Meeting Doodles: Some New Critters in the Barn

As I've noted previously, I'm an incurable sketch(y) thinker. I draw during meetings to help me concentrate and to keep all of the energy moving in a useful direction. Below are five recent additions. They are titled, respectively: Lamp, Leaf, Openings, Stone, Wrapped.


What is an Artist? What are you?

We are always talking ourselves out of the creative impulses that give joy, meaning and purpose to our lives. I had never heard of Young-ha Kim before today. Perhaps that is because he is a famous Korean author and I don't read Korean novels much at all.

He speaks at G4 network speed, which is to say very fast, though the subtitles appear at a reasonable rate. And they are very much worth reading as he chastises us away from being dull and intrigues us with what it means to create, to express, to explore. One of his more profound statements...get up, turn off the TV, unplug from the internet, and go make something. Indeed.


The power of stories is not related to their length. Watch this short film  by Kaleb Lechowski which I came across on Co.create and consider what story you might tell, even if the space you have is small. Given that there may in fact be billions of habitable planets rather than a few hundred makes the intrigue that much greater.


Daniel Lebiskind's TED talk on the 17 words of architecture

There is a great deal to consider, react to, wrestle with, challenge and contemplate in this brief and very intensive talk given by Lebiskind. My summary of thoughts and reactions to the ROM in Toronto the first time I experienced it are very congruent with this talk. I had tried not to read too much, listen too much before having experienced the building itself. I very much prefer to experience something like that on my own first, and then there may be time and context for hearing from others.

My approach to art galleries is similar. I don't just look for what I'm supposed to see or spend time with pieces that are supposed to be important. I view and think about pieces, very attentive to what I react with. I let that be my guide. It isn't narcissism or egotism, it is a way of learning to listen and feel in ways that much of contemporary society denies us.


The Social Side of Business Is Not Optional: McKinsey Q2 Popular Articles

You may or may not be a fan of McKinsey and their well-known methods of research, analysis and business engagement but I did find their Q2 top article list a useful stimulus for reflection on the degree and types of change that are percolating through normal business channels. The summary of the ten top articles (image from article summary deck) by title and promotional deck include themes that are the source of so much of that change - social dynamics.

The social side of business, it seems, is a significant issue from any number of angles. Almost half of the articles deal directly with this aspect of competitive corporate offerings and the balance are splashing distance from this core. Technologies that are highly social directly impact marketing and sales. Understanding the rules that govern the interaction of social rules and norms in an online space could mean the difference between long-term success and a premature demise. Change leaders need to have an ability to move between the established and the emerging, brokering these changes through intelligent tactics and sound thought processes. These are social skills within specific contexts and being good at them is critical for all leadership roles in an organization.

Senior leadership can enable systems and structures that contribute positively to these dynamics or then can kill them by unwittingly cutting of the oxygen supply of emerging, game-changing ideas and possibilities. When various functioning units in an organization grow more isolated from each other, significant competitive advantage is lost. Bridging functions, formal and informal, will prove essential.

As a final irony, it is noted that executives do poorly at a core social skill - listening. Where there is inadequate time, interest, or skill in listening, organizational performance levels will be seriously compromised. Business is all about the people, the social, the connections, and it is as much an internal matter as it is a customer facing issue.

Knowing this and doing something about it ends up being one of the divides that will increasingly separate the successful companies from the dust eaters who persist in treating the social as a soft fringe preoccupation.


James Leng has created a fantastic blend of art, design, engineering and information display with this arduino controlled "Point Cloud" that you can watch in action below via the Creative Applications Networks website.

An arduino is a small hackable piece of hardware that lets you write programs on your computer and then upload them for use in controlling all kinds of motors, switches, lights, and other electronic devices. I bought one over a year ago and as time allows, I've tinkered away on it. I love the way it has helped me understand the full loop between software and hardware - an inventor's dream that I wish I had 20 years ago. 

The James Leng application is a visionary blend that is inspiring to watch. My first thought when I saw the image and read the blurb was that it might do things like contract/expand depending on temperature, undulate for wind, sit quietly for calm air, and so on. It doesn't seem to be that direct but I think that's a good thing. If you lived with "Point Cloud" for awhile, you'd see it 'behaving' and then experience the weather and eventually you'd understand how to interpret it. I don't know if that's what Leng intended but the project at any number of levels is really a fine piece of work.


Is the future of the book just more distraction?

The future of the book is a big theme and has been a particularly intense discussion for the last couple of decades. Though it was produced in 2010, this IDEO video and short article about The Future of the Book is clear, well-designed and interesting to watch.

They use three possible formats (Nelson, Coupland, Alice) to make guesses about where books are going from a readers perspective. This is not about what is happening to the publishing industry (lots and lots of that around) but is about the user experience, how you and I could experience the pleasure of reading in new and enriched ways. Of particular interest is the dynamic of linking the mostly-private experience of reading with a wider and deeper context socially and experientially.

Some of the suggested ideas may end up being more distracting than enriching, like reading a Wikipedia article where everything is hyperlinked. There is something convenient about clicking on "Waterloo" while reading about Napoleon but some of these additions can really distract from the flow, particularly with novels. I know that one of my pet peeves are academic titles where the footnotes take up more of the page than the body text or where there are so many of them that you have to stop looking at them and just concentrate on the line in the body if a proper flow of ideas and logic is to be developed.

Do these potential new connections deepen distraction or enrich thought? One of the things I like about an artefact book is that it demands of me only what is right there, right now. It doesn't beep, vibrate, jingle, blink, or offer "something better somewhere else" as do most of our digital devices. I do like the portability of my Playbook where I can drop a whole raft of online reading content to be read in the gaps and spaces of my life. We're experimenting forward and will begin to see the answer to the enriched book in the years ahead.


This data visualization from Kiva's 2011 Annual Report is worth taking a look at for the way that it takes a significant amount of data and designs the presentation so you can quickly see the patterns.

Even if the music isn't your thing, the idea that a platform was developed to facilitate the exchange of resources between people - money from lenders, updates, stories and a sense of purpose from borrowers (small business partners, really) - is valuable and worth contemplating further for all aspects of organizational strategy. I don't see these structures as nice extras, they are the heart of a new way of cooperating though they have yet to find their way into the psyche of most organizations.


The wonder of the world is so much deeper than we are. I dreamed last night of steel foam. Today I searched to see what I could find and easily located this engineering website where I learned that such a thing exists, is being tested, and is perhaps being used. Here's a link to the site and a PDF of the presentation.

I have also wondered about how we could grow steel so that the complex structures of living plants might somehow be fostered in physical space the way it is in computer generated graphics, simple rules iterating, randomizing, erring and correcting. The rusty stalagmites that you see on old ship wrecks and submerged iron structures means that it must be somewhat possible.

Probably, I should quit reading Christopher Alexander before going to bed. 


Swarm Robots - I Love the Idea

For a long while now I've wanted to create my own little flock of swarm robots. In Prey, Michael Crichton shows us what swarms of nanobots can do and that's a great book to read for inspiration. However, since nanotech is not within reach of most of us, I wonder about microtech level robots. Driving home from UWaterloo the other day I was pondering how one might create a Really Simple Swarm Robot - a mechanical flocking device that is super cheap and super simple. In my mind I saw a steam punk version of a swarm robot that could move, get inputs from nearby other bots or the environment, and communicate that to the others.

I confess that I have recently watched Hugo and the movie provided fresh inspiration for the development of some sort of swarm bot based on mechanical rather than electrical means. This swarm robot website was pointed out to my by my Network Science 675 professor and is really interesting as well. One approach they use is to enable the robots to read light as a kind of pheromone for emergent property formation. I like it.

Could you use hollow styrofoam balls that somehow interact with each other in a directional way? Would magnetism be a useful information or energy transfer medium? It can be complicated to work with but perhaps the movement could be constrained in two dimensions somehow or along a track with the emergent behaviour falling along a single distance-between vector.

If anyone has seen something like this, I'd love to learn more about steam punk robotics.