Core77's Carla Diana looks at the design solutions that industrial designers have come up with to impart fetishistic desirability on the hard drives that are replacing thousands and thousands of books, CDs, videos, games, etc. My world is definitely divided into stuff that I can compress onto a hard-drive and then stick in a box and forget, and stuff that gets displayed or worn, and virtually nothing else (though I just discovered the hard way that moving a half-terabyte of data from your old encrypted laptop hard drive to your new one is a veeerrrryyy sloooooow).
If so much of our personal history is getting compressed into data, and digital imaging, cloud computing, and streaming media have become an integral part of daily experience, being sensitive to the physical presence of these devices is an important responsibility. Creating distinctive, engaging objects that help people manage and understand the nature of data--an imperceptible property that is at once fragmented, modular and flowing--is a new and challenging opportunity. Data-management devices such as routers, hard drives and modems--previously relegated to back corners and spaces under desks--are now front and center, featuring prominently in people's living rooms, desktops and front pockets. Once the exclusive domain of the cable guy and corporate IT manager, they are now mainstream products that moms and dads will buy to place front and center in a living room, veritable shrines to the data that is contained within or flowing through them. Once designed to look benign, apologetic and clumsily invisible, they are now becoming sculptural pieces that warrant a strong presence in the domestic landscape. Though it may often seem like the industrial designer's job is to create a "black box" around circuit boards, the ability to take the complex nature of data and translate it into meaningful form is more important than ever before. More than mere shells for electronic components, they play a totemic role in the home and act as the threshold for rich, emotionally-laden content and timely personal communication.
Wired's Charles Graeber has an astounding piece up about master lockpicker Marc Weber Tobias, who challenged Medeco's claim that its locks are "bump-proof" (that is, that they can't be simply broken by filing down a key, inserting it, and tapping it, sending a shock down the metal that makes the pins jump). Medeco launched an aggressive campaign to market its products to people who were worried about bump keys, but Tobias shows that their locks aren't substantially harder to bump than cheaper models from competitors. Medeco sent Wired a note that said Tobias's claims weren't true and implied that Wired might be sued for publishing them, so Wired set up a test, and then Medeco raised a flurry of vague, lame objections to the test. But the test speaks for itself -- the Medecos fly open at Tobias's caress.
More interesting is Graeber's look at the motives, personality and technology of lockpickers -- a fine trick of the tech journalist, blending culture and gadgets into a seamless whole.
The problem, if you're a safe company or a lock maker, is that Tobias makes it all public through hacker confabs, posts on his Security.org site, and tech blogs like Engadget. He views this glasnost as a public service. Others see a hacker how-to that makes The Anarchist Cookbook read like Betty Crocker. And where Tobias sees a splendid expression of First Amendment rights, locksmiths and security companies see a criminal finishing school. Tobias isn't just exposing problems, they say. He is the problem.
But forget bike locks and hotel room safes: These days, Tobias is attacking the lock famous for protecting places like military installations and the homes of American presidents and British royals.
Between stabs at his salad, Tobias hands me his latest idea of fun: nearly 300 pages of self-published hacker-porn detailing his attack on the allegedly uncrackable Medeco high-security lock. "Trust me, this will cause a goddamned
riot!" he says, dabbing at tears of joy with a paper napkin. "Oh yeah, this is way, way bigger than the liquid explosives thing!" And he's right, it is bigger--and with way, way bigger consequences.
This week's Time Out London details a wicked and arch web-hoax-thing; someone has put plaques on benches all around London celebrating the eccentric Devenish-Phibbs family (in London, as in many places, public benches are paid for as memorials and get a small plaque to accompany them); the Devenish-Phibbs benches include "You're born, you're dying, you're dead. If your relatives are cheap they get you a bench. Monty Devenish-Phibbs 1847 - 1910" and "This was one of my favourite views. You can see it better if you move along the bench a bit. Come on, shuffle along. Bit more. More. No, more. There. Now look In commemoration of Barbara Devenish-Phibbs: Mother, wife, nag."
The joke circles back to croydevenishphibbs.co.uk, a site seemingly maintained by a cranky "silver surfer" who is offering rewards for information about his family's many plaques. When Time Out contacted him, he stayed in character (if, indeed, it is a character) perfectly: "As I explain on my home page I'm appealing for information about any of the hundreds of Devenish-Phibbs around Great Britain and sending out rewards for people who pass on details and photographs. Winter is beginning to take its toll and three residents have died in recent weeks. There's a rather macabre sense that The Bingo of Eternity is in session - whose number will be called next? With warm regards, Croy Devenish-Phibbs."
(Rudy Rucker is a guestblogger. His latest novel, Hylozoic, describes a postsingular world in which everything is alive.)
This has been an exciting---and exhausting---two weeks, guestblogging for Boing. I don't see how the regular Boing bloggers get anything else done.
As a parting offering, I'd like to share some of my reminiscenses about Silicon Valley as I found it when I moved here in 1986.
[Me in 1985, photo by David Abrams. I don't remember exactly why I drew the line on the photo...something about distinguishing between the two halves of the brain, that is, the writer side vs. the programmer side.]
A little background. Over the last year I've been working on a memoir called Nested Scrolls, and I'm hoping to find a publisher for it soon.
The memoir's title has to do with two things: (a) my favorite kinds of cellular automata rules make seething scroll-like patterns that nest together like layers of scrolls, and (b) you can think of writings as being scrolls, and to the extent that a multilevel written work refers to other works, it's a nested scroll.
What I'm posting here is Chapter 10 of Nested Scrolls, called "Hacker"---and this particular chapter is about diving into the Bay Areas scene of yore. Here's an excerpt:
In 1987 I attended an annual event called the Hackers Conference. Remember—hacker was still a good word, so these guys were Silicon Valley programmers and hardware tweakers. Some of them were even fans of my books. The fact that I’d written a science fiction novel called Software had put me on the hackers’ radar.
I brought my computer with its CA axe [that is, its hand-made cellular automata accelerator card from Systems Concepts labs], and I stayed up all night with the hackers, drinking beer, smoking pot, and admiring our weird screens. Although Hollywood often depicts hackers as nerdy, inhibited types, that’s not generally accurate. It’s more common that hackers are like hippies or acid freaks or mad scientists or car mechanics.
And with that I'm outta here. Rock on, y'all, and, if you liked my posts, come see me at Rudy's Blog.
Wandering through east London today, I happened upon a damned good shoutin' R&B duo busking on the street. They're called Dead Plants, and the act I saw consisted of one guy slapping the everlasting hell out of a bass while the other guy beat out hillbilly blues on an acoustic guitar; they stamped out time on the cobblestones and hollered out insane lyrics about Johnny Cash. I was hooked. The baby was hooked. I bought their CD, Streetsongs, and it's spinning right now in the baby's room CD player (the only CD player left in the house!) and we're both rockin' out.
Sarah's Smash Shack in San Diego rents out soundproof rooms full of thrift-store crockery for you to smash. They supply sharpies so you can write the names of the things you're smashing in effigy on the plates first, and the rooms have loud speakers you can play your angry music through.
The Wall Street Journal's Phred Dvorak has a thought-provoking feature on the use of laptops and Internet services by homeless people, who, like everyone else, use them for civic engagement with politicians, social interaction, job hunting, and entrepreneurial pursuits.
Here's a prediction: in five years, a UN convention will enshrine network access as a human right (preemptive strike against naysayers: "Human rights" aren't only water, food and shelter, they include such "nonessentials" as free speech, education, and privacy). In ten years, we won't understand how anyone thought it wasn't a human right.
And even then, there will be destitute former music execs, living rough on the streets, using their laptops to argue that no, it's not a human right: you should be deprived of your Internet access if you're accused of copyright infringement, because the Internet is just a machine for making copies of trivial, copyrighted entertainment products.
"You don't need a TV. You don't need a radio. You don't even need a newspaper," says Mr. Pitts, an aspiring poet in a purple cap and yellow fleece jacket, who says he has been homeless for two years. "But you need the Internet..."
Shelter attendants say the number of laptop-toting overnight visitors, while small, is growing. SF Homeless, a two-year-old Internet forum, has 140 members. It posts schedules for public-housing meetings and news from similar groups in New Mexico, Arizona and Connecticut. And it has a blog with online polls about shelter life...
Aspiring computer programmer Paul Weston, 29, says his Macintosh PowerBook has been a "lifeboat" since he was laid off from his job as a hotel clerk in December and moved to a shelter. Sitting in a Whole Foods store with free wireless access, Mr. Weston searches for work and writes a computer program he hopes to sell eventually. He has emailed city officials to press for better shelter conditions...
Robert Livingston, 49, has carried his Asus netbook everywhere since losing his apartment in December. A meticulous man who spends some of his $59 monthly welfare check on haircuts, Mr. Livingston says he quit a security-guard job late last year, then couldn't find another when the economy tanked.
When he realized he would be homeless, Mr. Livingston bought a sturdy backpack to store his gear, a padlock for his footlocker at the shelter and a $25 annual premium Flickr account to display the digital photos he takes.
Over on Offworld, our Brandon's spotted a stellar Team Fortress-themed mobile:
One of Valve's most renowned character design theories, evident in all recent multiplayer games from Team Fortress to Left 4 Dead, is in creating each figure as a shape so distinct that they're instantly recognizable from nearly any distance, in any light.
And, taking that idea to its logical extreme, Etsy seller SaltyandSweet has given life to the unofficial official Team Fortress 2 mobile, laser cut and "extremely lightweight [to stay] in motion with even the slightest breeze," and perfect for toddler-training tomorrow's jarate-tossing champs today.
If there's a Left 4 Dead one, I'm doomed -- it's all the wife can talk about these days; we'd end up with one in ever room, and Alice running around making pew-pew noises at them.
My friends from Youth Radio were at the Maker Faire Bay Area today, creating a live soundscape. Students roamed the fairgrounds collecting audio samples on flash recorders. As the roving reporters brought back their "tape" to the Youth Radio booth, others used Peak and Reason software to cut-up, loop, and collage the audio into a sick soundscape. The young people on the scene were Kenyon Colvin-Williams, Skyler Brynat, Luis Florez, Derrick Underwood, Khadejhia Kassenbrock, and Austin DeRubira. Production support came from Ben Frost, Charlie Foster, and Rachel Krantz.