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Blog posts from March 2011

New physics books for physics lovers & phobes alike

Caveat: I’ve not actually read either of these books so I can’t personally recommend them, but both of them came to my attention this week (thanks to National Public Radio in the US) and seemed like books that might be of interest to BERG blog readers.

How did Leonardo da Vinci and Jules Verne predict the future with such accuracy whilst so many others – such as IBM, The New York Times and the US Patent Office – get things so wrong? And what lessons can we take from their successes or mistakes to help us predict the world of 2100? Such questions are addressed by Michio Kaku in his new book The Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100 (published in the UK by Allen Lane, May 5th 2011).

Read an exerpt from Physics of the Future here and if you have seven minutes, listen to the interview as well where Kaku talks about telepathically fried eggs, identity recognition contact lenses, invisibility cloaks – the technology for all of which already exists, he says – and the fact that in 100 years we’ll think about chemotherapy the same way we now regard bleeding with leeches.

The second book is Quantum Man: Richard Feynman’s Life in Science by Lawrence Krauss (published in the UK by W. W. Norton & Co, April 12th 2011).

With this volume, Krauss, himself a physicist at Arizona State University and author of The Physics of Star Trek, has written a biography of Feynman (1918-1988) that focusses on his science more than his personality and, in doing so, touches on nearly ever major scientific development of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Listen to an interview with Krauss (or read the transcript) from NPR’s Science Friday here.

Week 303

roland.TB-303.schem-3
^ roland.TB-303.schem-3 by rafael_mizrahi

My first time doing weeknotes, I’m terrified. Here we go.

It’s Matthew Irvine Brown’s last week at BERG. We’re going to give him a proper send off at the end of the week, but before that he’s working on getting Denise up to speed with what’s been going on, and making sure all of the bolts are tight on the things he’s been leading. We’ll miss him a lot.

Which leads us into Denise‘s first inclusion in weeknotes. She’s been spending a lot of time learning about Weminuche with Matt Brown and Nick, and has also been getting stuck into some awesome things SVK related and getting up to speed of where we are. She’s also been out of the office with Jack looking at good things that we can’t talk about (yet).

Matt Jones has been working with Jack on new project Uinta, doing a bit of behind the scenes planning for SVK, and helping me out with Dimensions 2. He’s off to far away lands next week with Jack. It’s very quiet when he’s not in the office.

Jack is working with Timo on a couple of projects, speaking to lawyers and is away doing workshops with Matt Jones next week.

Timo is working on Haitsu. We’ve had a few sneak peeks and it’s fantastic. He’s also been sketching some things for Chaco.

Darling, Nick and Andy have been locked in Statham for most of the week, cranking hard on Weminuche and showing us incredible things for Friday demos that make us smile a lot. Nick’s also been working with Timo on Haitsu. We’ve been communicating with them by sticking post it notes on the windows.

I’m continuing work on Dimensions 2, getting a bundle of things together for Friday. I’m also keeping an eye on SVK things with Denise and Matt Jones as they start to come together.

Kari is working her usual magic, keeping the office ticking and making the stuff behind the scenes work. She’s also been working on the logistics of SVK for when that launches.

Finally, Matt Webb is out and about for a lot of the week talking to people and making things happen, and hiring people! (We’re looking for people to join us, if you hadn’t seen it before).

That’s week 303. A lot of exciting things going on, and a lot of change.

Hiring!

Update on Thursday 31 March: We’ve been contacted by some great folks! So we’ll stop accepting applications for these particular roles on Sunday. But please don’t let that stop you getting in contact if you’ve got something really special! We look at all CVs and portfolios, even when there aren’t any positions open, and keep everything on file for when there are.

So, we’re looking to grow a little!

BERG’s a small design studio, just nine of us at the moment. We’re always busy, researching and developing media and tech for a wide variety of companies. And we work on our own stuff too.

And I’m looking for a couple of folks to join the team.

First, a project manager. We’ve never worked with a project manager before, so a lot of this is about you being a great fit with the room. But we also know we’re a bit scatty and divided between too many projects, so we’re ready for a cracking communicator with top-notch organisational skills to manage development and delivery across the whole studio.

Second, a creative technologist. You’ll be working on new and existing projects, in small teams and alongside other technologists. You’ll be a self-starter, pushing forward development using your own good product instincts. And you’ll have different technical skills and itches to bring to the room too, ones we don’t currently know we need.

If either of these positions sounds like you, download the job descriptions here.

If it sounds like someone you know, please do pass this on!

And then send your CV with a cover note to Kari at ks@berglondon.com and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can. We’re planning to interview in early April, and make decisions soon after.

Friday Links

Friday. Links.

Look at this make-up to hide from facial recognition.

Matt Webb linked to this Transform game, that’s fun and reminded me of his Argos discovery of a Postman Pat that transforms into his van. There’s even a Fireman Sam that transforms into Jupiter. “Watch as Fireman Sam converts from Jupiter into a robot hero next door”.

It takes a while not to be freaked out by this barbie jewellery, but once you’re over that, it’s really nice.

XKCD shows the scales of radiation doses.

But my favourite thing from this week was shown (and explained) to me by Tom Taylor next door.

The above graph is showing the effects of the “Asimov’s Nightmare” algorithm on the markets. These are discovered algorithms by a company called Nanex who have a Market Crop Circle of the Day.

Where’s Our Rocket Packs?

1980s people were asking this question. The band Daniel Amos wrote a song about it:

Video by lonzo625: “A video I put together in the 1980′s for the “Rocket Packs” song by Daniel Amos. It’s a reminder of the visions of the future seen in sci-fi movies and books in the 20th century. FYI…that’s Lenord [sic] Nimoy (Mr. Spock) at 3:30 in an actual Rocket Man serial appearance.”

Words and music by Terry Taylor, ©1984.

 

Welcome Denise

Denise Wilton
^ Denise Wilton by matlock, on Flickr

I’m so happy that Denise is joining the studio as Creative Director.

She’s been one of my favourite designers for such a long time, and has incredible instincts for product strategy and voice, service design and user interface across both digital and physical domains.

Her understanding of community and systems to support them from her time at both b3ta.com and moo.com is second-to-none. The depth of craft and care she brings to work is awesome.

She’s also a lovely illustrator, for instance this treatise on robotics:

Finished

I think we first met through Cal Henderson and Tom Coates who were working with her at Emap way back when, but – I got to work with her and really understand what an incredible designer she is back in 2005, when she help me design and illustrated a game/toy I was making as part of my research into ‘Play’ at Nokia Insight & Foresight, with Tom Hume and our friends at Future Platforms.

Twitchr: Most viewed snaps

Twitchr was defined by Denise’s beautiful work and art direction. Her dedication to detail she displayed on its design and the playfulness she pours into every one of those details is something I can’t wait to see her bring to our work at BERG.

Icon in computer break out shock

Welcome onboard, Denise!

Week 302

It’s a nice day today.

I’m sitting in the small back room of the BERG office. Four of us (Nick, Matt B, Andy and I) have set up shop in here to get stuck into Weminuche for a little while. It’s a room to get immersed in the project – the walls, whiteboards and desks are covered in thoughts and experiments.

On Monday there was a clean, empty desk where Tom usually is. He’s gone to be a games designer, a beautiful fit. But already we have a new human to boost the studio back up to a cosy over-capacity. Denise is new BERG! (Proper welcome post coming soon). Denise is one of the many people I knew of and admired long before I met them or had any career of my own, but have never told. We went to have a welcome lunch in the sun today.

Matt J and Jack are away doing boss things in far away places. Instagram tells me they are still eating.

Matt Brown, as well as drawing things for me to make, as well as lining everything up for the SVK launch, is mind melding with Denise before his life is packed into boxes and flown to Cupertino.

Alex is taking the work the two of us have done on Dimensions 2 and moving it to the next level, along with other SVK bits and bobs.

Kari is handling all this arrival and departure of staff, smoothly as ever.

Andy is working on things that I can’t figure out how to describe without breaking secrets. He’s also breaking keyboards.

I was unconvinced about week 302 when it started – I couldn’t find a single good thing about the number 302, there was a bit of unwell hanging in the air and I got a rubbish hair cut. But now the windows are wide open, the weather is perfect, Scrutton Street feels homely and we have a Denise! It’s a nice day today.

Friday Links: Chumbys that see, cheetahs made of metal, and beautiful digital playthings

It’s Friday, so time for our usual jumble-sale of the near-future, as detected via the studio mailing list.

Nick found ChumbyCV – a computer vision framework for Chumby. Here’s one that can not only see, but has acquired motive power.

At the other end of the slightly-terrifying robot scale, are the newest designs to come out of Boston Dynamics – makers of BigDog – which include this incredible ‘cheetah’ design…

Which just gives me flashback to my youth, and the evil Decepticon cassette tape / jaguar – Ravage!

From one 1980′s toy to an update of another – what happens when you combine scalectrix (or perhaps, micromachines) with projection and computervision? Answer: you get this brilliant experiment by Lieven van Velthoven: Room Racers…

As pico projectors get cheaper and more powerful I wonder what new play forms are going to arrive in the next couple of years.

Friends of BERG, Bjorn Jeffery and Emil Overmar are likely to be involved if the first products of their new Bonnier-backed venture Toca Boca are anything to go by.

They are consciously not making games for kids but – get this“digital toys”.

Brilliant.

I downloaded “Helicopter Taxi” and it really is a digital toy. It’s simple, delightful, charming and radiates play. It’s aimed at 3 years old and up – but the 30somethings in the studio who played with it had stupid grins on their faces from the first couple of seconds they picked it up. Really looking forward to seeing what else the Toca Boca playsmiths come up with.

More beautiful digital playthings. Tom pointed to Fez, which I won’t even try and describe – it’s just lovely. Watch.

FEZ PAX EAST GAMEPLAY VIDEO from POLYTRON on Vimeo.

And finally, Matt Brown pointed us to the new video by Airside for Flashman – the new band by Fred Deakin (Lemon Jelly) and Robin Jones (Beta Band). It’s lovely – and as Matt points out, very New British Modern…

Flashman — The Proposition from Airside on Vimeo.

Have a lovely weekend!

Coffee? Yes please!

You don’t have to spend much time around BERG to work out that when it comes to coffee, supermarket grounds and a cafetière don’t cut it – at least not for long. Coffee geekery has an important place in the life of the studio, and the Shoreditch area of East London (where BERG’s current studio is located) is a great place to be based if you are a coffee geek. In fact, it becomes easy to take for granted the access to fantastic coffee that we have here.

I’m not going to go into the recent history of London’s coffee scene because that’s been covered rather exhaustively, recently by Bean Scene magazine. Also, I’m not going to try to list all the best coffee shops in East London because that’s been done a lot too (just google “London best coffee”), and besides there’s an app for that – and the folks who created it are on Twitter. I’m just going to highlight a few things that you might like to know if you’re planning to visit BERG or East London any time soon and want to know where to get a great cup of coffee.

Coffee stall on Whitecross St. - perhaps better than Coffee@

Less than a half mile away from the studio up on Shoreditch High Street you’ll find Prufrock tucked into the front of clothes shop Present. It’s very much a “blink and you’ll miss it” kind of place. I have no idea how many times I walked past it without ever noticing that it was there. Prufrock founder Gwilym Davies was the 2009 world barista champion. If you’re going to be around for more than a couple of days, you may want to have a go at Gwilym’s disloyalty card which he created to encourage coffee fans to patronise other high quality coffee shops around London. (I recommend Nick Wade’s lovely account of his disloyalty card tour and accompanying photos.) If you want to visit Prufrock, look for the “The Golden Horn Cigarette Company” sign outside. Prufrock Café has also recently opened in Leather Lane.

A mile and half from the studio in Bethnal Green is the home of Square Mile Coffee Roasters. Square Mile’s director James Hoffmann was the world barista champion in 2007 and is a prominent figure in the London coffee scene. You can’t buy Square Mile coffee at that location but they have an online shop. They also do a monthly subscription service. Last month James started a short weekly video podcast about coffee. One of the most interesting things Square Mile have done lately is collaborate with London-based Kernel Brewery to create Suke Quto Coffee IPA. It’s quite lovely!

Of course, with all this revitalisation going on in the London coffee scene, it was only a matter of time before someone decided to put on a festival. Sure enough, on August 8th-11th 2011, the folks who run The London Coffee Guide are putting on The London Coffee Festival at The Old Truman Brewery in Brick Lane. That’s just a half mile walk from the studio.

Any discussion about BERG and coffee wouldn’t be complete without a mention of The Shed (aka The Hut, The Shack, etc). It’s a branch of Taylor Street Baristas located in a little garden shed in a car park just off of New North Place. Since it opened late last year, we only have to walk about 200 feet to get really good coffee. Lucky us!

New! Awesome coffee around the corner from us!

p.s. Want to know how to make great coffee at home using Science? Scientific American is here to tell you how.

Instruments of Politeness

We weren’t at SxSW, but some of our friends were – and via their twitter-exhaust this report by David Sherwin of FrogDesign from a talk by Intel’s Genevieve Bell popped up on our radar.

In her panel yesterday at South by Southwest, Genevieve Bell posed the following question: “What might we really want from our devices?” In her field research as a cultural anthropologist and Intel Fellow, she surfaced themes that might be familiar to those striving to create the next generation of interconnected devices. Adaptable, anticipatory, predictive: tick the box. However, what happens when our devices are sensitive, respectful, devout, and perhaps a bit secretive? Smart devices are “more than being context aware,” Bell said. “It’s being aware of consequences of context.”

Here’s a lovely quote from Genevieve:

“[Today's devices] blurt out the absolute truth as they know it. A smart device [in the future] might know when NOT to blurt out the truth.”

This in turn, reminded me of a lovely project that Steffen Fiedler did back in 2009 during a brief I helped run at the RCA Design Interactions course as part T-Mobile’s ongoing e-Etiquette project, called “Instruments of Politeness“.

These are the titular instruments – marvellous contraptions!

They’re a set of machines to fool context-aware devices and services – to enable you to tell little white lies with sensors.

For instance, cranking the handle of the machine above simulates something like a pattern of ‘walking’ in the accelerometer data of the phone, so if you told someone you were out running errands (when in fact you were lazing on the sofa) your data-trail wouldn’t catch you out…

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