Friday, December 11, 2009

It's Sugar, Baby

As you know, I like following the OLPC saga. Sugar Labs, the maker(s) of the UI/Environment for the OLPC has released their new version of Sugar in a form where it can be easily put on an inexpensive flash drive. It will work with just about any PC (and intel Macs). I think it is pretty great, although I am still not quite sold on the Sugar UI.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009


Are they still around? Who cares?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Into the Vacumn

I made a mistake a long time ago that I am still paying for.

I have come to this conclusion over the last couple of months as we look at our support of RealMedia. To put it simply -- RealMedia is a dead end at this point. I can't imagine why anyone would want to put content they are creating into this format, and worse, force their audience to install yet one more player that is notorious for taking over playback of everything on your computer.

It was a necessary decision because we lived in the days of 56k modems, and we wanted to deliver audio and low bitrate video. It was a remarkable achievement that we could deliver video at that time that wasn't very good -- but it worked!

On my campus, we face a similar dilemna now. My organization doesn't offer a followup solution to RealMedia. We don't offer a way for people to ingest media, control access, automate workflows.

Unfortuately, our campus does support something that does -- but it is couched in a framework that is 100% Windows technology. It uses silverlight, but can play back windows media as well. The worst part is that the content lives in this framework, never to get out. In this regard it is even worse than RealMedia because there is no exit strategy. At least realmedia content can be played without a server.

But we live in a vacumn on our campus, so it is a viable solution. I don't blame people at all for adopting it -- because there is little else other than iTunes U that they can use. I have to watch helplessly as the migration begins to a single vendor solution, with little or no hope of mobile playback, housed in a container that is every bit as proprietary as RealMedia.

Most people simply don't care. I have written at great length in the past about the concern I have about content we create not being playable in the next 10 years. This has already happened with very old RealMedia content -- it will not work in the latest RealMedia player. I am sure that Microsoft won't make a similar mistake.......oh wait -- there was this technology called Indeo -- a codec for Windows Media -- I have some of that content on my laptop right now -- and I can't figure out a way to play it back -- or at least convert it. It is dead and inert.

We are forced into thinking short term -- how can we solve the problem NOW -- with little concern about the future. Ironically, in this age of open standards, for some of the more compelling technologies -- the move is to pull content into a box, and not let it escape. There is by design no exit strategy for this content.

I will spare people all the ramifications -- what happens when the vendor goes bankrupt -- what happens when something better comes along -- and you are stuck (again, RealMedia). The reality is that most people don't care.

It is like we are publishing books that only can be read with a certain device, from a single vendor. Oh wait, Amazon is doing that now.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

More Kindle

I think he tries to carefully step around the whole "kindle vs book" dichotomy, and I applaud him for that.

I feel the same way about the Kindle as I do about digital reproductions of paintings. They are an adequate facsimile, but the viewer should never confuse the two, and unfortunately many won't ever know what they are missing.

I have spent some time looking at Robert Rauschenberg's paintings. He is known for his layers, combining offset and transfer printed media, found objects affixed to the painting (raising the surface). He overpaints on top of things, creating a kind of damaged opaqueness that I find compelling.

What I have discovered is in looking at digital reproductions, I am missing a lot of that detail. This should come as no surprise. The issue here is that I don't know that I am missing that information, that in photographing it a lot of that information is lost.

In transferring books to a Kindle, we transfer the content, and textual representation. In many cases, it comes down to viewer preference (Kindle vs iPhone vs. Computer Vs. Real Book). All do an adequate job of displaying text.

But I think about books that rely on the characteristics of paper. Edward Tufte's books could be put on a Kindle, but I think it would be a damaged experience. A lot would be lost -- perhaps not the drawings, tables and graphs, but the physical layout that Tufte spent so much time perfecting would potentially vanish. Someone looking at it on a Kindle may never know the difference between the two -- and as a result key information (his layout reflects his central ideas of information organization) would be lost.

I have to be careful here and not sound like a luddite. I think the Kindle is kind of cool. It is just that many of the books I want to read wouldn't really work on the Kindle -- a few would to be sure, but my experimental typography book surely would not.

Of course this will all change soon enough. Display technology will continue to improve. The challenge for designers will be to appropriate from books what makes sense, but embrace what the medium/platform has to offer, forever changing the reading experience.

Will books go away? I think mainstream books will eventually. There will be enclaves that will continue to publish books because of their love of printed matter or because their designs will not transfer successfully to books. It may be akin to the market for high quality reproduction audio versus 256 kb/s MP3's. The mp3's are close enough that most won't know the difference, but they won't ever understand the nuance that may be lost -- or not even care -- given the advantages of lossy compressed audio.

Sorry to keep this so long but this is a central topic with me, what happens to media when it migrates. What is gained, what is lost, how does the physical representation of the media cause it's meaning to change (yeah yeah macluhan). It is important to consider. But it is also inevitable. Fighting it is ridiculous, for it is going to happen. Better to look at what it can do for us than to spend time criticizing it's failures.

So the Kindle will likely spawn more things. I am concerned about the Kindle for a different reason. Their business model pushes back against consumers. Buyers end up with less than they had before, and the content is tethered to a device for viewing. Not even the iPod does that. It is a precedent that I find worrisome.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Creative Cycle at Nintendo

Here's an encapsulated, abbreviated excerpt from a presentation today by the CEO of Nintendo (Iwata) and Miyamoto, head game designer for Nintendo. He gets gaming in a way that few others do. He is an inspiration for me for his ability to take life experiences and translate them into art. This excerpt hits many familiar points of the creative process.

Excerpted from:

Iwata recounts his history with HAL Laboratory working with Nintendo - when presenting a game to Nintendo, he was told "This is not bad. With a few months, this could become a quality game." Iwata says he was "speechless."

"We did not have a few more months. We had very little time. In fact, we had two more days." Without the revenue, they would report a loss for the year, lose their funding, and enter a "death spiral." Death spiral = Financial pressure + less time + poorer quality, culminating in lower sales.

Iwata restructured the company to make better games - he believed Nintendo was able to make better games because they had more money. Now, he understands this better. The way HAL and Nintendo did things were not at all the same.

Miyamoto's gardening hobby turned into Pikmin; he got a new dog, and that turned into Nintendogs; exercise turned into WiiFit.

Iwata jokes that he asked Miyamoto to never talk about his hobbies outside of work – he's on a 24/7 non-disclosure agreement.

MIYAMOTO'S WAY - "Upward Spiral"

1. Ideas are everywhere
2. Personal Communication
3. Prototype Stage

He shows off a very rough "prototype" of Wii Boxing, encouraging developers to spend more time on the game's mechanics. "The amount of time being spent on the game's graphics was zero. Perhaps you can tell that."

4. Small Teams
5. Multiple Projects
6. Trial and Error

"Sometimes no matter how hard they work, the small teams struggle to meet their objective. That prototype phase can last two years." If they set a project aside, that's the nature of trial and error. "For Mr. Miyamoto, prototype making allows for the most trial and error where the smallest number of developers" can work on the game. "This is one of the most important characteristics of Mr. Miyamoto's approach that I have observed."

"Of course, with so many project going on at one time" some make it beyond that prototype stage. So, the last stage: The Mass Production Stage. Mr. Miyamato, who began as Iwata's mentor, now reports to him. Not always a pleasant scenario.

Once one of Iwata's latest hobbies reaches the prototype stage, he makes it a point to not ask about how it's going. It makes it difficult for Iwata to predict when a product can begin to generate revenue – "which is not very good for my mental health."

If they throw out an idea, that work is not wasted. "I have seen some of these ideas show up years later," Iwata says.