Nature

[box]This post originally appeared on the FTMF.info planning blog.[/box]

In this post, let’s explore the link between the twin worlds of microbiology and creative thought, drawing inspiration from three brilliant scientific discoveries. Labcoats on, people!

1. Sponges

If a sea sponge (phylum porifera) is forced through a sieve to disintegrate it down to its cellular level, those cells, if left alone, will recombine into a sponge again:

Lesson: some ideas only make sense as a whole – passing them through a ‘sieve test’ can reveal whether they were ever meant to be, while others may naturally merge together.

2. Slime Molds

A single-celled slime mold (physarum polycephalum) can solve mazes, mimic the layout of man-made transportation networks and choose the healthiest food from a diverse menu – and all this without a brain or nervous system:

Lesson: deploy resources efficiently – really smart solutions often arise naturally, yet knowing what’s best still requires lots of prior research. But hey, if a slime mold can do it…

3. Artificial Jellyfish

Scientists have created an artificial jellyfish using silicone and muscle cells from a rat’s heart. The synthetic creature, dubbed a medusoid, looks like a flower with eight petals. When placed in an electric field, it pulses and swims exactly like its living counterpart:

Lesson: even the most difficult concept can be somehow ‘brought to life’ – be it in a new context, through the addition of a couple of key ingredients, or sheer appliance of science!

Screens

[box]This post originally appeared on the FTMF.info planning blog.[/box]

Within the pages of Watchmen, Adrian Veidt, the so-called “smartest man in the world”, esteemed business leader and founding member of the Crimebusters is shown at a wall of televisions, each tuned to a different channel. He uses this clatter of imagery, sound and motion to make sense of the current geopolitical and social climate and to act upon it:

Watchmen 10 - 08

Reads a bit like Social Media Monitoring, doesn’t it? But Adrian Veidt, AKA Ozymandias, was multi-screening before it was even a thing. Nowadays, we do it by default, up to 60% of the time, and in the age of 4.6 connected devices per household it just comes naturally.

Multi-screening can be simultaneous (same journey across devices, as in the above case), sequential (different journeys across devices simultaneously), or separate (different journeys across devices simultaneously) – but it’s an emergent behaviour that needs much further inquiry. There are few real thought leaders, except for SecondSync perhaps, or Microsoft, who so succincinctly define the terms I’ve used here.

One other thought leader is Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired, whose view is that as screens proliferate further into each aspect of our lives, their role becomes not just to display but also to help filter information – we’re literally ‘screening out’ the stuff we don’t want to see.

Watch his talk on ‘screening’ and five other ‘Verbs for the New Web’ below – it’s great:

And finally, screens can also be mirrors, lenses or even windows. Clever, aren’t they?!

Fingers

[box]This post originally appeared on the FTMF.info planning blog.[/box]

What does the word ‘digital’ mean to you?

dig·it·al /?d?d??tl/ adv

  1. of or pertaining to a digit or finger
  2. resembling a digit or finger
  3. manipulated with a finger or the fingertips: a digital switch
  4. displaying a readout in digital form: a digital speedometer
  5. having digits or digitlike parts
  6. of, pertaining to, or using data in the form of numerical digits
  7. Computers. involving or using numerical digits expressed in a scale of notation to represent discretely all variables occurring in a problem
  8. of, pertaining to, or using numerical calculations
  9. available in electronic form; readable and manipulable by computer

So digital means either ‘relating to  fingers’, or ‘relating to computers’, right?

My argument: fingers are, by definition, the most digital part of our body. We touch, type, gesture and manipulate our environment (real or virtual) through the interfaces that surround us: a shiny black screen, a keyboard, or even through thin air.

And that’s what digital means to me: the ability to effect a change in the world through the lightest of touch – powered by technology, thought, and action. More on these themes later in the week, but for now I’ll leave you with an illustration – unleash your fingers:

Q4 Star Mix – New Music!

Happy New Year everyone! Right then, 2013 – let’s do this.

An interesting quirk of the New Year is that searches for “new music” spike on New Years Day, cool huh?

With this in mind, here is a load of my new music discoveries. This is the final playlist of 2012 in my ongoing Spotify Star System project. See what you think, subscribe if you like, and remember to hit shuffle for best effect!

Star Mix ☆ Q4-12 (keyboards, disco, post-dubstep)

Ingreedy: Cake Technology

Ingreedy are a start-up with a novel product idea: selling glass jars filled with just the right ingredients to make tasty baked goods at home.

The central idea is smart: outsourcing production to the customer adds value, making for an interactive post-purchase experience where there would otherwise be none, while the nice packaging helps too.

Ingreedy Chocolate Fudge Brownie

Ingreedy Logo
Ingreedy’s Logo

Ingreedy co-founder Samuel Cox classes himself as a maker of things and has done all sorts of cool things. His interests “wrap around inventing new and diverse approaches to the way we use, play and explore creative & interactive technology” – although in this instance, the technology is cake.

But rather than being an inert jar of cereals,  I think Ingreedy Jars represent the culture of Makerdom: those increasingly vocal hobbyists who are using the web to share their tips, tricks, hacks and designs.

Etsy is a good example of the kind of commerce that the web has enabled for the crafts market, while Instructables provides ‘recipes’ for people make useful stuff themselves. Rules of production are shifting further with costs of 3D printers coming down, and the likes of Makerbot taking on a high-street presence. I think Ingreedy takes elements from each of these, and makes them accessible through their choice of medium.

Ingreedy Jars are available in four different mixtures: Rocky Road; Brownies; Chocolate Chip Shortbread and Oaty Raisin Cookies, costing £12.00 each. Orders placed in November will ship in time for Xmas.

Aurasma vs. Blippar

I’ve written about Augmented Reality extensively in the past, but since the days of immersing myself in the purely theoretical potential for the medium, a few key players have rooted themselves in a very commercial reality that is now powering the fledgling industry.

And while B2B-focused vendors such as ViewAR remain behind the scenes, the likes of Aurasma and Blippar have soared in notoriety thanks to some quite excellent packaging and an impressive sales proposition. They are the standard bearers, at least in the eyes of the public.

I like Aurasma. But I also like Blippar. So which is better? Well, let’s find out… Here are some provocations I’ve been toying around with. See if it helps you decide, and let me know which side you fall on in the comments.

[twocol_one][dropcap]A[/dropcap]urasma has more technological power behind it. They have (supposedly) incorporated academic research into their proprietary tech and have a heritage in pattern recognition systems – remember their core business though: integrating with business critical processes and then slowly ramping up prices. They do this across all other Autonomy products! Also consider they are an HP property, whose business is hardware, not software. I believe Aurasma are only using this period of their lifespan to learn what does and doesn’t work, get better at it, gain status, equip users to enjoy AR, and then develop a mobile chipset (literally, hardware optimised for AR) that can be embedded in mobile devices, making HP buckets of royalties. They are chasing install base, but not because they want advertising bucks: they want to whitelabel their tech (i.e. Tesco, Heat & GQ) and then disappear into the background.[/twocol_one]

[twocol_one_last][dropcap]B[/dropcap]lippar have a proprietary AR engine, but are listed as using Qualcomm’s Vuforia engine – which is free to use. They seem focused on innovations in the augmented layer. Reading their interviews, they speak of AR not as a tech, platform or medium, but as a kind of magic campaign juice: stuff that reveals they are extremely focused on delivering a good consumer experience paid for by advertisers, with them as connective tissue. To this end, they too are chasing install base, but ultimately they have a different goal in mind. Being Qualcomm-backed, their future is in flexing their creative muscles and helping make AR a mass market medium through normalising behaviour. Big rivals: Aurasma in the short term, but I imagine that one day, Aurasma will revert back to being a tech platform, and companies like Blippar will provide the surface experience: where good content, not tech, will be what sells.[/twocol_one_last]

So what do you reckon – A or B?