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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Friday (10/3/14) 2:16am - ... wherein Peter posts a Weekly Media Update.

Movies:  <none>
TV:  Meteorology: An Introduction to the Wonders of the Weather
Books:  Enchanted Objects

Meteorology: An Introduction to the Wonders of the Weather by Robert G. Fovell
This is a twelve-hour DVD course about meteorology from The Teaching Company, purveyors of college-lecture productions and the bane of my disposable income.

For the last month or two, I've been watching this course while exercising.  That was just not a very bright idea.  This is not a course for kinda-sorta paying attention to.  It's dense, complicated material, full of graphs, and physics, and rather brain-hurty topology.  Professor Fovell is a good lecturer -- clear, authoritative, and cheerfully nerdy -- but this is a course that requires taking notes, and frequently pausing to sort out questions like, "Wait, why does the earth's spin make that wind tilt in that direction?  And which way is the earth spinning, anyway?"[1]

That said, I look forward to giving this another shot.  I managed to keep up for the first ten lectures or so before crossing into Greater Bewilderton, and I did glean a lot of information from it.  I just know that the other two-thirds of the course will require closer examination.

Enchanted Objects by David Rose
This is a book from a lecturer at the MIT Media Lab about how our world will change when common household objects are all equipped with sensors and Internet connections.

I find myself with very little to say about this book.  It's a nice bit of gosh-wow futurology, predicting all the astounding things we will own in the coming decades.  (An umbrella that blinks when rain is forecast!  A coat that hugs you when your latest facebook status gets a 'like'!)  It has a chipper, World's-Fair kind of feel to it.

I was mostly interested in what the book had to say about design.  Mr. Rose obviously knows his stuff here, and offers design advice that reminds you just how annoying technology tends to be.  He makes some persuasive arguments that not everything is best served by an app on a smartphone.  This makes sense -- I have a wall clock that has an outdoor-temperature readout, and glancing at that is always more convenient than finding my phone and futzing around with the weather app.[2]  He talks about creating objects that are unobtrusive, objects that provide useful information at a glance, and objects that generally work like a magical version of an object we're already familiar with, so that we have an instinctive sense of what to do with it.

It also had some examples of current enchanted objects that struck me as intriguing or useful.  The Ambient Orb is his company's flagship product -- it's basically a crystal ball that turns different colors based on some number it grabs from the Internet.  You could program it to, say, turn green when Apple stock goes up, and red when Apple stock goes down.  Or you could set it to turn green for an empty inbox, yellow for a few incoming emails, and red when it starts getting out of hand.  That seems like it could be fun and useful.

All in all, though, Enchanted Objects felt like I was reading one of those popular business books that packs ten pages of content into two hundred pages of text.  Not everything should be a smartphone app: check.  Make augmented objects act like magical versions of existing objects: check.  Keep them unobtrusive and easy-to-use: got it.  And here are some cool examples of these things: okay.  And somehow this was a three-hundred page book.  Hell if I can remember the rest of it.  Lots of happy, optimistic future-talk, I suppose.

For next week: still trying to finish watching Girls in Prison (for the Wayward Girls run) -- after that, I plan to watch Redbelt to prep for my upcoming guest appearance with Confidence Men.  I'm still watching Deadwood.  I've started watching Sleepy Hollow as my "watch while exercising" show.  I'm now reading the productivity classic Getting Things Done, and still trucking along with What If?, the book where Randall Munroe (of xkcd fame) answers bizarre scientific hypothetical questions.  On audiobook, I'm re-listening to some of that Russian-history course for the Chekhov show -- not sure what I'll listen to after that.

[1] It doesn't help that I'm the sort of person who can take two left turns and then have no idea where I am.  There are a lot of directions to keep track of in meteorlogy -- all three dimensions, various rotations, and all of this relative to a spinning sphere -- and my brain doesn't handle that well.
[2] Though come to think of it, I've actually gotten in an argument about that, so I suppose your mileage may vary.

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Mood: [mood icon] contemplative · Music: none
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