Two writing voices

Well, screw it. I was doing something else, mildly urgent but this just came up to my mind.
I´ve noticed that I have two writing modes that I most often use:

  • Very structured and efficiency-biased for “technical stuff”, gradually uncovering how I got there
  • A more loose “hook and bait” approach, that leans a bit on a narrative flow

I use the first to explain ideas and projects, so that busy readers will get the gist of it very quickly (focused on result and not process). Typically I´ll have a “if you got 5 minutes” section where the whole thing is compressed in and then little by little talk about my approach, methods and the little steps that informed the final decisions.

The second is the one I try to use when writing about more abstract topics. Here in the blog, this how I try to make it. Most often it starts with a curious fact or statement and then moves on to the step by step justification (I´m a sucker for validation).

I´m quite sure this is not rocket science, but I think it is interesting that I´ve never consciously noticed I had these two modes. Of course I knew I had different priorities when writing, but this is the first time I see them side by side. Oddly enough there is a consistent focus on aspects of structure, flow and justification. I wonder what would happen if I were to write short stories. Would these characteristics remain?

Interesting how our writing style so closely follows how we think.

Designoteca.com is live

Henrique (his personal website) is a good friend with a solid, consistent passion. He likes open design, co-creation and participatory approaches. And this is why Designoteca.com exists. Designoteca is a an open design repository, connecting designers and producers, with a strong focus on digital fabrication.
Henrique dedicated the past few months, along with the good help from Heraldo and a bit of my input, to make Designoteca happen.

Designoteca home page

Designoteca has been online for a while, but just last week released the new paypal enabled functions. You can now effortlessly upload a design, establish your price and immediately be ready to start licensing your designs. And the whole thing helps you select the right type of license, from the Creative Commons catalog.

On the website you can upload editable and non-editable file types, set up a description, indicate which technology should be used to fabricate your products and even use tags
to group similar ideas. It really has come a long way.

The whole idea is that anybody can give shape to their own ideas, and be able to make a living from them. In order to help people getting into digital fabrication, Designoteca has introductions to the topic, what processes and software one can use to model and produce her ideas. And has the site grows, it should become a meeting place for people to work on similar projects, each one contributing with a part. Right now, e.Moped the open source electrical bicycle is asking for help, maybe you can drop by and lend a hand?

There is a lot of talk at Designoteca.com on how to make it better, so if you got suggestions, fire away!

Subtlety is a compliment

The other day I re-watched Dr. No. It had been on my list for a long time due to its cultural relevance. One of the things that struck me in this film was the balanced use of plot cues. Things are simply not explained ostensibly, which gives the alert viewer enough time to process information and come to her own conclusions. The beautiful thing is that even if you don´t immediately understand what is happening (e.g. some specific gadget is used and you don´t know what it is), later in the story this will be explained in a very natural way.
It´s a win-win. If you pay attention to details you get the plot earlier, if you don´t, you won´t be insulted by patronizing explanations that break the flow of the narrative.

This got me thinking about subtlety and why I appreciate it. I suspect that most people that appreciate it do it for similar reasons, but maybe I´m wrong. If you think so, please just hit me up on the comment box below.

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Piracy control and the rise of Openness

Heads up: I´ve been reading Kevin Kelly´s “What Technology Wants” and I thoroughly recommend it. Some of the ideas I discuss here (such as the importance of language for progress) are discussed in his book. 

Language is arguably the single most important human invention. It freed us from being isolated in our own minds and opened the doors for sharing, debating, teaching and learning. It allowed us to pool our experiences together and participate in the making of culture. It was the invention that led to other inventions and their successful spreading.

Yet, today, we see a strong movement to wall up Intellectual Property and to better defend it against piracy. PIPA and SOPA have been dropped for now but I would not be surprised if these media-corporation-backed laws were to emerge again, with slightly different provisions. ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) can be used to frame, from a legal point of view, generic drugs as counterfeit drugs. It could also potentially allow for the search of laptops and media players at border controls (There is some discussion on this one). Right here in Portugal, police traffic patrols are checking vehicles for pirated media and everybody is warned not to have anything suspicious on their car.

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Transparency forces value creation

I´m going to come clean on this one: I´m not the best at joining social media. Definitely no early adopter, that is. This being said, you are warned that what I´m about to say is probably no big news for the super involved type of person.

So, after deciding to go public, start a blog and start really using twitter, I´ve become aware of the effect of transparency and how it is great incentive to create value. If you share the list of people and institutions that you follow, it is “crazy easy” to figure out if the things you say are mere repetition or the creation of your own synthesis.

I´m using the twitter/blog/internet at large example, but I feel this can be expanded to pretty much everything. When people can see the references you consult, it is possible to gauge your contribution. Academic research projects are very much like this, for example.

One of the main advantages of the current time is the easy access to information. One of the main disadvantages of the current time also happens to be the easy access to information.

I´ve seen plenty of me-too content (hell, it is quite possible you see this post as such) and it is a pity. It strikes me a missed opportunity and the equivalent of pretending to be something you are not. We all have unique points of view on a few things, especially when we free ourselves from following the bandwagon.

It is our unique combination of experiences, skills and interests that makes us interesting.
Copying the gurus cannot lead to anything novel.

So, it might be better to start aggregating all those streams you follow into your unique story. This is advice I´ll be trying to follow to the best of my ability.

And by the way, am I being captain obvious? Sometimes one thinks of things that are later dismissed due to “being damn evident” and later when someone else gets accolades for similar thoughts, we get royally pissed off.

Passion is the bridge

I think we can safely say that most of today´s big issues are being addressed by multi-disciplinary teams. This is not new or surprising, but still we often have trouble working with diverse teams. There is always the issue of pride, human emotion, different expectations out of a project, desire to make a point, etc. The range is as wide as human nature.

One of these issues is connectedness between participants. Assume that two branches of a company are brought together for a one-off project. It sometimes happens that people just do as they are told and virtually “execute collaboration”, working together only within the suggested guidelines. It´s a bit like small children that will entertain their parents´ instructions, but with a minimum of engagement and motivation. Things get done, but perhaps at a fraction of their potential. Not only this is a waste of everyone´s energy, but also, I suspect it eats away at one´s desire to participate in this sort of activities.

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IP needs protection, not genocide.

Just this week with the #SOPA and #PIPA protests, we realized that Openness and Intellectual Property (IP) are often a difficult mix. It seems that something must be done to protect IP, but whatever we do should not be cutting the air supply of everything else.
Don´t kills the bees while trying to scare away the flies.

For an artist, I suppose that having access to more ideas matters more than having bullet-proof protection for her own creations. This principle of disproportional punishment serves not creators, but just distributors of content. Excused from all responsibilities except providing a medium for presentations, middlemen fence their zoos while neutering the entire wildlife on the outside. That´s a whole lot of ball chopping.

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Samsung and “Future Proof TV”

I’m sorry I’ve not written in a while, I’ve been extra busy with a submission for an architecture competition of sorts. I’ll talk more about it later, if good news come my way. Wish me luck.

Samsung has just unveiled a TV set that has a slot for hardware upgrades.
This is not irrelevant and is in line with a tendency of TV sets to become smarter and more like a living-room computer. The software on these things has been improving consistently, with advanced image and audio processing.

Now, when Samsung adds a physical bay for the swapping of hardware, things get more interesting. For some reason, they call this a “Future Proof TV”.

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What is Openness and where does it come from

This blog is not about Openness but given its relevance these days, I´ve formed my own opinion about it. It has been showing up on the radars of many for a while now and is related to a wider context. It is a central aspect of how people are working and might well be the defining characteristic in professional practice in development for the following years. The big boys have noticed it too.

In broad terms, Openness is the quality of a system being open. For our purposes, this means the disappearance of previous divisions in knowledge and practice. A large, heavily vertical institution tends to be less open than a small one, where everybody has a larger spectrum of roles, for example. In itself, this already signals that Openness is somehow related to the simplification of work. But we will get there in a second.

Openness manifests itself in organizations being more transparent and closer to their audiences; in knowledge becoming available to more people other than the specialists; in a bigger involvement from the masses in policy-making and so on.[1] In a deeply cynical XXI century, this can be a bit of a surprise.I´m a bit of a cynical person, so I doubt all of this has simple “good will” roots. [2]

So where does it come from? Did just everybody decide to be cool and invite others in?
No.
Openness follows a natural tendency of artificial systems to mimic natural ones. Artificial systems (e.g. formal organizations; companies and so on) have set rules and procedures (dynamically changing, by the way), whereas natural systems (e.g. biosphere, society) have frameworks of operation. [3] The biggest difference between the artificial and the natural, in this light, is who sets the rules and who follows them. When it comes to the artificial world, the prevalent tendency of simplification and modelling of reality results in a centralization (even when systems are said to be distributed, by virtue of their simplification, they leave out stakeholders) of decision power. Just as natural systems are highly specialized and adapted, artificial systems, man-made creations, tend to be more broad. No matter how specific an artificial system seems to be, I think that is all a matter of scale and perspective. A km is nothing in astronomic terms.

The problem is that the world has become more complex and less forgiving, so those who had the monopoly of knowledge and power (make no mistakes, somebody is likely to hold it still. Utopia is THE horizon), scrambled for ways of recruiting expertise and insight from those who had been out of the loop and could have something fresh to offer. This has happened both voluntarily and eagerly as well as cautiously. Open source software is an example of the first, the release of criminal investigation data to nab a wrongdoer is a case of the second, for example.

So, as the world gets more complex, segmented views of it no longer serve the purpose of ever increasing progress. Operating at a percentage of its potential capacity, society organized itself to correct artificial divisions.

Because it creeped up on us, it was a just murmur for a long time, but the present bias towards Openness has been raising steadily since the days of Industrial revolution, when industrialists shaped the school curricula to create a society of specialized workers. Although it was an artificial division of labor, it was achieved by the democratization of access to education. In the short run this is somehow ironic, but with perspective, it becomes more evident.

In the past few decades, we have been building the infrastructure to support Openness (e.g. education, communications, transport, etc) and now, our generation lives with free communications, easy access to independent publications, free and detailed information, freedom to associate, funding platforms and etc (this list goes for ever). It has never been easier for so many, to affect so many others, independently.

Openness, by dissolving previous walls, allows for deeper self-expression and realization and suddenly, we are all specialists in our own things. Designers are working around this principle.

Much like a theoretical terra-forming process, human action has steadily inched towards where we stand. Our society was constructed and Openness seems to be, from here, the natural balance of things. [4]

[1] In an interesting twist of this, US anti-terror strategy post 911 was to mimic the headless network of independent terrorist cells from al-Qaeda. Fascinating read at Wired.
Basically, the distribution of decision power is a sub-trend of Openness.

[2] For the most part, Openness is considered a good thing. This is, naturally, open for discussion. Yes, pun intended.

[3] In nature, and we are not talking about about animals and plants alone, conditions for survival and demise of a participant (e.g. a certain type of social role, or some cactus in a desert, or a star in a galaxy) vary widely. All this happens accordingly to the specific needs of said participant (e.g. the relevance of that social role; ways of collecting and storing water; availability of fuel).

[4] Because civilization is no static system, I’m not suggesting the end of war and famine, misery and overall jackassery. But if you look at nature, it seems that this is the way things should be.