideas follow inspiration, which comes freely at a friendly intersection of diverse multidisciplinary, multi-industry, multicultural thinking – exactly the kind of thinking that our focused lives tend not to have enough of.”

Synthesize + Summarize - Connect the dots and present complex information succinctly

“Diversity generates economic expansion. We have an environment teeming with differentiations and obscure inspirations by way of hyperinnovation, culture blur, and enhanced communications. Organizations have more points of inspiration, not only as a result of their own activities but also of others’ from every industry all over the world.”

Link + Leap - Generating ideas, take a simple insight and find a transcending application.

“Effective leaders today understand that we’re no longer operating in a linear cause-and-effect world but rather in more of a web-like ecosystem where inter-relationships shape direction, decisions, and delegation.”

Mix + Match - Make worlds collide and harness collaborative energies.

“There are many instances where organizations are not, in their processes, motivated to function horizontally or outside of their traditional bounds, and there are many talented individuals locked in the tunnel vision of their pursuits, blindly unaware that collaboration could be the best move they make.”

“Generalists play the often overlooked yet essential role of identifying specialists’ strengths and directing project activities and timing in such a way that makes the most effective use of them.”

Experience + Empathize - Understand humanity and life’s many interrelationships.

“Ideation feeds on lateral thinking and free association. And the farther one can look the more there is to learn and connect. In this sense, crossing cultural borders – replete with unique languages, customs, traditions, politics, religions, senses (sights, sounds, smells, tastes), technologies, and philosophies – is the most expansive lateral thinking that can be done. Developing a deeper understanding of how other cultures solve problems is a huge leadership asset…”

“Embracing a human-centered observational and empathic approach tunes into multiple perspectives, various worldviews. And this is both inspiring and empowering, not simply because of the exposure and the reality check but because, again, it taps into the intersectional riches of diversity.”

Do What You Love And Die Doing It

Paul Frere at Le Mans

On February 23rd legendary auto racer, journalist and author died at the age of 91. His death was due to long term complications from an accident he had racing at Germany’s Nurburgring racetrack back in 2006. He never fully recovered from that accident. Frere pursued his passion to the very end.

He led an inspiring life, moving from racing motorcycles to completing 11 Formula One Grand Prix, racing in the Le Mans 24 Hours (winning it in a Ferrari in 1960 with co-driver Olivier Gendebein) and the Mille Miglia, becoming a renowned automotive journalist and highly regarded motorsports author. His automobile reviews were thorough, memorable and born out of a passion for going fast well. He raced with and against the best, and wrote for the rest of us to share his experience and expertise. His amazing book , which holds a permanent spot on my bookshelf and was originally written in 1963 (my copy is the 1992 edition), was my introduction to the world of high performance driving and motorsports. Through this book, Paul Frere taught me how to heel-and-toe, properly anticipate and apex a corner, trail brake at speed, and track out. He taught me that smooth is fast, and that driving well is understanding the science of vehicle dynamics. I have had the privilege of driving on some of the world’s most prestigious racetracks, from the Nurburgring to Laguna Seca, and every time I did I would remember his book, recalling his insights.

“Above a certain level, driving becomes a sport, demanding of its addicts instinct and accurate reflexes combined with perfect judgment. In this sphere, only those who enjoy an outstanding natural gift and who take a profound interest in the subject will ever reach the top.”

Paul Frere (1917-2008)

 

Who Said Recession?

Focused on Wall Street

The media is creating a lot of confusion about the pressing economic situation. There is much talk, and hype, regarding whether or not we are in recession, mostly pointing to the realities of a recession that “may” already be underway. Scanning the mainstream media is an exercise in gloomy prognostications and flimsy evidence. Reading I came across the following excerpt of the 2008 Global Forecast by :

“After the ongoing two-quarter slowdown, we expect a U.S. rebound in the second quarter extending through the second half. The softness in foreign growth in recent months should pass as U.S. orders start flowing again and the impact of lower U.S. interest rates spreads globally. We think the wave of downgrades in other outlooks–the Fed’s on February 20, the IMF’s in January, the falling Blue Chip forecast–is a delayed reaction to the severity of the August financial market turbulence. We’re more focused on the forward-looking response to the Fed’s interest rate cuts (3% and likely to fall), which we view as a significant positive event in the growth outlook.”

I appreciate that Karlgaard goes out of his way to present alternative viewpoints to those that seem to make better headlines. Malpass, as Karlgaard points out, has a pretty stellar record and is credited by Karlgaard as being one of the most accurate economic and market forecasters to navigate the intensity of the last eight years. Malpass feeling bullish about the U.S. economy is a very, very good thing. We need more good things right now.

Capsule’s Design Matters // Logos

Design Matters//Logos by Capsule

This book is not fetishistic, as many logo and identity books tend to be. Design Matters // Logos, by the team at , is an excellent and methodical review of the thinking, process and decision making behind a series of very successful identities created by a diverse group of designers (from to ). The subtitle “An Essential Primer For Today’s Competitive Market” gives this away. I appreciate and find it fascinating to see what designers and design teams worked through to get to the end result, to be privy to the strategy behind something as mistakenly subjective as a logo. Each identity reviewed is broken down into these sections:

  • Introduction - a brief overview of the situation and the objectives
  • Planning - the foundational work leading up to design
  • Creating - details related to the development of the identity
  • Implementing - how the identity was introduced and executed

It is an incredibly informative book, as well as being very well designed. Beautiful, really. The organization and information contained within lend themselves to repeat reading, and it is the kind of book that becomes a frequent resource for a review on identity strategy and inspiration. I found the extensive section on planning to be of particular value, given my penchant for strategy and well-developed rationale, and is something that any team setting out to create identity would benefit from reading… especially pages 36-37 which offers some great insights into navigating the complexities of the research process.

Full disclosure, I received this book from Rockport Publishers. I love free books, when they are good, and I recommend this one without hesitation and will be keeping it in my “active” stack of books. It rocks.

10 Design Thinking Principles For Strategic Business Innovation

Design Thinking

That is the title of an excellent post I came across at . We have discussed design thinking, and its value to business, here before. This post by , succinctly breaks down the foundational principles of design thinking and how they might be appropriately applied. Idris Mootee is not only all over the concept of design thinking, he has built a successful consultancy around it. Perhaps the most important point made in the post is in the opening sentences. Typically, when “design thinking” comes up in a meeting or discussion of strategy it is relegated to something to do with aesthetics, and there is a disconnection with how design thinking might be relevant to strategy, which unfortunately still struggles to mean something beyond an analysis of spreadsheets and increasingly complex formulas. In reality:

“I explained to them that “design thinking” is crucial to any innovation effort if a company wants to break out of its current competitive structure.”

Idris Mootee

In many ways, business is still stuck in an approach to innovation and strategy that is based on optimization, which at a high level means maximizing inherent resources and market influence to create a competitive advantage. This can work, and historically has been a beneficial approach to a diversity of companies. The problem is that this approach does not scale and it is dominated by a cycle of business performance. You cannot optimize every quarter. Optimization follows a much longer cycle of action and response. Applying design thinking to the strategic breakdown of advantage in business brings an empathic approach to supporting innovation, and involves a more holistic analysis of business, one that asymetricaly surveys not only the competitive landscape, but has at its core a people centered approach to business. This involves needs assessment, strategic risk review, and the creative collaboration around how to take advantage of the results of these key assessments. Here is Mootee’s presentation of the 10 Design Thinking Principles for Strategic Business Innovation:

Human Level AI By 2029 - We Best Be Ready…

H.A.L. 9000

It would seem that reality does map nicely to the various themes of science fiction:

“I’ve made the case that we will have both the hardware and the software to achieve human level artificial intelligence with the broad suppleness of human intelligence including our emotional intelligence by 2029.”

via

That is both fascinating and definitely something to ponder. I had imagined it taking us longer to reach human level AI as 2029 is only just over twenty years away. In the article Kurzweil goes on to say that humans and machines will eventually merge and become indistinguishable from one another. He does not say whether or not this will be by choice.

The Demise of The Tastemaker, The Rise of The Collaborator

Rugby Scrum

The perspective of this interesting article I found at is that design value is increasingly driven by very effective and highly collaborative teams. Behind this is the ever-increasing realization that design has the potential to transform and grow business in ways not previously considered. Business leaders are getting this, and as the value of effective design teams become more widely recognized and understood, they are paying more focused attention to how they might effectively support these teams in new and different ways. This is in part due to the complexity of the situations engaged by design teams, that they defy an object approach and rely intensely on an effective collaborative process to achieve the desired end. It is also partly due to changing expectations for the value of design, that it has definitively moved beyond the domain of creating beautiful things and resoundingly into the realm of creating beautiful things that work really well and provide an experience that exceeds audience expectations and solves important problems, while increasing shareholder value. A choice quote from the article:

“The tastemaker idea is out of date. Perhaps there’s a place for taste-making within the consumer market, but the approach is out of date when it comes to more complex stuff, where it’s not just about creating beautiful things…Take sustainability. You can’t have an iconic object approach to the problems of sustainability. It’s a systematic thing.”

- Director of Innovation, Royal College of Art

None of this is to say that process, which I have posted about before, should suddenly take precedence over individual inspiration. It is that the complexity of problems demands a more holistic approach to addressing potential solutions. This is about the power of an effective team, the power of successful facilitation, to take solutions far beyond what perhaps a lone genius may be able to provide. At the level of designing complex interactions and environments that must address a matrix of need, this is increasingly evident.

Jupiter: Images Defy Any Narrative

Jupiter and moon IO as seen from New Horizons via Travis Rector

Jupiter - Surface motion animation

False color Jupiter image

Jupiter captured by Cassini

These images just blow me away.

Kenya Hara - Designing Design

Kenya Hara

I have been reading a newish book from Japanese designer , which came to me as an incredibly thoughtful gift. , which is excellent, is not so much a portfolio or biography as much as a treatise on Hara’s philosophy of design, a philosophy that is both insightful and interesting, distinctive, and deeply immersive. His work is iconic in many ways, but not because of anything remotely approaching a signature flourish. He places significant focus on how all of our senses are affected by design, which encompasses everything from objects to environments.

Inside his book are beautiful images of his work, as well as that of others who have collaborated with him or contributed to projects he has curated. The images provide important references to his ideas and observations, and they are well integrated. The book functions almost as an illustrated guidebook to Hara’s design philosophy, visually representing the application of his thinking. Also, the design of this book is superbly elegant and engaging:

Designing Design by Kenya Hara

As a designer, Hara’s work reflects thought and consideration that seems contradictory in that it is both minimalist and comprehensive. It is evident that this is not a person who takes design lightly, and perhaps considers it more of an epistemological exercise:

“The human brain likes anything that entails a great deal of information.”

Kenya Hara

The book is divided into chapters that individually and collectively investigate:

  • - Re-Design - Daily Products of The 20th Century
  • - Haptic - Awakening the Senses
  • - Senseware - Medium That Intrigues Man
  • - White
  • - Muji - Nothing, Yet Everything
  • - Viewing The World From The Tip of Asia
  • - Exformation - A New Information Format
  • - What is Design?

Cosmic Scale

The universe is inconceivably vast and empty and we are incredibly isolated here on our little blue speck of dust. This cold, hard reality is an abstraction to most of us because as far as we’re concerned, we’ve got it pretty good. This video is along the lines of the one I posted earlier in the week that contrasts Earth against some impossibly large celestial bodies elsewhere in the universe. More fuel for universal irrelevancy.

Video found via , a smart and superbly generalist blog I recently discovered.

Telepresence And The Man/Machine Interface

I have posted about telepresence and the workplace a few times before, but this is a military application that is incredibly interesting. The interface between robots and operators has proved to be a bottleneck in effectiveness. This is partly because robotic technology has advanced at a rate faster then our interface and control technologies, and partly because the performance demands being put on robotics have scaled significantly in a very short period of time. This is beginning to change, and DARPA is again at the forefront of driving that change. The video above is of the telepresence “Head Aimed Remote Viewer” (), and it offers tremendous improvements in speed, navigation, and effectiveness. The Pentagon has very quickly become a driver of innovation in robotics.Story via

Rethinking Partnership + Architecture 2.0

Rem Koolhaas by Tom Oldham

This post would be a continuation on my theme about thoughts on the future building culture, at least for my immediate team. You can read related posts here, though you have to scroll down for some of the more inflammatory ones. In any event, our team has been deep into investigations of business model and approach as it relates to the built environment, and one organization and one person continues to surface as a vanguard and a contrarian, and consistently at the heart of the examples we provide to each other. Pictured above is , the founder of . He has a well-known and well-developed record as an architect and designer, and has managed to be seemingly ubiquitous with active projects dotting the globe. OMA has been tireless in execution, and is providing solutions to the domain of exclusive and high profile clients. Pushing boundaries is hard, intense, and expensive work and it takes clients with the money and steely resolve to partner with the likes of Rem Koolhaas. In any event, the results seem to be beneficial for all involved.

Via I came across a conference held in Rotterdam last November with the overarching theme of how the future of architecture, “Architectuur 2.0″, is presently being shaped. All of the speakers (whose lectures can be viewed in the archives… in Dutch, I am still looking for full transcripts in English), collectively the group known as the , seemed excellent. But it was a couple of Rem’s comments that stuck with me. He talked about partnerships, and how they are incredibly underestimated, and went on to list a number of examples that, in his view, regardless of the result, helped him move the needle. As you survey the density, and audacity, of the work being done by OMA and AMO worldwide it is evident that none of this could happen, none of it would really even be possible, without that approach to the collective project team. How we partner, and how well we partner, is ultimately the determiner of project success. This obviously extends far beyond just the built environment, but if there was an industry that was plagued with the challenges of navigating partnerships successfully, I would have to say it is architecture and design. At least in the United States.

This is changing, though, and architects are beginning to reconnect with the making, and reconnect with clients. Or, perhaps, connect differently. Smart architecture teams are organizing around projects in new ways that are incorporating research and technology for a remix of the user experience. They are fast, nimble, innovative and not afraid of risk nor of liability. All of these are givens. They approach challenges holistically, with a design brief informed by smart, comprehensive research and well-reasoned conclusions. If it is your goal to create value, to do more than just meet minimal requirements, than this approach is a necessity. The alternative is to let the value of design be eroded, and ultimately distributed across an increasingly complex vendor environment. Not an option. But to prevent this, or to circumvent it entirely, goes right back to Rem’s comments regarding partnership, that “partnership is an underestimated theme.”

Space Elevator… “Crazy But Possible.”

Space Elevator Rendering

One of the researchers investigating the possibilities of building a space elevator said that. It was an incredibly futuristic idea a decade ago. Not so much today. Getting to space with rockets is incredibly dangerous and increasingly expensive. Each Space Shuttle mission costs NASA (and by extension the American taxpayers) about $500 million, and in these constrained budgetary times that is verging on cost prohibitive. This lends credence to the space elevator concept, which is not by any means a new idea ( put forth the idea in his 1978 novel “The Fountains of Paradise” - though he was not the first). Developments in materials technologies, like carbon nanotubes, are giving the space elevator new momentum and urging NASA to perhaps consider it seriously as a future alternative to orbital access.

The concept is exceedingly simple:

  • - Send up a satellite that maintains a geosynchronous orbit
  • - Satellite deploys a ribbon or cable back to Earth
  • - Cable is attached to an offshore station
  • - Elevator rides the cable from the offshore station up to the orbiting satellite

The elevator could be powered by Earth based lasers or by powerful solar reflectors. Panels on the elevator would receive the light energy from the emitters on the ground and produce the electricity that would power the motors on the elevator. It’s sustainable.

Previously, we had been held back by the material realities of trying to build a several thousand mile (as long as 22,000 miles) elevator cable. The advent of carbon nanotube technology, still in its infancy, could be the lightweight but incredibly strong materials breakthrough that makes this possible. If completed, the space elevator would be the largest structure ever built.

More on space elevators in an excellent entry at , at , and a short video from PBS’s .

Interstellar Perspective

Cosmological Perspective

Pretty incredible, really, just how seemingly microscopic not only our lovely planet, but our entire solar system is when contrasted against the largest known star in the universe, . This star is a hypergiant located about 5,000 light years from Earth. VY Canis Majoris is so enormous that a human walking on its surface at a normal pace of 3mph for 8 hours per day would take 650,000 years to circumnavigate. It would take 2 years 11 months to complete the same task here on Earth. The volume of VY Canis Majoris is nearly a billion times that of our own Sun.

Animation via via my lovely wife.

The Handicap of Expertise: Getting In Our Own Way

An innovation bottleneck…

The dreaded curse of knowledge, that as we become more expert in something we also begin to limit and eventually lose the ability to innovate. Is this possible?

Janet Rae-Dupree thinks so, and in an article in the New York Times titled , she looked at how innovation is actually better supported by toning down the level of expertise. The premise she explores is that once we become expert we lose the ability to think freely, and operate instead from the place of our expertise. She points out that as we become more knowledgeable and expert in our fields our language and thought patterns change to such a degree that outsiders and non-experts often will not understand. This knowledge/action patterning then begins to wear behavioral paths for us that inhibit our ability to operate without the support of what we know to be true, and instills avoidance tendencies for things that are outside of that expertise.

How do you avoid this tendency? Dupree points us to , who in her 2006 book, proposes bringing in from the outside to keep creativity and innovation on track. Rabe tells us to look for renaissance-thinkers and creative generalists who have expertise in related areas, but not in your specific area of expertise. It is important to empower these individuals to question and challenge, and bring a different perspective to the work at hand.

This would seem to align with my post earlier regarding building innovative cultures, and the idea that you need to attract talent to your team that bring both a unique perspective AND a willingness to challenge convention, argue on behalf of ideas, and embrace risk.

NASA Begins Looking For a Ride

Patiently waiting for a ride to work…

NASA is trying to move quickly to finish the International Space Station before they decommission the Space Shuttle in 2010. This is primarily because the program currently in development to replace the shuttle, the Orion orbital vehicle and Constellation launch system, will most likely not be operational until 2015. This leaves a four to five year period where NASA will not be able to access space without the help of others, whether they be companies or nations. The good news is that at that time there will be several options as , , the , and possibly even will have operational orbital programs, not to mention the private ventures like and (two very cool companies, definitely check them out) that are currently contracted by NASA to develop supplementary ISS transport and support programs. The program from SpaceX, the , is planned to be operational by 2010. I imagine that Sir Richard Branson would be willing to help, if needed.

As recently as last week to talking with the Russian space program regarding negotiating the purchase of use of their Soyuz and Progress orbital programs, in the event that contracting with private space companies does not provide the necessary capacity. Given that it is now 2008, and that the shuttle goes defunct in 2010, it is in NASA’s best interest to have these plans solidified as soon as possible. Otherwise, our astronauts and researchers face a space access bottleneck at exactly the time that the International Space Station becomes fully operational.

Innovation, Failure And Ignore Your Customers…

The Engine of Innovation

We have spent a fair amount of time on this site investigating issues and ideas around innovation (especially back in October of last year). This is because few things can so substantially affect the fortunes of a company to the extent that supporting innovation can. Nothing new here, open any business magazine or visit any number of blogs and innovation is being discussed. This pervasiveness is born out of the priority and value we place on being able build the cultures that allow us to innovate consistently, and well. It is also because creating these cultures is incredibly challenging, and we benefit from learning how others have navigated these challenges.

I read yesterday an excellent article in Architectural Record by Andrew Pressman titled that offered a perspective that warrants sharing. This perspective begins with the increasing recognition that a firm’s cultural environment is a critical factor not only in producing the best possible design work but also in attracting and retaining both new staff and clients. In any creative enterprise you are only as good as your people, teams, and degree to which they are supported. A significant component of the talent war is demonstrating to prospects that you offer the culture that will support them in their creative work. Additionally, just as the business press is permeated with investigations into innovation, so are clients. The expectation for design excellence, and for teams and methodologies that put innovation front and center, should be considered a best practice by clients looking for creative services. For creative teams, fostering this culture and being able to identify successful outcomes is a significant competitive differentiator.

The article highlights an approach promoted by in work featured in the Harvard Business Review back in 2000/2001, but still right on the money. It is an extreme approach to fostering innovation and acknowledges that new perspectives and ideas often emanate from “mavericks” with wildly diverse backgrounds, who harbor no preconceptions, and who are undaunted in challenging the status quo and championing their ideas. These mavericks are invaluable to successful innovation subcultures, and their ultimate impact on the organizational culture at large. Sounds good. The main points of this approach:

  • - Hire naive misfits who argue with you
  • - Encourage failure
  • - Avoid letting client input limit your vision
  • - Fully commit to risky ventures

I’ll let you read the article to get the full story, but there is some particularly valuable insight offered by , an innovator and inventor of microprocessors, with respect to how client input can limit your vision. He says:

“Don’t do what your customers want; Do something better.”

Ted Hoff

I think all of the points above are important, and while they may sound somewhat intuitive they are very difficult to maintain in practice. Many organizations exist specifically to limit the existence of these behaviors, they are counterintuitive to an “established” enterprise and threaten the order that some managers can spend their entire careers trying to create. They defy predictability, and therefore deny managers the ability to financially model and plan. Therein lies the challenge, to encourage these behaviors in support of an innovative culture and in contrast to the ubiquitous corporate model. To realize and champion that business as usual in creative enterprise is a definitive path to extinction.

The Soviet Ekranoplan and WIG

Soviet Ekranoplan

The Cold War was the catalyst for the development of a diversity of interesting vehicles, platforms and technologies, but few have been of more interesting to me than the Soviet “Lun” ekranoplan pictured above and below. The Soviet Union began developing the ground effect technology in the 1930’s, but the craft reached a pinnacle of sorts in the 1980’s with the Lun (one of which can be seen at ), though WIG craft have yet to reach any broad application, whether military or commercial. benefit from WIG in two important ways, the first being the ability to achieve incredibly high speeds and the second that flying at 10 to 50 feet above the surface makes them largely undetectable by radar.

WIG works as a high pressure region develops beneath the wing’s lower surface and above the water surface, which enhances its lift compared to a conventional wing in free air. The close proximity of the water also disrupts the formation of wing-tip vortices, which are a major cause of induced drag on conventional wings in free air. To benefit from WIG, the airfoil must have a relatively flat lower surface in order to increase lift. WIG craft have an advantage over water-bourne craft in that a huge amount of power is needed to overcome the drag of the water. By flying just above the water that power can be used for speed and carrying capacity.

Ekranoplans were developed in a range of sizes and applications, but they could reach enormous proportions and cargo carrying capacity. The Lun, among the largest to be developed, spanned 240 feet long with a wingspan of 144 feet. Its size would be comparable to a . It had a maximum takeoff weight of 882,000 pounds and a range of over 1,800 miles. This behemoth could cruise at 341 mph, leaving traditional naval vessels quickly in its wake.

Several nations, including Russia and the United States, continue to explore the potential of WIG (like the ), and appears to have an active WIG program, but to date none have pushed this technology to the limit as Soviet designers and engineers did towards the end of the Cold War.

Soviet Ekranoplan at rest

A Soviet Lun Ekranoplan transport at rest with crew on the exterior giving an idea of the size of the craft.

Video showing a range of Ekranoplans in action:

Bauhaus, Endless

Bauhaus

Few things have been as expansively influential in the world of design and the emerging Modern movement as the school and design movement that originated out of Dessau, Germany shortly after WWI ended. Bauhaus translates roughly into English to mean “house of building.” Though very short lived, existing only from when (a recently decommissioned German officer) founded the school in 1919 to its disbanding in 1933, enough people were touched by the design leadership and thinking at the school to carry it throughout the world. That, and many of the instructors found themselves at schools elsewhere in the world where they could continue the good work and sharpen the minds of future designers and architects. Walter Gropius ended up at Harvard’s design school in 1934, subsequently helping a number of students and instructors make their way to positions and careers in the United States. This migration of Bauhausians to the United States set the stage for the launching of a design movement here that lasts to this day.

There is a concise that gives a nice overview of the Bauhaus and some of the personalities that made it happen. The article is in response to what sounds like an excellent exhibit tracing the history of the Bauhaus at Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art.

The Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV)

Orion CEV

That graphic above looks like it could have been from 1969. I posted about the Constellation and Orion programs earlier, but just spent way to much time on and found an excellent and concise summary of the details around the Orion CEV. It is interesting how much from the Apollo program we are leveraging for Orion and Constellation. NASA has gone back to the future, so to speak. It makes perfect sense, in the vein of continuous improvement, as the Apollo program worked very well nearly forty years ago. With today’s advancements in electronics, computers, materials, and propulsion (not to mention everything we have learned from the shuttle and the ISS), Orion should benefit from a very long list of innovations and improvements. Earlier I had read that this program would not be coming online until 2015, five years after the decommissioning of the Space Shuttle leaving quite a gap in our ability to reach space without the help of others. Now I am seeing estimates of 2011 for Orion to be operational, keeping us in what is building up to be an incredibly competitive space race with China, India, Japan, Russia, and the ESA.

Cutting Undersea Cables?

map of undersea communications cables

We’re in heavy speculative mode. Not thinking conspiracy or act of sabotage, at least not yet, but wondering what exactly is going on in the ocean off the coast of Egypt, Dubai and the UAE. On Wednesday of last week it was revealed that first one, then two undersea cables had been “damaged” in the waters off the coast of the Alexandria, Egypt, effectively causing an internet “blackout” in parts of the Middle East. Then, on Friday, India’s Reliance Communications announced that a third cable had been rendered inoperable off the coast of the UAE. Today, news of a fourth cable being damaged off the coast of Dubai. The cables are thought to be fixable, but ships are being delayed by bad weather and an on-site situation analysis is still days away. So, what is happening? There has been media speculation about ship anchors severing the cables (seems unlikely), acts of terrorism (highly unlikely), submarines (hmmm…), seismic activity (likely), and power system failures (seems likely). I am sure we will know in the next few days what exactly has happened, but realizing how fragile our communications infrastructure is as it relates to the internet is disconcerting to say the least. Fortunately, the inherently decentralized nature of the internet has allowed for efficient workarounds to the damaged cables, but losing four cables in less than a week in geographically distant but related areas is cause for concern.

Suffice it to say that the ability to sever communications cables, like the ability to knock out satellites, would be something coveted by many, many nations.

More information , , and .

Update 1: Just read at the that the ship anchor cause for the damaged submarine cables may actually be the answer to this mystery. It seems that the bad weather stopped shipping traffic, and ships anchored in a “no parking zone” directly over the area the cables are in. Ships move while anchored, anchors drag and snag cables, cables get damaged.

Now, what about the other two cables?

Update 2: Found this of the effects of the damaged cables in the Mediterranean on data throughput. More detail as to where the cables were damaged, with one off the coast of Marseilles, France, and the other near Alexandria, Egypt. This report does not mention the other two cables off Dubai and UAE.

Update 3: I just read that yesterday, February 5th, a fifth cable in the Mediterranean has been cut. Very interesting how this story is developing.

Update 4: Turns out it was only the original four cables that were disrupted and that three of those cables are expected to be back on line within the next couple of days. I listened to a telecom/telephony expert on NPR yesterday and he made a sound argument that these events actually happen all of the time and that submarine cables are subject to a great number of potential interruptions. This is precisely why the network is distributed, diffuse and decentralized.

Space Architecture & The International Space Station

ISS 2007 configuration

The International Space Station has been underway for so long that I think it is often just forgotten about. Work commenced in 1998, so its been under construction for nearly a full decade. But it’s up there and manned 24/7/365. We should collectively pay more attention to the development of the ISS as that is where the future of humanity is slowly (very, very slowly) being shaped. That, and we’re freaking building this thing in space. Most are at least familiar with the station if only because of the problems that have plagued its construction, including the problems with the NASA space shuttle that have caused major construction delays. There have been some close calls for the astronauts and scientists manning the ISS, and some difficult learning experiences for the international team tasked with building Earth’s first large scale “permanent” space platform. But that is the whole point, really, to learn along the way. Building this station is an incredible undertaking.

Some quick ISS facts:

  • - It is the largest and most complex international science project in history
  • - 27 nations are actively involved in its construction, most not having a space program
  • - When completed it will weigh over 1 million pounds
  • - It will ultimately be 356 feet across and 290 feet long
  • - The solar panels on the ISS would cover an acre
  • - It is in orbit approximately 250 statute miles from Earth
  • - It completes 15.77 orbits of the Earth each day
  • - The station has been continuously inhabited since November, 2002
  • - It will eventually have 15,000 cubic feet of living space
  • - The costs to create the ISS will exceed $130 billion, far beyond the original budget
  • - Five space tourists have visited, paying $25 million each for the opportunity
  • - The microgravity environment on the station is 88% of Earth’s gravity
  • - As of today it has been in orbit 3,362 days, and has been inhabited for 2,651 days
  • - For this pinnacle of human technological achievement, it looks rickety

There is a tremendous amount of valuable research already underway on the station, including experiments in biology, medicine, physics, biotechnology, materials research, cosmology and meteorology. Obviously, much more is planned and as more research modules come online the opportunities will increase. 2010 is tentatively planned to be the year of completion. But that will certainly be subject to change. Oddly, the year that the station is completed is the year that NASA decommissions the space shuttle with its replacement, the Orion/Constellation program, not coming online until 2015.

Some images I grabbed of the ISS for review:

This image, from 2001/2002, shows the initial operational solar arrays.

ISS from approach

This is the station configuration as of November, 2007.

ISS in 2007

Very cool image of an astronaut capturing a reflection of the ISS and the Earth below in his face mask.

astronaut selfshot with ISS in background

A detail shot of the connection between one of the solar arrays and a module. Note the astronaut working on the station in the upper center of the image.

ISS appendage and solar array

Another detail. The exterior is incredibly complex. There is an astronaut in the image towards the center middle providing the scale of this module. The arm in the image was manufactured by Canada.

ISS under construction

A space shuttle preparing to dock with the station. The shuttle has been the primary large payload delivery vehicle for the ISS. The Russians provide supplies and take away refuse via manned and unmanned capsules.

Shot of shuttle from ISS

A chart showing the breakdown of components and with nation’s of origin.

ISS components breakdown

More from . Check out the interactive informational tour.

The Changing Workplace of Office 2.0

The modern office circa 1960

Set aside your disdain for sticky web monikers for a moment. I have been following the “The Workplace of The Future” for a while now, and have been writing about it since last July. The Innovation Tours that I organize for my team are focused on surveying where boundaries are being pushed and how businesses are responding to changes in the ways people want to work and the resulting impact on meaningful workplace design. No doubt, the demands on the physical workplace environment are changing right before our eyes, being driven by rapid changes in technology, notions of work, telepresence, and shifts in workforce demographics. Intersecting these drivers is the concept of Office 2.0, which encompasses the increasing number of web-based collaborative work applications, such as the smart suite of web applications from . They are a fast, efficient way for users and teams to organize, manage, disseminate and develop information using a simple, intuitive interface. The value of these applications are that they let you work remotely with people in ways that make us less dependent on desktop workstations and organized offices. At their heart, they functionally support collaborative idea and project development and the efficient sharing of documents and files, but the potential for how they will potentially change the ways in which we work go far beyond the functional benefits and they will ultimately influence what work actually constitutes.

Google is in this space with the web-based offerings , and Microsoft is throwing its weight behind a rekindled web-based initiative. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of smaller start-up applications also struggling for attention. Start using these tools now. Familiarize yourself. Encourage your teams to do the same. In the imminent future more and more of our work will take place on the web, leveraging web-based applications, and less and less of it will happen within the confines of an office. Smart companies are already there, and are redefining their models based on their own understanding of how Office 2.0 benefits them. In the short term, the biggest benefit for companies is the liberation from legacy notions of space and real estate, in the long term a benefit will be a workforce distributed globally, not locally. Physical offices will become less about the housing of workers during working hours and more about space that supports in-person meetings and collaboration. Think about how you were working ten years ago, think about how you accomplished your tasks and contrast that to how you work now. Now recall ten years before that, and if you’re old enough, ten years before that. I think it is safe to say that we would be hard pressed to not acknowledge the dramatic change that continues to occur, only with increased speed.

There is an annual conference, aptly named the , focused on exploring developments around Office 2.0 which I am planning on attending this year.

Robert Scoble recently talked about web-based work apps in an .

The Last Year In Robotics Was THE Year

The field of robotics…

2007 was a terrifically important year in the field of robotics. It was a year of new accomplishments in mobility, application, and the continuation of exponential increases in functional robotic populations. Take note, we are riding a technological wave that will dramatically impact our collective futures for the better, and in some ways for the worse, I surmise. The forces behind the continuous improvement and innovation within robotics are gaining tremendous momentum, and the associated tremendous budgets. This is not just about the military, either. Advances in robotics are happening globally and are sponsored by both public and private enterprise. It will be interesting to see what 2008 brings.

There was an excellent article late last month at that summarizes well some of the incredible accomplishments and developments in robotics from the past year.

Another Step Closer to Science Fiction: Shape-shifting Robots

She’s an android

Granted, that image above is from a certain 1970’s science fiction moment burned in the minds of those of us old enough to remember, and actually has nothing to do with this post. But this does. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon are working to eventually create microscopic robots that can swarm together allowing them to change shape into almost any form by clinging together. They are testing these strategies on groups of larger, pocket-sized robots that allow rapid prototyping of the simulations and control approach enabling the researchers to quickly refine and evolve the swarming abilities of the robots. One set of robots uses electromagnetic forces to move and connect themselves in patterns, to communicate, and to share power. Check out this video of the test robots in action:

Fascinating, and given our propensity for making science fiction become reality I imagine that this is a robotics technology we will see at some time in the next couple of decades.

This story, via , immediately made me think of this:

Terminator T-1000

Dell Embraces Change. And Design.

Dell Crystal Monitor

Those that know me well will be shocked by this post. Yes, I have been a Dell hater. My personal experiences with their products over the years have left me both very frustrated and disappointed. Then I went to in San Francisco in February of 2007, just about a year ago. It was a dense, terrific conference loosely themed around managing for the user experience, and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing all of the speakers. One in particular, though, really caught my attention. It was , the manager of the then recently launched Experience Design Group at Dell. I would be nice saying that he had his work cut out for him in front of this obviously predominantly Apple loving crowd. I think he did a great job presenting. He owned Dell’s past mistakes regarding the user, and made a point to own why those mistakes had happened (despite these realities being inherited challenges). That alone was refreshing. He then outlined how Dell’s approach to product design and the user experience was in the process of being radically transformed. He was incredibly honest and open, and provided us a window into the course he and his team were setting for Dell.

The results of that direction are now evident. Though I have yet to interact with any of these products, it includes a range of , laptops and the above monitor (a refreshingly complete, if somewhat overwrought, departure from Dell’s design language) the photos for which made it to all the various gadget blogs late last fall. This is certainly a step in the right direction for design and user experience over at Dell, and these changes are beginning to surface not just within Dell’s product line, but with Dell’s entire customer engagement strategy and is evidence that Protzmann delivered on his promise to improve experience and interaction design for Dell customers. This is an exciting transformation to see, and it has been enough of a change for me, and many others, to take notice. What is even more impressive, and demands attention and acknowledgment, is how quickly Protzmann and his team were able to redirect Dell’s approach to interaction and product design, and ultimately redirect Dell’s culture and approach to their customers. It’s been less than a year since MX. That’s impressive. The big question, though, if it will be enough to truly transform Dell and market perception in the long term.

Update: Just saw another new product design leaked over at , a laptop, that definitely looks nice.

The Man Who Fell To Earth. Three Times.

This is insane.

In November of 1959 US Air Force Captain Joe Kittinger, fitted with a pressurized suit and a parachute, rode a high-altitude helium balloon to a height of 76,400 feet above the Earth’s surface. He then proceeded to jump. This had never been done before, and why would it have been? Kittinger entered a free-fall during which he lost consciousness after entering a 120rpm spin the g-forces of which were calculated to be 22 times the force of gravity at his extremities. Fortunately, his parachute was set to automatically open, which it did, saving his life. Three weeks later he rode another balloon high into the atmosphere and jumped from 76,700 feet. This was Project Excelsior. It was research.

That was nothing, though. On August 16, 1960 Captain Kittinger took a balloon up to 102,800 feet. He could see the curvature of the Earth. He could see entire continents. He was effectively the first human being in space. Again, he jumped. He fell for 4 minutes 36 seconds reaching a speed of 614mph. He thought he had broken the sound barrier. At 18,000 feet he opened his parachute and calmly returned to Earth. He set records for the highest balloon ascent, highest parachute jump, and fastest speed by a man through the atmosphere. He also earned a whole series of medals and would eventually be promoted to Colonel. Recognition and rank aside, why would anybody do this?

Because they wanted to understand, to learn, and the only way to do this effectively was to do it yourself. As we entered an age after the conclusion of World War II defined by new and incredible breakthroughs in technology we needed to understand limits, capacities, and thresholds. In the days before super computers and sophisticated software modeling, this was how it was done. There was a need to understand the affects of high altitude bailout on the pilots and astronauts who would be flying at those altitudes. There was a need to test the effectiveness of the equipment we were designing. That meant someone needed to ride a balloon up that high and jump out. Captain Kittinger volunteered for the opportunity. He showed scientists that astronauts could survive the harshness of space with just a pressure suit and that man could eject from aircraft at extreme altitudes and survive.

More about Joe Kittinger and Project Excelsior , and .

There is also this incredible footage of his jump in 1960 with some narrative from Joe Kittinger:

Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo

White Knight with SpaceShip Two

I have been following this story like the wide-eyed ten year old that I am when it comes to anything related to even the remote possibility that I might someday be able to experience the weightlessness of space. Earlier this week Sir Richard Branson unveiled the design of new orbital space launch system, the carrier vehicle WhiteKnightTwo and the suborbital craft SpaceShipTwo (pictured above). This would be phase two of Virgin Galactic’s plan to “improve” humanity’s access to space. At $200,000 per seat that would be wealthy humanity, at least initially until the operation scales and ticket prices come down dramatically. Back in 2005 Branson’s Virgin Group and Burt Rutan’s announced an to form a new aerospace production company to build a fleet of commercial sub-orbital spaceships and launch aircraft. The new company, owns the designs of the SpaceShipTwo and White Knight Two launch systems. See my previous post on Burt Rutan.

SpaceShipTwo will hold six passengers and two pilots and will fly higher than SpaceShipOne, the craft created by Scaled Composites that became the first private venture to enter Earth’s orbit, winning the Ansari X-prize in the process. Virgin Galactic hopes to launch its first public flight before 2009 and is now taking seat reservations. 200 people have already purchased tickets.

The commercial flights will be about 2.5 hours in duration with only a few minutes of that actually being spent in orbit experiencing weightlessness. At $200,000 per flight, that is $1,333 per minute.

Richard Branson is clearly ready for launch.

Sir Richard Branson ready for blast off

Dieter Rams

Dieter Rams radio design

We live in a world of technology fetishism, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Nowhere is this more evident than in the world of consumer electronics, and few have had as significant an impact on design in this category as Dieter Rams. Renowned for his work at and for creating the “Braun style”, his work in interaction and interface design not only shaped an entire generation of consumer electronics, and industrial designers, but set a standard for clean, excellent design that we see manifested today in seminal products like those from Apple. Back in 2004 did a feature on him in which he provided his design philosophy in ten points, which I recently came across again and thought important to highlight:

“These points cannot be set in stone because just as technology and culture are constantly developing, so are ideas about good design.”

- Dieter Rams

1. Good design is innovative.
Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology and can never be an end in itself.

2. Good design makes a product useful.
A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of the product while disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.

3. Good design is aesthetic.
The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products we use every day affect our well-being. But only well-executed objects can be beautiful.

4. Good design makes a product understandable.
It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product talk. At best, it is self-explanatory.

5. Good design is honest.
It does not make a product more innovative, powerful, or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.

6. Good design is unobtrusive.
Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are
neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression.

7. Good design is long-lasting.
It avoids being fashionable, and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years–even in today’s throwaway society.

8. Good design is thorough down to the last detail.
Nothing must be arbitrary. Care and accuracy in the design process shows respect toward the consumer.

9. Good design is environmentally friendly.
Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimizes physical and visual pollution throughout the life cycle of the product.

10. Good design is as little design as possible.
Less but better–because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with inessentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity!

More on Rams and an interview with him at .

10 Worst Innovation Mistakes in A Recession

Which way do we go?

While everyone worriedly contemplates (did you see the state of international stock markets today?) whether or not the United States has entered a recessionary period, takes a stand at Business Week and offers up a smart list of the you can make in a recession that will hurt and inhibit innovation. Sometimes knowing what not to do is a bit easier then knowing what to do, and this list is definitely worth reviewing as you and your company plan for navigating our changing economy. Here’s what NOT TO DO from Nussbaum’s article:

1 - Fire talent. Because of America’s accounting laws, investments in talent are expensed, not capitalized, so cutting back on people, especially really smart, high-priced people, is a quick way to cut costs. The accounting rules only hurt companies who follow them. Talent is the single most important variable in innovation.

2 - Cut back on technology. Xerox and others report that companies are already curbing investments in technology to save money. Banks especially. The rise of social networking and consumer power means that companies have to be part of a larger conversation with their customers. This means big money spent on IT.

3 - Reduce Risk. Innovation requires taking chances and dealing with failure. Recessions push managers to be more conservative. They need to fight this instinct.

4 - Stop New Product Development. Saving money often means cutting back on new products and services during an economic downturn. This hurts companies when growth returns and they have fewer offerings in the marketplace to attract consumers.

5 - Boards Replace Growth-Oriented CEOs with Cost-Cutting CEOs. Sudden declines in revenues and profits often leads boards of directors to search for managers with experience in pinching pennies. That’s what appeared to happen recently at Bang & Olufsen. Boards forget that most recessions last only two or three quarters and, these days, are relatively shallow. Penny-pinching CEOs don’t have the skills to grow, when growth returns.

6 - Companies Retreat From Globalization. It’s expensive to expand globally and managers often save money by cutting back on emerging markets. It’s a big mistake. Emerging markets are sources of new revenue, business models, and talent.

7 - CEOs Replace Innovation As Key Strategy. By turning defensive, top managers take innovation off the top of the official agenda and replace it with systems management and squeezing costs. The entire organization follows. It is extremely hard to reverse this when growth returns.

8 - Performance Metrics Are Changed. To Save money and cut costs, managers shift employee evaluations away from rewarding riskier new projects toward sustaining safer older goals. Risk-averse behavior follows. Again, this is hard to change.

9 - Hierarchy Is Reinforced Over Collaboration. Sudden drops in revenue and profit often lead companies to panic and mobilize to stem the decline. The need for fast decision-making often leads to a return to command-and-control management. This alienates creative-class employees, young Gen Y and Xers and stops the evolution of corporation organization toward a flat, collaborative, open source model.

10 - Retreat Into Walled Castles. Cutting back on outside consultancies is seen as a quick way to save money. Yet one of the key ways of introducing change into business culture is to bring in outside innovation and design consultants. They know what companies across a broad range of industries around the world are doing to promote change. Not receiving this information can hurt a company’s global competitive position.

There are many indicators that this recessionary period will be relatively short lived, with the United States emerging sometime at the end of 2010/early 2011 or so (look for my imminent post on economist Brian Beaulieu of , who I had the pleasure of hearing present on the state of the economy last week). An optimist’s take on recession is that it is an opportunity to refine your business, diversify your offerings, enter new markets and prepare for the relative deals in the economy as the markets hit rock bottom. Time to find your inner optimist.

Five Important Reasons Carroll Shelby is Cool

Carroll Shelby w/ Ford Mark IV 1. He just turned 85 and still has a firm and influential grip on high performance car design.

2. He not only built fast, winning racing cars… he raced too and won in his own right.

3. He usually wears a black cowboy hat.

4. In addition to a multitude of fast cars that have his name, there is also his .

5. Summing up his consistently successful approach to creating winning racecars, he said:

“It’s a massive motor in a tiny, lightweight car.

As cool as he is, I’m going to have to pass on the chili. That’s Carroll Shelby up in the photo above posing next to one of his winning Ford GT40 Mark IV’s from the 1960’s. I posted a little bit about that a few months ago. I wasn’t born yet, but the Ford team’s victories with Shelby’s direction and leadership are legendary. They were also instrumental in burning in me a passion for fast sports cars, racing, and winning against the odds.

More about Carroll Shelby , , and (ignore the goofy soundtrack…)

Mazda Furai Concept, An Overdue Design Departure

Mazda Furai concept roof profile

I don’t love this car. I love what this car represents, which is a significant departure from the mainstream in racing car design. Motorsports, and automobile design as a whole, seem dominated by incremental, and sometimes imperceptible, changes. This concept, the from Mazda that debuted at the 2008 Detroit Auto Show, is going its own way. It furthers the Mazda design team’s expression of its , or “flow,” design language that was unveiled earlier at the L.A. autoshow. The body of the car applies Mazda’s design language to achieve incredibly complex geometries that in some areas appear grotesque, while in others refined and beautiful. I especially enjoy the roof as presented in the image above. I want more building architecture that can achieve this elegantly complex folding and crossing.

The overall feel of the car is very organic… or alien. Your choice. After following automobile design and motorsports for just about my entire life it is exciting to see a manufacturer make a bold, radical move. It has been a while.

Here is the Furai looking tough in the pits:

Mazda Furai concept at the track

Design Direction at The Design Council

Sir Michael Bichard

has emerged from a period of serious introspection and reinvention. The results? New leadership and direction in the form of Chairman (pictured above with sleeves rolled up and ready to dig in and get to work), and sharper focus replete with a new tagline:

“Helping businesses become more successful, public services more efficient and designers more effective.”

Not so much catchy as vitally important in describing its direction, I suppose. The Design Council has long been a resource for the design industry, but has suffered mounting criticism in the last few years due to a predominance of product, industrial and graphic design focus in its efforts and events. This despite the reality that the Design Council has done much to show businesses all over the world the real value of design when applied to a diversity of industries.

Sir Michael Bichard’s recent appointment as chairman is in support of the refined Council mission of being the strategic body for design in the UK. The operative word now being “strategic.” Bichard has a long record as a successful public servant, leader in arts and education, and vocal supporter of the value of design. He received attention recently for his :

1. Great design can change the world and move people

2. If you think good design is expensive you should look at the real cost of bad design

3. Design, creativity and innovation are essential if we are to meet the global challenges of sustainable development

4. Design is not just about products and communications, it’s also increasingly in the services we receive or buy

5. To consume design is a creative act - and everyone can be creative!

I chuckle each time I read rule number two, as it is so, so true. These rules are important as the Council still finds itself embroiled in debate about exactly how design fits into the British, or global, economy. Despite their best efforts, the design community in the UK still finds itself somewhat adrift from the core of British industry and business. This is partly due to overconfidence, and partly due to the increasing irrelevancy of design education in the face of the realities of real world practice. These challenges are no different than those faced here in the United States, and amount to a massing of missed opportunities for design. Changing this begins, perhaps, with the importance of combining a deep understanding of business and business processes, of business thinking, with the methodologies and practices of design thinking, a concept getting much airplay in a diversity of business magazines as of late. It would seem that the British Design Council is going down this road, and most probably in a smart way, and as they are known for their quality publications and case studies I look forward to learning more about their new focus in the coming months.

via

Sciencedebate 2008

Sciencedebate 2008 header

It has taken me too long to write about this. I say that because this is an effort that should be an absolute top priority for all of us, at least those of us who value rational, reasonable thought and the support of science as an issue demanding attention from the presidential candidates.

has been underway for several weeks, and it is an effort to get the candidates to engage in a substantive debate on science and technology. This is effectively an effort to inject intelligence back into the election process as a barometer of how a presidential prospect will move our society forward. I encourage you to check this out by clicking on the link and if you are so inclined, sign the petition. You’ll be in good company as some of the more notable supporters of this effort are 23 Nobel and Crafoord laureates, 21 government leaders of both parties, 25 University and college presidents, and several thousand concerned citizens, including yours truly.

Japanese Sun Ark

Sanyo’s Solar Ark
Solar power generation offers amazing potential, but is hampered by the impracticality of being used effectively in urban settings. This is because the scale of solar power generation required for urban areas requires appropriately large solar power generators, and these require huge amounts of open and unfettered access to the sun. In many urban areas there just is no empty space left, and acquiring contiguous space to create large-scale urban solar power generation is cost prohibitive.

Not to be hampered by this, , has offered up an innovative and beautiful solution that allows a large, effective solar power facility to coexist with the Japanese need for esthetic harmony, and fit into many urban and sub-urban situations. They call it the , for visually obvious reasons, and it is located in the in central Japan. It can be appreciated from the as it jets past at 300 km/hr on an adjacent railway track. It is visually unique, impressive and memorable, and beyond being a highly effective solar photovoltaic power generation facility (collecting over 630 kW from over 5,000 solar panels generating upwards of 500,000 kWh of energy per year) it also serves as an ambassador to increasing awareness around the value of solar energy serving as a center for activities related to solar energy, ecology and science. Interestingly, the majority of the monocrystalline modules used were production rejects headed to the scrap pile. More images:

Sanyo’s Solar Ark II

Sanyo’s Solar Ark III

Sanyo’s Solar Ark IV

I orginanally came across the Solar Ark at .

Steve Jobs’ Macworld Keynote 2008 After Action

Lego Steve Jobs at the Lego Macworld 2008

Another at Macworld passes and the consumer electronics world breaths a collective sigh of relief. This close to CES, I think everyone is just about exhausted. Though Steve announced a range of smart, cool new gear… those following his keynote presentation seemed a little let down. I believe that this mood was also reflected in Apple’s stock price, which oddly closed lower for the day by 5.45%. Is this the dreaded “iPhone affect”? Was the anticipation and hype around the release of the iPhone too much for Apple to match? Who cares. The fact is that what Apple presented to us today represents the future direction of both personal computing and media.

In the event that you live under a rock, the star of the day was the elegant and minimalist , Apple’s appropriately reductionist take on the laptop computer, stripped down to the important essentials and built for speed. It presents a much more transportable (and beautiful) form factor and clearly shows the influence of the successful experiments with multi-touch from the iPod Touch and iPhone. Apple also offers the opportunity to upgrade to solid state memory, further eliminating moving parts. Interestingly, and not surprisingly given the speculation, the MacBook Air is also a definitive statement by Apple that optical drives are not long for this world, as it does not have one. To my mind, all very cool and a welcomed departure from the now classic Powerbook/MacBook ubiquity. Yeah, I want one. But my MacBook Pro is doing just fine and the reality is that I don’t NEED the MacBook Air. At least, not yet. Though I definitely appreciate what it represents for portable computing, which is to actually be portable.

Back to the pervasive post keynote mood, people are let down today because just about everything released was anticipated by the speculative technology press in detail, relentlessly, over the last few weeks. That, and Apple has set the product launch bar very high - and consumers and market analysts have, perhaps, unreasonable expectations which apparently Steve Jobs did not meet today, given the drop in stock price. Give it a week, the stock market is a terrible indicator of Apple’s Macworld performance.

Incidentally, Steve Jobs also announced today that Apple has moved since the launch 200 days ago (do the math). This has garnered Apple a 19% stake in the smartphone market. In 200 days.
See also my post on the iPhone launch from last September.

Messenger Beams Back First Image From Mercury

Mercury as seen from Messenger

I have posted previously about the planet Mercury, so I was excited to learn that the robotic Mercury research spacecraft had sent back it’s first image of the planet, the first since Mariner 10 visited Mercury 30 years ago. Messenger stands for the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemsitry, and Ranging mission. The image above was was taken on January 11 as Messenger approached Mercury (at just over 1 million miles from the planet). Scheduled for Monday is a pass at about 125 miles over Mercury’s surface. The plan is for Messenger to make two more close passes (in October 2008 and September 2009) before settling into orbit in March of 2011 and initiating its mission of mapping the surface of Mercury in detail. And in color.

Mercury is the fastest planet in our solar system, and the maneuvering that Messenger will have to do (see graphic below from the Messenger website) to comfortably settle into an observational orbit is complex. It involves the three flybys mentioned to help the craft build up enough speed to match Mercury as it settles into orbit, called “Mercury Orbit Insertion,” or MOI. Messenger will also use a series of trajectory corrections and deep space maneuvers achieved by the controlled firing of its thrusters.

Messenger trajectory map

Idea+Talent+Hard Effort+Execution=Awesome

Quick post, but I absolutely had to share this (via ), and you have absolutely got to . Very impressive to see this scene come together, and how they did it. The video is the making of the D-Day attack at Omaha Beach is for the BBC television show .

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