It does, you know. You just have to get it hot enough.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Toys and Their Context in Society

now there’s a book I want to write in my copious spare time…

I’m doing that adult-thing where I finally clean out my closet from grade school, but unlike previous generations, I can just sell it all on eBay and maybe make some profit on collectible toys.  I did most of the Star Wars and Micronauts toys, now I’m going thru my GI Joe stuff and while researching prices, learning about the history of what was actually going on in the world when I was 10 years old.

GI Joe was a popular action figure in the cold war era then Vietnam happened.  At home, my dad spent most of my early years in MACV, Saigon, and hanging out with the Degar (Montagnard) people.  In the rest of the world, the draft, violent protests against the war, daily TV news coverage of the war, and Hasbro is stuck trying to figure out how to keep making money on GI Joe.  Before cancelling it entirely in 76 or 77 (and not bringing it back until the early 80s) Hasbro appears to have copied Fisher Price’s “Adventure People” and launched “Adventure Team.”  Two of the eight GI Joes are black (I suspect another was supposed to be Latino) and there are pages of new catalog accessories and outfits that were very much not about being a solider.  GI Joe isn’t just a soldier, he’s off hunting big game, rescuing people, and doing all sorts of not blowing up civilians and dropping napalm on the VC.

Check this catalog from 1975.  I have many of these toys going on eBay this week but I had no idea why they existed and no connection to their pop culture context.  The website has some layout/design problems, each of those “pages” is actually a topic and a link to a section of the catalog with a number of pages for that topic.  GI Joe wasn’t just a soldier, he was a “Radiation Detector,” “Smoke Jumper,” and “Emergency Rescue”(r).  Apparently grammar was hard in the 70s.

posted by jet at 21:47  

Saturday, October 31, 2015

rewriting the history of design and engineering

I like to think that I’m a decently educated person when it comes to things like the design and engineering of motor vehicles, consumer electronics, and military history including firearms and weaponry.

Today I found this article that pretty much says what I learned about the Germany military’s supplies in WWII is flat-out wrong.

Here’s the official history: the equipment issued to German soldiers during WWII was well designed, better engineered, and easier for them to maintain than our clunky Allied gear thrown together after we were ambushed by the Japanese.  The Germans had better machine guns, better tanks, better airplanes, better artillery (ok, so the 88 was a piece of genius), and we only beat them because, we’ll, we’re the good guys and fought for good things and maybe John Wayne.  Every tank battle was Shermans getting slaughtered by Tiger tanks, every hedgerow battle was a handful of Germans with machine guns against thousands of Allied soldiers with pointed sticks.

Changing a tread on a tank, a hot barrel on a machine gun, or dealing with gas masks was something done in every army during WWII, but the Germans must have had amazing skills to maintain their more complicated equipment.

Or maybe they didn’t.  They gave up and started using captured equipment that didn’t require all the maintenance.  The above article discusses the MG42 machine gun and the Tiger tank, amazing bits of machinery that turned out to be too expensive to support and use in combat.  Two iconic pieces of German design and engineering from the late 40s — the BMW motorcycle and the VW “Beetle” — were done after the war and for consumer markets.  The VW Beetle is more like a Sherman tank than a Tiger tank and the BMW motorcycle is very much a complete do-over of the bikes used by the German army.

Putting it in today’s context:  imagine going to work and waiting so long for the IT administrated Windows and OS X software to update before you can start work that you “borrow” something from the other side.  Maybe you buy a laptop and run Linux, Windows, or OS X and do your work there.  At some point your official machine is working, so you transfer your work over and continue your job.

There’s a lot of industrial design history out there that might need a similar revisit or even revision. How did we get to the IBM Selectric?  Why were the EO and Magic Link PDAs total failures while Palm cornered the market?

posted by jet at 20:06  

Friday, December 14, 2012

long form, short form, and communications frameworks for the Internet

And if you’re still reading after that title, carry on!

This is a port/cross-post of something I wrote for my friends on FB, but I want to share it with all the people I know and don’t know over on Twitter and on my blog.  This isn’t a pro/con XYZ topic, it’s about how I see the world as long complex conversations.  Because I see the world this way I really suck at not looking like an idiot on Twitter, forget not pissing off my friends in the process.

—cut here—

Over in the BBS and USENET worlds we had ideas like conferences, groups, and topic and discussion threads. Today I see a lot of “why don’t we discuss XYZ?!?” and I think, “but we do. There’s an XYZ conference and at least three or four ban/support XYZ topics in conferences like Current Events, Politics, and Today’s News. We’ve been talking about this weekly, if not daily, for the past 20-something years. Yes, some of us are tired of hearing the conversation on legalizing XYZ or making it a felony, but it’s there if you want to join.”

On Facebook there is no place where those sorted discussions happen, have a specific context, and are archived for future reading. I can’t easily say, “last year Bob and Alice had a big argument about this topic and did a bunch of research. If you start reading at Ban XYZ 2011 around post 37 you’ll see links to all the .gov sites that contain the stats.” Likewise, if I don’t care about professional sports, I can’t just unsubscribe from ProSportsTalk and have all that discussion removed from my feed.  Go talk about football or baseball, have fun, I just won’t wade through it all every day.

Over on Twitter the posts are so short that it’s hard to get past posting URLs, simple statements of fact, opinion, or belief. Hell, that sentence probably wouldn’t fit on Twitter, much less something like this with paragraphs and quotes and such. There’s going to be no real discussion on Twitter as a result, and long-winded people like me end up sounding like idiots more often than not by trying to take a post (like this) and sum it up in 140 characters or less. Which is also to say, I’ll go back to using Twitter to post URLs for the public and not much else.

Where this all really breaks down is that emotionally charged events, from politics to crime to natural disaster can be hard to actually discuss in these forums. Chris Rapier and Fawn Fitter both started some, well, adult conversations on Facebook, especially compared to what is impossible to easily filter out on Twitter and that I refer to as “yelling”. So if you draw a line from Twitter to Facebook then keep going you get to the sort of conversational forums that I’d like to see more of. Yes, there’s lots of topic-specific websites these days and I do use them, but I’m not personally friends with people on those forums as I am on Facebook.

This lack of discussion context makes it hard to be relaxed about some classifications of posts, especially on various sides of a topic. On a more complex conferencing system than Facebook or Twitter, if XYZ is a crazy new diet we can make jokes about it over in the DarkHumor area and have a serious discussion about nutrition over in HealthEating.  In the same way, there’s no  conveient regional topics on Facebook  for all of your favorite local restaurants there that I can avoid until a few days before my next visit to your town when I want to scope out where I’m going to eat.  Right now I probably don’t care very much about the best seafood where you live, but a week before I visit I want a core dump of restaurant info.

So why is all this important? (And why are you still reading?) I think that for some of us, our Facebook and Twitter friend/follow lists are kept short, local, and relevant.  I don’t think I’m friends with many people on Facebook that I wouldn’t go have a cocktail with after work, ride motorcycles, hack a 3d printer, or otherwise do fun, “real world” things. For those friends and I there will often be disagreements over politics, religion, or just sheer boredom with someone’s hobby. (NO really jet, shut up about lasers and 3d printers. I know, I know.)

I just made up the name “unintentional tension” for this. There’s probably a better psych term I could use, but at the end of the day, the difficulty in classifying our posts and finding ones from others leads to a lot of us having to skip things we just don’t want to read. I do want to read about your bicycle collection but I DGAS about quilting, and if we were chatting about something in person you’d probably skip the quilting just as I’d skip what is to you annoyingly dull trivia about how lathes worked in the 1950s under belt power.


So, I really am sorry if I’ve pissed you off or hurt your feelings on probably any subject I’m passionate about, you’re bored with, or the other way around.  I’ve been in online conversations since the 80s, starting with the BBS then moving to USENET and later to The WeLL and Twitter and Facebook.  For the most part, I don’t participate in these forums to  poke reactions out of people, pick fights, or convert you to whatever OS I prefer.  If we’re really friends in the so-called “real world” I’d like to keep it that way.

This entry is an example of why I suck at Twitter and barely pass over on Facebook.  Some write comic strips, others write songs, a few write poems, a few more write books, but some us write a never-ending journal.  Maybe it’s because I’m from the south or read too much Burroughs and Pynchon in college; but these dialogs, the long, complex, and sometimes tedious or boring is simply how I see and understand the world.

posted by jet at 22:04  

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

taxonomy of feedback

I’ve started working on a taxonomy of feedback for physical computing. I know, “aren’t there enough taxonomies already”? Well, yes, so what’s one more… It’s not so much that there’s something wrong with the ones I’ve found so far, they just tend to be either narrowly focused — task focused VR or haptics — or are behind a paywall and not easy to share with others.

The goal here is to chart out all the possibilities in an attempt to get people thinking about tactile/haptic feedback from some new angles. Honestly, if I see one more tactor-anything I’m going to hit with a hammer. Enough with the pager motors already! We have 5 senses (arguably 20-something), let’s use more of them.

Starting out, I’m using a simple tree: person -> body part -> sense

person->finger->pressure (sensitive)
person->finger->temperature (sensitive)
person->arm->elbow->temperature (normal)
person->leg->foot->sole->pressure (weight)

So, two questions:

1) Has someone already done a good job of this and I simply haven’t found it yet?

2) Is there a preferred format for this sort of thing that’s easy to mail around and text edit?

(p.s. Yes it’s arguably a folk taxonomy but I’m in no mood for pedantry.)

posted by jet at 17:13  

Monday, January 17, 2011

experimenting with a shapeways store

I’m starting to experiment with a shapeways store.

Currently there’s just an antenna mount of interest only amateur radio people, but I’m working on a few more items on the store that I am prototyping with my Makerbot Cupcake before uploading to Shapeways.

posted by jet at 22:21  
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