June 2004 Archives

It was like being back in the 60s. Brian Slesinsky invited me to with him to see SpaceShipOne, the Paul Allen-funded private space program, and we went yesterday for the launch early this morning at the Mojave Airport.

The crowd was a mixture of NASCAR dads there for the tech, aerospace students and sci-fi geeks there to dream, retirees to relive their Cold War youth, and Libertarians to prove that anything the government can do, private industry can do better.

All of them got something from the experience. It was a fascinating mixture of gung-ho American free enterprise optimism (the announcers repeated that the biggest obstacle had not been technical, but convincing the FAA; other times they talked about how this was the start of a new era of California aerospace), nostalgia (Mike Melvill is a space cowboy cast from the classic mold), cool technology and a beer drinkin' good time (though the early-morning liftoff kept most of the beer drinking to the night before).

Political and cultural analysis aside, it was a tremendous event. The technical achievement is huge, and the presentation was organized like clockwork. The rocket's tiny contrail was nearly invisible against the sun. Everyone strained to see it, and when it finally appeared, it was breathtaking in its elegance and fragility (it must have lasted less than a minute). The next 20 minutes was so nervewracking, as everyone tried to catch sight of it, the announcers forgot to do any play-by-play. When it finally appeared, moving a lot faster than I thought any glider should move, chased by 4 planes, it was hard not to feel joy for the pure simplicity of the event, the meaningless act that means so much. I wouldn't have missed it.

4:56AM: 5:30AM:

6:50AM: 7:45AM:

7:51AM (see the big image for the contrail):

8:00AM: 8:14AM:

8:14AM: 8:47AM:

So the second day of the Power Tool Drag Races was today. I wasn't able to stay through all of it, but I did get to run Power Pierce, my can opener-based vehicle, which was designed to go as slowly as possible. I figured that everyone was gunning for the top end of the standings, and no one was likely going for the low end intentionally, so it would be a wide open field. I registered in the Top Fuel category with the expectation that I had a decent chance that whoever I ran against would wipe out and that, tortoise-like, my can opener would eventually crawl to the finish line. Unfortunately, there was a mix-up and I didn't get to run in competition, but I did get an exhibition run.

Here are some photos:

Today I was fortunate enough to participate in the Power Tool Drag Races, one of the more ridiculous and fun San Francisco technology-art events. I pulled extension cords all afternoon in exchange for having a great view of the action. Tomorrow, the big race day, my vehicle races.

Here are some pictures. It clearly shares the Mad Max esthetic sensibilities with SRL and Burning Man (not surprisingly, the personnel overlap between the three organizations is high):

Niki de Saint-Phalle and Jean Tinguely would have been proud (they did the crazy, colorful fountain at the George Pompidou center in Paris and are probably the patron saints of all this stuff).

Here's an essay I wrote for Charlie Gadeken (of Qbox) last year, when he asked for a review of the 2003 event. It's a bit smug, but I think the description is still relevant.

I spend a lot of time looking out the window of airplanes and I rarely tire of it. A big fan of Ad Reinhardt, I like the monochrome look of the sky, the clouds and the earth, and the slight curve of the world below.

Here are some pictures I took my most recent trip from Michigan to Oakland, I like the chiaroscuro effect created by the scratched porthole glass:

2ad, the Second International Appliance Design Conference was one of the best conferences I've been to. Small (150 people, though it seemed even smaller than that), focused (one track, carefully sequenced), brave (they scheduled a robot soccer tournament in the middle of the thing!) and smart. I was really flattered when they accepted my proposal to do a side show for their Bazaar, similar to UPA's Idea Market (which, incidentally, I--uh--was supposed to talk at later this week, but unfortunately can't be at--it looks great, though). I really like the Idea Trade Show concept behind this, and it seemed to work particularly well at 2ad. In fact, Ann Light, of Usability News, has written an excellent roundup of how it went.

I don't know if it's just my brain pattern matching, but it seemed that key ideas of two of my favorite gatherings--Burning Man and the TED conferences--were incorporated in, of all things, a corporate research lab context. Burning Man is the mother of all performance bazaars and TED is the best idea theater in the world, and 2ad managed to capture some of the magic of both. Props to the organizers. I can't wait to go next year.

There are few things that are not part of our bodies that are as universally present with us as our phones. As Bluetooth beacons appear in our phones, this means that our phones are broadcasting identifiers of us. Ignoring the potential privacy problems with this (yes, ladies and gentlemen, if every database in the world was linked, bad people could find out information about us that we don't want them to know), the idea of having a broadcast identifier of us is really powerful.

I just finished reading John Heskett's Toothpicks & Logos: Design in Everyday Life. It's an interesting counterpart to Bill Stumpf's The Ice Palace That Melted Away: How Good Design Enhances Our Lives and Virginia Posterel's The Substance of Style (which I discuss here). All three books create a case for the importance of design.

Stumpf, one of the designers of the Aeron, writes an intimate personal description--almost an autobiography--of how design has shaped his world and why he thinks it's a crucial part of civil life, though his reasons are primarily personal. In that respect, it's an insider's book for insiders. Postrel, an outsider, states that design is important because people find it important and that it should not be ignored for that reason. Hers is an outsider's book for outsiders. Heskett takes the middle track between the two. He's an insider to the field, but his book is for people outside it. It's positioned as an explanation of why design makes a difference not in terms of how it fits into a vision of proper living, but how its effects are felt throughout society.




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This page is an archive of entries from June 2004 listed from newest to oldest.

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