Friday, May 30, 2008

Where in the World is "Coco Channel?"

In case you were wondering, its here in between Little Coco and Landfall Islands. I stumbled upon this map today while reading about the remote tribes of the Andaman Islands. The Andamans are a chain of islands in the Bay of Bengal. Most are claimed and administered by India. Seeing "Coco Channel" made me smile.

Friday, May 23, 2008

...and justice for all

Yesterday, a Texas Appeals Court rejected the lower court decision that had authorized siezing the children from the FLDS compound. This photo, by AP photographer Tony Gutierrez, was attached to the story. As a designer, I love images that are artfully composed but still relevant and meaningful. There is an elegant symmetry here between the repetitive columns of the court and the repepetitive dress codes of the FLDS women. There is a sense that a system other than their own has never-the-less served their interests (though maybe not that of all the children).

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Thomas Barnett's Bold Plan for War (& Peace)

This TED talk is not a topic (how to improve the US Military) I would normally be interested in even less so one that I would want to promote. But Thomas Barnett is worth listening to.

There are two ways to correct a problem. One way is to undo what was done and institute your plan; the other way is to embrace the problematic approach and propose a way to move forward. The latter approach is embodied in this spirited talk by Thomas Barnett. A Washington insider, Barnett mocks but embraces many of the failed strategies of the Bush administration while proposing a way to make them work.

Not too long after we invaded Iraq, I remember reading a piece in The New Yorker about the plan for post-war Iraq. The State Department had developed a comprehensive plan for winning the peace after the initial invasion. The article detailed how Bush, Rumsfeld, and Cheney decided to ignore the State Department Plan and go with the plan the Defense Department had drawn up. That plan failed and led to most of what happened after Bush's famed, "Mission Accomplished" speech. I was so angry after I read this article. But Barnett proposes a bold initiative to keep moving forward with a military-dominated "winning the war" plan while also making them responsible for "winning the peace". He proposes a grand re-structuring of Washington Institutions. The plan is so bold that it might just work.

The talk is highlighted by a powerpoint presentation full of cheesy animations and sound effects that while funny; support Barnett's message. It succeeds despite breaking all the rules. The talk is definitely worth watching.

eBooks and the Future of the Keyboard

Nicholas Negroponte announced his vision for the next generation OLPC (one laptop per child). The new design takes its inspiration from a book although it can still be used as a laptop. Having worked on eBook concepts in the past, I've always felt that a dual-screened ebook was taking the "book" metaphor too seriously. But the new OLPC design uses the 2nd screen as a keyboard when in "laptop" mode. I thought this was a decent idea. It would enable the display of virtual keyboards in every language where the OLPC is used.

I recently started to wonder if Apple will do something similar since Steve Jobs hates button clutter and it would allow him to get rid of 30 or 40 keys in one action. They easiest way to get rid of 10 keys on a remote or cell phone is to move the number keys off the keypad and onto the screen. This is exactly what Steve Jobs did with the iPhone. Similarly, the best way to get rid of the visually-busy keyboard on a laptop would be to replace it with some sort of virtual one. This would allow Apple to replace the entire surface with a multi-touch touchpad. They could easily create a modal version that could be backlit with a keyboard layout when needed but appear empty and pristine otherwise. Of course the major challenge to this is losing the tactile feedback a physical keyboard provides. But there are work-arounds to this such as haptic feedback. Steve is just the guy to make the jump because he has shown a consistent interest in removing buttons in the past starting with his resistance to a 2 button mouse, then with the utter simplicity of the iPod clickwheel and most recently with iPhone's 1 button. Even the MacBook Air forgoes an explicit power button in favor of the inferred intent of simply opening it up.

Multi-touch seems to be gaining momentum with Jeff Han's TED demos, Microsoft's Touchwall and even some of the Wii hacks for interactive displays. Since Apple was first to market with a successful product, I would bet that they want to push to broaden their lead with yet another product. But I don't think it will happen at this year's Apple WWDC as the upcoming 3G iPhone will probably be the star. Maybe MacWorld 2009. I type a lot but I'd probably by one.