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Last Thursday I took part in a search for architecture’s big questions.

I explained the underpinning idea here, but in summary it’s about finding great questions.

We had some great questions. #bigquestions was trending in Australia for a while, and in Sydney for most of the evening. That’s an impressive reach for something that was pretty much unplanned.

This Thursday it’d be great to have another go! The more people know about it, the more people who tweet questions, the better the list we’ll end up with will be. We’ll get going at about 2pm (AEST, so that’s 4am GMT, 9pm PT).

If you’d like to help then share this post or just tell people about the idea.

Here’s some of my favourite tweets:

and here’s the whole lot:

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In 1900 David Hilbert posed a series of 23 problems to the mathematical community.

These 23 questions have given the world of mathematics something to focus on for over a century. Some of the questions are still to be solved. Solving one pretty much guarantees that person a Field’s medal (Equivalent to a Nobel or a Pritzker prize). Architecture doesn’t have a set of key questions. This is a search to find some. A search to find if it’s even possible!

Starting tomorrow at about 4:30pm AEST we’re going to start tweeting questions. We’ll pull them all together with the hashtags #architecture and #bigquestions. Then the world can answer the ones that are answerable, and refine the unanswerable ones into that special set.

We’d love for other people to get involved. Just search for those hashtags and have a look at what’s already there. Then post some questions of your own. You don’t need to be an architect; everyone is affected by architecture so everyone gets to have an opinion and to ask questions.

In 115 years someone else might have the same conversation and start it with “In 2015 the world posed architecture’s 23 biggest questions”.

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I hear that line all the time. To begin with I believed the hype, then it started to niggle, now my annoyance at that idea has pushed me out of the energy well that I wallow in most of the time and got me to write about it.

Arne Jacobson for Stelton: Cylinda Line water pitcher and tray.
From saf affect

To make this point I’m going to pick, rather unfairly, on Arne Jacobson. It’s not that I think that he’s a particularly bad offender, in fact I don’t think he’s an offender at all. It’s just that this isn’t an academic treatise, just a sketch to get my point across.

When I was writing my thesis I battled through Adaptation in Natural and Artificial Systems and despite using some pretty spectacularly arcane methods of explaining what were already hard concepts, one idea came away from it and stuck with me1.  He expresses it in formal set notation, so I’ll translate:

For each environment there is best fit solution

That’s a pretty lazy way of explaining it, and in trying to explain it in words I can see why he used set notation. Here’s another go, but a bit more verbose:

Given an infinite set of environments, and an infinite set of solutions then for each environment there is a solution that is best adapted to that environment.

That seems pretty ordinary until you consider that in reality the environment is constantly shifting. Most of the time it isn’t changing very much, so natural selection acts to stabilise populations and keep them from changing in a way that would be harmful. Sometimes environments change a lot2 and natural selection let’s change go into overdrive. JG Ballard uses this to great effect in the drowned world. The changed environment allowed the lizards to grow into giant monsters. Whether Ballard realised that this was potentially legitimate science I have no idea3, but it’s a nice way to think about solutions to specific environments.

There is a link between naturally evolving giant lizards and Arne Jacobson water jugs I promise. Living things, and even systems4 evolve to fit an environment, and I don’t think that it would be too much of a stretch to suggest that when a human designs something that they have a very similar goal in mind. The environment that the designer is targeting will change over time 5, and the fit between product and environment will change.

When our man Arne was doodling his sketches for the Cylinda set, he was thinking about life in the 50s and 60s, the technology for making things available to him and the fashions that prevailed. He probably had a bunch of other criteria that he was considering too.

As it happens I don’t really like the Cylinda jug and I actively dislike the tray. The tray is hard to pick up, the ‘handles’ are sharp and painful to hold, it’s totally flat on the bottom so if it’s put down on a wet surface it glides around. I’m indifferent to the other parts of this set, but I think that the tray is bad design. I think that bad design really is timeless6. My dislike of the Cylinda set is born out of the different environment that I live in. (I can only assume this, I might have disliked it when it came out!)

Jacobson explicitly designed the set as a reaction to the curvaceous trends of the day, I’ve got one of the jugs in front of me right now. As a jug it’s ok, it pours cleanly and is reasonably well balanced. The choice of plastic for the handle perpetually looks crusty because they’ve faithfully stuck to the polymer technology of the day. The ice lip is spot welded into place so there is plenty of space that can’t be cleaned, but can collect gunge, and has some nice corners that could reward vigorous scrubbing of the interior with fatally slit wrists (the sharp edges thing besets the whole range). Without sounding like a miser I’m not entirely sure where the balance between the $10 kmart knock offs and the $150 genuine article goes; that’s a lot of hand finishing! I think my main objection to the price is that it doesn’t feel like the best we can do for $150 – or industrial machine should be able to do better.

This isn’t an ideal example as there’s not that much that’s changed because we started with a very simple object. There is also the possibility that the brand new jug I have here might be quite different to a 60’s one; maybe the stainless steel is more stainless or easier to work? It feels as if it was originally intended for servants or a housewife to maintain but today they are mainly looked after by administration staff in an office. Whilst the roles have similarities, they don’t have the same mandate and priorities, they don’t have time to hand polish out the endless thumbprints7.

My feelings aren’t really important to the point I’m making. If something really is good design it is designed to fit the needs of people. If the design is intended to be timeless then it needs to fit such a broad range of requirements on any given dimension that it can’t really be ideal (for a specific time) on any dimension.

  1. it might just be that it was particularly hard won but I think it’s a good point nonetheless.
  2. actually most examples of this are when things are introduced to a new environment.
  3. I like to think that he did, he was a smart guy!
  4. Systems like the Mousgoum huts that Christopher Alexander talks about in Notes on the Synthesis of Form.
  5. and space if we are thinking about international products, but let’s stick to time being the variable for the moment.
  6. the only redeeming feature that I can imagine is that he designed the tray for a servant to bring things to the master, and therefore the ergonomics of the tray are irelavent, as long as the master likes the look of it!
  7. I asked one of the people that looks after the jugs in the office and she said “I don’t like how smudgy they get”. whoever came up with the name “stainless steel” is marketing genius!

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Christmas is over, countless letters of thanks should probably be written to people who gave you things you didn’t really want, but it’s all too much of a faff.

At least that’s what I was hoping. I thought I’d give Facebook ads another go for postednot.es to try to convince all those intrinsically polite, but lazy people that I could give them just what they needed.

Tl;dr: 35% of my budget seems to have gone to Russian bots, and Facebook seems to think that there is nothing they can do about it.

To make a slightly longer version of the Tl;Dr: I was paying about $1 a click, which is fine but 35% of those clicks were coming from a single source in Russia. That person/bot clicked the Facebook advert 25 times on the day in question. My beef is that for all Facebook’s fancy data analytics, that they aren’t able to filter out that kind of user and keep their advertiser (i.e. me!) a bit happier. I’d love to know if this experience is replicated across other campaigns.

This is basically just me complaining, but it’s cathartic.
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Making yogurt is super easy, I’ve been trying to work out how to make it even easier!

I really hate tutorials that are “5 steps to the perfect pair of gelatine underpants”. What are the odds that perfect gelatine underpants takes 5 steps? This is “at least 16 steps to pretty acceptable yogurt”1.

Things you’ll need

  1. Milk: My guess is that the milk only matters if you’ve got special milk. The difference between getting regular fresh milk and UHT seems to be undetectable once all the other factors come into play. This goes against my normal feelings about ingredients, but I need to remember who I’m feeding with this milk; namely the bacteria!
  2. Starter culture: I usually use a cheapo single serving tub from the supermarket (Pauls or Choibani) but this time I’ve got a posh starter that Blocker gave me.
  3. A big ziplock bag (If you are doing 2ℓ of milk, then get 3ℓ bags)
  4. A whisk (or just something to stir with that won’t poke holes in the bag – not a fork!)
  5. From here on is optional:
    1. Milk powder
    2. Scales
    3. Sous vide circulator
    4. Chux cloth on a roll
    5. Cheese strainer bowl (you usually buy ricotta in one of these)
    6. a bowl a bit smaller than the cheese strainer.

Steps

  1. Put a big ziplock bag into a tub that will take all the milk and then some.
  2. Then put the milk into the bag. This really keeps the washing up minimal as you just throw the bag out at the end.
  3. I mix in a bit more milk powder here to give my bacterial buddies a bit more to eat. I usually put in 50g per litre of milk, but I am disorganised and couldn’t find my scales so I guessed the weight and put in 200ml of powder (weight is a much better way of doing things!)

    • For a bit of a diversion here: If you want to add gelatine to your yogurt either for texture or for nutrition goodness then you’ll need to do the heating step from regular yogurt making to dissolve the gelatine.
    • I don’t bother with the heating step any more, I think it is supposed to be a hygiene thing, but my milk is UHT to start with. I’ve also seen experiments that say that it affects the stiffness of the final product. I don’t know the mechanism behind this though.
  4. Give it a good whisk. (I really like this whisk, $6 from red spoon)
  5. Add the starter culture.
  6. Give it another good whisk
  7. At this point you can just close up the bag and stop if you live in a hot country. Yogurt seems to like to be at about 30°C so if your house is going to be about that for the next 12 hours then you are done!
    Keep reading if you live in a colder place or if you want to have a nice thick silky result. (If you stop here it’ll be a bit runny.)
  8. Put your bag into a water bath and use the water pressure to force the air out of the bag.
  9. Set the circulator for 30°C and do something fun for 12 hours; my favourite thing to do is sleeping.
  10. Once this is done you’ll have a pretty dodgy looking bag of white stuff and whey. Check that it fits into your cheese strainer. (If it doesn’t things are going to get really messy in a second.)
  11. Also check that your strainer sits nice and high in your bowl. An incredible amount of whey will run off off, and if it’s not clear then it’ll just stop draining.
  12. Balance two sheets of chux on the strainer. Chux is much cheaper than cheesecloth.

    Make then into a fat plus sign (+)
  13. Pour in a bit of yogurt and rearrange things now that it’s weighed down.
  14. Pour in the rest and then leave it to dry out. You can cover it up, that’d probably be a good idea.
  15. Depending on how thick you like your yogurt, you might only be away a couple of hours, but if you think yogurt should be something you eat with a for then 12 hours should be your thing.
  16. put it in the fridge, eat it a lot. It’ll last about 2 weeks.

If you are feeling skilly and you want it to be ultra silky you can blend it and pass it through a fine sieve.

  1. probably more than 16 steps once I’ve gone off on some tangents

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This is a series that I’m trying to get going at work. This is my go at fulfilling this format.

Read

B00EX8QRPM.01._SX255_SY255_TTXW_SCLZZZZZZZ_A History of the future in 100 objects – Adrian Hon

“[T]here is virtue in working less and flourishing more — pursuing what makes us humans, not automatons.”

Inspired by the British Museum exhibition and Radio 4 series A history of the world in 100 objects, this attempts to speculate as to what a historian living in 2087 would think were the pertinent objects from this century. Unsurprisingly from the title, this is 100 short chapters explaining each of the objects (or often creations – political structures, legal frameworks etc.). These build on each other as they go along to develop a surprisingly rich understanding of how the next three quarters of a century pans out.

I found that I could follow a thread easily from my current model of the world to Hon’s future model. It’s fairly easy reading, but it leaves your mind churning over the possibilities implied by each chapter. Interestingly it was also funded by a Kickstarter campaign. I saw a lot of parallels between Hon’s view of the future and the speculative fiction of Neal Stephenson, and in the acknowledgements (at the end) he credits him as an influencer.

B002RI9DQ0.01._SX255_SY255_TTXW_SCLZZZZZZZ_The Diamond Age – Neal Stephenson

“The House of the Venerable and Inscrutable Colonel was what they called it when they were speaking Chinese. Venerable because of his goatee, white as the dogwood blossom, a badge of unimpeachable credibility in Confucian eyes. Inscrutable because he had gone to his grave without divulging the Secret of the Eleven Herbs and Spices.”

I have to admit that I’ve recently become a bit of a Neal Stephenson obsessive, I’ve spent more time than I care to admit on his work since Matthew gave me a copy of Cryptonomicon about a year ago. Aesthetically The Diamond Age is steampunk, but the core of relates to education and class structures. Its subtitle is a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer, and is about how a girl comes into possession of, and then is educated by, a magical book1. (Specifically with the goal of subversive critical thinking.)

After a slightly odd start, this is probably a pretty safe intro to Stephenson’s worlds. The quote above is a nice example of the way that he is able to swing between educational and sarcastic in the same sentence. Reading on the kindle lets me look up the meaning of archaic words easily too.

B00N8AIFYC.01._SX255_SY255_TTXW_SCLZZZZZZZ_The epic struggle of the internet of things – Bruce Sterling

“The internet, although beloved by all including Al Qaeda, went straight from barbarism to decadence without ever encountering a civilisation.”

“It’s like a 30-year-old Zuckerberg bestowing vast sums on a symbolic virtual-reality gizmo, merely to show that the young prince is not to be trifled with in his march to futurity.”

“telephone companies are a proud and ancient people who hate and fear the internet and seethe with vengeful rebellion”

This is one of the latest crop of Strelka books. I read this as a rest while I was battling with The Amazons (below). After reading a thousand pages of the Diamond Age and the relatively slow-moving, non-fiction of steppe nomad women it was a breeze. Bruce Sterling is a sci fi author, so unlike most technical writers, he’s great at using words to evoke ideas rather than just relaying about specifications.

The gist of the book is that the internet of things is political, and that understanding those politics gives one an edge over one’s fellow citizens. There is little that we can do about things getting internetted, but we can manoeuvre through those things as in a more informed way.

Reading

I’m going to cheat a little as I’m reading these two in parallel.

B00M4MXAU4.01._SX255_SY255_TTXW_SCLZZZZZZZ_The Amazons – Adrienne Mayor

KING IASOS WANTED ONLY SONS. HE LEFT HIS INFANT daughter to die on a mountainside in Arcadia, the rugged highlands of southern Greece. A mother bear nursed the abandoned baby. Hunters found the feral girl and named her Atalanta. Like a female Tarzan, Atalanta was a natural athlete and hunter.

Kindle has a new feature where you can switch between reading and listening to the audio book. I haven’t been highlighting as I go along so that quote is the opening paragraph.

The Amazons were nomadic steppe tribes from about 500 BCE. They were contemporaneous with the Greeks and they were often buried in very cold or very dry places (meaning there are preserved burials) so there is an unusual amount know about them. The book takes a methodical approach to examining the aspects and myths around them

There seems to have been very little sexual inequality in their society. Mayor (citing plenty of sources) attributes this to them being the first people to domesticate horses. Their skeletons show men and women with fatal war injuries and greek vase paintings show them fighting – and winning – against Hoplites and heroes.

It’s tough going, but really interesting. I’d listen to Wrath of the Khans to find out if stories about horse archers is your thing.

B0040QE3A8.01._SX255_SY255_TTXW_SCLZZZZZZZ_Anathem – Neal Stephenson

“Ideas are good things to have even if they are old. Even to understand the most advanced theorics requires a lifetime of study. To keep the existing stock of ideas alive requires … all of this.[the idea monastery]”

“you should not believe a thing only because you like to believe it.”

“I am fascinated,” I insisted. “That’s the problem. I am suffering from fascination burnout. Of all the things that are fascinating, I have to choose just one or two.”

If I had to pick you a gateway drug book for Stephenson this would not be it! The characters live on a world where there is a strict divide between atheist, academic monks and the regular people. These monks live an ascetic, anachronistic life to protect them from fad ideas, and to prevent important ideas from being lost2.

The story swings wildly between philosophy, quantum mechanics, cosmology3. It uses a lot of words that are specifically constructed for the story to point out that it isn’t our world, so it makes it very hard to get through the first chapter. That disclaimer aside, Stephenson has a way of fitting lectures into his fiction that, in hindsight, ram a huge amount of complex learning into your brain without trying too much. If nothing else, the concept of configuration space4 is going to be something that I use all the time!

I’m nearly finished, and I’m really enjoying it. It’s giving my brain a pretty thorough workout!

Up next

Christmas usually means eating a lot and being too disorganised to go anywhere, so the odds are that I’ll get through a lot of books. Prime contenders are:

After all the serious business, a bit of good-old-fashioned tentacle erotica. Them back to the serious stuff! I’m also going to read the innovator’s dilemma for the DADB Book Club.

B00AFS6LSC.01._SX255_SY255_TTXW_SCLZZZZZZZ_Measurement

Lockhart’s ‘Mathematician’s Lament’ outlined how we introduce mathematics to students in the wrong way. This book explains how mathematics should be done. With plain English and pictures, he makes complex ideas about shape and motion intuitive and graspable, and offers a solution to mathematic phobia.

B004OC07GM.01._SX255_SY255_TTXW_SCLZZZZZZZ_The Innovator’s Dilemma

Focusing on “disruptive technology,” Christensen shows why most companies miss out on new waves of innovation. Whether in electronics or retailing, a successful company with established products will get pushed aside unless managers know when to abandon traditional business practices.

NecronomicumB00O3RWJZ0.01._SX255_SY255_TTXW_SCLZZZZZZZ_

a tri-annual journal of the stylish, the horrific, and the transgressive, with a more-than-liberal seasoning of weird. Within these pages you will find explorations of human (and non-human) sexuality with a wide emotional range.

 

If anyone has any suggestions, I’m all ears!

 

  1. it’s really nanotech, but lets not forget that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” – Arthur C. Clarke
  2. this is called “The Work” in A History of the future in 100 objects
  3. I think that having read The Beginning of Infinity made reading this a lot easier than it otherwise would have been.
  4. Wikipedia does a pretty dry job of explaining it, so very roughly: a path through configuration space is one that joins a series of possible consecutive moments. What that means is that it is possible for there to be a block of ice inside a star, but there is almost no conceivable way for ti to have got there, so it would be considered impossible to get to that point in our current path through configuration space. I’ve probably murdered that description, so if you’d like me to murder it some more then just let me know.

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I feel like I’m a bit less constrained now that the first milli workshop is out of the way so I thought I’d just get some other ideas down. I haven’t looked very hard to see if they exist; if they do that that’s great and I’d love to hear about them!

Rememberable Link service

Short links are really useful if you want to be economical with characters, but they are a nightmare if you can’t just click on it. The link to my Github repo is http://goo.gl/kQnGJu. Imagine trying to read that down a phone to someone. If I make a new repo it suggests a name to me I just got scaling-octo-batman and I’ve had psychic-octo-nemesis in the past. These names are unique, memorable and easy to say. The idea for this service is to do that for links. They might end up being longer than their initial version, but for something like:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0345529375/ref=s9_psimh_gw_p14_d0_i1?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_r=0Y2DX89MZVZVXKCXYW8Y&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=1688200382&pf_rd_i=507846

It’d be much nicer to be able to say longlink.com/uproar-batlike-detroit. I think that generating good word triplets would be a fun problem, but it’d be handy.

How was your day?

btw lifestyle logBeyond the whiteboard has a section where you fill in a form to rate your day. I had a look for an app that would do this more generally but couldn’t come across the right words to find one. In the spirit of being lean I made one myself with a google form and an ifttt recipe.

ifDate & TimethenGmail

So for a little while I’ll fill in a short questionnaire about how I’m feeling at 9pm every day. Hopefully this’ll produce some good data to tie into the rest of my digital exhaust.

 

If anyone knows if these things already exist then I’d love to hear about them!

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I’ve been a consumer of RSS content with intermittent intensity for, when I stop to think about it, almost 10 years1! Recently I’ve become a fan of Pocket too. Dave has been quizzing me about this and I thought I’d try and write it down and see if anyone has any suggestions to improve my media consumption workflow.

I define offline reading as being able to read somewhere that doesn’t have an internet connection. I’m sure a lot of people would think of offline as being on paper, but I’m pretty into reading on my Kindle or Nexus 7 (or even on my phone).

Tl;dr. I save articles to read later, in a cafe or on a train, here’s how I do it.

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  1. Which is almost forever in internet years

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letterPostednot.es started as an experiment in how much could be achieved on a fairly limited development skillset. It is almost entirely a learning experience, an experiment in how lean an idea can be, and the business aspect is there to keep it spicy. (Although probably the thing I have to learn the most about is the bizzo end of things!) Read more »