Ars Electronica 2006: Simplicity

John Maeda is one of the curators this year. On the Ars Electronica Website there is an opening statement from him:

SIMPLICITY is a complex topic that has no single, simple answer.
We live in an increasingly complex technological world where nothing works like it is supposed to, and at the end of the day makes all of us hunger for simplicity to some degree. Yet ironically when given the choice of more or less, we are programmed at the genetic level to want more.“Would you like the big cookie or the smaller cookie?” or “Would you like the computer with ten processors or just one?” The choice is simple really, or is it?
For the Ars Electronica Symposium on SIMPLICITY we think together about what simplicity (and complexity) means in politics, life, art, and technology. Expect more than you can ever imagine, and less.

I ran a seminar about this topic two years ago. Maybe it is time to have a »Simplicity Reloaded« seminar in winter?

Access point distribution

Access point distribution

Today during a train ride between Cologne and Aachen I let MacStumbler scan vor access points that I passed by. During the 70km ride it catched signals of around 65 wireless LANs:

Screenshot of the Macstumbler application during a train ride between Cologne and Aachen

Usually regular housing is only close to railways in cities. On the country site buildings are rather sparse. Taking these facts into account I’d suspect the average densitiy of access points in a city here is so high, that you probably would be in the reach of at least one everytime. I think that is pretty amazing and also a completely new development in recent years. Maybe one day the density will grow so much that you will be in the reach of at least one FREE access point one day?

Anyway if I’d allow MacStumber to sign into each public access point I could wardrive around the city and collect new Plazes along the way. And probably one would be able to easly beat Tantek Çelik’s record of 429 discovered plazes so far…

Web 3.0?

While everyone is talking about AJAX and JavaScript there is a very old technology taking up steam that could replace the DOM+JavaScript approach: XUL. Look for example at this application called »Songbird«.

The problem with XUL has always been a lack of development tools. XULrunner seems to fill a huge gap here. Anyway it seems that the web browser technology is set out to take over the standard user experience one day. Vendors will be able to deliver grown-up applications (and even parts of it) over the net at the time of request.

3D face recognition from a single video frame

I have a constantly updated presentation about »The future of computing«. One chapter of it is about security and surveillance technology – the face recognition approach in particular. Two computer science students in Haifa, Israel, have invented a face recognition method with a 3D scan. It can radically improve the success rate and it was even able to seperate them apart: they are twins. The problem is that this approach requires a database of 3D scans of the faces to be matched with the current sample: So how would you collect those 3D datasets?

Now there is a research group in United Kingdom showing a 40 millisecond 3D scan from a single video frame (see demo video). It uses a projection of stripes on the face and then calculates the surface from their distortion. This could even become a way to recognize faces from a running video… and combined with light sources/camera sensors outside of the visible wave length I suspect it could even be possible to aquire the 3D scans without notice of the scanned person. I don’t know the approach is capable of recognizing people wearing glasses or a large beard.

[found via]

Web 2.0 @ WebMontag (webmonday)

Yesterday there was a meetup of web people at Hallmackenreuther café in Cologne. The topic was »Web 2.0« (among others). Now I read through the comments and I found people complaining about the spontanous informal character and the absence of something what they call »web 2.0« in the few presentations given.

Here is my take on this:

The mere fact, that 80 people come together within few days of notice, arrange for beers, beamers, laptops without formal invitation just by using a Wiki and some keywords (here, here, here and elsewhere) to me is already »Web 2.0«. The »Web 2.0 presentation« they were hoping to witness were themselves! It would have been impossible to do it that way some years ago.

But speaking of »Web 2.0« as technological term:

People use it as a meme. It’s an abstract word like »peace«. It doesn’t mean a thing – it’s a mode. A mode where technology can be a catalyst for emergence, spontaneity and openess. It does not come with the flaws of the »old school« openess where the idea that »anything goes« needed to be reinforced by expressively doing ridicolous and artsy things. That’s not needed anymore: the concept is understood. Today we have »conditional openess«: there may be a license attached or a policy you have to agree on.

In terms of technology I think »Web 2.0« is flawed for one reason. »Web 2.0« is what »Web 1.0« should always have been. So the pre-web2.0 time would actually be the time of »Web 0.8 – alpha-dev-release – USEWITHCAUTION«. There is nothing »Web 2.0« about following web standards, using reliable JavaScript engines, taking advantage of potent frameworks or working with scripting interpreters that were designed with the web in mind from the beginning on. There is nothing »Web 2.0« about providing a usable interface that doesn’t require you to wait after each click and that helps you to get things done without reading through tons of README.txt files with corrupted umlauts and things.

We just need to admit that the web as we know it was a beta release for the last 15 years and that it has matured technology-wise. And if one day we can get rid of the browser dependency then we have reached an original design goal! I would have no problem if someone calls that »Web 2.0« just because the first major milestone was reached. It’s a big project. It makes more fun to raise the version number at every milestone! No one wants to work on a beta for the rest of his life (well, some do indeed!).

Stanford on iTunes

This is really great:

While others are still resisting the idea to webcast course content online Stanford moves along by integrating (at least some of) their educational content with the iTunes Music Store. Can you see the iTunes Educational Shop coming up? One-click shopping for lectures and files that use the same DRM protection like the songs you buy at Apples Music Store? Right now the audio clips stream for $0.00 and you can download the pieces with a single click. Now nobody needs to stretch the imagination anymore. It is actually a no brainer – same technology, different application.

If you have iTunes installed you can directly open the site with a simple click.

Hmm. 😉

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks

There are certain topics I never covered much in this weblog. Human Rights is one of them. Today news tells us that Rosa Parks died and she will probably remain in history forever reminding us that one moment of courage can change so much.


The Longhorn crisis

Well, I am personally tired of debating why to choose Macs over PCs. In every respect there are just two types of computer users: those who once lost their data and those who will loose their data. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Mac or a PC where your data was on…

But if you have been thinking about Microsoft vs. Apple vs. Linux/UNIX have a look at this article called »Windows officially broken«. It describes internal struggle of Microsoft to lay out the technical basis of their next OS release (once called Longhorn, now called Vista). If the article is correct, then Microsoft needed to completely depart from the culture that made them big once: total pragmatism vs. thoughtful engineering. Yes, get that: this article quotes several sources telling that Microsoft had been running on a flawed design for their OS for 20 years now. Longhorn started to break out in complexity and become impossible to handle.

Old-school computer science called for methodical coding practices to ensure that the large computers used by banks, governments and scientists wouldn’t break. But as personal computers took off in the 1980s, companies like Microsoft didn’t have time for that. PC users wanted cool and useful features quickly. They tolerated — or didn’t notice — the bugs riddling the software. Problems could always be patched over. With each patch and enhancement, it became harder to strap new features onto the software since new code could affect everything else in unpredictable ways.

In other words: Microsoft’s way of doing their core business is outdated and flawed. The Windows OS project got out of hand and needed to be started over. While doing this, Microsoft looses time to competitors like Google (for web applications) or Apple (for their OS) that have been adopting stricter development routines and step-by-step approaches earlier.

ArsElectronica presentation as audio

ArsElectronica 2005 (1st-6th September) titled »Hybrid — living in paradox« has published most presentations as audio. There is a link »Webcasts« in the navigation, but it doesn’t contain any content yet.

ArsElectronica has now a history since 1979. I’ve been to it in 1995 and it was quite an inspiring festival. I really think it is great they offer all their festivals in their archive (and even webcasts since last year’s festival).

Innovation in Organizations

Interview with Dr. Bettina von Stamm: »If you view design as outcome you are likely to have a different perspective on design than if you view design as a process and set of skills. With the former the contribution of design and designers is almost exclusively limited to tangible products. If you take the latter perspective, the role and possible contribution of design and designers shift considerably; it opens up the possibility to applying their process and skills to many other aspects of an organization.«