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Blog posts from April 2012

Friday Links

SubMap is a visualisation for time and location data on distorted maps. The example above is a point of view map — a projection on a sphere around a particular point.

Planetary Resources is uncloaked this week as a company set up to mine the asteroid belt of our solar system. Yeah. We live in the future.

Planetary Resources is backed by, amongst others, James Cameron, the film director, and Larry Page, CEO of Google. Personally I am somewhat keen on getting society into space. But I didn’t expect it to be done by the International Legion of Billionaires. Brilliant that they’re doing it. Thanks, billionaires!

We are very much in love with Matt Richardson’s Descriptive Camera, which instead of a picture produces a text description of what you shoot, printed on a thermal printer!

Corner of a wood floored room with a tool chest, bike, stack of books, box leaning against the wall, an open door with a bag hanging off the doorknob, and a pair of closed double doors with cables hanging on the handles.


It gets better: the text descriptions are produced by anonymous individuals distributed around the world, and compensated for their work through Amazon Mechanical Turk. I love imagining the crowd of the internet all teeny tiny, all inside the camera.

Let’s wrap with a bit of self promotion.

The Lytro lightfield camera is one of those WHOA products — photos that you can refocus at any time. It’s magical. When I ran into them last week, they took a photo of Little Printer. Check it out! You can click to refocus (requires Flash).

Week 359

Okay so week 359 is a bit mad.

We take it in turns to write weeknotes (there’s a rota on the wall), but I wasn’t around for All Hands this week. Matt Jones kept the following notes and emailed them to me afterwards.

Wolf 359 is an awesome star!

It's also where the stand against the Borg takes place.

MW - visits from the taiwanese and swedish. sales meetings. dealing with studio stuff

SP - sales and new project set-ups, capacity planning. LP publications.

VOC - working up proposals, case-studies, target list of consumer products companies, proposition development

NL - bridge code to get claiming working under the new crypto scheme with james, documentation of apis. more cleverness under the hood

AH - going to slovenia, LP production ready boards, bridge production

AB - chuska wrap-up, working on LP 

JD - working on realising the service design of LP with denise and nick, a lot of whiteboarding

DW - publications stuff for LP, packaging with alex, sales and proposals

HR - a mountain of scanning, making sure everyone gets paid, helping simon with his studio dashboard spreadsheets

AJ - LP packaging - deadline this week... wrapping up chuska...

MJ - working on sales, helping alex with wrapping up chuska and doing some work on sinawava

JS - ???

Thanks Matt!

So here’s what’s occupying my head this week…

1. I’ve been to a bunch of brilliantly exciting client meetings this week. One of the things that seems to have changed in how we approach projects, in 2012, is that there’s more collaboration with clients earlier in their initial process of developing the brief. We get to poke at much more why the project is happening, and what it’s meant to achieve, and we get to feed in what we find super interesting right now, and our intuitions. So I’ve spent a good amount of time every day this week very enthusiastic about this, setting up brilliant briefs, feeling expansive with ideas and possibilities.

Then for some reason there have been lots of meetings with interesting people this week: a trade delegation from Taiwan, organised by UKTI and hosted by ustwo; a group of executives from the Bonnier Group on a training day; more with individuals. These are good opportunities to speak out loud about projects and about BERG, and I find that talking is an act of recall, improvisation, and renewing of mental tracks during which valuable thinking happens.

Alongside that, to be honest, I’m having a pretty heavy week, dealing with some of that kind of stuff where (a) the best person in the company to deal with it is me, and (b) it’s tiring to think about.

Switching rapidly between conversations that delight me and mental work that grinds me down has its own particular effect: to be fully involved in each activity, the feelings appropriate to the other activity have to be contained or suspended for the moment, and it’s that continual packing/unpacking/repacking that creates a novel kind of tiredness, a kind that I can only describe as – I don’t know whether this word exists outside the UK – radgy.

Which means I’m having to watch myself. If I look at something and I don’t like it, is that a real opinion or am I just a bit annoyed at everything? If I think somebody is agitated about something, are they actually or is it my own agitation I’m seeing?

It’s good to be aware of this I suppose, but phew, turbulence is tiring.

2. Here’s the thing. If you asked me to sum up the mood of the studio this week, I’d say frazzled and radgy. Is that because it’s me that’s frazzled and radgy and so I’m seeing it where it doesn’t exist and focusing on it where it does? Or is it because everyone’s tired at once, certain streams of Little Printer are coming to a head and that’s pressured, a couple of recent projects might have been recently or might be currently in the middle of their “lost in the fog” phase (which often happens but you need to find your way out of it by knack or luck), we’ve had a crunchy couple of weeks of multiple projects at crunchy points anyway, and I’ve not been paying the Room enough attention?

Some combination of the two I suppose. These things happen.

And I guess this says a bunch about my temperament but I’m reminded of running and those real grinds of hills you sometimes encounter that make your muscles burn and your lungs feel like hot raisins. I love that feeling.

Mainly what I’ve been saying this week (about my own week) is “it’s all a lot of fun.” It’s not the kind of fun that I go to the pub for, sure, but it’s the kind of fun where you listen closely to your muscles and you cuddle up to the sting and you feel the push to keeping running up the hill as a resolved exuberance. And boy it stings, you can’t think of anything else.

As fun as it is, you make sure to do your stretches afterwards so that it doesn’t sting next time.

3. I haven’t done weeknotes for a while, and it’s a shame my turn on the rota has fallen on a week I’m feeling particularly introspective!

So let me also say that this week my general (and hidden from the studio) obsession with David Bowie’s 1972 single Starman continues.

Here it is on YouTube:

As you listen, listen out for (from this description by Thomas Jones) the build-up of tension as the song opens, and the sense of as he says “release and climax” when the chorus kicks in. Here’s what’s happening:

What happens is that for the first time, the melody hits the tonic; Bowie gets through 15 bars in F major without singing an F, and then on the word ‘starman’ he hits two of them, an octave apart.

It’s astounding to hear once you know what’s going on, grab your headphones and listen to it now. That first staaaar-maan gives me shivers.

I believe that the reason I can’t stop listening to the song is that here, in week 359, our own chorus hasn’t yet kicked in, and I’m impatient, I can’t wait.

Breaking Out & Breaking In at Studio-X, NYC, Monday 30th April

Columbia University’s Studio-X NYC is hosting a fascinating evening that I’m going to be part of to close-out their “Breaking In & Breaking Out” virtual film festival focusing on the interplay of architecture with daring heists and escapes in the movies.

I’m going to speak a little bit about infrastructure, phones, watches, time and timetables – following on from this short post of mine from a while back.

But – mainly I’m going to listen – to the amazing line-up of actual serving and ex-FBI heist experts that has been assembled for the evening…

Hope to see you there.

Matt Jones in New York, April 30th-May 1st

I’ll be in NYC briefly next week, and while I have a couple of meetings planned I still have some free time to meet if you’d like to discuss working with BERG on product design and development projects or perhaps even working with BERG Cloud. Email me at to see if we can organise something!

I’ll also be speaking at Studio-X on Monday evening, April 30th as part of their “Breaking Out and Breaking-In” series of events. Hopefully see you there!

Friday Links

For the first link, there’s something happening right now, live on the web: “On-site interactive installation tracks people moving in the space and broadcasts their motion onto the web, their movements visualised in realtime in web browsers around the world. Web viewers can watch, or further interact with the generative graphics.” I’m not sure how long it will be running, so check it out, or look at the screenshot below.

Aanand did this lovely flickr photo compositor using HTML canvas.

Context Free Patent Art.

Ikea are getting into home electronics.

Hachures are an old way of representing relief on a map. They usually look a bit like this, and they’re usually hand-drawn”

And, not on the list, nor BERG related, but Jamie McKelvie made a video his Jam. I’m in love with it.

Week 358

It is, just about, week 358. Last night we were dancing for Matt Jones’ birthday. Simon has just brought in bacon sandwiches for everyone.

The week has been, like the weather, changeable. Right now it is sunny, so I am writing the week notes now. On Tuesday, when we have our all-hands catch up, it was not sunny, and there were only 7 of us in the studio, so this week’s list is not comprehensive.

Alex, among lots of other things, is wrapping up (geddit?) the packaging work for Little Printer. Simon and Andy went to Leatherhead for some reason. Denise has been doing all sorts of Little Printer stuff, bar a short break to do some D&AD judging. Matt W is working on Sinawava (as is Joe), a workshop and sales. He’s also went to Milan design fair to show off Little Printer. Alice and I are working on Berg Cloud internals. Andy is doing circuit designs. And…

Jack is back! He’s working in the afternoons, currently mainly with Joe on Sinawava. It’s good to have him back.

This is the sort of week you look back on fondly. It was a hard week, but worth it. And the dancing helped.

New Nature: a brief to Goldsmiths Design students

"Death To Fiction" minibrief, Goldsmiths Design

The project we ran in the spring with the Goldsmiths Design BA course was not ‘live’ in the sense that there was a commercial client’s needs informing the project, but it was an approximation of the approach that we take in the studio when we are working with clients around new product generation and design consultancy.

It was also an evolution of a brief that we have run before at SVA in New York with Durrell Bishop – but with the luxury of having much more time to get into it.

Our brief was in two parts – representing techniques that we use in the early stages of projects.

The first half: “Death To Fiction” stems from our love for deconstructing technologies, particularly cheap everyday ones to find new opportunities.

It’s a direct influence from Durrell – and techniques he used while teaching Schulze, Joe Malia and others at the RCA – and also something that is very familiar to many craftspeople – having at least some knowledge of a lot of different materials and techniques that can then inform deeper investigation, or enable more confident leaps of invention later on in the process. It also owes a lot to our friend Matt Cottam‘s “What is a Switch?” brief that he’s run at RISD, Umea, CIID and Aho…

We asked the students to engage with everyday technology and manufactured, designed goods as if it were nature.

“The Anthropocene” has been proposed by ecologists, geologists and geographers to describe the epoch marked by the domination of human influence on the Earth’s systems – seams of plastic kettles and Tesco “Bags For Life” will be discovered in millions of years time by the distant ancestors of Tony Robinson’s Time Team.

There is no split between nature and technology in the anthropocene. So, we ask – what happens if you approach technology with the enthusiasm and curiosity of the amateur naturalist of old – the gentlemen and women who trotted the globe in the last few centuries with sturdy boots, travel trunks and butterfly nets – hunting, collecting, studying, dissecting, breeding and harnessing the nature around them?

The students did not disappoint.

Like latter-day Linneans, or a troop of post-digital Deptford Darwins – they headed off into New Cross and took the poundstretchers and discount DIY stores as their Galapagos.

After two weeks I returned to see what they had done and was blown-away.

Berg: New Nature brief

Chewing-gum, Alarm-clocks, key-finders, locks, etch-a-sketches, speakers, headphones, lighters, wind-up toys and more – had all been pulled-apart, scrutinised, labelled, diagrammed, tortured, tested, reconstructed…

"Death To Fiction" minibrief, Goldsmiths Design

"Death To Fiction" minibrief, Goldsmiths Design

Berg: New Nature brief

And – perhaps most importantly I had the feeling they had not only been understood, but the invention around communicating what they had learnt displayed a confidence in this ‘new nature’ that I felt would really stand them in good stead for the next part of the project, and also future projects.

Berg: New Nature brief

It was all great work, and lots of work – the smile didn’t leave my face for at least a week – but a few projects stood out for me.

"Death To Fiction" minibrief, Goldsmiths Design

"Death To Fiction" minibrief, Goldsmiths Design

Charlotte’s investigations of disposable cameras, Helen’s thought-provoking examination of pregnancy tests, Tom’s paper speakers (which he promised had worked!), Simon’s unholy pairings of pedometers and drills, Liboni and Adam’s thorough dissections of ultrasonic keyfinders and the brilliant effort to understand how quartz crystal regulate time by baking their own crystal, wiring it to a multimeter and whacking it with a hammer!

"Death To Fiction" minibrief, Goldsmiths Design

Hefin Jones’ deconstruction of the MagnaDoodle, and his (dramatic, hairdryer-centric) reconstruction of it’s workings was a particularly fine effort.

The second half of the brief asked the students to assess the insights and opportunities they had from their material exploration and begin to combine them, and place them in a product context – inventing new products, services, devices, rituals, experiences.

We’ve run this process with students before in a brief we call “Hopeful Monsters”, which begins with a kind of ‘exquisite corpse’ mixing and breeding of devices, affordances, capabilities, materials and contexts to spur invention.

We’d pinched that drawing technique way back in 2007 for Olinda from Matt Ward, head of the design course at Goldsmiths so it only seemed fitting that he would lead that activity in a workshop in the second phase of the brief.

Berg: New Nature brief

The students organised themselves in teams for this part of the brief, and produced some lovely varied work – what was particularly pleasing to me was that they appeared to remain nimble and experimental in this phase of the project, not seizing upon a big idea then dogmatically trying to build it, but allowing the process of making inform the way to achieve the goals they set themselves.

We closed the project with an afternoon of presentations at The Gopher Hole (thanks to Ossie and Beatrice for making that happen!) where the teams presented back their concepts. All the teams had documented their research for the project as they went online, and many opted to explain their inventions in short films.

Here’s a selection:

A special mention to the ‘Roads Mata’ team, who for me really went the extra-mile in creating something that was believably-buildable and desirable – to the extent that I think my main feedback to them was they should get on KickStarter

There were sparks of lovely invention throughout all the student groups – some teams had more trouble recognising them than others, but as Linus Pauling once said “To have a good idea you have to have a lot of ideas”, and that certainly wasn’t a problem.

I wonder what everyone would have come up with if we had a slightly longer second design phase to the project, or introduced a more constrained brief goal to design for. It might have enabled some of the teams to close in on something either through iteration or constraint.

Next time!

As it was I hope that the methods that the brief introduce stay with the group, and that the curiosity, energy and ability to think through making that they obviously all have grows in confidence and output through the coming years.

They will be a force to be reckoned with if so.

Friday Links

It’s Friday 13th, and at the time of writing, all is well. There will be thirteen of us around the table for demos later on though, and if the Last Supper or Norse myths are anything to go by, Wikipedia doesn’t fancy our chances. Better get on with Friday links while I still can.

Simon started the week off with the Hackday Manifesto. A handy list of things to think about if you’re organising a hack day. (One of the more memorable hack days I attended got struck by lightening. It sent the building into panic mode and large vents opened in the roof as the rain fell on our laptops. It’s not on the list, but try to avoid that if you can.)

Nick sent around this video of a robot…

…And Alex spotted a ham boning robot in the related links.

Andy, shocked to find that ‘it’s not all internet of things and albums on Kick Starter’, shared a link to the Sisters of the Lattice: Mystical Conjoined Twins Tour + Film, and Alex got us back on track with Pebble, an E-paper watch for iPhone and Android.

I enjoyed this lovely use of ASCII on Twitter, spotted via @mildlydiverting. Use the J key to go forward, and K to reverse.

MW returned from the USA to share these optical illusions with us, and MJ finished up with texts from dogs.

That’s all for now – we’re just discussing boiling a can of condensed milk for four hours, so I’d better go.

Week 357

Checking back in the archives, my last weeknotes were for week 345, back in January. Just like 345, 357 is also a sphenic number; a positive integer which is the product of three distinct prime numbers. And just like week 345, this week also sees Matthew in the USA. Coincidence? Undoubtedly – I’ve seen his calendar and I don’t think he’s got time to plan around the sphenics, but if you’re curious, I’ll double check on his return.

We had a bank holiday in the UK yesterday, and so this is a short week. Here’s what everyone is planning for the next 4 days…

MJ and Joe are working on Sinawava this week – perhaps with a bit of input from me. There’s much to get done before a review on Friday and a ‘what next?’ decision next monday.

Alex, Alice and James are working together on Chuska, getting things ready for review on Thursday. There’s been a lot of conceptual work so far, this week sees rapid prototypes and things to play with, which is always good.

Nick and Phil will be working on Little Printer – and I’ll be ‘helping’ by presenting them with the mother of all flowcharts for things too long-winded to explain here. I hope it makes sense to them though, because I’m really excited to see what happens next.

Timo has run away to Norway for a while, which leaves the studio a little sad. I’m keeping his memory alive by stealing his mug which happens to be the biggest in the studio. He’ll be working on Silverton – again with a bit of input from me too.

Andy is out of the studio today but in for the rest of the week, and working on Little Printer. Everything he’s doing involves abbreviations, things written in initials and companies with the word Tech or Tek in their name.

Simon is working across all the projects we have on the go at the moment, from Little Printer through to every client project. He’s busy either planning or wrapping up work, and sorting out invoices with Helen.

And I think that’s everyone – time to get started.

Easter Links

There’s been lots of exciting things circulating the studio this week; bacon butties, choccies, beer, the usual, but with the most notable of all being the simply delectable mango, courtesy of our Simon (and I think Sainsburys – good work guys). All the edible things aside, here’s some bits for you to enjoy.

A solar powered calculator preparing to take on the world.

What life was like in the swinging sixties.

The robot company bought by Amazon… Simply astounding.

An article about why you can’t stop throwing those birds.

The future of comics?

And finally… the biggest Creme Egg you’ve ever seen. (Bigger than a kettle):

Happy Easter all.


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