• Tools, Toys and Treasures

    05/28/2018 at 19:02 0 comments

    Objects have feelings. They are not the feelings of those objects, of course, they are our own feelings that we associate with the objects. Generally speaking, nice objects evoke positive feelings, and ugly or scary objects — negative. Of course it's more complicated than that, there is a million shades and kinds of feelings we have, and they also depend on the context and evolve over time. But every object we notice gets automatically assigned an emotional value — the objects that don't cannot be noticed.

    It is the goal of art to play on those values. Artists create objects that produce in us especially strong and elaborate feelings. The stronger the value, the easier the object is to notice, and art will often pop out, attract your attention. Objects with low value disappear, blend with the background, become less than invisible — they become irrelevant. It's the objects with value that we want to see, interact with, or own. The emotional value gives objects their meanings.

    Note, however that the meaning doesn't have to come from the object's appearance (although it usually does on initial discovery): it can come from a story that we have heard about it, its importance to other people, cultural connotations, market value, or... usefulness.

    That's where the distinction between tools, toys and treasures comes in. Toys are shiny, engaging, immediately valuable objects that are desirable for their ability to entertain us. They may be child's toys, or they may be books, movies, paintings, fireworks shows, computer games, news items, gossips, board games, or sport accessories. Treasures are not engaging by themselves, but take their value from cultural references, market value or the status that they are a sign of: money, famous works of art, precious metals and gems, sport cars, fashionable clothes, jewelry. Tools, finally, are neither engaging nor expensive, and have very little value of their own — they are often overlooked when scanning the interiors — but their value comes from what they enable you to do: actual tools, appliances, vehicles, prosthetics, communication devices, measuring utensils, uniforms, badges, permits, protective gear, medical supplies, or documentation and manuals.

    Of course the world is not black and white, and in practice every object is a bit of everything. Almost everything in our capitalistic world has a price today, so it's a bit of a treasure. Toys can helps us learn or make us fit, so they are useful. Expensive things are often also nice and make us happier, and the status they signify can be useful. And finally tools can give us a lot of pleasure when used for hobby. But often the principal purpose of an item will fall in one of those categories (then again, there are things like musical instruments, which are all three equally).

    Why am I writing this? It's because I think it is very important, when designing something, to always remember in which category it primarily falls, and design it accordingly. A tool should not cry for our attention, should not require us to focus on it, it should not be something we interact with — rather it should disappear and become a seamless extension of our bodies. An art piece on the other hand should try to get all the attention it can, using one strategy or another. Treasure needs no design at all, of course.

  • Pushing Pixels Effectively

    04/09/2018 at 22:04 0 comments

    Those are the slides from my talk for the Dublin 2018 Hackaday Unconference. Since the slides themselves contain only graphics to be explained in the talk itself, I'm also adding explanations below them. Unfortunately I have no idea what I actually said during the talk (I hope I didn't offend anyone or anything like that) — all I remember is red mist and then I woke up in the plane — so the comments are more what I *wanted* to say and less what I actually said.

    Read more »

  • Electricity is Almost, but not Quite, Unlike Vodka

    03/24/2017 at 13:01 2 comments

    Or what are voltage and current exactly?

    I have seen this explained with water, but that doesn't make any sense. Water doesn't have any volts!

    Let's start with a simple case. You have a battery, and you have a light-bulb that you connect to it.

    That is like a bottle of vodka and a drunkard. The voltage stored in the battery is like the strength of the booze in the bottle -- it's given by the chemistry of the particular kind of battery. The current, on the other hand, is given by how fast the drunkard drinks it. He can sip it slowly, and thus get only a little bit druk, while the bottle lasts long, or he can guzzle it straight from the bottle, which is the equivalent of making a short. Of course, the more he drinks, the hotter he gets. To get to the same level of inebriation with a lower voltage, you need to drink more of it, so if you want to do it in the same time, you need higher current. The slowness of drinking is the resistance.

    The bottle has its own resistance too. The bottleneck is the bottle neck. You can only pour so fast from it. However, if you connect two or more bottles in parallel, you can get much more current from them. (Connecting bottles in series gives you higher voltage, which is where this metaphor breaks, but bear with me.)

    Of course, if you have several drinkers in parallel, you will need higher current. (Again, the metaphor breaks when you connect them them in series, but let's not dwell on that.)

    Now, what happens when the drunkard tries to drink faster than what the bottle can manage? In fact, a bottle is more like a capacitor than like a battery. It holds a certain amount of electricity at a certain voltage, and lets you draw all of it from it. (But not quite, to make it exactly like a capacitor, you have to top it up with water after every pouring, so that voltage drops.) A battery is more like a distillery. It produces as much vodka as needed (at a certain voltage), but when you try and demand more than it can produce, it will start topping it up with water, and thus you get a voltage drop. If you do it too much, the distillery will break.

    Now, if you connect two distilleries in parallel, they will double the voltage of the resulting booze. If you connect them in parallel, you can draw more current.

    That's pretty much it. The important thing to remember is that the voltage is determined by the distillery, but the current is determined by the drinkers (and limited by the distillery by voltage drops).