May 2009 Archives

Two bits about tactility

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I've had the relationship between tactility and design/creativity on my mind lately (see: Tactile interfaces for digital making). And of course, when I get to thinking about something, I find that I start seeing it everywhere. This week, I've seen two interesting things relating to tactility: one an article, the other an event (both via BoingBoing)

The Case for Working With Your Hands is a thoroughly thoughtful and thought provoking article in The New York Times Magazine. I found that it really highlights some of the issues of working in a knowledge economy, namely lack of self-determination and tangible feedback. The feedback issue is, of course, one of the important cases for tactility.

Next, at Internet Week New York, there's going to be a tangible interfaces hackday. This is a good thing. I can't wait to see what clever new ideas for interfaces come out of it.

Making industrial boxfood at home

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Earlier this year, I found myself explaining the procedure for making popcorn in a pot, on the stove, without pre-buttered, microwaveable kernels. I had never before realized that there are people who think that the only way to make popcorn is in a microwaveable bag. This revelation led to an idea: take foods that are best known in their instant format and create a cookbook/cookzine/cookblog explaining the procedure for making them the proper/old fashioned/slow/healthy way.

I can think of a few foods that might benefit from this treatment. Macaroni and cheese may be the most notable example. Among other boxfoods, though, there's stroganoff, french fries (which don't actually have to come out of a bag in the frozen food section), any number of sauces and salad dressings, the abovementioned popcorn and a whole legion of other foods. Suggestions in the comments, if you have something to add to the list.
Without a metro pass, I'd have serious trouble getting around. At the same time, I value my privacy. Starting June 1st, the Societe de Transport de Montreal is going to make me choose. That's the day the entire system rolls over to the OPUS card, an RFID based smart card. For months, I've been trying to figure out how I'm going to get where I need to go while protecting my own privacy. I think I've finally got the answer.

If I were to buy an OPUS card using my credit or debit card, it's very likely that the STM would link that information to my ride history. If I were to insure my card against theft or loss, the STM would then be able to associate my name and other personal information with my ride history. Simple solution to the problem of having my identity associated with my ride history: pay with cash and don't take the STM up on their replacement guarantee.

There's another problem, though. Even if they don't know my name, I'm still carrying around a remotely readable card that links me to my ride history and gives information on where I go at what times. Being the obstinant type, I'm willing to go to some lengths to make sure that my OPUS card doesn't actually paint a clear picture of what I do. So, what's the best way to obfuscate ride history? I've decided to take steps to make my ride history as outlandish as possible. Over the next few months, I plan to go to as many different metro stations as possible, frequently. I plan to rack up as many trips to as many odd places as I reasonably can. Not only will it let me see bits of the city I don't normally get to but also, if they do wind up checking out my ride history, it'll give them something interesting to read.

Tactile interfaces for digital making

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I've got a problem. I've had a lifelong obsession with building things by hand. I love the sensation of seeing something come to life through my efforts. In physical making, there's a certain amount of feedback and consequence. I actually enjoy having to clean the ink out from under my fingernails after screen printing. These days, however, the majority of my work is digital, with very few protrusions into the physical world and with little to no non-digital making. That's gotten me thinking.

I'm planning my day. On my to-do list, I've put the words "update website." I know that I have a meeting later that I'll have to drag myself away from my work to attend. Here's the problem: when I'm only working digitally, it doesn't feel as if I'm actually pulling myself away from anything. The majority of my life, work and leisure time involves interfacing with a screen. Fixing my website doesn't feel like an engrossing task. There isn't a feeling of immersing myself in one thing, mainly because I'm not. I know that in the browser I have open to test my changes, I'll also have tabs going for email and Twitter. I also know that when I leave to go to my meeting, there won't be any tidying up to do. I'll just have to fold down the laptop and go.

It may seem absurd, but I want a way for my digital activities to be a little more demanding. I want to actually need to concentrate and prepare. I want the little rituals that come along with more physical forms of making. I mark things on a physical to-do list because stroking out an entry with a marker feels more satisfying than just clicking on a box. I keep a drawing board because some things are better sketched out by hand than drawn on a computer. How can I make my digital activities more tactile, beyond the standard idea of drawing with a tablet? Why can't I hook a block of clay up to a 3D modeling program and work with hands and knife? And, the big question: what's the tactile analogue of a natively digital activity like web design?
Do you enjoy text-based adventure games? How about copyright law? Well, I'm working on a text-based adventure game that explains the basics of Canadian copyright law. It's called Lawbot and the Case of the Missing Copyright Infringers, and the first bit of it is online, for your clicking enjoyment.

Montreal Metro Map Circa 2032

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One of my ongoing projects: imagining what Montreal's Metro system will look like in the future. Here's my fictitious 2032 Metro map, as released by the equally fictitious Societe de Transport du Quebec. (If you care to look at more fictitious future history, I collaborated on an article a couple months back about Montreal 2032, which you can read here.)

ginger coons on Open Clip Art Library

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Acting on some sage advice from the comments section, I've started putting the svg files of some of my work into the Open Clip Art Library. This means that you can now download infinitely scalable versions of such classics as baby giraffe and hipster shoes.
I'll be putting more up as I get the chance.

Open Colour Standard properganda

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Something from the Open Colour Standard project that I feel is worth cross-posting here: my ever so lovely OCS properganda (not propaganda) poster. It sells Open Source graphics programs the easy way: by explaining how cheap they are compared to the proprietary stuff. Enjoy.

EDIT (12 May 2009): Here's a new version of the poster with better kerning. And I'm replacing the downloadable one on the OCS website with this newer, more correct version.