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It’s end of semester here in Australia. That means final presentations. I tutored the graduation project subject for UNSW’s architectural computing degree1 so I got to see their work presented on Wednesday.

Tl;dr: Free photogrametry and mesh networks could be used to document historical buildings and artefacts if they are at risk of a nutter blowing them up.

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  1. with Hank and Ivana

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At the Futures Forum, the event we ran in May, Anton Andrews talked a bit about how it was the new cool thing to go from hierarchies to networks. I was pretty taken by this idea1 so I did a bit of digging. It gets credited to General Stan McChrystal, but it’s got a long history before that!

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  1. It put into words an idea that I’ve had for a while. I wonder if there’s a word for that?

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This post is long and a bit pretentious. Think of it as therapy for me rather than something you should read1. Read more »

  1. you could probably apply this disclaimer to everything I write!

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Product packaging is a marketing tax. A product in a shop needs to sell itself. It wears a dressy outfit to seduce consumers. A package that just gets a product to its endpoint without being damaged would be a fraction of the cost (in money and resources).

I’ve been thinking about delivery recently as I’ve been reading about the service economy, minimal ownership and putting together the Possible Futures Game. Packaging for delivered goods has a totally different job to do than one that is seen in a shop. I realised this thinking about drone delivery, but then I realised that it applies to all delivery.
The selling is all done on the website1. That means that there is some amount of brand building involved in the unboxing process of an expensive product. For the rest, like your subscription to dishwasher tablets, there is nothing gained by extra packaging at all. (Maybe more exercise from taking out the rubbish more often?)

bulkThe other thing it unlocks is buying things in precise, and small, quantities. If I use about 8 dishwasher tablets a week2 then I can get 8 delivered. There’s no need to buy a 12 pack three weeks out of four. I could buy the exact ingredients for a recipe. The supermarket delivery depot could be more like a bulk store. Augers could dispense precise quantities of things into little paper bags and then laser etch the details into the surface3.

Because I can order smaller and more frequently it should reduce waste, reduce inventory needed at all points in the chain. I think everyone wins. I like this future, it apeals to my sense of eficiency. The only people I can see who lose out are the people who make flashy cardboard boxes!

  1. or in the showroom/shop. There will be new ways of finding out about products that we aren’t thinking about right now, but I doubt they’ll carry inventory that you’ll take with you right then!
  2. I’m really coming across as a yuppy dick here aren’t I.
  3. there’s precedent in pharmacy robotics in large hospitals

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I did a lot of reading on holiday. Somehow I managed to do a lot of holiday too! It’s amazing how much mental energy not going to work frees up for thinking.

I finished 12 books in just over 4 weeks. Here’s what I read and what I thought! Read more »

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This is the final product of the MSc I did at the university of East London (UEL) with Paul Coates and Christian Derix. It’s probably the least successful of the three big documents that I’ve posted (Undergrad 2 years before this piece and Diploma2 years after), but I learnt more than the outcome here lets on. Genetic optimisation is one of those topics that changes the way you view the world, but it does it very slowly. The ideas seep in and change every bit of your brain.

The intent was to “close the loop” and to make a GA that would use Ecotect for its evaluation, and GC for it’s geometry generation. Where David Rutten ended up succeeding, I failed.

I learnt a lot (set notation notation, C# programming, GA theory, how cad programme update cycles worked, a bit of graph theory) but learning it all at once meant that small things undid me. In the end the GA didn’t work (although in the write up I managed to convince myself that it did!). A few weeks after the submission date I took another look at the code and realised that I had a – where I needed a + and it worked perfectly.

This version of me is still way overconfident, my referencing is still terrible, but the work itself is much more complex. It spawned things like the genetic algorythms and pirates talk, probably had some hand in getting me a job at Autodesk, and set me up perfectly to supervise Go Kawakita’s Master’s thesis where he did what I was trying to do, but directly in Ecotect. Also, several of the illustrations from this piece ended up in Paul’s book.

The PDF (11mb) is here.

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For a while, when Netflix was a DVD rental thing. There were lots of services that popped up that were ‘Netflix for X’. E.g. Bagborroworsteal was Netflix for handbags. This was a pretty big idea; having access to something luxurious without actually owning it.

Renting or leasing something isn’t a new idea, it’s just got forgotten about while I was growing up. When I was a student you could rent a massive TV, but it didn’t seem to stack up as a good idea. It seemed that renting was a tax on people who didn’t have the self control to save up enough to buy.

Now when you do the numbers on owning a car it goes in favour of renting. For a weekly trip to the supermarket and a few road trips having a goget membership makes much more sense. I’m going to make an assumption that it is due to better communication and efficient use of resources, enabled by the internet.

Lets take a little side step for a moment. In a recent episode of In Our Time one of Melvin’s guests was explaining e. It was ‘discovered’ by imagining what would happen if compound interest accrued continuously1. It turns out that interest accrues at e if your calculations use continuous time periods. I really like the idea of taking things to infinity  to see what happens2.

What happens when we take ownership to zero? This isn’t in the same way that a monk might own just his robes and his rice bowl. More the idea that once there’s ubiquitous fast access to spotify then there’s very little use in having a vast cd collection.

A good place to start might be with what it means to own something. I’m sure that there are some pretty complicated discussions about the meaning of this. For simplicity I’ll just assume that ownership means the right to do whatever you want with something in perpetuity. There are obvious edge cases and caveats. By this definition you aren’t really a pet owner3 and there might be laws governing what you can do with your property4 but these are mostly defined by their effect on others. If you ‘own’ something and you are able to show that your actions have no negative effect on others then you are able to do what you like5.

In a world where you don’t own something but you still want access to it there are a few options. You could take it – by force or subterfuge, but as civilised folks that’s looked down upon. That leaves us with buying things and rental. I’m going to include things like access to public squares6, and things like Google in rental because you pay for them in some way, but they could go either way. 7

There has been a bit of noise recently about Google and Amazon8 working up to drone delivery.

Amazon seems to be talking about it from the point of view of being you things to own. Their fast delivery is all about making it easier to own things. That’ll get even easier once drones can bring things to you9 .

“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”

Theodore Levitt

Google has been talking about the idea that you might want a spoon or a hammer for an hour or two. The Google model seems much more focussed on access to the amenity of an object. They are also talking about providing medical help to places that aren’t served by roads (e.g. in Africa). It’s not far to go after that to offer access to spoons etc. to the same people.

It seems that ownership really only makes sense now for consumables (toothpaste, socks) but even that line is blurry. Sock subscription is a big deal!

What is the minimum ownership? This is a tricky one, it depends on what market you live in, what services you have access to. Let’s we assume that all your needs will be met by subscription services eventually. You’d probably own your food.

The implications of this are interesting. If you are a subscriber to everything, your entire life is contingent on your ablility to pay your subscription dues. If a monopoly emerged in one area it would put a lot of power in their hands. (The company store problem.)

The other interesting consequence of ownership being so rare might be that we intensely focus on what we do own. This might be a “Do androids dream of electric sheep” world. I may rent everything in my life except except for a rock that you found on holiday.You might rent everything except your Lindisfarne gospel.10

If and where we stop this trend is going to be interesting.


  1. rather than once every time period, i.e. 5% every month. For a much better explanations (and a bit of a diversion into logarithms) listen to the programme!
  2. I’m not sure where I read this: I think Benjamin Franklin invested a small amount in trust for several generations. When the investment matured there was concern that the amount would be so big that it would destabilise the economy! If anyone knows if that’s true I’d love to hear about it.
  3. Although adopting that attitude in general would probably be a good idea – pet guardian maybe?
  4. for example you can’t paint swastikas all over your house in most areas.
  5. like I said, this is a very sketchy definition
  6.  in a country that you pay tax in
  7. It’d be interesting to take the micro payments idea that is popular with roads and apply it to public space. People seem super keen on the idea that you’d pay for using a road, only when you use that road. I wonder how people would feel about the same thinking applied to public squares and libraries?
  8. and less noisily, DHL
  9.  Amazon is into content rental pretty strongly with their kindle books and prime movies.
  10. This is a theory I’v been playing with. As things get more ‘virtual’–books on kindle,spaces in VR–that we’ll start putting more effort into the things that we chose to remain “real’.

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Imagine that we’re on some kind of imaginary data black market. Someone offers a hard drive that they say contains a data set. They won’t say what it is, but they can guarantee that we don’t already have it. How much should you be willing to pay? What should new knowledge do to the price? I’ve made some notes, but they are mainly just me rambling1 Read more »

  1. I wrote this on a train in Spain!

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At Oxford Brookes they have figured out that doing another year of design studios won’t make much of a difference, so in your diploma you do a year of actually learning something. There are a few options to take that are basically the taught component of a masters degree (write a thesis on top and you get an MA!). The option I took (on 2009-10) was to do a Major Study. This was a chance to spend a whole academic year looking into a research topic of my own choosing. I had an excellent cohort with me, some of the other projects were about design for agrophobia and how public outpourings of grief worked (e.g. Diana).

My topic started off as future prediction methods, but morphed into overconfidence. I think it was because being properly calibrated was necessary to get one’s future predictions right. (I say “think” because it was over 5 years ago now.)

As I said with my undergrad dissertation, there are going to be translation errors below from the original format, so if you see something important then let me know. If you want to see it in that format, the PDF is here (11mb). I’ve broken a few bits of it out because they are really image heavy, and other bits because they are better in a second tab for reference (e.g. all the appendices).

I’m a lot less arrogant in this than I was in 2005, but still more than I am now! That said, I’m still pretty pleased with how this turned out.


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