Tags: hardware

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Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

Seamfulness

I was listening to some items in my Huffduffer feed when I noticed a little bit of synchronicity.

First of all, I was listening to Tom talking about Thington, and he mentioned seamful design—the idea that “seamlessness” is not necessarily a desirable quality. I think that’s certainly true in the world of connected devices.

Then I listened to Jeff interviewing Matt about hardware startups. They didn’t mention seamful design specifically (it was more all cricket and cables), but again, I think it’s a topic that’s lurking behind any discussion of the internet of things.

I’ve written about seams before. I really feel there’s value—and empowerment—in exposing the points of connection in a system. When designers attempt to airbrush those seams away, I worry that they are moving from “Don’t make me think” to “Don’t allow me to think”.

In many ways, aiming for seamlessness in design feels like the easy way out. It’s a surface-level approach that literally glosses over any deeper problems. I think it might be driven my an underlying assumption that seams are, by definition, ugly. Certainly there are plenty of daily experiences where the seams are noticeable and frustrating. But I don’t think it needs to be this way. The real design challenge is to make those seams beautiful.

Friday, May 12th, 2017

The cost of change | The White Site

Ben points to a new product aiming to ease the pain of connected devices bumping up against the harsh realities of shearing layers:

By exposing the ‘hardwiring’ of our electrical systems, Conduct emphasises how much we rely on existing systems to power our ‘new’ technology – the rate of change and advancement in our traditional technologies moves at a much slower pace than our mobile app-based world and there are physical limitations as a result of this hardwired legacy.

I am—unsurprisingly—in favour of exposing the seams like this.

Thursday, April 13th, 2017

The Setup - Jeremy Keith · Hey!

As part of an ongoing series where we ask industry professionals what they use to get the job done, we speak to Jeremy, technical director at Clearleft.

I couldn’t resist the smartarse answer about my “dream setup.”

Sunday, January 15th, 2017

How E.T. Really Called Home (PDF)

A 1983 article from 73 Magazine on the surprisingly plausible Rube Goldberg/Heath Robinson device created by E.T. to call home.

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016

Smithsonian 3D Apollo 11 Command Module

This is so wonderful! A 3D fly-through of the Apollo 11 command module, right in your browser. It might get your fan whirring, but it’s worth it.

Click through for lots of great details on the interface controls, like which kinds of buttons and switches were chosen for which tasks.

And there’s this lovely note scrawled near the sextant by Michael Collins (the coolest of all the astronauts):

Spacecraft 107, alias Apollo 11, alias ‘Columbia.’ The Best Ship to Come Down the Line. God Bless Her.

Saturday, October 29th, 2016

Assumptions

Last year Benedict Evans wrote about the worldwide proliferation and growth of smartphones. Nolan referenced that post when he extrapolated the kind of experience people will be having:

As Benedict Evans has noted, the next billion people who are poised to come online will be using the internet almost exclusively through smartphones. And if Google’s plans with Android One are any indication, then we have a fairly good idea of what kind of devices the “next billion” will be using:

  • They’ll mostly be running Android.
  • They’ll have decent specs (1GB RAM, quad-core processors).
  • They’ll have an evergreen browser and WebView (Android 5+).
  • What they won’t have, however, is a reliable internet connection.

This is the same argument that Tom made in his presentation at Responsive Field Day. The main point is that network conditions are unreliable, and I absolutely agree that we need to be very, very mindful of that. But I’m not so sure about the other conditions either. They smell like assumptions:

Assumptions are the problem. Whether it’s assumptions about screen size, assumptions about being able-bodied, assumptions about network connectivity, or assumptions about browser capabilities, I don’t think any assumptions are a safe bet. Now you might quite reasonably say that we have to make some assumptions when we’re building on the web, and you’d be right. But I think we should still aim to keep them to a minimum.

It’s not necessarily true that all those new web users will be running WebView browser like Chrome—there are millions of Opera Mini users, and I would expect that number to rise, given all the speed and cost benefits that proxy browsing brings.

I also don’t think that just because a device is a smartphone it necessarily means that it’s a pocket supercomputer. It might seem like a reasonable assumption to make, given the specs of even a low-end smartphone, but the specs don’t tell the whole story.

Alex gave a great presentation at the recent Polymer Summit. He dives deep into exactly how smartphones at the lower end of the market deal with websites.

I don’t normally enjoy listening to talk of hardware and specs, but Alex makes the topic very compelling by tying it directly to how we build websites. In short, we’re using waaaaay too much JavaScript. The message here is not “don’t use JavaScript” but rather “use JavaScript wisely.” Alas, many of the current crop of monolithic frameworks aren’t well suited to this.

Alex’s talk prompted Michael Scharnagl to take a look back at past assumptions and lessons learned on the web, from responsive design to progressive web apps.

We are consistently improving and we often have to realize that our assumptions are wrong.

This is particularly true when we’re making assumptions about how people will access the web.

It’s not enough to talk about the “next billion” in abstract, like an opportunity to reach teeming masses of people ripe for monetization. We need to understand their lives and their priorities with the sort of detail that can build empathy for other people living under vastly different circumstances.

That’s from an article Ethan linked to, noting:

Monday, October 10th, 2016

Your Private Encrypted Browser | Tenta Browser

A browser for Android that specifically touts privacy and security as its key features.

Monday, September 26th, 2016

Hacked On Classics - The Old Market

Seb is going to be closing out the Brighton Digital Festival with a bang.

Seb unravels all the geeky details about how your favourite retro gadgets work, including Nintendo light guns, Casio keyboards and the cathode ray tube televisions that once dominated our living rooms.

It’s going to be like Seb: The Musical …with lasers.

Monday, September 19th, 2016

Physical Web Beacons - Snook.ca

Jonathan takes a look at the physical web. Like me, he’s excited by the possibilities. Although he says:

Sadly, my mind quickly devolved into the annoyance of numerous notifications, like popup windows and other distracting adverts, vying for my attention.

This is a common worry with the physical web, but it’s unfounded. All a beacon does is broadcast a URL. You have to actively look for the URLs being broadcast—they can’t send notifications.

It all just feels like QR codes. They’ll be all over the place and most of them won’t be very useful.

I understand this concern, but whereas QR codes are completely opaque to humans, at least URLs can—and should—be human-readable …so, unlike QR codes, a URL can give you some idea of what awaits.

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

Sunday, August 7th, 2016

The Forgotten Kaleidoscope Craze in Victorian England | Atlas Obscura

A wonderful investigation of a culture-shifting mobile device: the kaleidoscope. A classic Gibsonian example of the street finding its own uses for technology, this story comes complete with moral panics about the effects of augmenting reality with handheld devices.

(I’m assuming the title wasn’t written by the author—this piece deals almost exclusively with pre-Victorian England.)

Thursday, July 21st, 2016

Exploring the Physical Web (Without Buying Beacons) — Medium

Well, this is interesting! It turns out you can turn your laptop into a beacon for broadcasting a URL to devices that support The Physical Web.

Saturday, February 20th, 2016

Keeping a smart home guest-friendly — Sensors and sensibility

In web development, we have this concept of progressive enhancement, which means that you start by building websites with the very most basic blocks - HTML elements. Then you enhance those basic elements with CSS to make them look better, then you add JavaScript to make them whizzy - the benefit being that if the JS or the CSS fail to load, you’ve still go the basic usable blocks underneath. I’m following this same principle in the house.

Related: this great chat between Jen Simmons and Stephanie Rieger.

Wednesday, October 7th, 2015

The Internet of Things Won’t Work Because Things Don’t Work « The Royal Frontier

But we are promised and shown a world where technology is gorgeous and streamlined and helpful and light and unobtrusive. We don’t live in that world. That world is a fantasy. The hope that the Internet of Things will allow us to be free from daily headaches and logistical errors is naive.

Wednesday, September 9th, 2015

The CompuServe of Things

We need the Internet of Things to be the next step in the series that began with the general purpose PC and continued with the Internet and general purpose protocols—systems that support personal autonomy and choice. The coming Internet of Things envisions computing devices that will intermediate every aspect of our lives. I strongly believe that this will only provide the envisioned benefits or even be tolerable if we build an Internet of Things rather than a CompuServe of Things.

Locus Online Perspectives » Cory Doctorow: What If People Were Sensors, Not Things to be Sensed?

Imagine a location service that sold itself on the fact that your personal information was securely contained in its environs, used by you and you alone. You could have devices on your person that used their sensors to know things about you – when you last ate, what your dining preferences are, what your blood-sugar is, and so on, but these devices would have no truck with the cloud, and they would not deliver that information to anyone else for analysis.

Monday, August 10th, 2015

Occasional blog of Tobias Revell: Haunted Machines an Origin Story (Long)

Any sufficiently advanced hacking is indistinguishable from a haunting. In the same way that many Internet of Things objects are referred to as ‘enchanting’ or ‘magical,’ with an intervention, they can very quickly become haunted.

Thursday, April 16th, 2015

[this is aaronland] did I mention it vibrates?

history is time breaking up with itself

A great piece of hypertext from Aaron on the purpose of museums, the Copper Hewitt Pen, and matter battles.

Friday, March 13th, 2015

The Smithsonian’s design museum just got some high-tech upgrades

A profile of the great work Aaron and Seb have been doing at the Cooper Hewitt museum. Have a read of this and then have a listen again to Aaron’s dConstruct talk.

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

MakerLab HQ - Maker Club

Good news, Brighton! There’s a Maker Club opening up on London Road (above the new Presuming Ed coffee shop). Grab your robot kits and come along.