Thursday, March 31, 2011

Augmented reality

The way Layar can deliver additional location-based information is a real bonus if you're in the right place with the right kind of phone, but all the same some of the more extravagant claims made about augmented reality warrant careful examination. Surely an augmentation would involve a heightened sense of reality whereas most AR apps are just clever annotations. In a way reality is diminished if you stare at it through the window of your phone. That's not to claim its of no use; it's just a matter of definition. Of a different order, of course, is the headset or the reality goggles. The BMW video shows AR goggles in operation. Surely, the ultimate toy for boys! I watched this with interest knowing full well that if I was working on an engine bolts would fly off, tools would malfunction, things would go wrong that no amount of augmentation could fix.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

First Skype call

In affluent and highly-digitized societies childhood is infused with technology. Digital technology has to be factored in from the prenatal stage when the first images of a baby are scans on screens, circulated by mobile phone and posted on social networking sites. And for the newborn, not only are the toys digital but the everyday practices that they participate in with adults are similarly mediated. I'm slowly building up an archive of images - here's Dylan at six months doing his first international Skype call. And that's just the beginning!

Friday, March 25, 2011

The hammer and the keyboard

In the everyday use of tools, their operation becomes routine and normalized. Interfaces work in the same way. When we switch devices there is often a certain amount of disruption and we are thrown back on the stubborn materiality of our instruments of control, those tools that we normally experience as being straightforward - become almost invisible. 'Heidegger's hammer' is a way of explaining how the tool recedes from view in daily use. Its visibility is heightened when 'the tool turns out to be damaged or the material unsuitable.' (1962:102). That was my experience operating the above keyboard. Nothing went well. I had to look a bit closer to see that the familiar looking object was subtley different. The letter arrangement is not the usual QWERTY layout, but the Belgian equivalent. It disrupted my operations, I became hesitant and dependent on an expert to guide me.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Yardie shoes

For me Clarke's shoes are forever associated with the sensible and conventional footwear of the late '50s. Now they are the shoe of choice for the discerning Yardie - at least if we believe the video. There is that strange loop in which naff things suddenly become cool and cool things become naff. The same happened to Burberry (which I believe is back where it started) and high-waist wide-leg trousers which are making a come back. Who knows, maybe Vybz Kartel have got it wrong about the shoes - maybe Yardies prefer sandals - or maybe it's subtle viral advertising. But if I'm sitting on the Tube and catch sight of some Clarkes, I think I'll play safe and avoid eye contact. You never know.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Whose generation?

Young children lit up yesterday's dissemination conference of the 'Children's playground games and songs in the new media age' project at the British Library. The documentary film Ip-dipi-dation: My Generation was a triumph. I hope it gets a more public airing or at least gets posted somewhere where more people can get access to it and talk about it. Adult intervention has been minimised, the kids just talk and show what they do, and that's what makes it so powerful. Having said that it is, of course an adult view, with the images carefully framed, edited, and sequenced. We hardly notice the meta-text which is about adults talking to adults about children. And I was left with that overall feeling about this area which is such a tricky one to study. The project team have been meticulous in avoiding over-interpretation and unnecessary theorising, but as adults we certainly have a thirst for that. The British Library now have an impressive digitised archive which you can see here and the researchers have plenty to write and talk about. Part of that, I suspect, will be about the methodological problem of making sense of children's worlds in the first place. I was struck by how much we want to make some of this ephemeral stuff meaningful. For the children themselves, particularly the younger ones, I suspect that meaning is always in process. They do it because they do it, without being clear about why, and so the meanings are both opaque and fluid, and always multiple.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Robots can dance

Will robots ever become part of everyday life in the way that computers have? Well, I suppose it depends on what counts as a robot. I'm looking for something robotic for our futures event in July and came across these little ISO-bots. They don't look great, but they can be controlled with a nunchuc which is pretty impressive. If your associations with basic robotics are anything like mine then they're about turtles and roamers and they become a sort of conceptual exercise in programming. Skip the alpha-numeric stuff and go straight to movement sensors and gestures and you have a whole new kind of robotic control; something akin to an out-of body experience! I looked for a good clip and found the one above. I'm not sure how these ISO-bots are controlled (I think its the standard controller), but the choreography is interesting. The guys' reactions are at least as good as the dancing robots! If you want more go here.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Obsessing about fonts

Studies of the textual landscape seem to be grabbing our attention at the moment, and some of the work seems to reach a bit further than the original geo-semiotic work. But today I was made aware of the strength of popular feeling about the presentational features of alphabetic representation in the environment. Before the advent of word-processing, choice of font (and the very word itself) was the preserve of the publishing industry. Now it's everyone's business. Name your font, search for it in YouTube and you'll quickly see the level of interest and the strength of feeling about different fonts. I enjoyed this particular offering, which happened to lead me to But what lies behind all this isn't just a simple question of design, it is also very much about socially agreed matters of taste. And the videos themselves are part of the process, producing and performing our ideas about what writing looks like.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

What colour is the future?

The way in which colour associates with ideas and rituals is certainly a cultural construction. Note the way in which people in different societies use different colours at weddings and funerals. The same goes for an idea like the future. For a long time I was so impressed by the advertising campaign that I thought that the future was Orange. But recently I've succumbed to the idea that the future is in fact blue. Cars are employing blue technology (which is apparently green) and all sorts of new gadgets are blue-chipped or have bluetooth fitted, and videos, of course now have blu-ray equivalents. But the future is a moving target and my future colour scheme underwent yet another change on Friday. I was, in fact, reminded of Proust and I quote from the last book of his monumental work: 'As in a snowy landscape,the degree of whiteness attained by a person's hair seemed in general to be an indication of the depth of time through which he or she had lived, just as in a range of mountains the higher peaks, even though they appear to the eye to be on the same level as the rest, nevertheless reveal their great altitude by the intensity of their snowy whiteness.' I was at yet another retirement do; and that's where I formed the distinct impression that the future is now white. In fact, at least for me, white is the new black.

Thursday, March 03, 2011


I love Michael Constanza’s video of Hope Sandoval on this YouTube clip. The dreamy quality goes so well with the track. It’s interesting how readily music and image combine in new media. I'd love to write a bit more about music; I had so much fun doing that chapter in the Web 2.0 book. And image has been very much on my mind of late. So for my latest project I’m looking for a reliable way of streaming live video. I’ve been experimenting with U-Stream which does the job quite well. I also learnt today about Screencast-o-matic which seems to do everything I used to do with Jing, but not what I want to do on the project, but I’m looking into that one, too.