Category Archives: discovery

The train-chasing shuffle

We’re not individuals all of the time; we’re occasionally herd animals, sometimes like flotsam sometimes like wheat, and yes, occasionally the lone wolf.

I’ve been noticing how people behave when a train’s approaching. Ok, it is usually during rush hour, with that 8am grogginess or 6pm urgency that I notice this, but it’s a valid enough time to observe collective behavior.

It brings to mind the interesting point that when it comes to observing our online behavior, we are simultaneously individual and collective in our patterns. We act on our own but are affected by the ebb and flow of other users in our motions and choices.

Take for example the train chasing shuffle. This is the condition where, as the train slows into the station, people feel the need to slowly shuffle towards the door that has just passed them. Even when the next door along is going to stop right in front of them, or will be much closer than the door they are chasing, they’ll follow the train along the platform.

At first I thought it was some sort of magnetic or gravitational force, the train pulling us along with it’s substantial mass or metallic might, but that doesn’t hold up.

A force far greater than either seems to be pulling us along.

So the question is: are we being pulled, are we influencing each other, is it the actions of one of us pulling the others along?

Perhaps it is a combination of all of these answers and more, a subtlety we cannot clarify easily. As someone who likes to understand engagement, attention, usability and user flow, these are the questions I have.

Crossing the road

I’ve been watching you.
I mean, I like watching you.
I mean, you’re interesting to watch.

I’m digging myself a hole, aren’t I?

I like to watch people using technology in a public place, to see how considered their planning might have been, just like I like to watch people use websites, to learn how to make websites better.

Since coming to Sydney, I’ve been watching how the crossing signals and crossing buttons are used here, as Sydneysiders are a bit different to Londoners and Canadians with this.

At crossings here, there are assistive technologies with big obvious buttons, audio and sensory feedback (the crossing buttons make noises as well as vibrate in an obvious way) to let pedestrians know what’s happening. What I love is watching people use the big button.

There’s nothing simpler than a one button device is there?

My favourite users are the ones who hit the buttons VERY hard, as if it were their worst enemy, or repeatedly, as if several hits make it react more quickly.

The problem with one button devices is that we think of them like light switches; click should be on, end of story. Even when we know different, because we know the traffic lights will not change at our whim, we still treat it like a light switch.

So even a one button device, controlling something we’ve known well since childhood can throw up some surprises. Think of how many surprises your website can uncover.

Like I said, I’m watching you.

CPOTD (Commuter Pic Of The Day)

subtitled: shitty clouds, that’s why I left London innit?

Analogue with a digital on top

Bought a guitar on eBay last week, out of some sort of desire to be a bit more analogue, and realised I had no good way to know if it was in tune. So back to eBay for a tuner from the US.

Now who’s an eejit!

Completely forgot I have an iPhone and that there’s an app for just about everything (there’s three fart apps FFS!!). So my new dilemma is do I just use the tuner coming in the post eventually from the US, or repost it on eBay and buy the app?

My loyalties to analogue are in conflict with my loyalties to my lovely new iPhone.

Guess who’s going to win!

Commuter pic of the day to follow.

BTW: played guitar for 40 minutes last night in an attempt to strengthen my fingertips. Can I just say the left side of the keyboard is my enemy this morning? fingertips over on the left of QWERTY is ouchy!

Just sayin’!

Strange fruit

Nothing posted for months and now two in one week. Deluge!

I wanted to post about the strange fruit I noticed in the park across the road from me, on my way back from the grocers something glinty caught my eye.

Strange fruit dangling from a fig tree

Can you see what it is yet? let me get closer:

something glinty dangling from the fig tree in Camperdown Rest Park, Newtown

I know you know what it is, let me zoom in a bit….

Strange friuit indeed

Someone got busy after the pubs shut! I love these guerrilla artists!

Where we touch

I was inspired today by being an inspiration.

I guess I should explain.

In the distant past, I used to be a photographer, before I took up the keyboard. My main forte was still life and small objects, nature isolated. You may recall at the start of this blog in the first posting, I wrote that my photography was why I got interested in the internet in the first place.

I have a  subscription to a tool that tracks any security breach on the internet with my name, so I can see if I am being spoofed anywhere; a useful security tool. This tool alerted me that I was being talked about and I found a student of photography who referenced me. Somewhere, somehow, this person found me in a book or publication and I gave them something to think about, and they turned to their camera to express it. I vaguely recall them emailing me and asking about my picture and I, grateful for the attention and immensely flattered, gave them the best response I could.

So this tool found their reference to me and I am doubly impressed, by A Phan and the image I had a part in helping to bring about, and that we connected through the world, brushed up against each other and contributed to each other’s creative energy. You and I, dear reader, have a similar relationship, via the tool we are now immersed in, me as the author of this piece, and you as the reader. Your presence, even silently, inspires me. This is one small part of the huge mesh of new connections that could not have existed without the internet, depends on it, and becomes the conduit for the types of connections humanity has always desired.

I said it before and I’ll say it again, this IS the new world, the new frontier where humanity will discover, support and reaffirm it’s interrelatedness. We don’t always need the deep soulful connections, like the ones we have with our friends, lovers, family, etc; sometimes it is the wonderful brushing-up against each other, where we share about some specific commonality, that draws us together and helps us understand each other.

See you out there!

Visionary A C Clarke passes into the void

I am of the age where the Apollo project, and humanity’s expedition to the moon, holds a great and lasting fascination that has not diminished and forms a strong basis for my core being. My view of technology, humanity, the planet and the universe are all strongly influenced by those live TV transmissions in 1969, in the hushed and darkened classroom of my youth. I still read much of what the few remaining astronauts of the Apollo missions have to say of their experiences and it has affected their view of humanity and themselves deeply.

There are many men like me; interested in science at that exploratory boyish age in the 60’s, where fascination became reality and we watched enthralled as men walked on the moon. Everyone was talking about what was out there, in space, and what a quantum leap it was for humanity to walk on another heavenly body.

The previous year, 1968 saw the release of a film which changed our view of the universe, technology and humanity in a massive way as well. I’m speaking of 2001:A Space Odyssey, Directed by Stanley Kubrick and written by both Kubrick and Arthur C Clarke. Long before CGI in films, and in an genre which had wilder and cheaper sets and bug-eyed aliens wrestling with heroes to dramatic music, 2001 showed me what space could really be.

Clarke defined a great deal of what the world is today. From describing what was required from satellites in order to be used for modern and earth-spanning telecommunications to being prescient in what he would be seeing in his lifetime and in our hands (the internet, mobile phones, high-speed data, nuclear-powered spacecraft, PDAs, ubiquitous computing, video-conferencing) at a time when William Shatner was the “real” spaceman and aliens were shorthand for communists.

Clarke wrote some amazing books, visually stunning and incredibly descriptive and above all written within the bounds of known scientific precepts. If he had the temerity to imagine into the future or onto other planets, he at least based it on known facts and provable suppositions. He rarely made something up that did not feel completely real and intelligent and made all of it utterly compelling.

In his 90th birthday recollections Clarke says some compelling and prescient things, about technology and its’ responsibility to improve not exploit the planet, but my favourite is his sign-off, in which he humbly quotes Kipling:

“If I have given you delight with all that I have done, let me lie quiet in that night which shall be yours anon. And for the little, little span the dead are borne in mind, seek not to question other than the books I leave behind.”

Thank you, Arthur; I have been delighted.

An expedition into the unknown

I remember the first time I ventured out into the void called the internet, back in 1994.

I had just spent more money than was sensible on a blisteringly fast 28.8k modem for my powerful PowerPC 7100AV (70MHz, 16MB RAM, 250MB HD!), and wandered out into the unknown. I know, I currently have a mobile phone with more power than that now, certainly more storage and definitely more speed, RAM and connectivity; but this isn’t one of those “my how technology has come a long way” blogs. The wondrous thing was the sense of immediate connection with the world. I felt like a new world explorer.

I was a photographer, keen on finding like-minded smudgers out there who wanted to talk lighting and printing techniques. Within a week of painfully configuring the modem with a manual connection string (some of you may remember that slice of arcane coding alchemy!) I discovered the site for Aperture, a photography magazine I highly respected, and ZoneZero, a photography site, early on the scene and still out there. By the end of the next week I managed to have a discussion with the Aperture editor by email, and before the end of the month I was swapping techniques for distressing prints and keeping models comfortable in awkward poses with Joel Peter-Witkin. … Yes, THE Joel Peter-Witkin!

Four letter expletives cannot do justice to the wondrous feeling of being in the middle of everything, connected to my heroes, effectively swapping recipes with the gods. I cannot express enough the amazement I had at finding immediate, friendly and wondrously easy communion with the entire world, for that is how it felt, from my garret studio in London in the mid 90’s. That pretty much made me drop my aspiration to be a highly regarded Commercial Photographer and embark on the road to web expert. ZoneZero was a social network for photographers back in the mid 90’s, and web 2.0 is really what Web 1.0 was supposed to be.

So the question is; do we take this interconnectivity for granted? Is it better to forget that fantastic tingle and stay in the present, glib in the comfort of familiarity, of being an expert? We hear heroin users say the first time they used was the best, and the rest of the addiction is trying to get that initial rush back just one more time. Do I want to be chasing that buzz from the past or be comfortable in my current expertise?

The answer to me is, in true Libran style, both!

I cannot forget what I know (my clients and colleagues would be pretty pissed off for one thing!) but I can try to look at each new site without my cynicism and critical faculties in overdrive. The commercial aspects of photography nearly killed my creative explorations (just how sexy can you really make a box of strepsils and do I really give a f***!) but the practical aspects of website creation continue to make me excited at what can be achieved. The challenges presented to the switched on, “get it” kind of agency I work at keep my veins tingling with the possibilities before me.

As excited as day one, my first hit is refreshed while my progress bar signals the collection of yet another page about to hit my screen with potential. I am still, and will probably continue to be, a fascinated New World explorer.