Gifs as art (or is it art as gifs?)

More examples of this new emerging art form. It’s not just about clipping from movies!

by Carl Burton, via Colossal

by Carl Burton, via Colossal

By artist Carl Burton… Although technically very impressive, I find them slightly uncomfortable, don’t you?

by Carl Burton, via Colossal

by Carl Burton, via Colossal

It turns out that I’ve posted Carl’s work before on this blog. He did the artwork for the second series of Serial, which I referred to in a post about podcast tech. Stunning graphics.

by Carl Burton

by Carl Burton

Check out more of his unusual but hypnotic work on his Tumblr page.

A break from the Friday Fives…

You may have noticed that I haven’t done a Friday Five this week. I’m going to put them on hold for a while, and while I will continue writing here (I love it!), it will be with less frequency.

Why? I need to focus even more now on my new world of bitcoin and the blockchain (about which I write over at I have so much to learn, and am so certain that I want that to be the focus of my next career. I’m also starting work on a book, more about that soon.

You know the saying “If you chase two rabbits, both will escape”? I’m going to focus on one rabbit now, but without losing touch with the general exploration that I’ve enjoyed here. ‘Nuff said.

Friday Five: media, social and dropping out

Some interesting articles from the past week:

Off the Grid – by Stephen Fry

British writer, actor and comedian Stephen Fry lets rip on his vision of an unplugged life for today’s young:

“Signing off and logging out may seem to some like a move back, a fatuous attempt to disinvent the wheel, a modern equivalent of The Good Life, digging up Wikipedia and planting cabbages over it or steampunking the new to create a simulacrum of the old, but what I am talking about is a move forward for those who have never known anything but the digital world. Generation Z (it brings vomit to the gorge even to type that) must invent their own reality, not replay mine. No, this is not about the retro chic of analogue, it is about forging a new reality outside the – for want of a better word – matrix.”

Whether you agree with him or not (and he doesn’t expect you to), this is a great read, full of wit and hope.

“But first, what would motivate any young person today to pull the plug?

Well maybe they should consider this for a moment. Who most wants you to stay on the grid? The advertisers. Your boss. Human Resources. The advertisers. Your parents (irony of ironies – once they distrusted it, now they need to tag you electronically, share your Facebook photos and message you to death). The advertisers. The government. Your local authority. Your school. Advertisers.”

— x —

No, this isn’t an oil painting by an abstract artist. It’s an image of Australia taken by a satellite for the US Geological Survey.

image via artnet

satellite image of Australia, via artnet

You can see a collection of some of the most beautiful ones at their website, and at Artnet News.

earthasart contrails

satellite image of California, via artnet

satellite image of Australia, via artnet

satellite image of Australia, via artnet

— x —

How Uber Conquered London – by Sam Knight, for The Guardian

A searing mix of personal struggle, entrepreneurial determination, history and philosophy gives us a gripping tale of how Uber launched in London and went on to change how the city moves. We meet the first London employee, the first driver, and, of course, Kalanick himself. And we get a glimpse of how a city’s transformation began, one driver at a time.

“Liquidity used to be something you associated with the stock market, he explained. But now sharing networks such as Uber and Airbnb are making assets and labour available to consumers in ways that were simply not possible before.”

A long read, but worth it.

“It takes a moment for this notion to sink in: that with more drivers competing for cheaper fares, everybody can still come out on top. (American drivers have begun to call this “Uber math”.)… The only trouble with “Uber math” is how it feels to be part of the labour force that delivers it.”

— x —

Your Media Business Will Not Be Saved – by Joshua Topolsky, via Medium

The problem with today’s media is that…. it’s different. Things that used to work don’t work anymore. And the media, the “old” media, doesn’t seem to know what to do about it.

“So over time, we built up scale in digital to replace user value. We thought we could solve with numbers (the new, seemingly infinite numbers the internet and social media provides) what we couldn’t solve with attention. And with every new set of eyeballs (or clicks, or views) we added, we diminished the merit of what we made. And advertisers asked for more, because those eyes were worth less. And we made more. And it was less valuable.”

— x —

Check out these stunning light portraits by Eric Paré.

by Eric Paré, via Bored Panda

by Eric Paré, via Bored Panda


by Eric Paré, via Bored Panda

by Eric Paré, via Bored Panda

by Eric Paré, via Bored Panda

There’s more on Bored Panda.

— x —

How social entrepreneurship is making a difference in the world – by Bérénice Magistretti, for TechCrunch

Banish the do-gooder condescension that most Silicon Valley types bestow on third world problems (although usually with very good intentions). Here we have some examples of clever ideas that are actually making a difference in quality of life. Tackling sanitation, healthcare, waste recycling and education, good ideas and smart management can make local impacts that have the potential to scale.

I dislike the label “social entrepreneurship” – it’s too limiting and misleading. I mean, Facebook and Instagram can be considered cases of social entrepreneurship, right? “Constructive” entrepreneurship doesn’t work, either. The closest I can come up with is “make-the-world-a-better-place entrepreneurship”, which is just not going to catch on. Maybe just “better place entrepreneurship”?

— x —

Have a great weekend, wherever you are. I came to London this week expecting dire weather – the forecast said rain, sleet and even snow! The same forecast as the last time I was here. And yet again, beautiful sunny weather. Cold, though. But lovely.

Data visualization, trivia and creativity

I’m in London this week for, among other things, a course by David McCandless, author of Information is Beautiful and Knowledge is Beautiful, and pioneer of original data visualizations. It is an excellent workshop, which stimulates parts of the brain you don’t normally get to use (whatever your profession), and helps you to see concepts and information more clearly. What I most got out of it was the ability to ask better questions. Instead of “how have print book sales correlated with e-book sales?”, which is slightly ordinary and generic, how about “which category of book sales has been most impacted by e-books, and how has that progressed over time?”. Instead of “how is climate change affecting temperatures?”, how about “how has the temperature range varied by country over the past 20 years?”. Instead of “which bus lines have the worst delays?”, how about “what are the bus delays caused by, what time of day do they happen, how many people use the bus at those times, and how does all this vary over the course of a day/week/month?”. You can find out more of David’s work at Information is Beautiful, and I thoroughly recommend his TED talk.

The concept is so simple in retrospect. We are biologically predisposed to favour images over text. We survived by being able to detect changes in patterns, movement amongst the reeds, berry-coloured spots in the bush. The language of image is much more universal than any other, and a visualization can transmit so much more in a short period of time than can densely packed numbers or verbose text. So why has it taken us so long to realize that we can do so much more than pie charts and bar graphs?

In part, because of technology. Data as a snapshot in time is interesting, but if it can be easily updated it becomes so much more useful. Good old Excel charts did the trick quite efficiently, but were not exactly grabbing. Adding colour and nifty labels helped. But it was all still rather flat. Faster chips and more efficient programming gave us more powerful processing and more flexibility in presentation. And the trend of interdisciplinary studies and collaborations added a layer of relevance to a broader audience. Mix in some individual creativity and personal style, add the increasingly rapid spread of ideas via the Internet, and you get a data visualization revolution.

from Information is Beautiful - by David McCandless

from Information is Beautiful – by David McCandless

As a total numbers geek (Applied Maths major, and a CFA), this stuff is thrilling. But it’s also exciting and relevant for anyone interested in arcane trivia (who gets more press attention, Han Solo or Luke Skywalker?), culture (the relative success of every major film of the past 7 years), politics (imagine being able to display the differences between the parties in an easy to understand visual… oh, wait, David’s done that), economics (thought you knew what a billion dollars looked like? think again), dogs (what do you mean, the English Spaniel isn’t bright?), social media (there’s a fascinating breakdown of sites by user gender balance)… the list could go on. Check out his website for some fun graphs, charts and whatever-you-call-thems.

from Information is Beautiful - by David McCandless

from Information is Beautiful – by David McCandless

McCandless isn’t the only one doing stunning things with data. Polygraph has some amazing interactive graphics about culture-related themes (“What is the definition of punk?”, “How popular is older music?”, “Which rappers have the broadest vocabulary?”). The New York Times and the Washington Post are producing some slick interactive graphics. FiveThirtyEight, a blog/online magazine born for data journalism, is producing some cool stuff. Andy Kirk runs an impressive blog and website about data visualization. There’s some incredible creativity going on in the field.

from The New York Times

from The New York Times

But McCandless seems well on his way to becoming the “rock star” of the discipline. His visual style and his sense of humour make his talks and workshops anything but dry. His belief that we can all be better data journalists is contagious. And his approachability and “professorial” air left us all encouraged and inspired to get out there and create. I walked away with pages of scribbled ideas for information that I didn’t even know that I wanted to know.

Did you know that lipstick sales go up in a recession? That toast is much more popular worldwide than cereal as a breakfast tool? That Easter and just before summer see the highest concentration of Facebook status updates from “in a relationship” to “single”? That very little of the story told in “The Imitation Game” really happened? That “awesome” is a more popular word than “badass”? These are just some of the tidbits we gleaned from the stream of graphs he showed us as examples. Data really is very, very interesting. Especially if you can express it well.

Friday Five: books, bubbles and boats

A roundup of some of the more thought-provoking articles from the week:

— x —

Boaty McBoatface and the False Promise of Democracy – by Uri Friedman, for The Atlantic

For the record: Boaty McBoatface is a brilliant name.

The UK Coast Guard decided to try out this thing called “social engagement” by opening up the naming of its new vessel to the community at large. It would let the public nominate and vote on potential names. What could go wrong?

Well, what could go wrong is that the Science Minister didn’t like the winner. Boaty McBoatface won by a huge margin, as it should have. But that entry has been disqualified. Why? Because the name is not “serious enough”.

The US Republican Party should take note: apparently you don’t have to abide by the rules of democracy if the people’s choice is not “serious enough”. Just sayin’.

“What happened to disapproving of what you name your boat, but defending to the death your right to name it? Is democracy a lie?”

A good article, which points out that the futility of democracy does not end with a ship.

“By voting, you can play some role in electing your member of Congress. But you have far less control over which policies that member supports once in office, let alone which policies the government as a whole pursues. Similarly, you can cast a ballot for Boaty McBoatface and help shoot the name to the top of an online poll. But you’re pretty powerless when it comes to what the science minister does with that information.”

— x —

Very, um, festive? Fun? Quirky? A kinetic toy installation made with Hoberman Spheres (I want one!), by artist Nils Volker. Via Colossal.

— x —

Silicon Valley’s unicorn fantasy is collapsing in on itself – by Alison Griswald for Quartz

I include an article about an article, which I normally don’t like to do, but in this case you’ll thank me – the original article, by tech investor Bill Gurley, is reaaaaally long. The Quartz summary is more readable, in my attention-deficit opinion, and highlights the scarily relevant points.

It goes a bit beyond the now-usual “the bubble is bursting” commentary to talk about how Silicon Valley hubris is bringing the roof down on their own heads. On the one hand, it’s a pity, as so many young dreams will be washed away. On the other hand, you would think we’d learn from past mistakes, no? According to Bill, the four main factors in the VCs’ and founders’ own way are:

– emotional biases (the overwhelming desire to be a paper billionaire),

– greedy VCs with more ambition than ethics (who get unrealistic guarantees in the contract, which deters further funding),

– inscrutable financials (greater transparency in the numbers would lead to better decisions and less blind hype) and

– too much money looking for a high return.

“The pressures of lofty paper valuations, massive burn rates (and the subsequent need for more cash), and unprecedented low levels of IPOs and M&A, have created a complex and unique circumstance which many Unicorn CEOs and investors are ill-prepared to navigate.”

— x —

I love this floor:

Image by Bernhard Strauss, via Designboom

Image by Bernhard Strauss, via Designboom

Made with poured resin, by Peter Zimmerman. Via Designboom.

— x —

What books can learn from the Web / What the Web can learn from books – by Hugh McGuire, via Medium

Here we have an interesting look at the difference between books and the web. “Boundedness” on the one hand. “Unboundedness” on the other. Is there a way to bring them together?

“If …

The Web is the most efficient technology we have for creating and distributing information …

And if …

The web is the most efficient technology for organizing connections between bits of information …

And if …

The Web is an open platform on which we can build new tools and services …

And, further, if …

Books represent the (arguably) the most important single nodes of information from human minds …

Then …

Why doesn’t the content inside of books live on the Open Web — where it can more easily be found, shared, read, and built upon?”

We have unlimited information on the Internet, which allows us to build connections, to adapt and to innovate. A book’s reassuring limitations concentrate our attention but at the same time block the creativity of immediate interaction. Online books, without the physical heft, offer the same restrictions.

“So we moved from paper books to digital books, but rather than embracing digital fully, we instead built a system that tries to mimic the limitations of paper. In fact the ebook system we have built in many ways imposed new restrictions: on ownership (since you don’t own your ebooks, you license them from wherever you bought them), and use (you can’t easily lend your ebooks, or give them away; you might be able to highlight and take notes on your books — but there isn’t anything useful we can do with those notes).”

So is there a way that books can retain their advantages, set in the beginning of printing-press time, while joining the connectivity revolution?

“Books can learn from the web how to be bounded and unbounded at once: to keep the circumscribed, portable integrity of discrete content; but to open that content to the platform of the Web. To open the reading experience to being built upon… But I think there is power in the notion of a book, its thingness, and the Web can perhaps learn how to encapsulate, in the way a book does, a discrete thing, a bounded set of ideas.”

— x —

A brief roundup (you’re probably grateful, right?), but it’s been a crazily busy week. Glad it’s Friday. You too, I hope!

Bitcoin in Africa? Not yet.

I was going to write about how bitcoin could help to improve economies in Africa through its efficient and low-cost secure method of transferring money. But after doing a fair amount of research, and realising that many of the companies mentioned in the press over the past year as being the “hope” of the future have since closed down, I’ve changed my mind. Instead, I’m going to write about how hard it is for a bitcoin-based company to do business in Africa. It’s not impossible – there are some success stories. But the advantages of bitcoin at this stage are not as obvious as they might seem. The theory is excellent. But the reality is complicated.

bitcoin in africa

Photograph by Robin Hammond for National Geographic

First, let’s talk about the promise. According to the World Bank, 66% of adults in Africa do not have a bank account. They deal in cash and in barter, with considerable lack of efficiency and security, and scant possibility of escaping that hand-to-mouth cycle. With bitcoin, they could effectively have a decentralized bank account and manage their finances more carefully, with control over what comes in and what goes out. Families could start to save and even lend. Payments would become easier and cheaper, leading to significant savings in both time and money. Current mobile money payment systems are efficient, but have a high fee structure. Bitcoin’s decentralization and security could economically empower those that are traditionally at the margin of the economy.

The ease and low cost of sending bitcoin anywhere around the world makes it the potential saviour of remittance services. Approximately $53bn was sent to the region in 2015 by workers abroad, with fees averaging 12.4%. Remittances cost more in Africa than in other areas – the world average is 7.8%. There are five remittance “corridors” (flows between two countries) in the world with fees over 20%, all of them in Africa. Using bitcoin, the fees would come down drastically, with the savings going directly to the beneficiaries.

The potential is huge. But the reality is very different.

Bitcoin has limited end uses in Africa. Very few merchants accept it as payment, and it can’t yet be used to pay for utilities or public services. That will change, but slowly. Bankymoon, a South Africa-based blockchain financial services company, has developed smart electricity meters that can be topped up from anywhere with bitcoin.

To be able to buy bitcoins on an exchange, you need access to a computer or a smartphone. Relatively few Africans have that. It is true that the majority of the adult population has a mobile device, but only 15% have a smartphone. According to the International Telecommunication Union, only 37% of adult Kenyans had access to Internet in 2014. In Ethiopia, the figure is 2%. So, buying bitcoin is possible but not simple, and the number of exchanges that can trade local African currencies for bitcoin is limited. Most require an initial conversion to dollars or euros, which significantly increases the transaction costs.

So, buying bitcoins is not simple, and even if you receive bitcoins as a remittance from a family member or friend working abroad, changing it into local currency on an exchange is difficult. Those without a bank account would need to find an agent willing to exchange bitcoins for cash. They do exist, but their scarcity and the technology access required allow them to charge very high fees for the service.

And bitcoin as a remittance rail has competition. Innovative international payment methods are eroding the incumbents’ market share by offering much lower fees. In Kenya, for example, WorldRemit, Equity Direct, and even new e-cash services offered by incumbents Moneygram and Western Union can transfer money for less than 5%. Of course, the low fee structure depends on electronic transactions. Once cash is involved, the fees shoot up.

And regulation, or the lack of, is an important structural problem. Although Nigeria’s Central Bank hascalled for bitcoin regulation, no country has it in place or is even, as far as we know, working on it. Kenya’s Central Bank issued a warning in December against Bitcoin use, citing its unregulated status. Unregulated does not mean illegal, but it does create obstacles for bitcoin exchanges, wallets and payment systems.

Regional differences and market size are also a complicating factor. Kenya alone, for instance, is not a big enough market to attract the funding needed to reach profitable scale. According to IMF estimates,its GDP is roughly equivalent to Bulgaria’s, and significantly less than Luxembourg’s. Each country has its own currency and phone system, so compatibility issues are barrier to rapid continent-wide expansion.

On top of the “typical” problems that startups have to face, new businesses in Africa also have to contend with relatively poor connectivity, recruiting difficulties and electricity outages. Africa has always been a very entrepreneurial continent, but at the micro level. The cultural and logistical difficulties of setting up cross-border businesses; recruiting, training and retaining a qualified team; the general lack of political and economic stability; high interest rates; limited access to funding… These and many other factors make the launch of scalable, profitable enterprises even more challenging.

In May of last year, Disrupt Africa ran a story on “5 African Bitcoin Startups to Watch”. Of the five, one shut down, one pivoted away from bitcoin, and one has had a major payment ramp blocked. Further digging uncovers several others that have closed down, and the bitcoin sector is littered with tombstones of good ideas that came to market a bit before their time.

And yet, bitcoin’s time in Africa will come, and its effect on the continent’s economy will be significant. Some remarkable businesses are struggling hard to make this happen. The use cases are much clearer there than in Europe or the US, where credit cards are ubiquitous and mobile payments are easy. The impact it can have on people’s lives is much greater. With persistence and brave first-movers, with rationally enthusiastic public comment and constant dialogue, regulators will see the economic advantages of further encouraging financial innovation. Tech hubs are springing up all over the continent, creative entrepreneurs are attracting international interest, and a lot more than transaction fees is at stake.

(This post also appears in, where I write about bitcoin and fintech.)

Friday Five: bots, media and offices

Remember how when you were young Friday took forever to roll around? Well, I must be getting old, because now it leaps out at me before I realize it’s not Monday anymore… Anyway, here you have a roundup of interesting articles from the week:

— x —

Bots, the next frontier – from The Economist

Just when you thought that you’d gotten your head around apps, you find out that apps are so yesterday. The thing to focus on now is bots: automated text-based services that can do just about everything from helping out (“book me a flight tomorrow morning to Amsterdam”) to entertaining (“did you hear the one about the Englishman, the Irishman and the Scotsman that walked into a bar?”).

“Users should find bots smoother to use, which explains another of their monikers: “invisible apps”. Installation takes seconds; switching between bots does not involve tapping on another app icon; and talking to bots may be more appealing than dealing with a customer-support agent of a bank or airline, for example.”

Apart from the novelty, bots do offer advantages over apps and service desks. Enhanced interaction will benefit the brand. And, the relatively low cost compared to apps, the cloud-based flexibility, and the ease of use should benefit both users and developers. Yet the business model is still unclear:

“No guarantee exists, however, that the bot economy will be as successful as the app one, which has created 3.3m jobs just in America and Europe, according to the Progressive Policy Institute, a think-tank. The economics for developers are not obviously attractive: if bots are easier to develop, that means more competition. Consumers could, again, be overwhelmed by the cornucopia of services and ways of interacting with them. And designing good text-based interfaces can be tricky.”

— x —

Enchanting scenes that you just want to get lost in. By David Brodeur, via Colossal.

By David Brodeur, via Colossal (click to see more images)

By David Brodeur, via Colossal (click to see more images)

By David Brodeur, via Colossal (click to see more images)

By David Brodeur, via Colossal (click to see more images)

by David Brodeur, via Colossal (click to see more images)

By David Brodeur, via Colossal (click to see more images

— x —

How can Africa master the digital revolution? – by Calestous Juma, for the World Economic Forum

Here we have a pragmatic look at the use of the Internet in Africa, which bypasses the feel-good and optimistic projections of its impact, and focusses on the obstacles in the way and on ways to overcome them.

“The digital revolution is not just about communication. It is about recognizing that information is the currency of all economic activities.”

And it’s about laying down the infrastructure to be able to use that information. A currency that doesn’t have “rails” on which to move is not very useful.

Once the infrastructure is there, people need to be trained to use it. It’s not as obvious or intuitive as it seems. And the nature of the training is key: it’s not just about messaging and web pages. Information-powered tech can do so much more.

— x —

Working for yourself is not freedom – by Jon Westenberg, via Medium

A refreshing look at what being an entrepreneur is really like. It’s hell. The stress, the hours, the uncertainty, the problems. But, it’s exhilarating. Empowering. Intensely satisfying.

I worry about all the young things starting out on the startup journey with stars in their eyes and a dream in their heart. I worry about them hitting their very first big brick wall, and thinking that they failed. I hope that articles like these open eyes and lower expectations, to reinforce determination. It’s a marathon, and it requires more toughness than you ever thought you had. But if you want a challenging, evolving life, then being an entrepreneur is the path for you. Just don’t expect it to be fun.

— x —

If Work Is Digital, Why Do We Still Go to the Office? – by Carlo Ratti and Matthew Claudel, for HBR

The intersection of technology and the way we work is a well-trampled subject, but this article deviates from the typical discussion of flexibility and always-on easy access, to focus on the physical role of our offices. With the means at our disposal to work at a distance – from home, from the beach, from a mountaintop – why do we still go to the office?

My answer would be that it’s because companies are slow to adapt. But that’s because I actually really enjoy working from home. Just taking into account the time I save on the commute… But, the article argues that we continue to go into the office because we enjoy seeing other people. I can’t argue with that. Interaction is indeed constructive, and relationships are hard to build via a screen.

“What early digital commentators missed is that even if we can work from anywhere, that does not mean we want to. We strive for places that allow us to share knowledge, to generate ideas, and to pool talents and perspectives. Human aggregation, friction, and the interaction of our minds are vital aspects of work, especially in the creative industries. And that is why the quality of the physical workplace is becoming more crucial than ever — bringing along watershed changes.”

If I didn’t like working from home, I would choose one of the many co-working spaces that seem to be spreading like mushrooms. The ones that I know are attractive, peaceful and yet stimulating. Relaxed and yet motivating.

“As they strive to engineer creativity, coworking space providers are also experimenting with quantifying human interactions. And this is where they may have the biggest influence on how offices are eventually designed. Understanding how the workforce connects within a flexible working environment is crucial for designing and operating next-generation offices.”

The old long-corridor, name-on-the-door approach to working spaces is obviously very last century. The new offices are turning work into a much more social activity. And in the process, helping us to refine what we actually mean by “work”.

“Far from making offices obsolete, as the digital pioneers of the 1990s confidently predicted, technology will transform and revitalize workspaces. We could soon work in a more sociable and productive way, and not from the top of a mountain. The ominous “death of distance” may be reversed with the “birth of a new proximity.””

— x —

With new roadblocks for digital news sites, what happens next? – by Ken Doctor, for Nieman Lab

You thought that legacy media had it hard? Well, they do, no doubt about that. But new digital media is suffering, also. Not so much in traffic figures – they seem to be doing pretty well. But in income. Buzzfeed, Mashable, The Huffington Post, and other big-name new media businesses have all been reducing staff and diversifying income streams, in a relatively strong economy. What will they do when the economy starts to turn down again and Trump is no longer so interesting? (And yes, that will happen – please God.)

“If people expect these companies to have figured out how to replace the legacy news companies and navigate this new world, they’ve got to think again. There is no secret sauce in news publishing.”

It seems that the new media format that everyone wants is video. Could it be that we are giving up reading?

“What we have gained: a wealth of new national news and analysis, often spirited, occasionally groundbreaking, and instructive to a news craft that needs shaking up. Most of that remains in place, and we can hope it will continue to do so.

But overall, we’re seeing the economics of text-based (not print, but text) content turning more generally dismal. Well-funded startups like Vox Media and Mic have all been talking up video, or even TV itself.”

It turns out that it’s not so much the audience demanding video. It’s that the ad rates are much better. (Although why would they be better if the audience isn’t demanding video?)

“Now, all that audience growth must turn into money, into some kind of sustainable profit over time. Almost universally, those running these newer companies say, when asked about their profitability: “We could be profitable if we wanted to be.” That sounds silly, but it offers the ring of truth. Translation: If we stopped plowing all this money into international expansion or video build-out, we could turn nicely into the black.”

— x —

A summary of climactic cinematic moments. Completely unrelated to anything tech, but surprisingly fun (or maybe not so surprisingly – who doesn’t like cheesy one-liners??). Is your favourite in there? Mine is:

Witch King: “You fool. No man can kill me! Die now.”

Eowyn (ripping off her helmet): “I. Am. No. Man!”


Have a great weekend!

Active furniture and the Internet of Things

Very cool, very strange, very hypnotic and potentially practical. How do you add motion to a table? How can you send messages using furniture? How can you actively interact with hard surfaces?

Transform, a project of the MIT Media Lab, blends technology and design to turn a solid, static object into a dynamic, active participant. Surprising, a bit noisy, and quite mind-blowing… Is it just me, or does it also bring to your mind the concept of furniture as a pet?


Friday Five: the next story, work, and a touch of the surreal

A selection of interesting articles, ideas and images from the week:

— x —

The Tech Story Is Over – by John Batelle, for Medium

John Batelle (one of the founding editors of Wired) on the role of technology in our culture:

“Technology has become both compass and map for deciphering just about every social issue — from Arab Spring to autism, business “disruption” to civil liberties. Tech hasn’t gone mainstream — it is the mainstream. It’s our cultural dowser, our lens for interpreting an increasingly complex society. Our new cultural heroes are Internet billionaires; our newly minted college graduates all want to start tech companies.”

And the profound shift that this is having on business models and on the economy as a whole:

“Tech is a fundamental force in our society, but business, as Douglas Rushkoff puts it, is our core operating system. If we are going to pay off the fantastic visions of our early tech dreams, we’ve got to consolidate what we’ve learned from the tech revolution and apply it to building a new kind of business culture.”

As the man said, it’s time to start the conversation. There is a lot at stake.

— x —

So, spring seems to be here:

image via Colossal

Hanging garden by Rebecca Louise Law, via Colossal

— x —

IoT and the development of a circular economy – by Sebastian Egerton-Read, for TechCrunch

This article goes beyond the typical hype of the Internet of Things, and brings up the concept of the circular economy.

“Identified as a significant business opportunity, circular economy models have gained increasing momentum over the last five years. Combine the principles of a regenerative and restorative economy, where the utilization and useful life of assets is extended, with IoT technologies, which provide information about the condition, location and availability of those assets, and there may be an even greater opportunity to scale new models more effectively, while providing new direction to the digital revolution.”

The circular economy is an interesting concept, and it’s not quite as hippy-dippy as it sounds. It’s only partially about sharing stuff, and making objects more efficient. While the potential economic impact from that is there – we would all save money – I don’t think that it’s very big. It would require a fundamental shift in human nature. Most of us like the idea of community, sharing and efficiency. But, most of us would no more invite strangers to share our car than we would invite strangers to share our home. (I would, but then I don’t have a car.)

Yet, that mentality is probably on its way out. More and more of us are “itinerant”, as we move from job to job, from freelance position to freelance position, from apartment to apartment. Millennials are less materialistic and more eco-conscious. And cultural shifts do happen over time. If your neighbours rent out their power drill, you might consider renting out your ladder. And in the end, we all save money and space.

But the economic impact of less production (instead of one electric wok per family, the target becomes one per building) and less consumption (why do I need to buy stuff if I can easily rent it?) will tie in with the economic impact of less paid work, and/or of falling wages. The result is a bit scary. But probably inevitable.

“A vision for the built environment where a digital library of materials is sourced from connected buildings, which also provide information that allows predictive maintenance and effective sharing and utilization of space and energy consumption, is sketched out in the report. The multiplier impact, in terms of benefit, of resolving a number of challenges with a single systemic solution is assumed to be significant.”

And what could that single systemic solution be? Glad you asked.

“For intelligent assets to create value in the circular economy the development of an open and global payment protocol is required. The technology behind the Bitcoin blockchain has the potential to enable the billions of internet devices that negotiate with each other to unleash market forces, to bring down the costs of goods and services for all.” (quoting Nicolas Cary, co-founder of Blockchain)

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Samsung Patents “Smart Contact Lenses” with Built-In Camera Controlled By Blinking – by Sara Barnes, for Mashable

The future is here, people. For the secret agent in all of us: contact lenses with camera.

image via Mashable

image via Mashable

Both Samsung and Google have patents for contact lenses that allow you to take a picture just by blinking. I wonder if you’ll be able to upload the images to Instagram by tugging at your earlobe?

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Uber is distracting us from a much bigger issue for the US economy – by Alison Griswald, for Quartz

It’s not just about the growth of the platform economy, which matches demand for tasks with self-employed people capable of fulfilling those tasks. When you include all contract workers, which includes temporary workers, on-call workers, workers provided by contract firms, and freelancers, you’re looking at almost 16% of the US workforce. That’s a lot of people with freedom and flexibility. And a lot of people without a stable economic situation. And 40% of these people have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

A study by labour economists Lawrence Katz and Alan Krueger reaches a startling conclusion: that “all of the net employment growth in the US economy from 2005 to 2015 appears to have occurred in alternative work arrangements.”

“Katz and Krueger are saying that over the last 10 years, all of our net gains in employment have come in jobs that aren’t what we traditionally think of as jobs. These aren’t the climb-your-way-to-the-top positions on which the American dream was imagined (a dream that is much harder to come by today). They’re temporary roles, contracted gigs, stuff that’s fundamentally transient.”

The article touches on the effect of the lowering of the average income, and points out that this needs to be the start of a bigger conversation.

Yes, and I’d start as soon as possible.

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“Hello, Sweden speaking” – via Mashable

So, you call this number and a random Swede in Sweden answers. You can then talk about, you know, Swedish things. I wonder if you’re allowed to participate if you live in Sweden but aren’t Swedish? Or if you’re a Swede outside of Sweden? Probably not.

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I was supposed to have a quick, uncomplicated meeting in Brussels today. First, my morning flight to Brussels Zaventem gets diverted to Liege. So, an extra €130 for a car to pick me up and get me to the meeting on time (really nice driver, though!). Then, departure from Brussels Zaventem airport was quite an experience. Two hours just to get through security, involving lots of queues in tents and carparks and tents and more carparks. Still, everyone was very pleasant, the departure zone beyond security is lovely, and both flights took off and arrived on time.


Collaborative art in the city: netart Unnumbered Sparks

If you think that creating is fun, imagine the exhilaration at creating a giant artwork together with the people around you, in the middle of a city. Unnumbered Sparks is a collaboration between artist Janet Echelman and Google Creative Director (and data artist) Aaron Koblin.

What makes this sculpture unique, literally, is that the designs projected in light on the webbing are created by the spectators, via an app on their smartphones. They can draw, scribble, swirl and splash colour and movement onto the luminous “canvas”, which means that it’s always changing, never the same. The shape of the canvas also changes, billowing with the wind, folding in on itself, taking over the sky.

collaborative netart unnumbered sparks

As impressive as this looks on the screen, it must have been quite something in reality.

(And, while the term “netart” is increasingly being used to describe art created on the internet…. this really is netart. Hah.)