Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I'm ok if you're ok. Ok, stop it.



Is sexual harassment the new Turing Test?  Alan Turing postulated that we can tell if machines could think by whether they act like they can think.  The way his test worked was that...

... a human judge engages in a natural language conversation with a human and a machine designed to generate performance indistinguishable from that of a human being. All participants are separated from one another. If the judge cannot reliably tell the machine from the human, the machine is said to have passed the test. The test does not check the ability to give the correct answer, it checks how closely the answer resembles typical human answers. The conversation is limited to a text-only channel such as a computer keyboard andscreen so that the result is not dependent on the machine's ability to render words into audio.


Siri, Apple's new personal assistant inside the iPhone 4s wants to act like a human assistant.  She doesn't just understand your words she understands your meaning.  Or at least she seems to.  


Wait was I just been referring to a talking box as "she"? 


Jonathan Mann, of song a day fame, raises the stakes by adding inappropriateness to the mix.  Jonathan professes his unrequited love to Siri who reacts with remarkable aplomb.  First she tries to ignores it.  Then she redirects.  She restates her objection.  Then she uses humor to diffuse it.  In short, she acts like a smart woman who is trying to send the right signal to a harasser; "not a chance, dude, get over it."  


In fact, it's Jonathan who comes off as not understanding what the hell is going on here.  Score one for Siri.


Then she starts tossing around mildly obscure cultural references.  Douglas Adams' answer to the meaning of life.  She quotes the first artificially intelligent villain in pop culture, HAL.  She's pretty funny in the face of his creepy behavior.  


But eventually, when Jonathan can't catch a clue, Siri has to lay down the law.  Stop.  Just stop.


Seems like a pretty intelligent response to me.



Thursday, October 13, 2011

Hiding in Plain Sight

We're super excited that the New York Times featured the Thing Tank designed Wispr portable vaporizer in their Style section article "Legal Marijuana Sells Vaporizers."

While our client, Oglesby & Butler cannot make claims about the health effects of vaporization, Dr. Lester Grinspoon, associate professor emeritus of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School can.  He said, “Vaporized marijuana is virtually free of whatever toxic properties come with burning the plant."    


I just wish that the writer, Jed Lipinski, had attributed the design of the object correctly!  They attributed it to Sequitur Creative, our brand/identity/packaging/web partners on the project. 


But the big news here is that the Wispr is a luxury product, aimed at design savy folks.  That's a response to a growing shift in people's attitudes around marijuana use.  Its gone from something you need to squirrel away when you are in decent company, to an accepted part of modern life.  Paper Magazine is picked up on this trend in their recent article linking the Times piece with a recent Gourmet article "Beyond Pot Brownies."    


"Here we learn about pot-infused wine and beer and other delicacies inspired by 'marijuana's culinary trip from wacky weed to haute herb."


Stay tuned for more Wispr news...

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Shhh...Its here



The Wispr vaporizer from Oglesby & Butler is here!  Thing Tank did the design of the object, and Sequitur Creative did the identity, packaging and website.  Sequitur's awesome work was just honored on The Dieline, the coolest packaging website ever.  

I'll be telling the whole story in an upcoming post, and there's going to be some major coverage coming up, so stay tuned!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Do we need more chairs? If they're like this, then yes.



There's something about chairs.  How they look and how they work are rather nakedly combined.  There's nowhere to hide in a chair.  Structure, support, material and gesture are all baked together.

Many designers have done their most iconic work on chairs.  But most of the chairs around us are unequivocal garbage.  Here is this everyday thing that we all use, and yet it's done well surprisingly infrequently--especially considering the variety that exists in the world.

The Bouroullec brothers are masters of reinterpreting archetypes in ways that transform them.  Their slow chair dematerializes the Saarinen's womb lounge chair.  Their steelwood rematerializes the hideous plastic patio chair with powder coated steel and ash.  And now their Baguettes Chair for Magis (pics above) takes the gesture of the classic steel folding chair and creates something warm and elegant.  Not exactly what the steel folding chair evokes for most.

They've taken away so much of the chair.  What's left are just 4 solid wood legs, a plywood seat and back plus a secret ingredient.  The magic glue comes from a clever die cast aluminum frame that is neither completely hidden or an eyesore.

While there are no truly original ideas out there, there are an infinite number of recombinations.  That makes the good ones all the more rare and delightful.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Happy 50th Birthday Space Flight!



I have been a space junkie from the day I could figure out what outer space was.  Part of that was being lucky enough to be a little kid during the age of the Apollo flights--when space travel was a national event.  Everyone stopped what they were doing and paid attention.  There was a sense that we were witnessing some of the greatest achievements in human history.  And we were.

Having grown up steeped in the imagery and lore of the Apollo program--I'm always amazed at how the Russians did it.  There's the famous story about NASA spending $1M developing a pen that would write in space, and the Soviets brought a pencil.  That sums up so many aspects of the different attitudes and approaches that the US and USSR took towards space flight.  At the end of this video, somebody's marking the site of the landing with a railroad spike and an axe, for pete's sake!  A far cry from getting picked up by a nuclear powered aircraft carrier.

This recent article in the New York Times Magazine really brought to light how wildly different the two worlds were.  There was no countdown--just a warning that "after the one minute readiness is announced, there'll be about six minutes before you actually take off."  ABOUT SIX MINUTES?  Wow.  Read the article to learn how Vladimir Komarov, a later cosmonaut, knew he was being sent to his death because the rocket was unsafe.  Not exactly Apollo 13!

But its invaluable to remember that fear of Sputnik and Gagarin created the boom in scientific education in the United Staes, and the subsequent boom in science and technology that brought us to the future.  Internet anyone?

Obama has been talking about how renewable energy could be our Apollo.  Emphasis on could.  Its not yet.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Complexity is not magic, its even better than magic.



If you take it for the tipsy dinner party rant that it is, this is pretty awesome.  I mean, part of the reason "alternative medicine" ever becomes "medicine" is because somebody opened their mind to it, and had the training and resources to study it.  Science has enormous blind spots about all kinds of human experience, not to mention all of the things that we just can't imagine yet--which is a lot of stuff.

But having said that, this is pretty much on the money.  It also shows that saying something warm about your wife near the end of a rant, it takes the edge off a bit.

I'd like to thanks my adorable wife, who found this video and saw something endearingly familiar in our loud mouthed but spot on, shaggy-esque protagonist.  That strikes me as a good sign.

Take that flying spaghetti monster!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Ultraviolence, Coffee and Muppets



I've seen many of the shorts that Jim Henson did for IBM in the middle 60s.  But these spots for Wilkins Coffee are absolutely (sometimes literally) mind blowing.  The message is simple.  Drink Wilkins coffee or we will kill you.  No quality claims.  No thoughtful reasoning.  Just the timeless humor of violence, told with a straight face.  Genius.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Professor Whoopie Rides Again



Mechanisms are exciting for their own sake.  Folks like Arthur Ganson have shown us that machinations have their own mesmerizing magic built in.

But there's a special power in understanding what's going on in there.  This video is a perfect example of a clear, well paced mechanical explanation that starts at the beginning and moves in traceable, gradual steps towards an increasingly complex concept.  Its a perfect example of the kind of explanation Professor Whoopie, the man with all the answers drew on his 3D blackboard all those years ago.

Can iCarly or Hanah Montana explain how a rocket works?  Or why a sailboat goes forward?  Or how a lightbulb lights?  I didn't think so

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Flying like a Bird is Hard



Our friends at Festo have done a lot of cool stuff.  Inflatable architecture.  Pneumatic muscle.  But this is really incredible.  Its hard to fly like a bird for lots of reasons, but mostly its power to weight.  Watching Boston Dynamics' terrifyingly determined, gasoline powered dog-bot you get some idea of how much power it takes just to walk.  It takes a chainsaw's worth!

But festo's bird has somehow gotten enough juice in a light weight enough package to fly.  Amazing!  A chain saw is a pretty lightweight power source.  What's in the bird?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Bigger First Aid Kits



I am beside myself in anticipation of the America's Cup racing that's coming to the bay.  And seeing the first fleet of AC45s racing in New Zealand is a nice taste of the racing to come.  Yeah, I bet they are "very physical."  And yes, you are going to need a serious first aid kit.  Not to go all NASCAR, but it will be amazing to see what happens when these things make contact at 30+ knots.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Can Data Take the Place of Hypothesis?



For years, folks have been talking about the analysis of huge data sets (and by huge, I mean really, really huge) superseding our ability to hypothesize.  A hypothesis to prove or disprove, that essential building block of the scientific method, is becoming less important than just knowing everything you can know about the problem.

This is the best example I have seen so far that this might be the case.  Deb Roy's analysis of his son's language acquisition yielded several simultaneous findings because the data was so rich and there was just so damned much of it.  Sure, you have to decide which axes to measure.  But what makes massive data manipulation so interesting is you don't necessarily need to know why you're interested in those axes.  Science becomes a more improvisational, reacting to the data-shapes changing right in front of you.

You still have to see the results, you just don't have to predict them quite as much.