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Blog posts from July 2011

Friday links: flashed faces, buttons, rapping paper, alternative ipsum, Ford and Beeker

With at least a quarter of the studio gone on any given day this week, it’s been a bit quiet on the studio email list, but there have still been a few gems popping up.

Alice sent round a link to “The Flashed Face Effect”: the phenomenon that normal faces flashing by look monstrous when you’re viewing them with your peripheral vision. It’s another one of those fascinating things the brain does, and scientists still aren’t really sure why.

Denise pointed out Bill DeRouchey’s SXSW presentation on The History of the Button. It’s a fascinating walk through the past century looking at how buttons developed, what they signified, where we’ve gotten to now and where things might be going.

Matt Jones found the utterly delightful Rapping Paper. I’d be tempted to just frame the Run DMC “It’s Tricky” paper and hang it on my wall.

Nick pointed us to Bacon Ipsum, for when your Lorum Ipsum needs to be a little meatier. Simon countered with his friend Katie’s Vegan Ipsum for those among us that eschew meat and meat products.

Another last minute entry from Jones: his friend Steve Murray created “Forty Fords”, a tribute to Harrison Ford in commemoration of his 40th credited big screen appearance.

And finally, just for fun (we do quite like a bit of fun round here after all), I will leave you on this lovely Friday with the inimitable Beeker, doing an impressive multi-dubbed video rendition of Ode To Joy. That is, until it all goes a bit… err… badly.

Have a great weekend!

‘Talk to Me’ at MoMA

Talk to Me, MoMA’s new exhibition about design and the communication between people and objects opened this week at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. We’re very proud to be a part of a show that pulls together so many potent strands of contemporary design:

New branches of design practice have emerged in the past decades that combine design’s old-fashioned preoccupations—with form, function, and meaning—with a focus on the exchange of information and even emotion. Talk to Me explores this new terrain, featuring a variety of designs that enhance communicative possibilities and embody a new balance between technology and people, bringing technological breakthroughs up or down to a comfortable, understandable human scale.

There is an enormous amount of work that we value and admire across the exhibition. A range of games from the experimental Passage, Chromaroma and Sharkrunners to Little Big Planet, SimCity and Spore. It’s great to see Usman Haque’s Pachube alongside other sensor networks and platforms such as Homesense and Botanicalls.

There are physical interactive products such as David Rose’s ever-impressive connected medicine container Glowcaps, the exquisitely crafted musical interfaces Monome and Tenori-on, the empowering iOS payment interface Square and the characterful and playful Tengu, alongside popular apps like Talking Carl and Wordlens.

There’s a wide range of mapping work, from the early and potent They Rule to Prettymaps, Legible London, Ushahidi and Walking Papers. And there is plenty of work that defies classification such as Camille Scherrer’s The Haunted Book, Kacie Kinzer’s wonderfully simple and affective social Tweenbots and Keiichi Matsuda’s Augmented (hyper) Reality.

BERG has seven works in the show. The bendy maps Here and There, the interactive exploration of scale BBC Dimensions, the films made with the Touch project exploring the qualities of touch and RFID: Nearness and Immaterials: Ghost in the Field, our collaborations with Dentsu London on Media Surfaces: Incidental Media, The Journey and the augmented toys Suwappu.

For such a broad exhibition it is great to see all of the works curated and presented with such thought and attention to the quality of each piece.

The exhibition takes place in the MoMA Special Exhibitions Gallery, from 24 July until 7 November 2011. Thanks to Paola Antonelli and the Talk to Me team for the excellent and patient work in putting this all together.

Week 320

Week 320, and there’s almost as many people in the studio as there was when I started here, back in week two hundred and seventy something. Most people are out of the office for some reason or another, which makes tea rounds a lot easier than usual. It’s gonna be a slightly empty office next week too, as myself, Jack, Matt Jones and Simon are off to the US for a few days of workshops. We’re currently listening to Hot Sauce Committee Part Two. I’ve been making people listen to David Rodigan’s Thursday night sets on Radio 2 as well.

I’ll start with the people not here. Jack & Matt Jones are currently in the US presenting something a great deal of the team have been working on for the last few months. I’m hoping Matt Webb is currently having a holiday and not working too much. Timo’s working out of the office this week, after going to the opening of Talk to Me at MoMA with Jack & Jones where a few of our recent projects are being exhibited, and working on Chaco related bits.

Joe is off today, but has been working on some Chaco related stuff, and is now working on a document trying to define our design process as a company – speaking to myself and Denise to try and solidify our ways of attacking design challenges going forward. It’s a hard thing to put on paper but will be fantastic to see progress, and also an essential thing to have sorted as we continue to grow as a company.

The back room (more commonly known as Statham) currently contains the mighty brains of Andy, Nick, Alice & James Darling – concentrating mostly on all things Weminuche. Andy did a bit of office tidying at the end of last week after a crazy few days. Denise is working with James on some IA and I’m working with Alice on some graphical elements. James is also doing some work on Schooloscope. I’ve been talking to Nick about cars in between his work on Weminuche & Chaco.

The mighty Simon Pearson is doing his usual brilliant job of herding our flocks of projects and making them work properly. He’s also been working with Kari running the customer service for SVK. He’s on a lot of conference calls trying to make things happen – and working with Denise on Suwappu. Kari’s only in for a few days this week, but keeping the office running like a well oiled machine as usual.

That’s it – I’m keeping weeknotes short this week. Super busy as usual but strangely quiet, at the same time.

Friday links

Just discussing the fact we’re a Mattless office for the day (they’re both in NY). It’s not something that happens often, and so to soothe this slight unease, it feels fitting that we start Friday links with a BBC archive of the Moon landings, from Matt Webb. It has “lots of telly clips from the past 42 years”, including interviews, episodes of Panorama and a very young looking Patrick Moore, hosting The Sky at Night.

Apple Stoer

You might well have seen this by now, as it’s been quite widely discussed online, but Andy sent around this post on fake Chinese Apple stores earlier this week, titled ‘Are you listening, Steve Jobs?’ It’s quite extraordinary – and a little bit ‘uncanny valley’, if it’s possible to use that in this context. It’s almost right, but you can sense something’s up.

We had a bit of discussion about the Window to the World concept, from Toyota, a link discovered via @antimega. In the end we got slightly sidetracked by the comments. The fury at the child’s parents for not buckling her into a seatbelt, and the wrath of others for bringing that up. Feel free to dream about the future, but make sure you sweat the details.

James and Nick discussed Tubetap, an app that enables you to apply for a refund from Transport for London at the tap of a button – or several buttons. And on that note, Fix My Transport from MySociety is in beta testing at the moment – but for commuters like me, on multiple forms of public transport – looks like it could be great. (Also, it has the best tagline ever.)

Nick also found a bunch of Little Fellas over on Craftzine. You can’t always spot them in the wild, so why not make one?. I’d like to see them applied to the LittleDog Robot mentioned last week.

Robot eyes

Week 319

So, it’s week 319. I’m pretty sure you know this already but just in case, 319 is a Smith Number, and perhaps more importantly, according to Wikipedia, the name of a song by Prince, that can not be found on Spotify.

The office is as busy as ever this week but, dare I say it, slightly quieter in terms of volume. Completely co-incidentally I’m sure, Matt Jones and Jack are in New York this week, taking workshops and visiting clients. They’ve sent word back home via a Google Hangout – which sounds like it was a pain to set up, but once it got going felt like “quite a nice informal way to video chat”. They’re getting a lot done over there, but we also have a sneaking suspicion they could be having too much fun.

It feels like a very collaborative week. We’ve just had an ‘all hands meeting’, and several people mentioned ‘being a sounding board for…’, which is one of the nice things about working here. It’s easy to ask opinions of others – and everyone is interested in everyone else’s ‘stuff’. There’s a lot of respect for the knowledge others have, even if the boundaries of people’s particular work disciplines are blurred.

In literal terms this week, the project code named ‘Chaco’ is taking up time from Joe, Simon, Andy and Nick. Each person is playing a very different role.

Weminuche is occupying the minds of Alex and Alice, James and myself, with a bit of extra time from Andy and Nick. Alex and Alice are working closely together on APIs and design and I’m working on IA with James, who very patiently listens to my latest master plan and either agrees or pokes my ideas with a big stick to see if and when they fall apart.

James is also working on Schooloscope, with some help from Nick. As well as Chaco, Simon is also working on some SVK customer service, and planning for new Suwappu and Dimensions stages.

Matt Webb is trying to go on holiday, but has managed to book himself into a hotel 3 blocks from the location of a client meeting with Jack and Matt J. We’ll see how well he manages to avoid them. If you’re in NY and spot him on the street, for heavens sake don’t mention work.

Broken SVK torches and what we’re doing to fix the problem

We published SVK two weeks ago today — it sold out the whole run of 3,500 copies in 48 hours (more copies went to advertisers and contributors). We’ll shortly print our second run! A quick recap for newcomers: SVK is a comic by Warren Ellis and Matt Brooker, published by us, with a twist that part of the story is printed in invisible ink, readable only with a special object that you get when you buy it. SVK is available only from BERG, and we’ve set up an online shop, etc, to make that happen.

But we’ve had an embarrassing trip-up: in the last two weeks, we’ve replaced 9% of our customers’ SVK torches which were dead on arrival or not quite working.

9% is way too many by any standards. It’s disappointing and annoying for our readers.

It’s also embarrassing. Sorry Warren and Matt, and sorry people who bought SVK.

Let me tell you what happened, what we’re doing, and what we’re going to do for the reprint.

Background

As it says on the product page, SVK is an experimental publication. We were trying loads of things for our first time, from publishing to shipping, and from sourcing objects from China to customer service.

So before we went on sale, we brainstormed 20 problems that might occur, and what we’d do about each. Personally I though we’d have problems with postal systems — last time, when we sold maps, we had a lot of post go missing. This time we were sure we were organised, and even if things did go wrong then we had made sure we could respond promptly.

Out of all the possible problems, once SVK started arriving at people’s homes, we quickly found out that some of the torches were broken. We had planned for there being some kind of hiccough, and it looked like peaking at 2-3% initially. And okay, 2-3% is a problem, but a just-about acceptable problem if we respond fast, and it’s understandable to have some kind of glitch or another. We had already decided to ship free replacement torches out to anyone who wasn’t totally satisfied, so we started doing that.

But if you look at the @berglondon Twitter stream you’ll see the volume is much higher than 2-3% — we’ve redirected a large number of people to our customer service email address. It grew gradually to 9% of customers. What happened?

Where the broken torches come from

The torches come to us in cartons of 100. We’ve now checked carefully through 3 cartons, and the numbers are these:

Even before shipping, 2% are totally dead. 2% have only 1 of the 2 LEDs working. A further 2-3% not broken but unsatisfactory in other ways: the light flickers or is a little weak, or the power button is too easy to click. These are ones that would clearly die in transit.

That makes 6-7%. These should have been rejected before they left our hands, and we knew that not all the torches would work straight from the factory: There was in fact a QA (quality assurance) step planned during package assembly, which would have caught these, but it appears that this was lost. It shouldn’t have been missed, and it’s our fault for not ensuring it happened.

This leaves 2-3% of torches unaccountably broken on arrival, and we believe it’s due to the battery discharging in transit — some of the torches have looser power button mechanisms than others, and these might activate under a heavy weight. Or maybe all the torches are susceptible to that, and it’s only a small fraction of packages that have the necessary pressure applied while in the post. We hadn’t anticipated this.

We didn’t believe broken torches would be a problem because our initial checks hadn’t revealed any torches that were dead on arrival, and the packaging appeared to be fine. It turns out we weren’t thorough enough with our checks.

What we’re doing

First, anybody with a broken torch should contact shop@berglondon.com and we’ll ship a replacement, free, ASAP. We’re monitoring Twitter to let customers know there too. Replacement torches are checked before packaging, and wrapped in bubble wrap. That’s a picture of the replacements being packaged, above.

Second, for the reprint:

We’re going to be stricter on the QA during packaging, and to ensure it takes place, we’ll ask to see rejected torches (we’re not doing the packaging in the studio). If there aren’t 6% rejected, we know QA has failed and we won’t ship that batch.

We’ve also sourced bubble wrap envelopes to put the torches in, in addition to the regular packaging. This appears to deal with torches that are discharged in transit.

And we’ll continue with the free replacements for torches with one or both LEDs dead on arrival. (Update 6 August: it’s been a month since the initial sale, and there are very few people getting in contact now. So we’ll close this offer at the end of the week — the 11th. We’re currently looking at other ways to distribute replacement torches.)

Last, I’m writing this blog post to explain what happened, and how we’re responding. The best thing is to be open about it.

Finally

Thanks here to Kari and Simon, who have been doing a sterling job manning customer service, talking to people over email, and packaging and dispatching new torches. And thanks to Denise and Matt J who have been super responsive on Twitter.

In terms of the experimental nature of this project, we’ve done a number of things right, and we’ve got a new appreciation the important of and how to do quality assurance. This is good team knowledge to have for future projects, but I didn’t want to acquire it like this.

The whole team wishes this torch problem hadn’t happened, and we’re all working to make up for it, and to fix it for the next run.

Friday Links

This week I, Alice Bartlett, have been given the keys to the blog and the responsibility for curating the very cream of the BERG mailing list links for your Friday enjoyment. I’ve eaten a rather large fish finger sandwich for lunch, so you’ll have to excuse me if I seem a little sluggish.

First up, a video in which Walt Disney explains the multipane animation camera. Walt shows very plainly how the multipane camera works whilst accompanied by a classic Disney soundtrack and Mickey Mouse.

Next, things get a little creepy. Here is a robot dog. It’s creepy isn’t it?

This led to a discussion about how you make creepy things likeable. The robot dog in this next video is disturbing until you see it get kicked, at which point it becomes vulnerable and not something to be afraid of.

Here is a blog post about hacking cheap cameras to remove the infra-red filter, meaning you can see how different things (plants, mainly) reflect infra-red and near infra-red light.
http://www.publiclaboratory.org/tool/near-infrared-camera

Finally, here is a bit of thinking on the rise of the faux-vintage photograph: http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2011/05/12/the-faux-vintage-photo-part-iii-nostalgia-for-the-present/

And so that concludes Week 318 links, and also my first post on the BERG blog. Happy Friday everybody.

Week 318

It’s a little difficult to work out exactly what’s going on in Week 318 because THERE IS SO MUCH. (“Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.” It feels like that.)

Projects that are on the go or bubbling up again this week include:
Chaco x3
Dimensions
Barry / Weminuche
Suwappu (with Dentsu London)
Schooloscope
SVK
Here and Then

All Hands on Tuesday morning was a little head spinning as fourteen different people reeled off all the things they were working on this week. Most folks have their hands in more than one project at a time. Simon and Matt Webb, because of the nature of their jobs, are each trying to pay attention to at least five different projects over the course of the week if not all in one day. Lord bless ‘em.

A major project on the boards this week is a Chaco presentation which Matt Jones and Jack will be bringing to New York at the end of the week. Alex and Timo are both contributing their respective talents to that along with Matt and Jack.

In addition to that, Timo is working on creating films about the different Chaco projects. Every now and then he points his camera at something for a while, moves some things around and points his camera again. And then goes back to his computer to make it into magic. Joe is helping out by contributing animations.

There’s plenty of ongoing work on the various Chaco projects. Nick is tweaking software so that it can be shipped and just work. (Seems like a worthy use of time to me: I like it when things just work.) Andy and Simon are both doing a lot of liaising with our external collaborators some of whom are literally on the other side of the world.

Now that Shuush is in the world and getting some attention, Alice is working on making some tweaks to that. Most of her time is being spent on Barry, though, so she has temporarily relocated to Statham 2 which could also be called The Barry War Room. Also working on Barry / Weminuche this week are Alex, Denise, James, Nick and Andy.

Tom and Alex are pushing Dimensions closer and closer to a deliverable thing. Tom has swapped places with Alice for the week and it’s been very nice to have him in the main room. He’s a lot more talkative than I thought.

And the Suwappu project with Dentsu (carrying on from this) is kicking off this week. That’s another project where we have third party collaborators. Just keeping track of all the external collaborators is a job in itself around here – mostly down to Simon.

Schooloscope has been a tad neglected of late due to available hands to work on it, but it’s getting a bit of a polish this week thanks to James.

And now that SVK is in the world and, for the last week, has been landing in customers’ hands, we’ve moved on to the Customer Support phase – which is how I’ve been spending most of my week with lots of help from Simon and Matt Webb. (They are angels, really.) On the one hand, it’s frustrating that there are glitches and things need remedying, but on the other hand, most requests for customer service are accompanied by exclamations of delight at the comic itself, the packaging, the overall product, etc. It’s very gratifying to hear from so many people who really, really like a thing we did. (Note: if you didn’t manage to grab a copy during the 48 hours that it was on sale before selling out, add your email address at getsvk.com to be notified when the second printing becomes available!)

Phew! I’m sure there’s stuff that I missed, but I think that’s probably an adequate summary.

It’s Thursday morning and it’s actually kind of sunny outside and Matt Jones is playing Django Reinhardt on the studio stereo. Happy Bastille Day!

Friday Links

This week, the mailing list was filled with a lot of unhappy BERGians isolating their sniffles from the studio and nice comments from the world about SVK and Shuu.sh. Those were interspersed. with these links.

I love this project of BBC iPlayer for Kindle. Clever.

I had a very quick play with Kyle McDonald’s FaceOSC today, plugging it into Ableton Live.

Podalyzer has some really nice copy, my favourite of which is this facebook oAuth success message. I like how it thinks of oAuth as a friendly introduction facilitated by facebook instead of a functional transaction of personal details.

You can now get a 3D printed mini-me for only €59.90!

Art/photography critics evaluate Google Street View’s ‘photograph of the entire world’

On our regular “Parallax Watch” feature, this week’s entry was “Hobo Lobo of Hamelin”, a story illustrated in Parallax.

This image didn’t help those sniffles. (via @evenioslo)

Happy weekend all!

Welcome Alice

I am very happy to officially welcome Alice Bartlett to BERG! She has joined us as a Creative Technologist, and will be employing her wide ranging technology skills in bringing our various creations to life.

I like to think that there’s a common feeling of optimism and enthusiasm that we all share at BERG, and Alice is no exception. She is a great communicator, highly engaging in how she talks about her work, and I’m looking forward to her future contributions to the studio immensely.

She joins us from Assanka, where she was involved in numerous projects, most recent, the ground-breaking Financial Times HTML5 application for tablets. Her old colleagues were also helpful enough to point out those parts of the old job she would most like to continue with.

For the last two weeks, Alice has been involved with a studio project which has served as an introduction to our working practices, as well as getting some practical Rails experience under her belt. From Schulze’s original brief, Alex Jarvis has worked on the look and feel of the site, and Alice on the HTML and Rails backend.

Shipping your code is arguably the most important part of any development work, which means this internal project was designed to have public visibility. It also helps ensure that matters like deployment and ops are encountered, and given the eventful first couple of hours we had with the SVK launch, that’s important experience indeed!

Shuu.sh: getting started

To that end, I would like to unveil shuu.sh. Quoting from the site, it is:

“… a web-based twitter reader that displays the updates of the people you follow in relation to the frequency of their tweets. It aims to amplify the people that don’t usually get heard, and scale back those with frequent updates.”

Alice and Alex have both done a brilliant job in a short amount of time, and if you’re a Twitter user, you should go have a look.

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