Category Archives: Technology

The Pantheon and technology, history of the world from Big Bang to the end, and architecture evolving into a dynamic, interactive process at TED 2014′s Session 2: Retrospect

Now to Retrospect, session two of the TED 2014. As the first scheduled speaker, Bran Ferren kicked off the session. From Ferren’s TED biography,

After dropping out of MIT in 1970, Bran Ferren became a designer and engineer for theater, touring rock bands, and dozens of movies, including Altered States and Little Shop of Horrors, before joining Disney as a lead Imagineer, then becoming president of R&D for the Walt Disney Company.

In 2000, Ferren and partner Danny Hillis left Disney to found Applied Minds, a playful design and invention firm dedicated to distilling game-changing inventions from an eclectic stew of the brightest creative minds culled from every imaginable discipline.

Ferren used a standard storytelling technique as do many of the TED speakers. (Note: Techniques become standard because they work.) He started with personal stories of his childhood which apparently included exposure to art and engineering. His family of origin was heavily involved in the visual arts while other family members were engineers. His moment of truth was during childhood when he was taken to view the Pantheon and its occulus (from its Wikipedia entry; Note: Links have been removed),

The Pantheon (/ˈpænθiən/ or US /ˈpænθiɒn/;[1] Latin: Pantheon,[nb 1] [pantʰewn] from Greek: Πάνθεον [ἱερόν], an adjective understood as “[temple consecrated] to all gods”) is a building in Rome, Italy, commissioned by Marcus Agrippa during the reign of Augustus (27 BC – 14 AD) as a temple to all the gods of ancient Rome, and rebuilt by the emperor Hadrian about 126 AD.[2]

The building is circular with a portico of large granite Corinthian columns (eight in the first rank and two groups of four behind) under a pediment. A rectangular vestibule links the porch to the rotunda, which is under a coffered concrete dome, with a central opening (oculus) to the sky. Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon’s dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome.[3] The height to the oculus and the diameter of the interior circle are the same, 43.3 metres (142 ft).[4]

It is one of the best-preserved of all Roman buildings. It has been in continuous use throughout its history, and since the 7th century, the Pantheon has been used as a Roman Catholic church dedicated to “St. Mary and the Martyrs” but informally known as “Santa Maria Rotonda.”[5] The square in front of the Pantheon is called Piazza della Rotonda.

I cannot adequately convey Ferren’s appreciation and moment of inspiration where all in a moment he understood how engineering and art could be one and he also understood something new about light; it can have ‘weight’. He then describes the engineering feat in more detail and notes that we are barely able to achieve a structure like the Pantheon with today’s battery of technological innovations and understanding. He talked about what the ‘miracles’ need to achieve similar feats today and then he segued into autonomous cars and that’s where he lost me. Call me a peasant and an ignoramus (perhaps once these talks are made public it will be obvious I misunderstood his point)  but I am never going to view an autonomous car as being an engineering feat similar to the Pantheon. As I see it, Ferren left out the emotional/spiritual (not religious) aspect that great work can inspire in someone. While the light bulb was an extraordinary achievement in its own right, as is electricity for that matter, neither will are likely to take your breath away in an inspirational fashion.

Brian Greene (not listed on the programme) was introduced next. Greene’s Wikipedia entry (Note: Links have been removed),

Brian Randolph Greene [1] (born February 9, 1963) is an American theoretical physicist and string theorist. He has been a professor at Columbia University since 1996 and chairman of the World Science Festival since co-founding it in 2008. Greene has worked on mirror symmetry, relating two different Calabi–Yau manifolds (concretely, relating the conifold to one of its orbifolds). He also described the flop transition, a mild form of topology change, showing that topology in string theory can change at the conifold point. He has become known to a wider audience through his books for the general public, The Elegant Universe, Icarus at the Edge of Time, The Fabric of the Cosmos, The Hidden Reality, and related PBS television specials. Greene also appeared on The Big Bang Theory episode “The Herb Garden Germination”, as well as the films Frequency and The Last Mimzy.

He also recently launched World Science U (free science classes online) as per a Feb. 26, 2014 post by David Bruggeman on his Pasco Phronesis blog.

The presentation was a history of the world from Big Bang to the end of the world. It’s the fastest 18 minutes I’ve experienced so far and it provided a cosmic view of history. Briefly, everything disintegrates, the sun, the galaxy and, eventually, photons.

The last speaker I’m mentioning is Marc Kushner, architect. from his TED biography (Note: Links have been removed),

Marc Kushner is a practicing architect who splits his time between designing buildings at HWKN, the architecture firm he cofounded, and amassing the world’s architecture on the website he runs, Both have the same mission: to reconnect the public with architecture.

Kushner’s core belief is that architecture touches everyone — and everyone is a fan of architecture, even if they don’t know it yet. New forms of media empower people to shape the built environment, and that means better buildings, which make better cities, which make a better world.

Kushner, too, started with a childhood story where he confessed he didn’t like the architecture of the home where he and his family lived. This loathing inspired him to pursue architecture and he then segued into a history of architecture from the 1970′s to present day. Apparently the 1970s spawned something called ‘brutalism’ which is very much about concrete. (Arthur Erickson a local, Vancouver (Canada) architect who was internationally lauded for his work loved concrete; I do not.) According to Kushner, I’m not the only one who doesn’t like ‘brutalism’ and so by the 1980s architects fell back on tried and true structures and symbols. Kushner noted a back and forth movement between architects attempting to push the limits of technology and alienating the populace and then attempting to please the populace and going overboard in their efforts with exaggerated and ornate forms which eventually become offputting. Kushner then pointed to Guggenheim Bilbao as an architecture game-changer (from the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao Wikipedia entry; Note: Links have been removed),

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is a museum of modern and contemporary art, designed by Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry, and located in Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain. The museum was inaugurated on 18 October 1997 by King Juan Carlos I of Spain.

One of the most admired works of contemporary architecture, the building has been hailed as a “signal moment in the architectural culture”, because it represents “one of those rare moments when critics, academics, and the general public were all completely united about something.”[3] The museum was the building most frequently named as one of the most important works completed since 1980 in the 2010 World Architecture Survey among architecture experts.[3]

Kushner’s own work has clearly been influenced by Gehry and others who changed architecture in the 1990s but his approach is focused on attempting to integrate the community into the process and he described how he and his team have released architectural illustrations onto the internet years before a building is constructed to make the process more accessible.

O’Reilly Media’s Solid Conference in San Francisco, California from May 21-22, 2014

Given that O’Reilly Media is best known  (by me, anyway) for its publishing/writing conferences, the notice about their Solid Conference abut the ‘internet of things’, etc. was unexpected’. From the O’Reilly Media Feb. 26, 2014 news release,

The “punctuated equilibrium” theory asserts that rapid bursts of change upend the leisurely pace of species stasis, creating events that result in new species and leave few fossils behind.

Technology has reached the cusp of such an event. Call it the Internet of Things, the Age of Intelligent Devices, the Industrial Internet, the Programmable World, a neologism of your own choosing—it amounts to the same thing—the intersection of software, the Internet, big data, and physical objects. Ultimately, our entire environment will be connected and intelligent.

To mark this seachange moment, O’Reilly Media introduces Solid Conference, scheduled for May 21-22 at Fort Mason in San Francisco.

“As big data moves from the Web into the physical world, it’s more important than ever that people who deal with software and people who deal with hardware and machinery understand each other,” says Jon Bruner, who chairs Solid with MIT Media Lab’s Joi Ito. “Solid is about creating an interdisciplinary mix of the sort that everyone—designers, engineers, investors, researchers, entrepreneurs—will need to tap in the coming year.”

Chairs Ito and Bruner have drafted a stellar lineup of innovators, funders, and visionaries for the conference, including:

  • Astro Teller, Captain of Moonshots at Google[x]
  • Rodney Brooks, CTO and Chairman of Rethink Robotics
  • Tim O’Reilly, Founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media
  • Andra Keay, Managing Director at Silicon Valley Robotics
  • Carl Bass, CEO of Autodesk, Inc.
  • Moe Tanabian, Director of Mobile Technology at Samsung Mobile
  • Aurora Thornhill, Head of the Project Specialist Team at Kickstarter
  • Ayah Bdeir, Founder and CEO of littleBits
  • Matthew Gardiner, Artist and Senior Lead Researcher at Ars Electronica Futurelab
  • Neil Gershenfeld, Director of the MIT Center for Bits and Atoms
  • Brian Gerkey, CEO of Open Source Robotics Foundation
  • Renee DiResta, Principal at OATV
  • Timothy Prestero, Founder and CEO of Design that Matters
  • Janos Veres, Manager of the Printed Electronics Team at PARC

Solid is more show than tell. “This isn’t about sitting in a conference room and getting your brain freeze-dried by PowerPoint presentations,” Bruner says. “You’ll see demonstrations of real networked products and participate in intensive colloquies with those leading us into this new era. People who come to Solid won’t just be attending a conference. They’ll be walking through a portal to a new world.”

Early registration discounts apply until March 20.

As expected, this is not a cheap conference; an early bird all access pass for the two-day conference is $1095.00 USD.

Here’s my recounting of the March 12, 2014 ‘Solid’ web presentation by Tim O’Reilly & Jim Stogdill.

11:01 am O’Reilly: Longstanding interest in ‘maker’ movement since early 2000′s .

11:03 am O’Reilly: everything is connected ‘internet of things’, big data, robotics, maker movement, etc.

11:05 Stogdill: not sure name Solid is bit enough to describe this upcoming conference

11:05 Stogdill: says hardware is malleable (?) … more accessible, i.e., parts are easier to access and it’s easier to customize

11:08 O’Reilly: moves to subject of design … massive dislocation due to computers, e.g. graphic design … we need process designers (?) .. collisions between specialties

11:09 O’Reilly: collective intelligence and man/machine symbiosis important ideas for our age

11:11 O’Reilly: how do we change the interaction with a thermostat … remove need for human input

11:14 Stodgill: business models not taking advantage of open source options

11:15 O’Reilly: different options for future such as Google/Apple/… Internet of things (proprietary model) or a freely interoperable system of things

11:17 Stodgill: shifting to robotics … integrate virtual/digital/macro worlds in their work and thinking

11:18 O’Reilly: our notion of robots is of autonomous (intelligent) devices but we are surrounded by robots, e.g., washing machine that aren’t autonomous

11:20 Stogdill: shifting to manufacturing … talking about frictionless manufacturing  … new relationship for Silicon Valley and China

11:23 O’Reilly: it doesn’t have to be China  .. all the relationships are changing

11:24 O’Reilly: replacing matter with mathematics

11:25 O’Reilly: how you remake an industry, e.g., Square which started as a hardware company which turns a phone into a point-of-sale system

11:29 Stogdill: change topic to surveillance and privacy .. digital thermostats recently put in Stogdill’s home  .. he had them taken them offline while he was on vacation as he didn’t want the info. on the internet while he was gone (?)

11:32 O’Reilly: not good to be afraid of the future .. Stogdill agrees

11:33 O’Reilly: solid is already big in agriculture .. sensors, robotics, etc.

11:42 O’Reilly: answer to my question (Will UK PM David Cameron’s latest ‘internet of things’ funding announcement have an impact on gov’t funding in US?) .. there’s already lots of government funding here [in US] e.g. Google purchases of DARPA-funded companies … didn’t see much impact other than it’s good when governments invest … [see March 10, 2014 article by Jessica Bland for the Guardian about Cameron's announcement]

11:45 off my Twitter feed, a tweet that seems synchronous in a Carl Jung kind of way:

claireoconnell @claireoconnell

High-tech maker space TechShop planned for Ireland at DCU Innovation Campus…via @siliconrepublic et moi

11:46 O’Reilly: sees big ‘Solid’ innovation in industrial space rather than consumer space

11:48 Stogdill: love the idea of generativity, i.e., innovation from unexpected quarters

11:49 Question: What is the stuff that matters

11:49 Stogdill: health care

11:50 O’Reilly: yes, health care and the environment .. e.g., keeping track of elderly parent and talks about mother-in-law, many years ago, having a stroke and laying on floor for days because family was not in town

11:51: question: How do we manage hacking?

11:52: O’Reilly: you have to be considering security but thoughtfully … not trying to anticipate everything that can go wrong and creating rules to avoid the problem .. but putting some thought into what might go wrong and responding appropriately when something does happen …

11:54 Stogdill: there’s an asymmetry problem when things go digital .. e.g. if you want to throw a rock throw his [Stogdill's] windows you have to be there physically … digitally, anyone from anywhere has access

11:55 Question: What do we need to know to get started (paraphrase)

11:55 O’Reilly: there are some great programmes at university but right now you can get at least as much by playing around

11:57 Question: Are you optimistic?

11:57 O’Reilly: Yes, I am optimistic… and we do have possibilities both positive and negative … most concerned about anti-science movement … worse case scenario: anti-science and anti-technology backlash hits just when water, climate change, and other issues become pressing …

11:59 Stogdill: James Watt thought they were building a steam engine but they also created modernism and many other isms

12 pm O’Reilly: Lots to be optimistic about and lots to care about

I don’t know if they’ll be making this video available but you can try looking here.

ETA March 17, 2014: You can find the video for the O’Reilly/Stogdill on the Solid YouTube playlist or you can go directly to the video here.

Water desalination by graphene and water purification by sapwood

I have two items about water. The first concerns a new technique from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) for desalination using graphene. From a Feb. 25, 2014 news release by David Chandler on EurekAlert,

Researchers have devised a way of making tiny holes of controllable size in sheets of graphene, a development that could lead to ultrathin filters for improved desalination or water purification.

The team of researchers at MIT, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and in Saudi Arabia succeeded in creating subnanoscale pores in a sheet of the one-atom-thick material, which is one of the strongest materials known. …

The concept of using graphene, perforated by nanoscale pores, as a filter in desalination has been proposed and analyzed by other MIT researchers. The new work, led by graduate student Sean O’Hern and associate professor of mechanical engineering Rohit Karnik, is the first step toward actual production of such a graphene filter.

Making these minuscule holes in graphene — a hexagonal array of carbon atoms, like atomic-scale chicken wire — occurs in a two-stage process. First, the graphene is bombarded with gallium ions, which disrupt the carbon bonds. Then, the graphene is etched with an oxidizing solution that reacts strongly with the disrupted bonds — producing a hole at each spot where the gallium ions struck. By controlling how long the graphene sheet is left in the oxidizing solution, the MIT researchers can control the average size of the pores.

A big limitation in existing nanofiltration and reverse-osmosis desalination plants, which use filters to separate salt from seawater, is their low permeability: Water flows very slowly through them. The graphene filters, being much thinner, yet very strong, can sustain a much higher flow. “We’ve developed the first membrane that consists of a high density of subnanometer-scale pores in an atomically thin, single sheet of graphene,” O’Hern says.

For efficient desalination, a membrane must demonstrate “a high rejection rate of salt, yet a high flow rate of water,” he adds. One way of doing that is decreasing the membrane’s thickness, but this quickly renders conventional polymer-based membranes too weak to sustain the water pressure, or too ineffective at rejecting salt, he explains.

With graphene membranes, it becomes simply a matter of controlling the size of the pores, making them “larger than water molecules, but smaller than everything else,” O’Hern says — whether salt, impurities, or particular kinds of biochemical molecules.

The permeability of such graphene filters, according to computer simulations, could be 50 times greater than that of conventional membranes, as demonstrated earlier by a team of MIT researchers led by graduate student David Cohen-Tanugi of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. But producing such filters with controlled pore sizes has remained a challenge. The new work, O’Hern says, demonstrates a method for actually producing such material with dense concentrations of nanometer-scale holes over large areas.

“We bombard the graphene with gallium ions at high energy,” O’Hern says. “That creates defects in the graphene structure, and these defects are more chemically reactive.” When the material is bathed in a reactive oxidant solution, the oxidant “preferentially attacks the defects,” and etches away many holes of roughly similar size. O’Hern and his co-authors were able to produce a membrane with 5 trillion pores per square centimeter, well suited to use for filtration. “To better understand how small and dense these graphene pores are, if our graphene membrane were to be magnified about a million times, the pores would be less than 1 millimeter in size, spaced about 4 millimeters apart, and span over 38 square miles, an area roughly half the size of Boston,” O’Hern says.

With this technique, the researchers were able to control the filtration properties of a single, centimeter-sized sheet of graphene: Without etching, no salt flowed through the defects formed by gallium ions. With just a little etching, the membranes started allowing positive salt ions to flow through. With further etching, the membranes allowed both positive and negative salt ions to flow through, but blocked the flow of larger organic molecules. With even more etching, the pores were large enough to allow everything to go through.

Scaling up the process to produce useful sheets of the permeable graphene, while maintaining control over the pore sizes, will require further research, O’Hern says.

Karnik says that such membranes, depending on their pore size, could find various applications. Desalination and nanofiltration may be the most demanding, since the membranes required for these plants would be very large. But for other purposes, such as selective filtration of molecules — for example, removal of unreacted reagents from DNA — even the very small filters produced so far might be useful.

“For biofiltration, size or cost are not as critical,” Karnik says. “For those applications, the current scale is suitable.”

Dexter Johnson in a Feb. 26,2014 posting provides some context for and insight into the work (from the Nanoclast blog on the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers]), Note: Links have been removed,

About 18 months ago, I wrote about an MIT project in which computer models demonstrated that graphene could act as a filter in the desalination of water through the reverse osmosis (RO) method. RO is slightly less energy intensive than the predominantly used multi-stage-flash process. The hope was that the nanopores of the graphene material would make the RO method even less energy intensive than current versions by making it easier to push the water through the filter membrane.

The models were promising, but other researchers in the field said at the time it was going to be a long road to translate a computer model to a real product.

It would seem that the MIT researchers agreed it was worth the effort and accepted the challenge to go from computer model to a real device as they announced this week that they had developed a method for creating selective pores in graphene that make it suitable for water desalination.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Selective Ionic Transport through Tunable Subnanometer Pores in Single-Layer Graphene Membranes by Sean C. O’Hern, Michael S. H. Boutilier, Juan-Carlos Idrobo, Yi Song, Jing Kong, Tahar Laoui, Muataz Atieh, and Rohit Karnik. Nano Lett., Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/nl404118f Publication Date (Web): February 3, 2014

Copyright © 2014 American Chemical Society

This article is behind a paywall.

The second item is also from MIT and concerns a low-tech means of purifying water. From a Feb. 27, 2014 news item on Azonano,

If you’ve run out of drinking water during a lakeside camping trip, there’s a simple solution: Break off a branch from the nearest pine tree, peel away the bark, and slowly pour lake water through the stick. The improvised filter should trap any bacteria, producing fresh, uncontaminated water.

In fact, an MIT team has discovered that this low-tech filtration system can produce up to four liters of drinking water a day — enough to quench the thirst of a typical person.

In a paper published this week in the journal PLoS ONE, the researchers demonstrate that a small piece of sapwood can filter out more than 99 percent of the bacteria E. coli from water. They say the size of the pores in sapwood — which contains xylem tissue evolved to transport sap up the length of a tree — also allows water through while blocking most types of bacteria.

Co-author Rohit Karnik, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, says sapwood is a promising, low-cost, and efficient material for water filtration, particularly for rural communities where more advanced filtration systems are not readily accessible.

“Today’s filtration membranes have nanoscale pores that are not something you can manufacture in a garage very easily,” Karnik says. “The idea here is that we don’t need to fabricate a membrane, because it’s easily available. You can just take a piece of wood and make a filter out of it.”

The Feb. 26, 2014 news release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, describes current filtration techniques and the advantages associated with this new low-tech approach,

There are a number of water-purification technologies on the market today, although many come with drawbacks: Systems that rely on chlorine treatment work well at large scales, but are expensive. Boiling water to remove contaminants requires a great deal of fuel to heat the water. Membrane-based filters, while able to remove microbes, are expensive, require a pump, and can become easily clogged.

Sapwood may offer a low-cost, small-scale alternative. The wood is comprised of xylem, porous tissue that conducts sap from a tree’s roots to its crown through a system of vessels and pores. Each vessel wall is pockmarked with tiny pores called pit membranes, through which sap can essentially hopscotch, flowing from one vessel to another as it feeds structures along a tree’s length. The pores also limit cavitation, a process by which air bubbles can grow and spread in xylem, eventually killing a tree. The xylem’s tiny pores can trap bubbles, preventing them from spreading in the wood.

“Plants have had to figure out how to filter out bubbles but allow easy flow of sap,” Karnik observes. “It’s the same problem with water filtration where we want to filter out microbes but maintain a high flow rate. So it’s a nice coincidence that the problems are similar.”

The news release also describes the experimental procedure the scientists followed (from the news release),

To study sapwood’s water-filtering potential, the researchers collected branches of white pine and stripped off the outer bark. They cut small sections of sapwood measuring about an inch long and half an inch wide, and mounted each in plastic tubing, sealed with epoxy and secured with clamps.

Before experimenting with contaminated water, the group used water mixed with red ink particles ranging from 70 to 500 nanometers in size. After all the liquid passed through, the researchers sliced the sapwood in half lengthwise, and observed that much of the red dye was contained within the very top layers of the wood, while the filtrate, or filtered water, was clear. This experiment showed that sapwood is naturally able to filter out particles bigger than about 70 nanometers.

However, in another experiment, the team found that sapwood was unable to separate out 20-nanometer particles from water, suggesting that there is a limit to the size of particles coniferous sapwood can filter.

Finally, the team flowed inactivated, E. coli-contaminated water through the wood filter. When they examined the xylem under a fluorescent microscope, they saw that bacteria had accumulated around pit membranes in the first few millimeters of the wood. Counting the bacterial cells in the filtered water, the researchers found that the sapwood was able to filter out more than 99 percent of E. coli from water.

Karnik says sapwood likely can filter most types of bacteria, the smallest of which measure about 200 nanometers. However, the filter probably cannot trap most viruses, which are much smaller in size.

The researchers have future plans (from the news release),

Karnik says his group now plans to evaluate the filtering potential of other types of sapwood. In general, flowering trees have smaller pores than coniferous trees, suggesting that they may be able to filter out even smaller particles. However, vessels in flowering trees tend to be much longer, which may be less practical for designing a compact water filter.

Designers interested in using sapwood as a filtering material will also have to find ways to keep the wood damp, or to dry it while retaining the xylem function. In other experiments with dried sapwood, Karnik found that water either did not flow through well, or flowed through cracks, but did not filter out contaminants.

“There’s huge variation between plants,” Karnik says. “There could be much better plants out there that are suitable for this process. Ideally, a filter would be a thin slice of wood you could use for a few days, then throw it away and replace at almost no cost. It’s orders of magnitude cheaper than the high-end membranes on the market today.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Water Filtration Using Plant Xylem by Michael S. H. Boutilier, Jongho Lee, Valerie Chambers, Varsha Venkatesh, & Rohit Karnik. PLOS One Published: February 26, 2014 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0089934

This paper is open access.

One final observation, two of the researchers listed as authors on the graphene/water desalination paper are also listed on the low-tech sapwood paper (Michael S. H. Boutilier & Rohit Karnik).

A wearable book (The Girl Who Was Plugged In) makes you feel the protagonists pain

A team of students taking an MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) course called ‘Science Fiction to Science Fabrication‘ have created a new kind of category for books, sensory fiction.  John Brownlee in his Feb. 10, 2014 article for Fast Company describes it this way,

Have you ever felt your pulse quicken when you read a book, or your skin go clammy during a horror story? A new student project out of MIT wants to deepen those sensations. They have created a wearable book that uses inexpensive technology and neuroscientific hacking to create a sort of cyberpunk Neverending Story that blurs the line between the bodies of a reader and protagonist.

Called Sensory Fiction, the project was created by a team of four MIT students–Felix Heibeck, Alexis Hope, Julie Legault, and Sophia Brueckner …

Here’s the MIT video demonstrating the book in use (from the course’s sensory fiction page),

Here’s how the students have described their sensory book, from the project page,

Sensory fiction is about new ways of experiencing and creating stories.

Traditionally, fiction creates and induces emotions and empathy through words and images.  By using a combination of networked sensors and actuators, the Sensory Fiction author is provided with new means of conveying plot, mood, and emotion while still allowing space for the reader’s imagination. These tools can be wielded to create an immersive storytelling experience tailored to the reader.

To explore this idea, we created a connected book and wearable. The ‘augmented’ book portrays the scenery and sets the mood, and the wearable allows the reader to experience the protagonist’s physiological emotions.

The book cover animates to reflect the book’s changing atmosphere, while certain passages trigger vibration patterns.

Changes in the protagonist’s emotional or physical state triggers discrete feedback in the wearable, whether by changing the heartbeat rate, creating constriction through air pressure bags, or causing localized temperature fluctuations.

Our prototype story, ‘The Girl Who Was Plugged In’ by James Tiptree showcases an incredible range of settings and emotions. The main protagonist experiences both deep love and ultimate despair, the freedom of Barcelona sunshine and the captivity of a dark damp cellar.

The book and wearable support the following outputs:

  • Light (the book cover has 150 programmable LEDs to create ambient light based on changing setting and mood)
  • Sound
  • Personal heating device to change skin temperature (through a Peltier junction secured at the collarbone)
  • Vibration to influence heart rate
  • Compression system (to convey tightness or loosening through pressurized airbags)

One of the earliest stories about this project was a Jan. 28,2014 piece written by Alison Flood for the Guardian where she explains how vibration, etc. are used to convey/stimulate the reader’s sensations and emotions,

MIT scientists have created a ‘wearable’ book using temperature and lighting to mimic the experiences of a book’s protagonist

The book, explain the researchers, senses the page a reader is on, and changes ambient lighting and vibrations to “match the mood”. A series of straps form a vest which contains a “heartbeat and shiver simulator”, a body compression system, temperature controls and sound.

“Changes in the protagonist’s emotional or physical state trigger discrete feedback in the wearable [vest], whether by changing the heartbeat rate, creating constriction through air pressure bags, or causing localised temperature fluctuations,” say the academics.

Flood goes on to illuminate how science fiction has explored the notion of ‘sensory books’ (Note: Links have been removed) and how at least one science fiction novelist is responding to this new type of book,,

The Arthur C Clarke award-winning science fiction novelist Chris Beckett wrote about a similar invention in his novel Marcher, although his “sensory” experience comes in the form of a video game:

Adam Roberts, another prize-winning science fiction writer, found the idea of “sensory” fiction “amazing”, but also “infantalising, like reverting to those sorts of books we buy for toddlers that have buttons in them to generate relevant sound-effects”.

Elise Hu in her Feb. 6, 2014 posting on the US National Public Radio (NPR) blog, All Tech Considered, takes a different approach to the topic,

The prototype does work, but it won’t be manufactured anytime soon. The creation was only “meant to provoke discussion,” Hope says. It was put together as part of a class in which designers read science fiction and make functional prototypes to explore the ideas in the books.

If it ever does become more widely available, sensory fiction could have an unintended consequence. When I shared this idea with NPR editor Ellen McDonnell, she quipped, “If these device things are helping ‘put you there,’ it just means the writing won’t have to be as good.”

I hope the students are successful at provoking discussion as so far they seem to have primarily provoked interest.

As for my two cents, I think that in a world where it seems making personal connections  is increasingly difficult (i.e., people becoming more isolated) that sensory fiction which stimulates people into feeling something as they read a book seems a logical progression.  It’s also interesting to me that all of the focus is on the reader with no mention as to what writers might produce (other than McDonnell’s cheeky comment) if they knew their books were going to be given the ‘sensory treatment’. One more musing, I wonder if there might a difference in how males and females, writers and readers, respond to sensory fiction.

Now for a bit of wordplay. Feeling can be emotional but, in English, it can also refer to touch and researchers at MIT have also been investigating new touch-oriented media.  You can read more about that project in my Reaching beyond the screen with the Tangible Media Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) posting dated Nov. 13, 2013. One final thought, I am intrigued by how interested scientists at MIT seem to be in feelings of all kinds.

Lomiko Mines, graphene, 3D printing, and the World Outlook Financial Conference and the launch of an international sustainable mining institute in Vancouver, Canada

I have two items one of which concerns Lomiko Metals and the other, a new institute focused on extraction launched jointly by the University of British Columbia (UBC), Simon Fraser University (SFU) and l’École Polytechnique de Montréal (EPM).

First, there’s a puzzling Jan. 28, 2014 news item on Nanowerk about Lomiko Metals (a company that extracts graphite flakes from the Quatre Milles property in Québec, and its appearance at the 2014 World Outlook Financial Conference being held in Vancouver,

Lomiko Metals Inc. invite [sic] investors to learn about 3d printing at the World Outlook Conference. Lomiko partner Graphene 3D Lab has reached a significant milestone by filing a provisional patent application for the use of graphene-enhanced material, along with other materials, in 3D Printing. 3D printing or additive manufacturing is the process of creating a three-dimensional, solid object from a digital file, of virtually any shape. 3D printing is achieved using an additive process, whereas successive layers of material are laid down and create different shapes.

Unsure as to whether or not Lomiko Metals would be offering demonstrations of 3D printed items containing graphene at the conference, I sent a query to the company’s Chief Executive Officer, A. Paul Gill who kindly replied with this,

The demonstration being done is by the Conference not by Lomiko.  We were going to do something at our booth but we didn’t want to steal any thunder from the WOC or Tinkinerine which is a 3D Printing manufacturer and is going public through a merger with White Bear Resources. (TSX-V: WBR).

The Jan. 27, 2013 [sic] Lomiko Metals news release, which originated the news item, did have this to say about graphene and 3D printing (Note: I live in dread of accidentally writing 2013 when I mean 2014),

Adding graphene to polymers which are conventionally u sed in 3D printing improves the properties of the polymer in many different ways; it improves the polymers mechanical strength as well as its electrical and thermal conductivity. The method described in the provisional patent application allows consumers to use the polymer, infused with graphene, together with conventional polymers in the same printing process, thereby fabricating functional electronic devices using 3D printing.

New developments in 3D printing will allow for the creation of products with different components, such as printed electronic circuits, sensors, or batteries to be manufactured. 3D Printing is a new and promising manufacturing technology that has garnered much interest, growing from uses in prototyping to everyday products. Today, it is a billion dollar industry growing at a brisk pace.

For those eager to find out about investment opportunities in 2014, here’s the World Financial Outlook Conference website. I was surprised they don’t list the conference dates on the homepage (Jan. 31 – Feb. 1,2014) or any details other than the prices for various categories of registration. There is a Speakers page, which lists John Biehler as their 3D printing expert,

John Biehler is a Vancouver based photographer, blogger, gadget geek, mobile phone nerd, teacher, traveler, 3D printer builder/operator, maker & all around curious person.

He co-founded, a club of 3d printing enthusiasts who meet monthly and help share their knowledge of 3d printing at many events. He has spoken at numerous conferences including SXSW Interactive, Northern Voice, BarCamp and many others.

John is a regular contributor to, the DottoTech radio show, the Province newspaper and London Drugs blogs as well as doing a weekly Tech Tuesday segment on News 1130 radio and many other online, print, radio and television outlets. He is currently writing his first book (about 3D printing) that will be published in 2014 by Que.

You can find the conference agenda here. Biehler’s talk “3D Printing: The Future is Now” is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014 at 10:45 am PDT.

Sustainable extraction

A January 29, 2014 University of British Columbia (UBC) news release announced this (Note: Links have been removed),

International sustainable mining institute launched

A new Canadian institute that will help developing countries benefit from their mining resources in environmentally and socially responsible ways was officially launched in Vancouver today.

The Canadian International Institute for Extractive Industries and Development (CIIEID) is a coalition between the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, and École Polytechnique de Montréal (EPM). Institute Interim Executive Director Bern Klein was joined for the launch in Vancouver by UBC’s Vice President Research & International John Hepburn, SFU President Andrew Petter, and EPM CEO Christophe Guy.

“Nations want to develop their mineral, oil and gas resources,” says Klein, also a professor of mining engineering at UBC. “But many lack the regulatory and policy frameworks to make the most of their natural resources, while also considering the needs of affected communities. We want them to have the capacity to use their resources to enhance livelihoods, improve dialogue and mitigate environmental harm.”

In November 2012 the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (then CIDA) announced the award of $25 million to a coalition of the three academic institutions to form the Institute. Since then, the Institute has set up operations and is connecting with partner nongovernmental organizations, governments, professional associations, and industry. It is now beginning program development.

Programming will put the Institute and its partners’ knowledge and resources at the service of foreign governments and local communities. Its work will focus on four main areas: applied research, community engagement, education, and governance of natural resources.

For more information about the Institute, visit the website at:

I have searched the CIIEID website to find out how the government or anyone else for that matter determined that Canadians have any advice about or examples of sustainable extraction to offer any other country.  I remain mystified. Perhaps someone reading this blog would care to enlighten me.

Grenelabs and its indiegogo crowdfunding campaign for a handheld diagnostic device

Grenelabs has just started anindiegogo campaign to raise money for its lab-on-a-chip handheld diagnostic equipment or as they call it, ‘Lab-on-a-chip: Diagnostics in the Palm of Your Hand‘. I received a Nov. 19, 2013 news release (as happens more frequently these days) about the effort,

Thomas Warinner, head of Grenelabs, seeks crowdfunding to raise $75,000 by December 20, 2013 (11:59 pm PT),, to support the completion of the technologically new, lab-on-a chip diagnostic tool. This device, small enough to fit in the palm of a hand, is designed using reliable scientific knowledge coupled with breakthrough technology. It enables users to diagnose diseases within minutes without electricity and costly upkeep, making it ideal for use in developing countries around the world and by independent research labs whose funds are oftentimes limited.

“Imagine a world in which developing countries can have access to technologies in order to diagnose and prevent the spread of diseases,” said Thomas Warinner, creator of the lab-on-a-chip device. “The importance of these chips is not to just open up research, but to identify illnesses in people who could otherwise not be diagnosed.” Many of these are illnesses that could be contained and treated, if caught in time, rather than allowing them to run rampant, sickening or killing people and/or animals.

So how does it work? Basically, the lab-on-a chip manipulates liquids in capillary tubes within the chip based on the science of microfluidics. For example, a drop of blood is sent past biomarkers that change when positive. Although disposable, the lab-on-a-chip is designed to be accurate over multiple uses. Grenelabs developed the ability to perform diagnostic testing in any setting, making it useful in disaster situations, remote areas, and developing countries. “This technology will change the world,” Warinner said of his innovative tool that measures half the size of a credit card. But, in order to move forward, funding is needed.

In an effort to raise funds, support levels have been created. Choose a dollar amount and receive the assigned perk. For instance, a $55 donation will give the donor a digital copy of a huge modern art mural with DNA sequencing; a $125 donation will reward the contributor with a lab-on-a-chip engraved with the contributor’s name to be given to an area in need; a $500 donation gets the supporter a special work of art with an individualized DNA sequencing as the focus; and a $1200 donation allows givers to conduct their own genetic experiments with an electrophoresis unit deliverable by January 2014.

While the initial goal is to collect $75,000 for finalization and production of the chip, more money is needed to improve the lab-on-a-chip’s reach. With $200,000, an upgraded software system will allow all users, inexperienced and experienced, to utilize the chip. With $500,000, the number of diseases and infections that can be recognized by the device would increase. And imagine having a personal diagnostic system at home; with $1,000,000, that would be a possibility.

Support the campaign through monetary donation or by simply sharing the lab-on-a-chip’s fundraising page with others through word of mouth or social media sites. With support, the lab-on-a-chip will soon be making a positive difference in the world.

About Grenelabs

Grenelabs is founded by Thomas Warinner. With a mission to provide affordable and accessible learning tools to researchers around the world, the company developed the lab-on-a-chip device to be a convenient, affordable and useful tool for people around the world.

It seems like a well-intentioned project but its a little hard to tell what makes it different from all of the other hand-held diagnostic projects. I did take a look at the Grenelabs website and was not able to get any more information about the folks behind this project or about any other projects they may have underway. It’s early days yet and I’m sure they’ll refine their pitch (perhaps a find a distinctive name for their project?) as they continue to seek funds.

Interestingly (to me) the news release for this campaign,was written and sent by L&C, a company devoted to the promotion of crowdfunding campaigns according to its About Us page,

We are obsessed with great design & quality content and that’s one of the reasons L&C became successful in the first place. Each crowdfund project we publish goes through quality control and has to be approved by L&C’s crowdfunding experts in order to get showcased. By following this strategy we’ve managed to showcase 100′s of crowdfund projects to the public.

“We showcase the coolest crowdfund projects of the web”

We’ve helped entrepreneurs and innovators turn brilliant ideas into realily and are proud of that. We are dedicated in finding the coolest crowdfund projects of the web and in making your life easier, that’s our goal, that’s our passion and 1000′s of visitors per day must mean we are doing something right.

If you want to:

  • Reach a wider audience
  • Inspire people to visit your campaign page
  • Convince people to back your crowdfund project
  • Promote your project across multiple channels
  • Use the very latest marketing methods that are proven to produce results

If any of the above sounds familiar, L&C Media Buzz is the team for you.

Who We Are

Our team at L&C draws on years of promotional and marketing experience in the online and physical communities. We make it our job to keep up to date with cutting edge techniques so that you can always be sure your project is being presented in the very best light to your target audiences.

We know how important it is to focus on presenting the right message to the right people at the right time. Our professional team of copywriters and marketing experts have all the crowdfund promotion tools you could ask for and more.

What We Do

Whether you are trying to fund an exciting new product or pay for a family member’s medical expenses, there are people out there that will be willing to help. But in order to help, those people need to know about your project.

By employing a combination of proven marketing methods executed with the flare and panache of marketing veterans, L&C Media Buzz can instantly improve your crowdfunding project’s visibility. Some of those proven techniques include:

  • Content Optimization
  • Professionally Written Press Releases with Global Distribution
  • Content Marketing
  • Multimedia Web Promotion
  • Headline Display in Time Square

With our helping hands, you can reach out to a wider audience and really showcase your campaign in all its glory.

Not for Everyone

Some people might think that having a campaign on the internet and writing an article about it will do the job. If the project is good then the people will come… won’t they?
The truth, unfortunately, is no. Just because something is there, doesn’t mean people will see it.

More than that, even if you have the most amazing cause or product to raise funds for, people still might not want to make a financial investment in you.
Why? Because investing in somebody is a risk. Especially if you don’t know that person.

In order to fulfill your campaign goals, you will need a crowdfund promotion plan that isn’t just seen by potential backers, but one that inspires investors to take a chance on you. This takes skill and expertise. The skill and expertise that that not everyone possesses. The skill and expertise that L&C possesses.

  • Professional writers will craft press releases that will be distributed worldwide to attract potential backers.
  • Copywriters will carefully design engaging blogs about your campaign that highlight exactly why people need to invest in your dream right now.
  • L&C will post blogs on our very own blog page ( which, with a little help of our SEO experts, gets visitors from all over the world.
  • In short, we cover all marketing angles to help drive targeted traffic to your crowdfunding campaign.

Easy for You

Here at L&C we understand that your main priority should be focusing on bringing your project to life. That’s why we offer to take all the hard work and stress out of crowdfund promotion.

Using our professional, effective marketing services couldn’t be easier. We use packages which combine various marketing components from social media promotion to crowdfund consultation. Whichever package you choose, you will have a personal campaign manager who will oversee your crowdfund promotion plan from beginning to end to ensure excellent continuity across all marketing channels.

We at L&C don’t believe in hidden fees which is why each package is paid for up front with a one off fee. Once you have chosen the package that best suits your campaign’s needs, you can fill out the details in the forms provided to make sure your promotional material fits your unique goal, pay the fee and then sit back and let us work our marketing magic.

Our crowdfund promotion packages raise your campaign up on a pedestal for your investors to see clearly.

Based on what I see for Warriner’s campaign, I hope L&C will help the Grenelabs folks to better understand the audience for what appears to be a well intentioned project.

Canada’s Peachy Printer; a 3D printer that sells for $100.00

On the heels of the Togo story featured in my Oct. 1, 2013 posting titled, Kodjo Afate Gnikou and his team in Togo create the world’s first 3D printer for less than $US100, it seems there’s another $100 3D printer and one much closer to home. From a Nov. 6, 2013 news item on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting News) online,

Rylan Grayston, 28, from Yorkton [Saskatchewan], said curiosity fuelled his quest to create a 3-D copier that sells for just $100. Other versions of the high-tech device exist for several thousand dollars or more.

“I didn’t have enough money for a 3-D printer that I wanted, so I just started thinking about how can I do this myself?” Grayston told CBC News in an interview at a shop in Saskatoon where he is working, with his brother, on his project.

“All I want to do is invent,” Grayston said about the possible riches associated with an affordable 3-D printer. “I would love to have lots of money so I can pull off my other inventions. … I don’t want to buy a yacht. I won’t be buying any fancy cars.”

According to the CBC news item, Grayston has no formal engineering or computer science training/education. I gather he likes to figure things out for himself. He and his brother have produced a video (one of a series produced for their Kickstarter and inidiegogo crowdfunding campaigns and other publicity and public outreach campaigns), explaining the principles behind their printer,

The CBC news item describes the technology more simply,

Grayston’s software converts an object into file data using a sound-card on his laptop. The information on that audio file is sent to mirrors and laser beams which vibrate and move in accord with the data to carve 3-D objects from a specialized acrylic resin.

Unlike other, more expensive, devices Grayston’s Peachy Printer has no motors or microprocessors.

At least one expert  is impressed (from the CBC news item),

“It blows my mind,” David Gerhard, a computer science professor at the University of Regina told CBC News. “The way that they’re doing things is so sort of different from the way normal 3-D printers work, that it’s quite amazing to see the shift in thinking.”


“It completely changes the game,” Gerhard said of the machine he saw, first hand, in Yorkton. “To be able to do it for a hundred bucks and basically with stuff you can find around your house, that’s the thing that changes everything.”

The Peachy Printer website‘s store isn’t open yet but once the participants in the two crowdfunding campaigns have received their kits (you do have to build your 3D Peachy Printer) the rest of us can purchase one.

Interestingly, the Graystons have included a page on Ethics on their Peachy Printer website,

We want to run our business on a set of specific moral principles…

1. Using Freedom Respecting and Open Source software.  We think that you should have the right to:

- Choose and change how your computer does its computing.
- Let others change how your computer does its computing.
- Share your changes so that other people can benefit from them.
- See exactly how our software works.   We won’t ask you to trust us blindly, you can read our source code and see for yourself!

“I see software patents as a very sad anomaly, especially the way they are being used in this day and age.  I’m not saying that I disagree with patents entirely, or that I won’t ever use them.  I’m saying that I wish the whole situation was different…  More focused on really encouraging innovation instead of stifling it in the name of profit.  I think that patents can be a useful tool, however they should not be allowed to exist for 20 years.  That’s not in the best interest of innovation, that’s in the best interest of maximum profit for corporations.  I also find it rather disturbing that our legal system allows one person to sue another person simply for acting on some thoughts that they genuinely had on their own, wrote down in code, and implemented.”

- Rylan Grayston – Inventor of the Peachy Printer

,I am particularly interested in the first principle for which I applaud Rylan Grayston. I have written many times on the topic of patents (intellectual property) and my Nov. 23, 2012 posting which focuses on nanotechnology patents and a situation in the 3D printing community seems a good fit here. Of course, I wish I hadn’t seen this on the Peachy Printer Kickstarter campaign page,

You know how everyone and their Grandmother has a paper printer? Well, wouldn’t it be cool if everyone and their Grandmother had a 3D printer? It definitely would, but this isn’t a reality for 2 reasons:

- 3D Printers still quite expensive.

- They aren’t very simple. Good luck teaching your Grandma how to use one! [emphasis mine]

Old ladies can’t figure out complicated things, eh? The Graystons may want to check the Grandma Got STEM website profiled in my March 27, 2013 posting,,

Jeff Bittel thank you for a story (Mar. 26, 2013 on Slate) about Rachel Levy and the website where she gently blows up the notion/stereotype that older women don’t understand science and technology and that they are too old to learn (Note: A link has been removed),

Is your grandmother a particle physicist? Did she help the Navy build submarines or make concoctions of chlorine gas on the family’s front porch? Or is she a mathematician, inventor, or engineer? If so, then baby, your grandma’s got STEM.

Grandma Got STEM is a celebration of women working in and contributing to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. It is also designed to combat the doting, fumbling, pie-making stereotype of grandmatrons.

That’s why Rachel Levy, an associate professor of mathematics at Harvey Mudd College, is collecting the stories of grandmas across the various fields of STEM. She first got the idea after hearing someone utter the phrase, “Just explain it like you would to your grandma.”

At first blush, such a thing seems harmless. But think about what it means—basically, all older women are stupid.

“For two or three years I thought about how I could address this issue without just making people angry and more inclined to use the phrase,” Levy told me. “If I could come up with a million examples of grandmothers who were tech-savvy, people wouldn’t say it anymore because it wouldn’t be apt.”

Here’s an excerpt from a Sept. 27, 2013 posting on Grandma Got STEM,

… mathematician, and electronic music composer Delia Derbyshire.  Derbyshire realized Ron Grainer’s score for the theme song of the popular science fiction series Doctor Who, but never received credit or royalties for her work.[emphasis mine]


While it’s more common to dismiss ‘old women’, it also happens to old men. Let’s hope that the Graystons come to realize they too will be old one day and dismissed as unable to learn new things, likely by their own children and grandchildren. Isn’t it time to start changing our attitudes towards aging and learning?

Moving on, it’s good to see innovation in Canada, I wonder if anyone will notice?  There’s so much bemoaning by Canadian politicians, bureaucrats, and the aristocrats of the business community about the lack of innovation here (as per my latest on the topic, a Nov. 1, 2013 posting) that no one seems to be asking the question, how do we encourage the innovation already present in Canada?

I also want to note that Canada’s Prairie provinces seem to be a good place to innovate. There’s the Peachy Printer in Saskatchewan and the Urbee car (my latest on that project is in an Aug. 28, 2012 posting) in Manitoba. Go Prairies!

Oxford’s (UK) Bodleian Library gets a new chair while Vancouver’s (Canada) Public Library gets a ‘creative studio’

One of my interests vis à vis science and technology has to do with consequences, intended or otherwise. In this case, I”m considering the impact that the digital domain has had on one of my favourite analogue forms, books, more specifically, I’m interested in one of their homes, libraries.

It’s lovely being online and being able to access information and people in ways that were undreamed of even 20 years ago. There have also been some consequences as music, movies, books, etc. have entered the digital domain either directly or from their original analogue forms. Copyright law, access to science research papers, business models for writers, musicians, and other creative types, etc. have all been hugely affected by the advent of a digital domain  enabled by the fields of computer science, mathematics, etc.

Before discussing the two library stories (Oxford and Vancouver), here’s a brief description of libraries from a Wikipedia essay on the topic (Note: Links have been removed),

A library (from French “librairie”; Latin “liber” = book) is an organized collection of information resources made accessible to a defined community for reference or borrowing. It provides physical or digital access to material, and may be a physical building or room, or a virtual space, or both.[1] A library’s collection can include books, periodicals, newspapers, manuscripts, films, maps, prints, documents, microform, CDs, cassettes, videotapes, DVDs, Blu-ray Discs, e-books, audiobooks, databases, and other formats. Libraries range in size from a few shelves of books to several million items. In Latin and Greek, the idea of bookcase is represented by Bibliotheca and Bibliothēkē (Greek: βιβλιοθήκη): derivatives of these mean library in many modern languages, e.g. French bibliothèque.

The first libraries consisted of archives of the earliest form of writing—the clay tablets in cuneiform script discovered in Sumer, some dating back to 2600 BC …

Keeping that definition in mind, it’s fascinating to note that Oxford’s Bodleian Library has just announced a winner for its chair competition. From an Oct. 15, 2013 article by John Pavlus for Fast Company,

The Bodleian Libraries at the University of Oxford have housed precious literature and scholarly documents for the past 400 years. It’s a special place, with its own special chairs–and over those last four centuries, only three chair designs have graced the Bodleian’s halls. The latest, designed by Barber and Osgerby, beat out competing designs by Herman Miller and four other firms. So how do you create a chair for the ages–something that can fit into Oxford’s storied history while updating it at the same time?

Oliver Wainwright in his Sept. 13, 2013 article for the Guardian provides some context for the chairs and their role in the Bodleian library and others,

Founded in 1602, the Bodleian Library rooms were always furnished with either raised reading lecterns – to study manuscripts standing up – or low wooden benches fixed to the bookshelves, to which the precious volumes were chained. It was not until the mid-18th century that the radical idea of the chair was introduced.

Records show that in 1756, three dozen Windsor chairs were bought from a Mr Munday, for the princely sum of 8s 6d each (about £120 in today’s money) – beginning a story of scholarly sitting that reaches its latest chapter this week.

They are competing for a prestigious commission that was last awarded to Giles Gilbert Scott in 1936, when he designed two seats to furnish his New Bodleian Library building, in the form of heavy leather-clad bucket chairs to match his stripped stone fortress of books. The building is currently undergoing a £78m renovation by Wilkinson Eyre architects – due to open next year – as a home for special collections. And special collections clearly need a very special chair.

“We wanted something that would be iconic and representative of the library,” says the Bodleian’s estates manager, Toby Kirtley. “It should be contemporary in style, but not out of place in a heritage setting – innovative and original, without being too experimental and risky.”

“People are now used to reading all over the place on their iPhones, while waiting for the bus or on the train, so there is a renewed attraction to coming back to the sanctity of a specific, static space.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Fletcher [Chris Fletcher, keeper of special collections] has also seen the use of the special collections increase, despite the wide availability of much of the material online.

“As digital information becomes more accessible, so the importance of the analogue also surfaces. It’s like vinyl, or 35mm film: people are interested in objects and the innate quality of things.”

By contrast, Vancouver Public Library’s chief librarian, Sandra Singh, wants to embark on a different approach to the library experience (I will get back to the Bodleian library and the winning chair). From an Oct. 1, 2013 article by Cheryl Rossi for the Vancouver Courier,

Once a bastion of silence, the Vancouver Public Library wants to build a creative technology lab that includes a recording studio with sound mixing equipment.

Open to library patrons, the Inspiration Lab would include a recording studio, digital devices to preserve and share stories, video editing software and self-publishing tools that include software and hardware to produce print or eBooks.

“What our hope would be down the road is if they come in and record an oral history or create a movie or a new piece of music or something, that we can actually add it to our collection,” said chief librarian Sandra Singh. “As a community we’re enriched when we learn about each other, we learn about each others’ experiences, we learn how to see the world through each others eyes. It helps build connectivity, trust, empathy and a sense of belonging.”

The library anticipates needing up to $600,000 to create the 3,000-square-foot lab on the third floor of the Central Branch at 350 West Georgia St. The lab is slated to open in late 2014.

Interestingly, it seems that anyone with an objection to this grand plan is going to be called old (and presumably described as ‘out of touch’) as per Rod Mickleburgh’s Dec. 21, 2012 article about the ‘inspiration’ lab for the Globe & Mail,

Under the direction of its enthusiastic chief librarian, Sandra Singh – at 39, the youngest head of a major public library system in Canada – visits to the VPL are up, circulation is up, and wireless use in particular, not surprisingly, is skyrocketing. [emphasis mine]

“This is a very exciting time to be in libraries. We are being transformed,” Ms. Singh said. “When they think of libraries, many still have the old mental model of books on shelves. Well, we are books on shelves, no doubt about it. But we are so much more.” [emphasis mine]

The evidence was clear on a wet, miserable afternoon this week at the VPL’s multi-storey main branch downtown. The place was packed. Most were not borrowing books.

Teenager Jerrison Oracion excitedly checked out a couple of dance video games. “It’s the only place where you can get video games for free,” he said, with a big grin.

Up on the fifth floor, a group of community college students sat around a table, talking over their opened binders. “There’s peace and quiet here,” Jen Hall said. “If I go to Starbucks, I get nothing done.”

Nearby, long rows of computer stations were full up. “Just browsing,” said fashion designer Jewelz Mills, one of the users. “I try to come in here once a week.”

While insisting that the books are all right, with a long life ahead of them, Ms. Singh said the library is meeting the challenges of the digital age head-on.

The popularity of e-books, which can be downloaded directly from the VPL’s website, is on the rise. The cost of most Internet paywalls is absorbed by the library, and computer courses abound, ranging from basic skills for seniors to surfing the net beyond the obvious.

“What libraries are really about is learning. It’s not really about the format,” Ms. Singh said.

Where to start? The youngest chief librarian talks about old mental models followed by anecdotes about teenagers and college students who are at the library because it’s quiet (pause for an ironic moment) and breathless excitement over e-books and the digital domain.

Having visited the Vancouver Public Library (central branch and my neighbourhood branch), I can tell you there is significantly less product on the floor and by product  I don’t mean just books. There’s less of everything. I guess they’re making room for the new studio. How many of us are going to fit into that studio which is located in the central branch only (discards going to the now ‘emptyish’ neighbouhood branches) ? Who’s going to get access? I’m also curious about intellectual property. For example, if I make a movie that spawns much money, do I owe the library anything? What about my self-published book? Or am I paying the library for the privilege of using the equipment after I’ve paid in taxes to have the studio built?

As for Singh’s contention that libraries are for learning, she and I have a significant difference of opinion. I think they’re chief function is access and a public library is supposed to ensure access for everyone.

I have some issues with this grand studio plan but no doubt Ms. Singh (and I have met and talked with her so I have no doubt) would ascribe my objections to my age rather than any reasonable objections based on a lack of data and information. What statistics or data to support this notion that the library should supply someone or other with an ‘inspiration’ lab? There are similar experiments in the US and elsewhere. Have these been successful and has anyone analyzed the reasons for success and/or failure?

Apparently, there was some sort of public consultation. According to Mickleburgh’s article,

An extensive series of Free For All sessions, seeking community opinion on what was wanted from their libraries, including the wishes of teens, produced more than 7,000 responses over 10 months. What emerged is that people still value the VPL’s extensive collections, and they treasure its space, a refuge from the density of modern living.

When and where? How were people notified and who was invited? Who crunched the data? Is it possible the data crunchers had an agenda (consciously or unconsciously)? The answer to that last question is yes and one always has to compensate for one’s own agenda.

Some of these questions could also be aimed at the Bodleian Library folks and this contention “As digital information becomes more accessible, so the importance of the analogue also surfaces. It’s like vinyl, or 35mm film: people are interested in objects and the innate quality of things.” Do you have data supporting your contention or is that what you want to believe?

Finally, here’s what Wainwright had to say about the winning design,

Finally we come to Barber Osgerby, working with classic English modernist manufacturer Isokon. Either the designers are fans of Christine de Pizan, or I have been looking at medieval illuminations for too long, but their chair has definite echoes of some of the low, round-backed seats the Renaissance feminist is depicted sitting in.

With a single straight spine that joins a continuous curving arm rest to a similarly-shaped rail on the floor, the form is also strongly reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Barrel Chair, designed in 1937 for the Wingspread house in Wisconsin. Seen in a row from behind, as they will be installed in the library, they appear to form a line of little rooms around the readers, defining a series of individual territories from the floor to the desk.

As Barber Osgerby have cleverly done before with their Tip Ton school chair, the bottom rail is also angled to allow the chair to be subtly tilted forward, or leaned back to recline.

“That could be an important feature for the users of special collections,” says Fletcher. “You often want to get right in to see the variations in type, or annotations, or the chain lines in the paper.”

Sitting down, it appears to be the most comfortable, with broad armrests set at the right height; although, as I tilt forward – engrossed in the detail of a ligature – it feels like there might be a chance of being deposited head-first into the folio.

As a classic form that would sit at home in the Gilbert Scott interiors, yet which has its own distinctive identity as an elegant and ergonomic design, my money’s on Barber Osgerby.

You can see a photograph of the three finalist chairs and enjoy Wainwright’s full article here.

Kodjo Afate Gnikou and his team in Togo create the world’s first 3D printer for less than $US100

If you want to create a 3D printer for less $US100 scavenge your parts from electronic waste products as Kodjo Afate *Gnikou and his team did according to an Oct. 11, 2013 article by Neal Ungerleider for Fast Company (Note: Links have been removed),

The small West African nation of Togo is one of the last places you’d expect to find a maker space–a workshop where inventors and tinkerers can work on new projects to their hearts content. But inside the capital city of Lome, there’s a maker space. Woelab bills itself as “Africa’s first space for democratic technology” and it’s home to Kodjo Afate Gnikou. Gnikou’s latest invention was recently unveiled, and it’s amazing: A 3-D printer made from cheap discarded electronics of the kind found all over the world.

For anyone whose geography may need refreshing, there’s this from the Wikipedia Togo essay (Note: Links have been removed),

Togo Listeni/ˈtoʊɡoʊ/, officially the Togolese Republic (French: République Togolaise), is a country in West Africa bordered by Ghana to the west, Benin to the east and Burkina Faso to the north. It extends south to the Gulf of Guinea, where its capital Lomé is located. Togo covers an area of approximately 57,000 square kilometres (22,000 sq mi) with a population of approximately 6.7 million.

Togo is a tropical, sub-Saharan nation, highly dependent on agriculture, with a climate that provides good growing seasons. Togo is one of the smallest countries in all of Africa. The official language is French, with many other languages spoken in Togo, particularly those of the Gbe family.

An Oct. 10, 2013 posting on offers this about the project,

Using rails and belts from old scanners, the case of a discarded desktop computer and even bits of a diskette drive, Gnikou has created what is believed to be the first 3D printer made from e-waste.

Afate has been working on this experimental device for several months. He calls it W.AFATE, a composition of “W” WoeLab, and “Afate”.

Afate launched his project on ulule, an European crowdfunding site earlier this year, and raised more than 4,000 euro from supporters. The fund helped Afate support the cost of the original investment in time and equipment. W.AFATE 3D printer is now a working prototype. Some elements had to be bought new but, in all, his printer cost him 100 US dollars to build.

Afate says his printer can be useful on a daily basis as it can print various utensils needed in any household, that are not always easy to get hold of in west Africa.

You can find out more about Afate Gnikou’s WoeLab here (Note: You will need your French language skills),

 ”Petite république numérique” au quartier Djidjolé, [Lomé,, Togo] “définitivement fablab à niveau de rue”, WɔɛLab est un lieu d’innovation partagée où s’élabore au quotidien de nouvelles approches de la collaboration productive vertueuse en contexte africain, suivant le cahier des charges- concept : #LowHighTech. Ses prérogatives sont : -Centre de Ressources Numériques, Incubateur de Technologie. Le lieu héberge en latence du potentiel technologique qui ne demande qu’à être exploité sous la double condition du libre et de la transparence. -Pépinière de structures des domaines web, numérique et TIC.  -Espace d’expression privilégiée de la Démocratie Technologique. Diffusion d’une connaissance LowHighTech accessible à tous, assistance mutuelle bénévole, accompagnement technologique gratuit pour les artisans du quartier, reconquête du pouvoir de faire, recherche d’une Intelligence Globale. -Collaboration Universitaire et Volet Recherche. Partenariats avec les centres de recherche et les écoles de design. Appui aux institutions dans la démarche de constitution de leur propre pôle Lab.

I’ll do my best with this very rough translation but as I’ve noted in previous postings, my French is rusty. This is not word for word but is an attempt to get at the meaning with the terminology that is in use here in Canada and the US, e.g., collaboration productive vertueuse is sustainable and collaborative innovation

Our fabrication lab is part of a digital enterprise, which is located in Djidjolé, neighbourhood of Lomé, Togo,, WoeLab is committed to sustainable, collaborative innovation. within the African context and according to the principles of LowHighTech Innovation: use of free materials and transparent governance. Our goals are (1) to make knowledge and equipment that benefits our community and adds to global efforts in the democratic use and production of technology and (2) to contribute to our common global intellectual pursuits.

If someone can better represent what’s being said in French, please add it in the comments or contact me directly.

There was mention of a successful crowdfunding campaign, on the French language crowdfunding platform, Ulule, which has resulted in the W.Afate 3D printer Afterwards, the WoeLab community produced a thank you video,

In searching for more information about Afate Grnkou’s 3D printer, and other projects I found this June 5, 2013 posting by Daniel Hayduck on his blog/magazine, The Developing Tray,

Last week I met someone here in Lome with an idea I can safely say I’ve never heard before.

Kodjo Afate Gnikou wants to put e-waste often dumped in West Africa to good use on Mars, building a colony for the future.

Using rails and belts from old scanners, the case of a discarded desktop computer and even bits of a diskette drive, he’s created what’s believed to be the first 3D printer made from e-waste.

The 33-year-old, who makes a living repairing cellphones and computers in his neighbourhood, says he believes this model is only the prototype for something much larger.

“I imagine e-waste and other waste being transported to Mars and I imagine a 3D printer can be sent to Mars to make homes for mankind,” says Afate.

“They all say it is merely a dream, that will never happen.”

There’s more about the W.Afate to Mars project on the 2013 website (from the website home page for the Paris edition (April 20 – 21, 2013) in which Afate Gnikou was participating),

The Paris edition of the Nasa Space Apps Challenge ! We are gathering experts from the aerospace field, and the developer and startup community in France, to tackle the challenges laid out during this event.

Le “International Space Apps Challenge” est une collaboration internationale sans précédent entre des agences gouvernementales, des institutions académiques et des associations et entreprises innovantes tout autour du monde.

Le Space Apps Challenge est un hackathon* international ayant lieu pendant 48 heures en même temps dans plusieurs villes autour du monde.

Congratulations to Kodjo Afate Gnikou and his team on creating a more affordable 3D printer by reusing e-waste.

* I misspelled Kodjo Afate Gnikou’s name as Grikou in my posting and have corrected this (I hope I found every instance) as of Oct. 14, 2013.