Thursday, December 31, 2009

notes on digital reading

my lovely wife got me a kindle 2 for the holidays, and I thought that I might do what nearly every person who has purchased the thing has done and write about it on my blog (writing on the internet seems to be the primary hobby of kindle owners).
After a few days of using the thing, what really surprises me the most is how different it is from any other digital device. It's really impossible to do any kind of real comparison between an e-reader and an iphone or laptop or netbook or OLPC. For one, the Kindle is (as of yet) pretty much useless as a web device, due to the constraints of the software, connection, processor, and screen (in that order). it's not impossible that it might be usable to email or search with some OS improvements, but the lag in typing and the difficulty in browsing means that, at best, it is useful for reading a few mobile news sites and wikipedia (it actually works quite well as a wikibrowser.)
What is does do extremely well is show text on a screen. I'm going to go ahead and say right now that I prefer reading on the kindle to reading a paperback. I've never been a fan of portable books - I always struggle with hand cramps and sore necks. This object is the right size, weight, and look for reading. I actually went back to a book last night and was kind of annoyed. It's also fun to operate, has a good feel and good "cover" images (although the ability to customize would be nice).
The end result of all of this is that this might be the first digital device I've met that will actually end up slowing and concentrating my life rather than speeding and scattering. It's fun to use so I'll probably spend more time as a result reading novels, long-form magazine articles. Multi-tabbed browsing, skipping to minute 3 of a youtube video, quickfire rss feeding - this all now seems a little less important, and a little less fun.
It's interesting that by changing the priorities and limitations of a device, one's life can be subtly changed.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Saturday, July 25, 2009


I'm a bit late at this, but there's been a lot of bemoaning lately (or is it just moaning?) about the 40th anniversary of the moon landing. From Wired to Tom Wolfe, there has been a lot of furious agreement with astronauts and rocket scientists, that we really dropped the ball these last...four... decades. We should all be living on Mars by now, like Ben Bova wants us to! Like any proper nerd, I occasionally consider what it might be like to bring someone from the past - say, Benjamin Franklin - and introduce them to modern society. It gives one the ability to be amazing without actually doing anything, by piggybacking on two hundred and fifty years of technical and social progress. One gets to be the salesman that reveals your... new... future!

However, if instead of a founding father it's, oh, Arthur C. Clarke, circa 1968, things get a little bit iffy. Then one has to explain how a colossal, colossal increase in computing and communications ability has made only subtle changes to our social fabric. How is it that telegrams and rockets can be so destabilizing to the status quo, produce a few World Wars and a subsequent world order on the other side, while similar technologies that are unbelievable improvements on connecting and computing lead to people working harder and a few stock market bubbles? Oh, and twitter.

Hulu is a great example. Why is Hulu so amazing? It roughly replicates cable TV, with slightly more interactivity, on a device that could land the population of Canada on the moon in LEMs, simultaneously. This is not an amazing use of your computer. It's like getting Pavarotti to sing the Oscar Meyer Weiner song. What is amazing about Hulu is the business side - getting networks to agree to put their content online, the social side - selling it to the public, and the design side - the interface and video algorithms. And none of that is colossal.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009


Wow, MRP made things magazine. Way more exciting than the fast company blog.

Speaking of honored, I found out from Tyler that my final project at Rice made it into Everything Must Move. I should get me a copy.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

two links and a sigh, then some promise

It's been a rough month for modern prefab. MKD is down, and shockingly Empyrean closed their doors as well. Both of these companies made a great product and it's kind of a shock (especially Empyrean, they were one of the first and biggest prefabricators, and broke a lot of new ground over the years).

Christopher Hawthorne over at the LA Times wrote this great article that should be required reading for anyone asking questions about the future of this industry. Sober, incisive, and maybe just a little pessimistic.

I also came across this modular marketing blog this morning. I expected it to be all bluster and invective, but instead I found a very down-to-earth, helpful, and frequently insightful boots-on-the-ground report. For anyone who thinks that prefabrication is dead, look at this site-- it might not be in Dwell for a while, but there are plenty of people doing good work.

This site also turned me onto the fact that Clayton Homes is entering the sustainable modern market. How on earth did I miss that? It's a solidly MOR approach, as should be expected for any company that actually wants to make money with their product, but I found a lot to like about the i-house (despite a terrible, terrible name). I was actually brought up short by what these guys came up with. It now seems to me that perhaps the real lasting effect of the last 10 years of modern prefab experimentation was to alert the giants of the industry that this niche market was important and growing. Clayton expects this line to bring in 10% of their revenue!

Granted, it's no Muji home (dear god I am jealous of those Japanese), and Clayton doesn't have quite the populist modern cache of Ikea, but I think the i-house might be a bellweather for the future of this industry.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

I've been a bad blog daddy

So my last post was September 16. Coincidentally, Katy went into labor that week and somehow I never got around to regular blogging again. Well, it's time to come back. The first five months or so I had a pretty good excuse. But since then Amalgamated Baby & Baby has been going to bed at seven and sleeping through the night, and I have no infants left to take the blame. I'm going to fight back against the evils of RSS feeds and online Netflix, and attempt to reintroduce myself in some way back into adult society, even if through a digital proxy.

Here's the first chestnut I have to lob into space (warning, bore alert):

How much longer until systems engineering becomes a necessary part of multinational architecture? If the last decade of architecture has made much headway (and I have my doubts) it's in attempting to rationalize and codify the value of design. What is baffling to me is that this has been done more successfully by people designing cars and cellphones. Architects seem to have been stuck re-hashing the same arguments, with slightly varying terminology, for roughly the last eighty years. Or at least the last twenty five.

It strikes me as plausible that, when discussing the success of Apple versus the relative obscurity of Norman Foster, the real difference is not in commodity value but rather in systems engineering. The entire idea of coordinating complex material and labor flows, attempting to rationalize a design with a material reality, from the very beginning, is something that architecture hasn't necessarily caught on to. Architects inevitably get stuck on meta-discussions about cultural relevance, and relegate the space-time stuff someone else's lap, in the last half of the schedule.

Obviously the problem here is dollars, or yuan, and how and when they're getting given around to people. "We don't have time," we always say, "and our margins are too thin as it is." Our margins are too thin because most clients consider our work to be at least 50% window dressing. And these considerations are the result of architecture having a poorly explained value, beyond a roof that doesn't leak and marginal improvements in worker productivity. BMW doesn't have to explain the value of design to anyone. And, despite what you're thinking right now, it's not because people love cars. It's because BMW has people who love to think, talk, and live automobile design, who talk to other people at bars about things that are not related to automobiles, and then come back and breathe this life into their cars, AND that these designers have an unseverable direct link to a system of engineering and production that is simultaneous and nearly instantaneous. Oh, and Everyone. Is. On. The. Same. Team.

Boy, that would be nice.