One of the things I talked about at UX London (which I will write up soon) was a thing called Kindleframe. I realised that every morning I checked on a few apps that did a few things – the weather for the day, how the tubes were running, and my two calendars, work and home. Well, if I remembered I checked. And when I didn’t, I was always caught out by a tube line being out of action or that it would be raining heavily later.
So I wanted something that pulled all of this information together. Initially I thought something by the front door (like Russell’s bikemap) but I realised I didn’t have any useful power sockets near the door. So then it turned into something that could sit on my bedside table.
A Kindle seemed like the perfect display or information radiator. It’s e-ink, so it’s not glowing in the dark. And the hi-res of the screen means that you can fit quite a lot of information in a small space that’s still readable. There are three problems: the first is that the power connector is on the bottom of the device. The second is that it’s not flat on the bottom. To solve both, I turned it upside down (and added a right angle micro USB cable to make it a little less intrusive). The third is the charging light next to the power connector, which needs black insulating tape to solve. I did think about putting it into an actual picture frame, but there’s really no need (and the glass made it harder to read when I tried it). Simply take a cheap picture frame, remove the back with the stand, and use tape, glue or Command strips to stick it to the Kindle’s back.
I used the code from this weather display, but swapped out the SVG renderer with PhantomJS and a simple web page that loads 4 other web pages: TfL information, BBC weather, a page made out of two scripts that minimally render my Google calendars, and a page from github that I could update with freetext. Then I set up a cron job on the server to render a page every 5 minutes, turn it upside down (with imagemagick) and compress it with pngcrush into something the Kindle could display. The pages are mobile-friendly so they render well on the Kindle.
On the Kindle, I jailbreaked it, and installed a script to download (wget) the rendered image from the server and display it (eips -g) every 5 minutes.
Because it’s just the web, it’s easy to update and change URLs to build into the page – e.g. the BBC mobile weather URL changed after a few weeks, and it was easy to update the html page to point to the new URL.
If you want to build something similar, I suggest reading everything (especially the comments) on the original kindle weather display, and then you can grab what extra little code there is from here. Jailbreaking the Kindle is quite infuriating, especially getting login via wi-fi working, so please see the forums if you need help with that.
email: chris is at anti-mega.com
A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be invited to the HSBC archives in a secret East London location.
I love archives, especially company ones. They’re getting rarer and rarer, often I guess perceived as a luxury, whereas being able to tell the story of your history should provide providence and security.
My interests are, however, often orthogonal to those of professional archivists. Most of the records in the archive are books – ledgers, official correspondence, meeting notes. I’m interested in the ephemera; building mock-ups, rubber stamps…
… and particularly the marketing material, the internal newspapers.
I mean, look at that. It was from the future.
And cats! Paying with cheques!
It’s all a fascinating look at how modernisation was perceived.
And, y’know, a Christo lying around.
See all the photos here.
In Bruce Sterling’s closing speech of SXSW, he claimed that the interactive attendees were better dressed than the music people: “There’s something semiotic, Gibsonian about people dressing better than musicians. When you showed up at SXSW X years ago, you were meeting guys in [t-shirts, jeans]… they’re still here, but mostly that’s the way your uncle looks now. Now they look put together — not like rich person, not like, ‘ook at my sable fur,’ but like new shoelaces, done hair — they look pretty nice. They’re trying to live up to their products and services, which [didn’t look nice] 20 years ago…”
Now, I’m not really sure that’s true – but he was completely right that the dress sense of many, and especially the music people was completely retro. I didn’t see a single example of non-retro dress sense during Music.
And Bruce had a challenge: “Although SXSW people do look chic, it’s a rather retro look. They don’t actually look very futuristic. I would suggest, when you come back next year… come back in robotvision glitchcore. Man, you would rule the physical universe. It would be like a silent coup, people wouldn’t know what to make of it.”
I’ve been mulling it since. And when I say mulling, I mean pinteresting. Thinking through looking. It definitely refers back to Russell’s original quote that “every hep shop seems to be full of tweeds and leather and carefully authentic bits of restrained artisanal fashion. I think most of Shoreditch would be wondering around in a leather apron if it could. With pipe and beard and rickets.” Whilst I like a bit of tweed now and again I wanted to see what else was out there.
It’s explicitly non-retro, even more so not retro-future, or retro 8 bit. The look overlaps with this season’s aztec fixation, but even appropriating such imagery ruled a piece out of consideration. Sometimes it’s just the right colours, or the cut. It’s more gradient fill than pixels. It’s things that couldn’t be made 5 years ago. Supersymmetry and asymmetry. It’s not about the ‘machine vision’ that the New Aesthetic references, but it’s hard to see how that will not be appropriated and re-emerge into fashion as something not necessarily technically correct but aesthetically interesting.
“You don’t want to have to defend yourself later, so you don’t do it.”
“I do worry about Facebook. I just know I need a job eventually.”
“It’s akin to requiring someone’s house keys.”
“I needed my job to feed my family. I had to.”
“Volunteering is coercion if you need a job.”
“If you need to put food on the table for your three kids, you can’t afford to stand up for your belief.”
Just before Christmas all of my credit cards magically turned into RFID enabled smart cards (I was finally able to actually pay wirelessly with them for the first time last week, but that’s another grumble for another day).
For a week, all was fine, but then suddenly, I couldn’t get into the tube with my Oyster card. I had to fish the Oyster out of my wallet to make it work. Too many computers in my wallet. I’m not sure what caused the change: did I suddenly have too many cards, in the wrong lamination? Or has the gate software been upgraded, given that soon London Underground will mainly just use credit cards for entry/exit rather than Oysters? The only UI I have is to make a physical choice.
So rather than the effortless wallet breeze through the gates, I have to use the more technical L-shaped half open. Well within my city flaneury expertise level, but an added irk, several times a day.
Experience designers love a bit of Saarinen: “Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context – a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.” That’s what’s wrong here, an RFID card is not considered within the context of a wallet, containing multiple competing RF field creating information and ID objects, and this new, electric wallet isn’t considered within the larger system of shops and the invisible RF world.
This is starting to happen elsewhere, too. Pretty much every TV at CES had the same functionality: Wi-Fi. Gesture control. Voice control. Given your console, your TV, your cable box, your light switches, your hi-fi, your phone, your tablet will have these performative technologies, we’ve got to find ways to add direction to our waving hands and faltering voices. I’m already at the point where I have to turn the Xbox off completely before flicking to watch TV, lest the Xbox misinterpret my movements. Every utterance or movement could be met with a chorus of slavish obeyance by your white, brown and shiny goods. Badly designed hardware interfaces will be bullies – demanding their own room, with no interfering IR laser speckles and a stalkerish obsession, hanging on your every word.
Whilst the technology companies demo their living rooms of the future, they live in a dreamlike world where everything you buy is a Samsung, or a Sony, whereas the reality is a Funai next to a Huawei next to a Panasonic next to a Vizio. And it’ll probably take 10 years for them to work together to fix this mess, let alone pipedreams of creating common standards. I can’t wait for how Which? will review the interfaces of these products. Consumer electronics reviewers will have to become performance artists, and consumers alchemists, creating concoctions of brands and boxes that actually let them take control of their living, working and playing environments.
Less heat, more light.
I’m not going to embed a Coldplay video here but the centrally-controlled LED glowing wristbands at their concerts/X Factor appearance are both technically brilliant and slightly disenfranchising (and completely useless and dormant after the concert). Weirder still, Coldplay bought a stake in the electronics company behind it. Which queers the use in X Factor somewhat. Stop this New Aesthetic, I want to get off.
I love this. I often bang on about how there’s no better marketing that showing a company companying – showing what they do, how they do it, what that does. It might seem very old fashioned (“we make a lot of these”) but it somehow makes the company and product more tangible. I’d‘ve never have predicted that over 260 million Tunnocks Caramels were made a year. That’s brilliant.
I think it’s why Kickstarter is successful too – big numbers, constant updates about making the thing. Weeknotes. Companies companying.
Londoners is a lovely little book. Stories told at whatever length they need to be by an interested ear.
I think it’s easy to tell if you’re a Londoner. Read the introduction and the prologue (an interview with Simon Kushner, a former Londoner, now living in Cape Town) and see if you’re smiling like a loon.