Safely Ignored

by Hans Gerwitz

Founder at The Artificial and critic of all things.

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The Anosognosic Phone

Back in September, a design student posted a design fiction video of Phonebloks, a modular phone platform. It got a lot of attention, but I counted myself among numerous skeptics of the design, given how much size and weight would be added and the unrealistic sizing of the imagined modules.

During October’s Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven, I had the chance to chat with aforementioned student, who seemed more interested in his small-scale plastic recycling project. It did not take long to confirm that he was an “idea guy”, not to be bothered with the realities of implementation; that’s for the magician engineers to work out. My skepticism was confirmed.

But that same week, Google Motorola (no slouch of engineering) announced Project Ara, which is basically the same concept, and “partnered” with Phonebloks to share in the attention. Later, I learned...

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Campus

A career consulting with Big Corporations has exposed me to a dizzying number of suburban corporate campuses around the world. Louise Mozingo’s Pastoral Capitalism (well described by the author here offers a dispassionate survey of the rise of the dominant architectural form.

That dispassion highlights for me, by stark contrast, how much I despise these sprawling complexes. With many, the original university mimicry has been long forgotten in favor of more surface parking. The more recent or well-to-do firms usually have lovely places to stroll around, though, that provide a stark contrast to the cubicle farms surrounding them.

The best examples, such as Microsoft’s, are genuinely pleasant to stroll around. But when you board a bus or train from the middle of a thriving urban neighborhood, leave the city, and exit to take a long walk past parking garages to enter,...

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Open Committee

Nevermind Netflix, the best drama shows these days are on the W3C mail ists. Recent episodes of www-style are gems, where characters like Maciej (Apple), Tab (Google), and Boris battle over the evolution of CSS, with Apple backing Adobe’s proposed Regions, and Google pushing aggressively for Shadow DOM.

Though heated at times, these arguments are between geeks in close communities with shared passions. They often reference conversations that have taken place at a pub during conferences. So sometimes an inside joke is referenced, such as when WebKit trimmed some old code and poked fun at Google’s weird PR about slimming down WebKit cruft after the Blink fork (a long-running joke) and their more recent “MOBILE-PERFORMANCE-OR-DIE-TRYING” mantra.

Bug trackers and version control systems generally lack <humor> tags, so industry observers see a commit message...

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LEGO Scale

Greg J. Smith recently tweeted about a LEGO jail cell and estimated it’s measure at a ratio that didn’t quite match, so my curiosity was piqued.

There isn’t an applicable ISO standard, and the prevailing wisdom seems to vary between 1:40 and 1:48. I like the convention of 6-foot-tall minifigs, since that’s the average height of Danish men. This results in a ratio of 1:43.54….

Since studs are spaced at 7.985 mm, that translates to roughly 350 mm in the minifig world.

This means the LEGO magazine’s 4 by 6 stud cell is 4.6 by 6.9 ft, not as big as Greg’s 6 ft by 8 ft estimate. Set 4636’s 3 by 4 stud cell offers less than 14 square feet, which isn’t even enough for a holding cell in Texas, where

Cells shall be constructed to house from one to 24 minifigs and shall contain not less than 40 square feet of floor space for the first minifig and...

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The Sharing Pyramid

Our Seattle house is on AirBnB, Zipcar has freed us from car ownership for 5 years, Netflix replaced DVDs before that, and our office’s Cube is a 3D Hub. I’m definitely a fan of resource sharing and believe the rise of access rights (alongside ownership) is a long-term cultural shift rather than a fad.

But I don’t know about “the sharing economy”. Maybe consumers becoming sharing peers are able to capture economic value that otherwise would be aggregated by the usual oligarchs, but every car that doesn’t sell or hotel room that stays empty also reduces the available work for a lot of people of lower income than we the sharing peers.

So what value creation drives the benefits preached by Peers? How is this more than a AirBnB support group or feel-good social club celebrating a cultural shift? I don’t understand why I should want to become a...

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Neoflix

Netflix is rolling out a new TV UI for their homegrown software, which is used by many streaming devices, TVs, etc. Pretty much everything except Xbox and Apple TV.

It’s pretty, and the use of wide-ratio posters instead of box art will likely get a lot of attention among designers. But this is what caught my eye:

We also added a shorter, more descriptive synopsis

This is a great sign for a user-service oriented company. They made the decision that their UI needed a shorter text description, and updated their massive content library to enable that.

Most of their competitors would have told the design team to make it work with the data they had.

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Galaxy OS

Samsung is releasing SDKs that mean developers can target their devices for capabilities beyond stock Android. This comes at a time when Google is tightening it’s hold on this “open” platform and the only devices in the ecosystem that matter are from Samsung.

I find this immensely gratifying since I once had a reputation as “the fork guy” for advising clients this was a likely future, though many years ago it wasn’t at all clear Samsung would end up in such a dominant position. (I one thought Motorola most likely.)

Now that it’s clearly unfolding, all the doom-for-Google reporting is overlooking the Android fragmentation problem that KitKat seeks to address (and Apple has become bold in pointing out). It’s really a Samsung fragmentation problem, as their own product line spans a dizzying away of screen dimensions, hardware capabilities,...

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Asymco

If you’re interested in the mobile computing industry and are not following Horace Dediu, then you’re not really that interested. Here are just a few things I’ve learned about (or at least confirmed) via his analyses over the last month:

  • About 30% of Microsoft’s Windows revenue is from Surface.
  • The smartphone market will saturate soon, which means competition shifts to switching. Apple is more sticky, and we’re already seeing the effects: Android may have even peaked.
  • Apple’s up to something in capital investment, and it sure smells like they’re planning to build their own chips or displays.
  • Carriers continue to push iPhones even though they hate Apple’s power because they make more money on iOS users.

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Disrupt It Yourself

Technophiles have been hand-wringing a bit lately over the rise of Defense Distributed, who have successfully tested a (mostly) printed firearm. Here’s a representative reaction from my Twitter feed:

Open Design and 3D printing is not all good: first 3D printed gun is now a fact, huge implications

There’s an eagerness for future shock, here, that reminds me of the breathless predictions of a cyber-future from the early days of Wired magazine. This is not the disruptive event that will establish 3D printing’s place in history as a world-changing technology.

Homemade firearms have a long history. As a child in the 1980s interested in phreaking and pyrotechnics, I encountered plenty of instructions for zip guns. Three decades later, and the same can easily be found in amateur YouTube videos and more serious efforts. No 3D printer required.

Doubtless, as printer...

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Open Source NASA

NASA has been refining a new “lander” platform for use on the Moon and asteroids. It’s the space-grade version of the quadracopter drones that are popular among hobbyists and technology observers these days, powered by hydrogen peroxide thrusters.

It’s fun that they’ve named it Mighty Eagle after an Angry Birds feature, but more noteworthy is the adoption of ArduCopter by the Marshall Space Flight Center.

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