Tags: berg

26

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Monday, January 9th, 2017

The Futures of Typography

A wonderfully thoughtful piece from Robin, ranging from the printing technologies of the 15th century right up to the latest web technologies. It’s got all my favourite things in there: typography, digital preservation, and service workers. Marvellous!

Thursday, January 5th, 2017

Going rogue

As soon as tickets were available for the Brighton premiere of Rogue One, I grabbed some—two front-row seats for one minute past midnight on December 15th. No problem. That was the night after the Clearleft end-of-year party on December 14th.

Then I realised how dates work. One minute past midnight on December 15th is the same night as December 14th. I had double-booked myself.

It’s a nice dilemma to have; party or Star Wars? I decided to absolve myself of the decision by buying additional tickets for an evening showing on December 15th. That way, I wouldn’t feel like I had to run out of the Clearleft party before midnight, like some geek Cinderella.

In the end though, I did end up running out of the Clearleft party. I had danced and quaffed my fill, things were starting to get messy, and frankly, I was itching to immerse myself in the newest Star Wars film ever since Graham strapped a VR headset on me earlier in the day and let me fly a virtual X-wing.

Getting in the mood for Rogue One with the Star Wars Battlefront X-Wing VR mission—invigorating! (and only slightly queasy-making)

So, somewhat tired and slightly inebriated, I strapped in for the midnight screening of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

I thought it was okay. Some of the fan service scenes really stuck out, and not in a good way. On the whole, I just wasn’t that gripped by the story. Ah, well.

Still, the next evening, I had those extra tickets I had bought as psychological insurance. “Why not?” I thought, and popped along to see it again.

This time, I loved it. It wasn’t just me either. Jessica was equally indifferent the first time ‘round, and she also enjoyed it way more the second time.

I can’t recall having such a dramatic swing in my appraisal of a film from one viewing to the next. I’m not quite sure why it didn’t resonate the first time. Maybe I was just too tired. Maybe I was overthinking it too much, unable to let myself get caught up in the story because I was over-analysing it as a new Star Wars film. Anyway, I’m glad that I like it now.

Much has been made of its similarity to classic World War Two films, which I thought worked really well. But the aspect of the film that I found most thought-provoking was the story of Galen Erso. It’s the classic tale of an apparently good person reluctantly working in service to evil ends.

This reminded me of Mother Night, perhaps my favourite Kurt Vonnegut book (although, let’s face it, many of his books are interchangeable—you could put one down halfway through, and pick another one up, and just keep reading). Mother Night gives the backstory of Howard W. Campbell, who appears as a character in Slaughterhouse Five. In the introduction, Vonnegut states that it’s the one story of his with a moral:

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.

If Galen Erso is pretending to work for the Empire, is there any difference to actually working for the Empire? In this case, there’s a get-out clause for this moral dilemma: by sabotaging the work (albeit very, very subtly) Galen’s soul appears to be absolved of sin. That’s the conclusion of the excellent post on the Sci-fi Policy blog, Rogue One: an ‘Engineering Ethics’ Story:

What Galen Erso does is not simply watch a system be built and then whistleblow; he actively shaped the design from its earliest stages considering its ultimate societal impacts. These early design decisions are proactive rather than reactive, which is part of the broader engineering ethics lesson of Rogue One.

I know I’m Godwinning myself with the WWII comparisons, but there are some obvious historical precedents for Erso’s dilemma. The New York Review of Books has an in-depth look at Werner Heisenberg and his “did he/didn’t he?” legacy with Germany’s stalled atom bomb project. One generous reading of his actions is that he kept the project going in order to keep scientists from being sent to the front, but made sure that the project was never ambitious enough to actually achieve destructive ends:

What the letters reveal are glimpses of Heisenberg’s inner life, like the depth of his relief after the meeting with Speer, reassured that things could safely tick along as they were; his deep unhappiness over his failure to explain to Bohr how the German scientists were trying to keep young physicists out of the army while still limiting uranium research work to a reactor, while not pursuing a fission bomb; his care in deciding who among friends and acquaintances could be trusted.

Speaking of Albert Speer, are his hands are clean or dirty? And in the case of either answer, is it because of moral judgement or sheer ignorance? The New Atlantis dives deep into this question in Roger Forsgren’s article The Architecture of Evil:

Speer indeed asserted that his real crime was ambition — that he did what almost any other architect would have done in his place. He also admitted some responsibility, noting, for example, that he had opposed the use of forced labor only when it seemed tactically unsound, and that “it added to my culpability that I had raised no humane and ethical considerations in these cases.” His contrition helped to distance himself from the crude and unrepentant Nazis standing trial with him, and this along with his contrasting personal charm permitted him to be known as the “good Nazi” in the Western press. While many other Nazi officials were hanged for their crimes, the court favorably viewed Speer’s initiative to prevent Hitler’s scorched-earth policy and sentenced him to twenty years’ imprisonment.

I wish that these kinds of questions only applied to the past, but they are all-too relevant today.

Software engineers in the United States are signing a pledge not to participate in the building of a Muslim registry:

We refuse to participate in the creation of databases of identifying information for the United States government to target individuals based on race, religion, or national origin.

That’s all well and good, but it might be that a dedicated registry won’t be necessary if those same engineers are happily contributing their talents to organisations whose business models are based on the ability to track and target people.

But now we’re into slippery slopes and glass houses. One person might draw the line at creating a Muslim registry. Someone else might draw the line at including any kind of invasive tracking script on a website. Someone else again might decide that the line is crossed by including Google Analytics. It’s moral relativism all the way down. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t draw lines. Of course it’s hard to live in an ideal state of ethical purity—from the clothes we wear to the food we eat to the electricity we use—but a muddy battleground is still capable of having a line drawn through it.

The question facing the fictional characters Galen Erso and Howard W. Campbell (and the historical figures of Werner Heisenberg and Albert Speer) is this: can I accomplish less evil by working within a morally repugnant system than being outside of it? I’m sure it’s the same question that talented designers ask themselves before taking a job at Facebook.

At one point in Rogue One, Galen Erso explicitly invokes the justification that they’d find someone else to do this work anyway. It sounds a lot like Tim Cook’s memo to Apple staff justifying his presence at a roundtable gathering that legitimised the election of a misogynist bigot to the highest office in the land. I’m sure that Tim Cook, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Sheryl Sandberg all think they are playing the part of Galen Erso but I wonder if they’ll soon find themselves indistinguishable from Orson Krennic.

Sunday, April 17th, 2016

IndieWebCamp Nuremberg on Flickr

Great photos from a great gathering.

IndieWebCamp Nuremberg in motion

Monday, June 22nd, 2015

What a day out! What a lovely responsive day out!

The third and final Responsive Day Out is done and dusted. In short, it was fantastic. Every single talk was superb. Statistically that seems highly unlikely, but it’s true.

I was quite overcome by the outpouring of warmth and all the positive feedback I got from the attendees. That made me feel really good, if a little guilty. Guilty because the truth is that I don’t really consider the attendees when I’m putting the line-up together. Instead I take much greedier approach: I ask “who do I want to hear speak?” Still, it’s nice to know that there’s so much overlap in our collective opinion.

Despite the overwhelmingly positive reaction to the day, I had a couple of complaints myself, and they’re both related to the venue. My issues were with:

  1. the seats and
  2. the temperature.

The tiered seating in the Corn Exchange is great for giving everyone in the audience a good view, but the seats are awfully close together. That leaves taller people with some sore knees.

And the problem with having a conference in the middle of June is that, if the weather is good—which I’m glad it was—the Corn Exchange can get awfully hot and sweaty in the latter half of the day.

Both those issues would be solved by using a more salubrious venue, like the main Brighton Dome itself, but then that would also mean a doubling of the cost per ticket (hence why dConstruct and Responsive Day Out are in different price ranges). And one of the big attractions of Responsive Day Out is its ludicrously cheap ticket price. That meant sacrificing a lot of comforts—I just wish that comfortable seats and air temperature weren’t amongst them.

Still. Listen to me moaning about the things I didn’t like when in fact the day was really, really wonderful.

Orde liveblogged every single talk and Hidde wrote an in-depth overview of the whole day. If you were there, I would love it if you would share your thoughts, preferably on your own website.

Guess what? The audio from all the talks is already online. As always, Drew did an amazing job. You can subscribe to the RSS feed in your podcatching software of choice. Videos will be available after a while, but for now you’ll have to make do with the audio.

Oh, and speaking of audio, if you liked the music that was playing in the breaks, here’s the playlist. My thanks to all the artists for licensing their work under a Creative Commons license so that I could dodge one more expense that would otherwise have to be passed on to the ticket price.

Now. The number one question that people were asking me at the pub afterwards was “why is this the last one?” I really should’ve addressed that during my closing remarks.

But here’s the thing: the first Responsive Day Out was intended as a one-off. So really the question should be: why were there three? To which I have no good answer other than to say it felt about right. With three of them, it gave just about everyone a chance to get to at least one. If you didn’t make it to any of the responsive days out, well …you’ve only got yourself to blame.

If we ended up having Responsive Day Out 7 or 8, then something would have gone horribly wrong with the world of web design and development. The truth is that responsive web design is just plain ol’ web design: it’s the new normal. I guess the term “responsive” makes for a nice hook to hang a day’s talks off, but the truth is that, even by the third event, the specific connections to responsive design were getting more tenuous. There was plenty about accessibility, progressive enhancement, and the latest CSS and JavaScript APIs: all those things are enormously valuable when it comes to responsive web design …because all of those things are enormously valuable when it comes to just plain ol’ web web design.

In the end, I’m glad that I ended up doing three events. Now I can see the arc of all the events as one. Listening back to all the talks from all three years you can hear the trajectory from “ARGH! This responsive design stuff is really scary! How will we cope‽” to “Hey, this responsive design stuff is the way we do things now.” There are still many, many challenges of course, but the question is no longer if responsive design is the way to go. Instead we can talk about how we can help one other do it well.

At the end of the third and final Responsive Day Out, I thanked all the speakers from all three events. It’s quite a roll-call. And it was immensely gratifying to see so many of the names from previous years in the audience at the final event.

I am sincerely grateful to:

  • Sarah Parmenter,
  • David Bushell,
  • Tom Maslen,
  • Richard Rutter,
  • Josh Emerson,
  • Laura Kalbag,
  • Elliot Jay Stocks,
  • Anna Debenham,
  • Andy Hume,
  • Bruce Lawson,
  • Owen Gregory,
  • Paul Lloyd,
  • Mark Boulton,
  • Stephen Hay,
  • Sally Jenkinson,
  • Ida Aalen,
  • Rachel Andrew,
  • Dan Donald,
  • Inayaili de León Persson,
  • Oliver Reichenstein,
  • Kirsty Burgoine,
  • Stephanie Rieger,
  • Ethan Marcotte,
  • Alice Bartlett,
  • Rachel Shillcock,
  • Alla Kholmatova,
  • Peter Gasston,
  • Jason Grigsby,
  • Heydon Pickering,
  • Jake Archibald,
  • Ruth John,
  • Zoe Mickley Gillenwater,
  • Rosie Campbell,
  • Lyza Gardner, and
  • Aaron Gustafson.

Many thanks also to everyone who came along to the events, especially the hat-trickers who made it to all three.

I’ve organised a total of six conferences now and I’m extremely proud of all of them:

  1. dConstruct 2012: Playing With The Future,
  2. the first Responsive Day Out,
  3. dConstruct 2013: Communicating With Machines,
  4. Responsive Day Out 2: The Squishening,
  5. dConstruct 2014: Living With The Network, and
  6. Responsive Day Out 3: The Final Breakpoint.

…but they’ve also been a lot of work. dConstruct in particular took a lot out of me last year. That’s why I’m not involved with this year’s event—Andy has taken the reins instead. By comparison, Responsive Day Out is a much more low-key affair; not nearly as stressful to put together. Still, three in a row is plenty. It’s time to end it on a hell of a high note.

That’s not to say I won’t be organising some other event sometime in the future. Maybe I’ll even revive the format of Responsive Day Out—three back-to-back 20 minute talks makes for an unbeatable firehose of knowledge. But for now, I’m going to take a little break from event-organising.

Besides, it’s not as though Responsive Day Out is really gone. Its spirit lives on in its US equivalent, Responsive Field Day in Portland in September.

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

Paul Ford: What is Code? by Paul Ford

It seems grossly unfair to refer to this as an article. It’s a short book. It’s a very good short book; lucid and entertaining in equal measure. A very enjoyable read.

It is, unfortunately, surrounded by some distracting “enhancements” but perhaps you can use your cleaner-upper software of choice to route around their damage: Instapaper, Pocket, Readability, whatever works for you.

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

For BERG, My London Launchpad | MORNING, COMPUTER

BERG closed its doors today. Their work stands for itself and the agency will be greatly missed.

Warren Ellis shares his memories of the founding of this seminal group.

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

The Virtual Haircut That Could Change the World | Design | WIRED

A nice profile of BERG’s Little Printer. That Matt Webb is a smart cookie. He is also a very thoughtful cookie.

Monday, April 21st, 2014

New product opportunities for the Internet of Normal Things | Berg Blog

I like Matt’s observation here that the simple combination of a barebones data format like HTML delivered over HTTP is a good-enough low-level API for joining up all kinds of internet-connected things.

In the last 60 years, the biggest software platform for interop and integration – for new products, services, businesses, and value creation – has not been Android, or iOS, or Windows, or the PDP-11. The biggest and best platform has been the web.

One implication is that successful products are not necessarily those with seamless, beautiful, tightly-controlled “experiences”, but rather the ones that are capable of talking to each other.

Small things, loosely joined.

Saturday, October 26th, 2013

Medieval times

I just got back from Nürnberg where I gave the closing talk at the cheap’n’cheerful border:none event. It was my first time in Nürnberg and I wish I could’ve stayed longer in such a beautiful place. I would’ve liked to stick around for today’s Open Device Lab admin meetup, but alas I had to get up at the crack of dawn to start making my way back to Brighton.

I was in Germany last month too. That time I was in Freiburg, where I was giving the closing talk at Smashing Conference. That was a lot of fun:

So I threw away my slidedeck and went Keynote commando.

The video from that slideless talk is up on Vimeo now for your viewing and/or downloading pleasure.

If you watch it through to the end, then you’ll know why I could be found immediately afterwards showing people some centuries-old carvings on Freiburg’s cathedral.

Jeremy playing tour guide Bread standards

Update: I’ve published a transcript of the talk.

Monday, March 11th, 2013

The Aleph: Infinite Wonder / Infinite Pity

Just like in the Borges short story, you can now see everything at once …from Project Gutenberg, or from Twitter, or from both.

This may be the only legitimate use case for (truly) infinite scrolling.

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

Why the Little Printer is good – aka, someone on the internet is wrong, a response. |

Dan makes a very good point about Little Printer: it’s not the “printer” part that matters; it’s the “little”.

Friday, January 6th, 2012

Gardens and Zoos – Blog – BERG

A lovely piece from Matt examining agency and behaviour in the things we surround ourselves with: frying pans, houseplants, pets, and robots.

These are the droids you are looking for.

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

Little Printer | BERG Cloud

This evolution of Tom Taylor’s microprinter looks like it’s going to be absolutely wonderful (and packed full of personality). Watch this space.

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

BBC Dimensions: How Many Really?

A nice project from BERG that aligns numbers from your own world (like the number of people you follow on Twitter) to numbers in the larger world.

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

Bringing the London Bus Network home – Blog – BERG

This is an excellent use of the Kindle as an undemanding screen. Really lovely!

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

Design Firm Seeks to Humanize Technology - NYTimes.com

Those lovely BERG chaps profiled in the New York Times.

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

SVK - Products - BERG

This comic is the result of a collaboration between Warren Ellis and BERG. It must, therefore, be splendid. I’ve ordered mine.

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

BBC - Dimensions - Index

New from BERG: superimposing historical events onto familiar landscapes.