- [from wstarosta] Status displays: I’ve got you labelled [The Economist] – [Evolutionary biology helps to explain why luxury branded objects, even counterfeit ones, are so appealing.] DESIGNERS of fancy apparel would like their customers to believe that wearing their creations lends an air of wealth, sophistication and high status. And it does—but not, perhaps, for the reason those designers might like to believe, namely their inherent creative genius. A new piece of research confirms what many, not least in the marketing departments of fashion houses, will long have suspected: that it is not the design itself that counts, but the label.
- [from steve_portigal] The Future of Books. [McSweeney's Internet Tendency] – [As usual, McSweeney's does razor-sharp mockery, but you could read this as straight-ahead prediction and it would sadly almost pass for believable] 2050: Analog Reading Will Be Digitally Simulated. As people spend more and more of time immersed in massively multi-player role-playing games, they will begin to crave some downtime. Virtual simulation worlds will start to include hideaway "libraries" you can lock yourself into. There you'll be able to climb into a virtual bath and lovingly turn the pages of a pixilated representation of one of those dog-eared tomes—reliant on old-school linear narrative— that by this time will have been made illegal in the real world. Perfectly reproduced will be the sensation of turning the pages, the crack of the spine, and even the occasional paper cut.
- [from steve_portigal] When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink? [Smithsonian Magazine] – [Fascinating cultural history] The march toward gender-specific clothes was neither linear nor rapid. Pink and blue arrived, along with other pastels, as colors for babies in the mid-19th century, yet the two colors were not promoted as gender signifiers until just before WW I—and even then, it took time for popular culture to sort things out. In 1927, Time magazine printed a chart showing sex-appropriate colors for girls and boys according to leading U.S. stores. In Boston, Filene’s told parents to dress boys in pink. Today’s color dictate wasn’t established until the 1940s, as a result of Americans’ preferences as interpreted by manufacturers and retailers. “It could have gone the other way,” Paoletti says..Nowadays people just have to know the sex of a baby or young child at first glance, says Jo B. Paoletti, a historian & author of Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls From the Boys in America. Thus we see a pink headband encircling the bald head of an infant girl. [Via @boingboing]
- [from steve_portigal] In Sweden’s frigid north, auto testing is hot [SFGate] – [Obvious car companies do a ton of lab and simulation testing, but they are also big advocates of real world testing] Arjeplog, a region in northern Sweden is is important to car makers eager to optimize their vehicles for driving in extreme weather, This winter, temperatures have hovered around -4 F, making ice on the lakes consistently thick enough for driving. About 180 engineers convened at the test center at one point this season to work on making cars more fuel-efficient in cold weather and to optimize their anti-spin function. While Arjeplog is the world's largest winter testing area, rival locations include Ivalo, Finland; West Yellowstone, Mont.; Carson City, Nev.; and Millbrook, England. Francisco Carvalho, an analyst at IHS Automotive, says such tracks provide automakers with "the ultimate test for the little things they can't detect or predict in a lab." Almost 9,000 car industry officials visit Arjeplog each winter, with about 2,800 engineers working on any given day.
- Paul Graham on the "social norm" problem with the Segway – This is a point I made in my interactions column "Some Different Approaches To Making Stuff" – Kamen is the genius who got it wrong, because he focused only on technology and not on culture and behavior.
"The Segway hasn't delivered on its initial promise, to put it mildly. There are several reasons why, but one is that people don't want to be seen riding them. Someone riding a Segway looks like a dork.
My friend Trevor Blackwell built his own Segway, which we called the Segwell. He also built a one-wheeled version, the Eunicycle, which looks exactly like a regular unicycle till you realize the rider isn't pedaling. He has ridden them both to downtown Mountain View to get coffee. When he rides the Eunicycle, people smile at him. But when he rides the Segwell, they shout abuse from their cars: "Too lazy to walk, ya fuckin homo?"
Why do Segways provoke this reaction? The reason you look like a dork riding a Segway is that you look smug. You don't seem to be working hard enough."
- Like Nike+ for happiness, iPhone app is data collection for PhD thesis – "At repeated periods throughout the day you'll be pinged by your iPhone either by email or by SMS, and prompted to answer a short one-minute survey. This one asks how happy you are, what you're doing (yes, "making love" is an option, though hopefully it's an activity you'd prioritize over doing some science) whether you exercised recently, whether you're alone, who you're talking to and what you're thinking about." Essentially a "beeper study" but somehow a more viral story ("iPhone"!) than normal.
- 'True Blood' Beverage – "Inspired by HBO's hugely successful vampire drama series, True Blood, Omni Consumer Products struck a deal with the network's licensing division to releasing 'Tru Blood' the actual beverage..a drinkable product inspired by a beverage meant to taste like blood so that fake vampires from a pay-cable TV show can survive without having to resort to feasting on humans."
- Hallmark Cards to feature licensed audio content from NBC Universal – NBC Universal has sealed a new licensing deal with Hallmark Cards that includes the use of the company's film and TV content. Sound cards from Universal films such as "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "Sixteen Candles" and "Jaws" will be included as well. Ditto "The Office," "30 Rock" and "Battlestar," as well as NBC News archives. Beyond cards, the deal includes "a wide range of social expression products."
- Escapism in Minutiae of Daily Life – nice NYT review of Sims 3 – It is almost impossible to avoid the temptation to make a Sim version of yourself, either as you really are or as you wish to be. In that sense the game presents basic but important questions: What kind of person am I? What kind of person would I like to become? How do I treat the people around me? What is important to me in life? What are my core values?
Children usually form their tentative answers to these questions without considering them explicitly. Adults, by contrast, often confront such issues, even tangentially, only in the context of intense emotional involvement, some sort of crisis or high-priced psychotherapy.
Most video games exist to allow the player to forget completely about the real world. The Sims accomplishes the rare feat of entertaining while also provoking intellectual and emotional engagement with some of life’s fundamental questions. I love aliens and zombies, but a little reality in my gaming once in a while is not a horrible thing.
- Report: Real-world police forensics don't resemble 'CSI' – Even before the popularity of shows like CSI, there was presumably a cultural belief in the "science" behind these techniques. But the report finds that:
- Fingerprint science "does not guarantee that two analysts following it will obtain the same results."
- Shoeprint and tire-print matching methods lack statistical backing, making it "impossible to assess."
- Hair analyses show "no scientific support for the use of hair comparisons for individualization in the absence of (DNA)."
- Bullet match reviews show "scientific knowledge base for tool mark and firearms analysis is fairly limited."
- Bite-mark matches display "no scientific studies to support (their) assessment, and no large population studies have been conducted."
- NJOY electronic cigarette – Looks like a real cigarette, complete with glowing tip on inhale, and exhaled vapor that resembles smoke. Gives an inhaled nicotine experience, while messaging to the rest of the world that you are really smoking a real lit cigarette. Paging Erving Goffman?
Someone was using one a party last week; someone else got out their simulated Zippo lighter (an iPhone app) and lit it for them.
Student Protest, Bonny Doon, CA 1987
Today is the 5th anniversary of the current US military involvement in Iraq. I heard Army Major General Mark Hertling speaking on NPR this week about helping members of Iraq’s central government figure out what people in the different provinces really want and need.
“We call it reverse helicopter governance … bringing the ministers to the provinces.”
This starts to sound a lot like the kinds of contextual research we use to inform product design. Going out and talking with users in their own environments. Seeing what people’s needs really are, rather than making assumptions.
There’s been a thorny debate in the Anthropology community about doing anthropological work in military contexts, but this is a different type of situation. Hertling is talking about facilitating Iraqi ministers to do contextual research on the people they are charged with serving as government officials.
What would it look like to take a further step, and take a design approach to creating a “user-centered government?”
One important aspect of design is a spirit of playfulness—in the sense of “serious play.” A spirit of willingness to reassess the meaning of a problem and the range of possible solutions. To prototype rapidly and try multiple approaches.
Michael Schrage, the author of Serious Play states that
“…the real value of a model or simulation may stem less from its ability to test a hypothesis than from its power to generate useful surprise.”
Ideation and design processes have been used to solve some pretty complex problems. Steve wrote last year about introducing empathy and user-centered design into government. Participatory processes and contextual inquiry have become much more prevalent in development work.
What could be done to bring more of the spirit of serious play to bear on the ways that problems like civil and international conflicts are framed and addressed?
Simulator technology is becoming increasingly sophisticated, and car designers are building new understanding of the causes (and techniques for preventing) accidents. Lab testing absolutely has its place, but what are these tools doing to help understand the impact of real-world stress (road rage, traffic jams, late for a meeting) or distractions (your favorite song, an annoying cell phone call) – in other words, the context that doesn’t naturally occur in a laboratory. I fear the model is more to consider the human as a component with performance parameters and therefor engineer the hell out of the situation.
Driving simulators are interior mock-ups (or in some cases, complete cars) placed on hydraulically actuated platforms and surrounded by video screens and speakers. Drivers at the wheel feel vibrations, acceleration and deceleration just as if they were driving on the roads projected around them.
“You save 50 percent of your research time,” said Beuzit, noting one reason companies build multimillion-dollar simulators. “It has transformed the automobile industry in the last 20 to 30 years.”
Because the simulator experience is so close to reality, providing the physical sensation of going around a curve or bouncing over a badly paved road, scientists can use it to do fundamental research on how all the senses contribute to what a driver perceives, said Andras Kemeny, a research director at the technical center.
For Renault, he said, “It is absolutely necessary to understand the driver’s strategy in driving, and then design industrial objects according to this knowledge.” Kemeny said it would take a decade to complete the loop of bringing fundamental research results to showrooms.