A quick trip to the Science Museum today. Not, on the face of it, a good idea in the middle of half-term, but actually, very rewarding. There's always a quiet corner where you can find something interesting. And there's always evidence that, whatever you're thinking about, someone's thought about it before.
I'm experiencing one of those little clusters of noticing. Your attention snags on one thing, then lots of similar things seem to crop up all at once.
I realised that, all my life, I'd been wondering about those hand signals people use in action movies. Holding up their fist to say Stop etc. And I finally wondered about it while in front of a computer and ready to do a little googling.
Here, for instance, is a guide from the First City Rifles, a military explorer programme for 14-18 year olds.
I can imagine this being useful on a conference call:
This, hopefully, would crop up less often:
And, then I saw this piece in the NY Times which illustrates the signs the staff at a New York restaurant use to talk to each other and references the same practise at the 'legendary Stork Club'. Photos of which you can see here. Guess what this means:
It just occured to me that these are all North American examples. I wonder why that is, the influence of baseball maybe? Did military signals preceed sporting ones?
Ah - I've just thought of a non-US version - cricket umpires. And, of course, Give Us A Clue.
There's no particular point to this except to wonder whether these vocabularies will be mined by the gesture scientists. I can imagine furiously signalling I DO NOT UNDERSTAND at a computer vision device somewhere - trying to do the signal equivalent of shouting or enunciating more clearly.
(I always wanted to make a Kinect Hack which would read Give Us A Clue signals, connect to the IMDB database and guess the movie. That'd be a proper demo of machine learning.)
Various interesting little kits have gathered at our house in the past few months. We got the cubelets beta kit from modular robotics, the littlebits kit and various bits and bobs I've been practising my soldering on.
The best thing about them all is the way they let you see inside processes - let you play around with things you might understand intellectually, but haven't fiddled with with your fingers, haven't understood at that level.
Within about 10 minutes of getting the cubelets out of the box, for instance, we'd built this robot that follows your hand around:
It's not new and surprising behaviour in a toy and it's not unbuildable with Lego or Mecanno. But there's something different and good about being able to do it so quickly, roughly and spontaneously - throwing bits together and getting behaviour out. Not following instructions or typing laboriously. That ease makes it magical and educational - you start to understand the functions of things as a builder not a thinker. (Slightly, you know, slightly - at a lego level, not at a 5-year engineering degree level, but it's a start.)
I'm sure once a huge box of cubelets with loads of different behaviours becomes properly affordable then all sorts of interesting things will emerge.
Littlebits seem even earlier in the cycle - there's a fantastic idea here, waiting for scale and economics to make it work. Right now, you can see what they're getting at, but it needs a huge box of bits for it to be properly fun. It'll be good when it's going properly though - you can imagine this sort of thing being easily buildable, just by snapping things together.
I tell you what this all feels like. It's like the weekend Ben and I went toyhacking with Alex. I suddenly got unafraid of poking around at this stuff and started thinking about what's inside.
I've been plugging leads into jacks for 30 years, for instance, and waggling them unhappily when they don't quite work. But only while building the Noise Hero did I actually examine what one looks like on the inside. And that's fundamentally changed my sense of what's going on in there. It's not a big thing, but it's something. It makes devices a little bit more comprehensible, which must be a good thing.
We're not quite at the Geocities of Things, but we're getting closer.
I did a talk at 2screen last week, I didn't say anything momentous but I pointed to a lot of stuff. And, since I was going too fast, wrote my slides too late and stuff got cropped off the bottom of the screen, wasn't able to be clear about where everything had come from.
So, here, just for the record are the things I pointed at.
The silly bit of intro pointed out that, all through my life I'd assumed more screens = better. It started with The Man Who Fell To Earth, progressed through the TV room at Graceland...
via NASA control rooms...
to James Bond. I'd always just assumed that more screens = higher status. But, if you think about it more, you realise that the highest status is accorded to the hidden screen. The one that issues forth silently on demand. Which led me down this YouTube rabbit hole:
In fact, it made me realise, I don't even understand TV. Let alone all this 2screen stuff. After all, we were told that the future was going to be higher fidelity and bigger screens and it wasn't was it? The future was this:
After that, all I did really, was ask a couple of questions:
1. Why Stop At Two?
Clearly, our homes/lives are going to be drenched in screens. It's not just going to be two. So here are some examples:
BERG are the daddies. Just build what they tell you.
Will there be displays everywhere? Of course. (This isn't the video I had, can't find it on YouTube any more.)
Will there be displays everywhere? Again. Of course.
Then I talked about this a bit.
And then this.
And James Darling's lovely bus thing.
And then I segued into my second silly question with a bit of Winky Dink and You.
2: Why Stop At Screens?
So we, obviously, started with some Talking Boony.
And a soupson of sphero.
And ended with some face replacement (why can't the second screen be superimposed on the first one?)...
...and some PixelPhones (who knows what phones are for anyway?)
And I think that's about it. Hope it wasn't too hot in there. It was hot.
Oh. And playing throughout on the other screen was the long version of this:
Which you can download here.