Tags: paris




I was in London again today. A team from Clearleft have their sprint playbacks every second Tuesday at the client’s offices on The Strand. I tag along for the ride, and to marvel at the quality of the work being produced in each sprint. Then I duck out when it’s time for them to plan the next sprint—I don’t want to be the extra cook that spoils that particular broth.

Usually I would just head straight back to Brighton, nice and early, avoiding the after-work rush. But today was such a beautiful, crisp, clear winter’s day that I tarried a while. Instead of hopping on the tube back to Victoria, I perambulated.

At Trafalgar Square, I marvelled at the fact that the National Gallery is right there, free to the public. I could just walk right in and admire one of the world’s finest collections of art. So I did.

One minute I was on a typical London street, complete with obligatory Pret a Manger and Costa Coffee. The next I was standing in front of a Caravaggio, marvelling once again at his use of light—like Renaissance film noir.

Turner, Van Gogh, Seurat, Cézanne; all there for everybody to enjoy. As I stood in front of the Holbein—stepping between the school children to find just the right spot for the skull’s optical illusion—I remembered a conversation I had with Alla just last week.

We were discussing responsive design. I was making the case that there should be parity between small screens and large when it came to accessing content. “But”, said Alla, “what about the emotional impact?” Is it even possible to get the same “wow” factor on a handheld screen that you can get with a wider canvas? She asked me if I had ever had an emotional response to seeing something in an art gallery. I smiled, because her question made her point perfectly. Then I told her about the first time I ever went to the Louvre.

It was my first time ever being in Paris. I wasn’t even supposed to be there. It was the early nineties and I was hitch-hiking around Europe, trying my best to avoid big cities—they’re less than ideal when you have no place to sleep. But through a series of circumstances that probably involved too much wine, I found myself taking a ride into the capital and getting dropped in the middle of the city.

It all worked out okay though. Through an astronomical coincidence, I met someone I knew who put me up for a few nights.

I was standing in Châtelet metro station in the middle of rush hour. Whatever effect that wine had on me was wearing off, and I was beginning to realise what a terrible mistake I had made in coming to Paris. I was studying a city map on the wall, looking for areas of green where I might unroll a sleeping bag in peace, when I heard someone shout “Jeremy!” It was a girl from back home in Cork that I knew through a mutual friend in art college. She was working at Euro Disney for the summer and having finished her day’s work, she missed her metro stop and was switching trains. She just happened to be there at just the right time to take me in.

But that’s not the story I told Alla. I told Alla about what happened during that time in Paris when I busked up enough money to go the Louvre.

I walked in and saw Géricault’s The Raft Of The Medusa. I felt like somebody had punched me in the chest. I was genuinely winded. It was one thing to see a reproduction in a book, but the sheer scale of the thing …I had no idea.

I’ve never had quite the same physical reaction to a piece of art since, but I sometimes feel echoes of it. I think that’s probably one of the reasons why I stepped into the National Gallery today. I was trying to recapture a fragment of that feeling.

Well, that and the fact that it’s free …which really is quite amazing in a city as expensive as London.

XTech 2007, day three

The last day of Xtech rolled around and… whaddya mean “what happened to day two?” They can’t have a conference in Paris and not expect me to take at least one day off to explore the city.

So I skipped the second day of XTech and I’m sure I missed some good presentations but I spent a lovely day with Jessica exploring the streets and brasseries of Paris.

Ah, Paris! (uttering this phrase must always be accompanied by the gesture of flinging one arm into the air with abandon)

The conference closed today with a keynote from Matt Webb. It was great: thought-provoking and funny. It really drove home the big take-away message from XTech for me this year which is that hacking on hardware now is as easy as software.

I can has Arduino?

XTech 2007, day zero

I’ve been buzzing around like a blue-arsed fly lately. Last week I was over in Dublin for an Ajax seminar; the week before that I made a trip up to Rochdale for a workshop. Usually these trips involve an airplane at some stage of the journey and, while I don’t hate flying, the glamour of it has certainly worn off.

This week I’m in Paris for XTech 2007. I didn’t have to go anywhere near an airport or an airplane to get here. Myself, Andy, Jessica and Brian came over on the Eurostar. I know it’s not exactly a hi-tech mission impossible mode of transport any more but I’m still so thrilled to be able to get on a train in London and get off a few short hours later in Paris. The future is here and it doesn’t involve turbulence.

After a fun geek dinner on our first night, I got up bright and early to head over to the conference venue for registration. The conference proper doesn’t kick off ‘till Wednesday but it was preceded by a day of tutorials and a special ubicomp track. I went along to check this out and I found it all to be quite fascinating… though I’m not sure if I was even supposed to be there (there’s some byzantine system that explains who can get into what but I couldn’t follow it).

I caught the tail end of the first presentation which was by Dave Raggett. From the little I caught, it was stuff that would have gone way, way, way over my head. Dave then stuck around to ably steer the rest of the ubicomp talks.

Timo Arnall gave a superb presentation called Physical Hyperlinks comparing Bluetooth, SMS, RFID and barcodes. What really made this talk different was that he didn’t just talk about the technical aspects of each technology, he also examined the user experience and cultural nuances. Thought-provoking stuff.

A jetlagged Paul Hammond then told us all about location-based services and how the technology still sucks. I really like Paul’s pragmatic approach: at last year’s XTech, he pointed out the potential downsides to open data; this year, he outlined all the problems with geocoding. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. One of his insights was so blindingly obvious, it had me slapping my forehead: instead of trying to use machines to figure out where someone is, just ask them to tell you. That’s what Flickr did with their mapping interface: by dragging a photo onto a map, you’re telling the machine where you took the photo instead of the machine trying to extract geo information from your phone, camera, computer, or whatever.

Right after Paul, Matt Biddulph came on to talk about Second Life. But he didn’t stop there. He took the lessons of Second Life—quick and easy prototyping and hacking—and brought them into the real world, showing us how anyone can cheaply build real-world interactive objects. His enthusiasm is infectious and now I want to start making bluetooth-controlled toys just for the fun of it.

I skipped out the middle of the day to explore a bit of Paris with Jessica but I made sure to get back in time for Aaron Straup Cope’s talk on The Papernet: small pieces of paper loosely joined. Again, this was a very pragmatic presentation that pointed out the many advantages that a simple piece of paper has over a laptop or mobile phone. It all depends on context of course but there’s no denying the robustness and portability of plain ol’ paper. He also demoed some fun online toys that I’m going to try to find time to play with.

The day wrapped up with a talk from designer Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino. Her perspective on things—coming from product design—was invaluable. This kind of interdisciplinary cross-pollination can really help to shake things up. It was a great way to wrap up the day.

So plenty of inspirational stuff was offered up and the conference hasn’t even officially kicked off yet. Considering the subject matter, it was ironic that the WiFi is more or less non-existant at the venue. C’est la vie. Fortunately the hotel where I’m staying has a free connection. That’s where I’m blogging from right now.

I think I’d better call it a night. I need to get some beauty sleep so that I’m in a fit state to give my presentation tomorrow. If you’re at XTech and you’re curious about microformats, come along tomorrow right after lunch. À bientôt.