Okay… why?

Rest assured, I haven’t forgotten about you. Rather, there hasn’t been much happening lately.

I’ll try my best not to get too philosophical here, but given the topic that might be impossible.

It seems like – and moreso even lately – things are just being made for the sake of being made. This, as I’ve stressed endlessly, is bad design. There’s a difference between making things right, and making the right thing and frankly, we have enough chairs. We don’t need any more chairs. I like chairs, daresay I love them and I too have designed a couple. But I have no intention of adding my drops to the already flooded market. It seems like everyone has resorted to yelling because the internet is just this barracks full of megaphones and a crowd of people in the middle who you’re vying to attract. But then, because they’re busy yelling they’ve forgotten to like, actually make good stuff. You know, that thing we’re supposed to be doing.

And I understand the hypocracy. I’m just as guilty as anyone.

Philippe Starck is a man you’ve probably come across at some point. He has a quote that I can’t seem to find at the moment but in summation says that we have enough things and not enough solutions. Like what I said above, we have enough chairs. We’ve solved the sitting problem. What about all these bigger issues? What about housing for people living on say, $5000 a year. We could solve that; there’s no money in it.

And so I cruise around the internet in my sleek observational ship and I look at all these design sites with a certain distaste in my mouth. I see these projects that are cool and entirely uesless. I see photos like the above, which is a chapel covered in 55 000 LED lights and think “Goodness, why?” Like, what is that contributing to anything? And I realize there’s a slippery slope there towards nihilism, and there are lots of good useless things. Art, for example, can be. It often is only the latter adjective, but sometimes fulfills the former.

Then I reach this crisis in my own work. I just want to dearly to fix things, to help fight the good fight and yet I sit around writing comics or stories or this column. It’s like I’m waiting until “later” before I’m allowed to make a difference. This isn’t true, of course, but it’s hard to convince yourself of that. Why aren’t I solving all these problems I see right now? I’m capable of it.

I’m just frustrated, in the end. There’s the disparity I see in everyone else and it upsets me and then I see it in myself and I get physically irate with my similar complacence.

More Vaudevillain

He’s animatable but I’m still hammering out a style.

I really like the bright, happy vintage 60’s-80’s Bond villain style:

And the Team Fortress style plays off of it nicely, often using it exactly in interior environments, but takes a bit heavier approach to things overall. I’m not sure what I want!

The idea as it stands, though, is to make a silent film with direct ties to a good song (that I have yet to decide on) where the stereotypical good guys are blowing up our protagonist villain’s bases and he’s sad. So, shots of things blowing up, the map’s little lights turning to red as bases are lost. His head in his hands, shaking as he ejects in his secret escape pods from places as they’re being destroyed. Maybe some bank papers exclaiming his debt, and subsequent depression. I just want to feel bad for this guy, with the government agents running amok blowing up his visions of empire, crushing his dreams with the rubble.

Google Cr-24

I’m on the fence here. The above is the new Google Chromebook laptop and despite the whole mediocre OS thing, the ID work is actually decent. There are some quality issues, like how the trackpad sort of warps relative to the body, but I have to give them props for keeping it clean and resisting the allure of tacking rubbish all over it like that other Macbook clone. Yeah, it’s a ripoff, blah blah blah, but I’d rather see a ripoff of an awesome product done decently rather than a wannabe that’s just different enough to ruin the original’s thought-out splendor. I mean, in the grand scheme of things, ideally, there should be one epitome of design for that object. Am I saying the Macbook is that? No. It’s an ideal, perhaps impossible. But there will be some that are closer than others, and I can’t blame people as long as they continue on the righteous path rather than subverting it – especially when said product is in an entirely different market. Remember, these are the cheap laptops you give your kids so they can browse Wikipedia and do homework. Why can’t the cheap things be nicely designed too? Frankly, I think this is a better overall outcome than the Envy itself, the one touted as the Macbook killer. So, that’s sort of sad on HP’s part.

You can look through a bunch of other photos in this gallery but you probably already know what you’re going to get.

Swimming in Milk – Susan Anderson

I deeply, deeply love fog. I love the bubble that follows you wherever you go, and occasionally your bubble and other people’s bubble collide and interact and you can see each other for those moments. It’s just, a micro isolation that promotes a macro exploration.

These photos are the work of Susan Anderson (I think?), who is remarkably guarded of her identity. There are metric tons of other galleries to look through as well; all excellent.

The soundtrack that comes to mind when I look at these is this, which I have to imagine I’ve posted plenty of times before. So good.

Circular CNC Mill

I had an idea the other day. There are a couple primitive version of this, but there isn’t (to my knowledge being the main point) anything CNC controlled in this configuration.

And, as opposed to the table spinning past a static cutting bit, if the bits were articulated on their own you could feasibly have several working on the same object at once without getting in each other’s way.

CNC machines can be made flexible by adding more axis in the form of an arm, but I feel like a redesign of how it’s done can yield better results while keeping the cost and complication down. The main thing, probably, is that it becomes a lot more complicated to translate 3D data into cutting data when you’re using non-standard XYZ axis. The original machine code (before the rise of practical 3D modelling) was done by entering coordinates by hand. It was computer controlled, but not nearly to the same level or complexity we have today. The processing power we already have could be used to better leverage machines configured differently.

There are disadvantages to my design as well, but less so that the straight top down approach, since I would venture to say most geometry has undercuts somewhere or other. Small improvements. You could add axis to this as well to better help things.

If you’d like to make this a reality, I’d love to develop it with you. If you intend to thief it, at least do it right. I think I’d be far more upset if someone stole my idea and then did something sub-par with it. Ideas are cheap. Execution is everything.

Onward. There’s more of the world to improve!

Good v. Popular

I’m not sure if it’s just something I notice in trends or if things actually happen in trends but recently I’ve seen a lot to do with with the good v. popular notion. And I sit here, months away from post secondary graduation and wonder which one I’ll choose.

There seems to be a graph:

Where ideally poor things should not be popular. I look at the rubbish found in tourist stores as the ultimate epitome of this – things that should be in a dollar store but are instead sold for 500% of that price because of novelty. These are things without any real design or purpose. On the other hand of the spectrum we look at really well designed things that are priced well and accessible to everyone. I would look at the Eames chairs back when they were alive for this – things that are designed for the everyman, and done right.

You’ll notice the curves are different between ideal and real. Because in real life people buy rubbish design all the time, it’s popular for some reason or other. And then there are well designed things that aren’t popular because they are so well designed that they melt into the background (as they should) and people don’t even think about them. After that the curve comes back up, these are things that are well designed, well priced and popular for some reason or other – the original iPod Nanos come to mind. I was in grade 9 or 10 when they came out and they became ubiquitous fast, both as a fashion symbol and as a genuinely awesome alternative to the traditional MP3 players at the time which really had very poor design and construction. The were well designed and popular.

And then I think, given these curves, what about the designers themselves. Were does the spectrum of Rashid to sir Ive fit? And, more importantly, where am I?

Money is another important factor. The rubbish seems to sell better. The good has a cult following, sure, but in the end the bottom graph could also represent profits. Apple is one of the few companies I can think of who exist on the high right side. Most of us, despite (or perhaps because of) being really good designers, will serve brilliantly in the bottom of the parabola bowl. We will make good stuff and it may or may not be popular. Movies and games, for example, make far, far more money by making mediocre sequels than risk trying something new. Why do we have 8 Call of Duty games? Because they keep selling. Are they particularly good from an objective gaming perspective? Not really. Soon to be 23 James Bond movies. Soon to be 6 Fast and the Furious Movies. Sequels, no matter how terrible, sell. In the case of the latter two examples, perhaps more so because they become parodies of themselves in an attempt to be brighter, louder and flashier than before. We have brilliant games like Limbo and Mirror’s Edge, but even after receiving critical acclaim they only sell a relatively small amount. COD has received over 3 billion dollars in revenue over the years.

I look at the Fountainhead and have to compare all of these things to Keating and Roark, but I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

So when it comes down to it, do I sell out and make what’s popular? Do I make the Call of Duty equivalent in the design world? Do I hold fast and secure myself in promised obscurity and mediocre payroll? Do I push so hard to break through into the dreamzone good and popular?

The Happiest Villain

Further workings on the Vaudevillain… franchise? Possibly an short story animation in the style of Gravity Bone which I recently played through again. Still brilliant.

Hollywood’s Woes

That’s us, that man standing there, onlooking Hollywood.

The quote that best describes this comes from a recent article by Marco Arment:

The MPAA studios hate us. They hate us with region locks and unskippable screens and encryption and criminalization of fair use. They see us as stupid eyeballs with wallets, and they are entitled to a constant stream of our money. They despise us, and they certainly don’t respect us.

Yet when we watch their movies, we support them.

Those of us who use Netflix or Apple TV forget how truly annoying physical disk movies are to try and get to work on anything but sanctioned players – and even then filled with unskippable threats.

But I wonder what is to come of the entire thing. Bigger than Hollywood, bigger than the games industry, bigger than the MPAA and everyone, what will our entertainment be in the next ten years? 20? 100?

It’s sort of an unusual situation we find ourselves in. The Roman gladiator games lasted roughly 135 years and only really ended when the particularly vile leaders had died and the newer generations looked at the entire sport with confusion and unease, yet we see entertainment mediums such as radio come and go entirely because new technology (television) claimed it’s overtaking. But here we are in an age where movies on the whole are not very good and the industry blames piracy instead of truly looking at why people aren’t buying the films anymore. I mentioned previously somewhere that the movie going experience is jaded. People aren’t interested in paying $14 to sit in a room with a 100 other strangers who talk and text and spill sticky things on the floor. Since bigger home screens mean the theater screens aren’t really as interesting anymore, the cons are outweighing the pros. It’s a matter of poor experience.

Y Combinator, the famous startup investor has issued this statement denouncing the whole thing and I have to agree; what exactly are we going to do with all of this?

Time to design.

Design, at it’s more pure roots is simply problem solving. The hardest part, often, is finding the problem to solve. Are we really solving piracy? Are we solving entertainment? Are we solving the problem that many people have, which is a lack of choice in the matter?

It’s interesting to read message boards and see everyone’s take. The consensus here seems like people want a new distribution model like iTunes did for music or Steam did for games but I have to wonder if that even solves the overarching problem which is, in my mind, the lack of interesting things to watch. Sure, we have a few great shows targeting various demographics, but on the whole it’s a lot of filler. Worse yet, this:

Really? Reeeeally?

No wonder people aren’t watching things like they used to. It’s a reboot of an old franchise from the 70’s which, admittedly, did pretty well, that features scenes like this which are basically just commercials featuring the characters in the show. Then, there are actual commercials between the show segments. Where did the actual entertainment go?

I propose a threshold is being reached: There is a certain level of product placement that you can put alongside entertainment because the entertainment factor is still high enough to make it bearable, but at some point it isn’t anymore and people will stop watching the “show”.

So I ask again, what will our entertainment be in the next ten years. 20? 100?

Hopefully, not this.

Critique

There are lots of different kinds of critics out there, and I feel the need to clarify.

If you’re familiar with shows like Dragon’s Den or Sharks Tank, you’ve probably heard of Kevin O’Leary, who is a critic for the sake of criticism, not for the sake of clarification. This is the first distinction between critics: comment intent.

I recently found Campster on youtube and he’s just a guy who reviews video games, but the way he does it is not to degrade the makers of the games but to honestly review what went wrong and speak the honest truth. Kevin may speak the honest truth, but there is no intention for helping, the intention is for, I suspect, his own ego. So, it’s not about a spectrum of truth -> sugar coating; they can both be pure truth. But it’s not even a spectrum measuring tact or intent to hurt because both sides can both use and ignore those – it’s a spectrum measuring helpfulness. You can be entirely hurt by a review and it be helpful. It’s not really about how one is made to feel or the sensitivity given, it’s about how the resolution can or can’t be used to make further improvements.

Kevin is content to slander things, Chris (Campster) is content to help the industry get better but both are equally critical. Being a critic is not in itself a bad thing.

Intertwined but independent of the helpfulness spectrum there’s the usefulness spectrum. You can try to be helpful but not really be useful. They are layers of one another. If you’re singing on American Idol, Paula might comment on your clothing choice and that can be helpful, but Simon is useful when he comments on the actual singing. In that regard Paula could be regarded as rather useless since she tries too hard to be helpful; polite. Simon is honest, but he walks a thin line between truly useful advice and tactless slander. He has a bad reputation, but I feel like he’s the only one who actually helps the singers throughout the competition.

These are spectrums that I have to define myself on, and I’m still learning what goes where, but in that I feel like I want to emulate Campster the most. It’s honest, entirely truthful commentary that’s insightful and journalistically interesting (bonus points) but never degrades to personal attacks or name calling like Kevin would. It’s a noble sort of critique and I think we need more of these types of people. Far too often we see all critique as a bad thing and that simply isn’t true – it can be far more useful than any dripping sweet compliment.

Be useful.

Alienware X51

I’ve never really understood Alienware, but from what I gather it’s the gamer’s Apple – things built for you and packaged in a way that you like (be it the gaudy gamer neon vents or minimalist aluminum) and sold at a price much higher than if you did it yourself. So, I can respect that. It’s not my aesthetic, but clearly someone out there is buying this stuff.

The news is the above: The X51. And straight up I think it’s a win for the PC gaming industry. Apple has done well because they can engineer everything into crazy tight boxes and control every aspect of it. Traditionally (well, still) PC gamers have seen this as having your hands tied because you can’t open the box and change everything inside. Remember the furor that arose when Apple started shipping laptops that had non-user-replaceable RAM? Or batteries? Or HDDs? It works fantastically well and you can make things really, really tight when they’re designed to be integrated. Now, the consoles do this as well. You can’t change the RAM on a Xbox 360, or the GPU, or the processor. You used to be able to swap out the hard drive, but I’m not even sure you can do that anymore. Same with your Wii or Playstation. Why no one has fits about that I’ll never know, because it’s exactly the same thing Apple is doing (and apparently is the bad guy for it).

But, the X51.

So Alienware saw all of this and thought “We’re already pre-packaging everything together for these people anyway. If we lower the number of options, we can design these things into a much leaner product” more like a console than the traditionally very modular PC case. And voilà, the X51. The nVidia GPU is still off the shelf stock (GTX series), so you could in theory upgrade it down the road. Same with the CPU, but the motherboard seems to be pretty solid in there [1] not that the sort of demographic that would buy this thing really want to be messing about with such details.

It comes in a few flavours with varying processor power and RAM, but the exterior case and innards look really well designed. Again, not really my aesthetic, but it isn’t actually as terrible as the past designs have been. It has a rotating badge so like it’s console brethren it can be sat vertically or horizontally. I see this more as a multimedia center more than a hardcore gamer station, and I think it’s more subtle case design would sit well under your TV. Like a console, but running a proper OS.

In the end, I think it’s another step towards a more unified experience where our technology can be integrated and designed into a much more coherent package instead of cobbling various pieces together and hoping that the drivers play nicely with each other.

The PC is dead, long live the PC!

Photos via here and here


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