Sequestered myself in Cafe Zoë in an attempt to make some more progress on a report I need to get to clients.
Write write write write....
Sequestered myself in Cafe Zoë in an attempt to make some more progress on a report I need to get to clients.
Write write write write....
I'm at home today, as my daughter came down with strep. When I picked her up from school yesterday afternoon, she was on the couch in child care, looking pretty drained. We spent part of last night at the pediatrician's, getting her and her brother swabbed, and dosed up with amoxicillin.
She woke up today and was pretty out of it. Her brother insisted that he was at death's door, until he remembered that his class was going ice skating today. Then all of a sudden: Miracle Recovery!
He tested negative last night, seemed no worse than usual. Since I know Elizabeth will rest better if she's alone (obviously I'm here; she's alone in the same way nobility are alone when servants are still in the room), I decided to take him into school.
Elizabeth is now on the couch. She watched Nausicaä: Valley of the West Wind this morning, and is now on to The Cat Returns. She likes Hayao Miyazaki under normal times, but for some reason, when she's under the weather, escapist movies featuring young female heroines especially appeal to her. Just one of those inexplicable girl things.
Fortunately, she's old enough, and independent enough, and also not sick enough, for me to actually be able to work.
I'm spending the morning at Cafe Zoë, writing to a lot of people. I never expected, when I started working as a futurist, that I would have to calculate what time it was in Beijing and Budapest, and make sure to get some e-mails out while people are still in their offices or awake. But that's my life these days.
I've been coming to this cafe for a couple years now (actually, a quick check of my external memory-- aka the blog archive-- reveals its been four years and one month), and this morning I discovered a new function. I got to the counter, realized I didn't have any money, and apologized and told them I'd be back.
"It's okay," the owner said. "You can owe us. It's not the first time you're here." She pulled out a book with IOU on the front-- I guess there are plenty of people who come here a little absent-minded-- and wrote down my order.
It makes perfect sense. Unless I want to never come back here, I'm good for the $3.60. And they want to keep me as a regular customer, so it's a reasonable risk for them.
Fortunately they seem to be doing pretty well, despite the downturn: there are a core group of us who are here regularly, and they seem now to have multiple clienteles at different times of day: stroller jogger moms in the morning, people coming in for lunch, freelancers or people who aren't working and home and don't want to work in the office (hello!), and people from nearby businesses, popping in for a cup of coffee. It's a real slice of the neighborhood, and very nice to see.
The Institute's new future of science Web site is now live. For the last couple years we've been running the project under the name X2-- an historical reference to the X Club, a group I've long found fascinating-- but we've updated the name to Signtific, and rolled out a new, much more user-friendly Web site.
No time to stop and relax, though. We've also nearly finished development of a custom version of the online mapping tool that I started using last year (here are copies of my paper spaces and end of cyberspace maps, for example), which promises to be pretty amazing. So no rest for the wicked.
I've been working on a think-piece on the future of futures work. (It's an expansion of questions I started asking in my piece on design and futures.) It's organized around a simple question: If you were to invent a discipline of futures and forecasting today, organized to deal with today's problems, and drawing on current science, what would it look like? Would be it be just like the field today? Would it look for weak signals, produce roadmaps and scenarios, and seek to influence strategy and policy?
I suspect the answer is no. No, I'm confident-- using the term as Robert Burton would warn it should be used-- that the answer is no. Now I'm trying to explain where I think the field will, or ought, to go.
One of the things I'm thinking through is the role of expert knowledge and accountability in futures work. We claim to be experts about a bunch of things, most notably about how to think about the future in ways that can better inform the present. But the work of Philip Tetlock (which I've mentioned before) suggests that claims of expert knowledge, particularly when it comes to dealing with the future, are highly suspect.
Teltock's argument is nicely summarized by Louis Menand in a New Yorker review:
The obvious questions are, how relevant is this work to what we futurists do? And are our current attempts to explain that no, we can't predict the future but our work is still valuable, sufficient in the light of work like Tetlock's?
It is the somewhat gratifying lesson of Philip Tetlock’s new book, “ Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know” (Princeton; $35), that people who make prediction their business—people who appear as experts on television, get quoted in newspaper articles, advise governments and businesses, and participate in punditry roundtables—are no better than the rest of us. When they’re wrong, they’re rarely held accountable, and they rarely admit it, either. They insist that they were just off on timing, or blindsided by an improbable event, or almost right, or wrong for the right reasons. They have the same repertoire of self-justifications that everyone has, and are no more inclined than anyone else to revise their beliefs about the way the world works, or ought to work, just because they made a mistake. No one is paying you for your gratuitous opinions about other people, but the experts are being paid, and Tetlock claims that the better known and more frequently quoted they are, the less reliable their guesses about the future are likely to be. The accuracy of an expert’s predictions actually has an inverse relationship to his or her self-confidence, renown, and, beyond a certain point, depth of knowledge. People who follow current events by reading the papers and newsmagazines regularly can guess what is likely to happen about as accurately as the specialists whom the papers quote. Our system of expertise is completely inside out: it rewards bad judgments over good ones.
Tetlock got a statistical handle on his task by putting most of the forecasting questions into a “three possible futures” form. The respondents were asked to rate the probability of three alternative outcomes: the persistence of the status quo, more of something (political freedom, economic growth), or less of something (repression, recession). And he measured his experts on two dimensions: how good they were at guessing probabilities (did all the things they said had an x per cent chance of happening happen x per cent of the time?), and how accurate they were at predicting specific outcomes. The results were unimpressive. On the first scale, the experts performed worse than they would have if they had simply assigned an equal probability to all three outcomes—if they had given each possible future a thirty-three-per-cent chance of occurring. Human beings who spend their lives studying the state of the world, in other words, are poorer forecasters than dart-throwing monkeys, who would have distributed their picks evenly over the three choices.
Tetlock also found that specialists are not significantly more reliable than non-specialists in guessing what is going to happen in the region they study. Knowing a little might make someone a more reliable forecaster, but Tetlock found that knowing a lot can actually make a person less reliable. “We reach the point of diminishing marginal predictive returns for knowledge disconcertingly quickly,” he reports. “In this age of academic hyperspecialization, there is no reason for supposing that contributors to top journals—distinguished political scientists, area study specialists, economists, and so on—are any better than journalists or attentive readers of the New York Times in ‘reading’ emerging situations.” And the more famous the forecaster the more overblown the forecasts. “Experts in demand,” Tetlock says, “were more overconfident than their colleagues who eked out existences far from the limelight.”
Every year the chairs are driven south to their spring feeding grounds in Arizona....
Got a lot of my own stuff that I'm working on, as well as never-ending Institute stuff.
Fortunately it's a cold, rainy day here, perfect for writing.
On my way to Tampa! I have copies of "Miami Vice" and "Wild Things" on my iphone for cultural reference. And some Carl Hiassen. If Florida isn't like it is in the movies and books, I'll be really bummed.
I leave tomorrow for the Association of University Research Parks winter conference, in St Petersburg, Florida.
This is the first time I've traveled anywhere with my iPod, and already it's having an impact. Rather than putting the address of phone number of the hotel in my trusty Moleskine notebook, I put the hotel, Supershuttle, airline, and a couple local art museums in my address book, and created a new group called "Alex's Current Trip." I figure whenever I go somewhere, I can fill it with local stuff. It should be handy.
I also find myself doing two things differently when I create addresses. First, I grab the complete address, not just enough to tell a cab driver. And second, I don't bother to copy the directions. Why? Because I figure that I'll use the map program and built-in GPS to generate directions when I'm on the ground. But to do that, I need good (i.e., comprehensive) street address information. Thanks to the map program, my personal economy of information has changed. I don't need directions. I need the information that will help me generate accurate directions.
I'm staying at the Renaissance Vinoy, which is one of the few hotels to have a marina, golf course, AND tennis. Not that I'll use anything more sophisticated than a bar or hot tub. And for some reason the pictures remind me of the Hollywood Tower Hotel. However, it's within walking distance of two decent-looking museums (alas the Salavador Dali museum is not one of them), but I'm not sure I'll have time to swing by either one. But I know they're there.
One thing I wish I could do with iCal is set up an event that has several different dates associated with it. So, for example, if I'm going on a business trip, I'd like an event (or a reminder) a week before that says "Take everything to the dry cleaner / shoe repair." Five days before, "Read c.v.s of people you're meeting." Two days before, "Find suitcase and do laundry." The day before, a whole slew of things: pack clothes, print out confirmations, check weather, etc., etc.. I don't want to have to create these; I want them to be automatically generated when I create a trip.
It's not at all unusual to see parents around the school-- unlike the schools I went to, when the only time you saw a parent on-campus was when someone was in serious trouble.
Right before this picture was taken, my son walked by, asked me was I was doing there, but really had no particular interest in the answer. It was curious that I was there, but not strange enough to deserve more than a second's thinking about.
Years ago, when I was helping the Institute look for new offices, I visited Gate 3, a "work club" across the Bay in Emeryville. It was a wonderfully cool space, and I really loved the vision: the space was part open office, part meeting space, and part members-only club, with a downstairs cafe and space for social events. Unfortunately, it was ahead of its time, and eventually it folded. (The creators of Gate 3 seem to be trying to bring the idea back in North Carolina.)
The idea of offices for drop-in work has continued to fascinate me, though it seems clear that they're hard to get off the ground. So I was pleased to see that Ophelia Chong (who is probably the only person who'd think to work Cole Porter lyrics into a piece on temporary workspaces) has a nice piece in 404 about an effort to create such spaces in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles is a city of re-invention and of hyphenates...Our resumes can be compared to layers upon layers of paint that is never allowed to dry, because we are constantly changing the perception of who we are.
Our definition of what employment is about re-invention as well, we are historically a nomadic work force and because of this our freelance workforce is the highest in the country, 36-38%, almost 20% higher than the rest of the country. We are nomads that travel from village to village selling our wares and services, client to client with a laptop in tow....
In the new economy the idea of full time employment has moved towards working on a series of projects as a subcontractor, in Los Angeles we are more accustomed to this form of employment than most of the country, which is why BLANKSPACES does not have to explain it's purpose, we get it.
I'm settled in at the Omni Hotel, in lovely downtown Philadelphia. Actually, I'm not kidding: I'm across the street from Independence Park, near Independence Hall, the Philosophical Society, and other monuments of early American history.
I'm going to spend part of the morning with friends from school, then head back downtown to the Chemical Heritage Society. See the room I'm working in, rest up, then workshop time-- third one in a week, which I think is a personal record.
I'm in a limo, headed from the Toronto airport-- the big international one-- to Waterloo. It should be able an hour's drive.
I slept some on the flight, but very little. I worked on the fine details of my workshop for this evening, tweaking the questions a little bit and adjusting the process. Since I'll get to Waterloo around 4:15, and my workshop is at 7, I'm basically on.
Just passed a sign with distances to Waterloo and London. It took me a second to realize that 1) the distances were in kilometers, and 2) since this is Canada, I shouldn't get too excited at the idea of being 170 anythings from "London."
I think this is only my third trip to Canada. I don't remember the first trip. One of my great uncles was Korean ambassador to Canada for a few years in the 1960s, and we came up to visit him when I was two or three. The next time was just over 15 years ago, when I came up to Toronto for a history of science conference. And now i'm here again. Kind of strange that I should have been to England more times in my life than Canada, given how much closer it is.
It looks a lot like the States, except place names are resolutely English: Winston Churchill Boulevard, Kitchener, Trafalgar. (Are there any places in Canada or Australia-- ot to mention Botswana, India, or Trinidad-- named Blair or Thatcher? I wonder if that'll feel strange to me, or be an interesting hybrid state.
I'm on the SuperShuttle to SFO. It's the middle of the night-- I got about 90 minutes serious sleep before I had to get up and get ready for the ride-- and I'm now on my way to Canada and South Africa.
First I'm in Waterloo, Canada for three nights, attending a conference on science in the 21st century at the Perimeter Institute; then I'l be in Johannesburg from the 12th to the 14th for the International Association of Science Parks annual meeting.
I'm doing workshops at both of them, and both promise to be very interesting events. And I've never been to Africa, so it'll be interesting to see even the little bit of South Africa that I'll see from the conference.
However, no matter how cool the journey, 3:30 a.m. is a brutal time to start it.
I'm trying to finish a conclusion to a big report, and often find that I think better when I stand.
There's definitely something about writing on a big space that is psychologically different from writing on a piece of paper. And when you're standing it's easier to pace around, look at things from different angles, and throw a lot of ideas up on the wall.
I'm back in my hotel, after the workshop at NUS. The workshop went quite well: it was an excellent group, and we got some very good ideas and scenario work out of them.
For me, these things are exhausting. Not only does each one require several days of prep but they demand a full day of being ON, which is pretty draining. In the room you have to be hyperactively engaging, listen carefully to everyone, draw people out, convince the skeptics, synthesize the conversations, etc., etc.. Plus beforehand you've got to think like an events planner (should these tables be moved? do we have enough water? will the air conditioner make too much noise?) and roadie (how do I move these tables?).
And before that, you've got to plan out every step of the day-- not so much with the expectation that you can operate the day with military precision, but to give you a clear enough sense of what you're doing to make it possible for you to successfully improvise when something unexpected happens (like when you're scheduled to restart at 1:30, but the waiters only bring out the main lunch course at 1:20).
Even for me, who was described by a college housemate as having two emotions, on and off (she later added a third, strobe), it requires a lot of energy.
But I really like doing these workshops-- not because they're easy, but precisely because they're hard work, and several different kinds of work. The technology for supporting them is changing rapidly, and there are some huge opportunities to do interesting new things. And a good workshop has some of the best of teaching, which I think I'll always regard as the noblest of activities.
I'm going to rest up for a bit, then go have dinner at a Japanese restaurant in Chjimes.
I really like this new setup!
Since we moved into our house in 2001, we've used part of the garage as a home office. Actually, functionally speaking much of the house is a home office at one time or another, but my desk and books are in the garage. Some of my books, at least: I've long had more books than is good for me, and not enough space for them, so at least half of them have been in a storage shed or the Institute. (An occupational hazard: my father and stepmother have a two-story octagonal library in their house, and have also filled the basement with books!)
I've long dreamed of having enough space for all my books. A couple weekends ago, we went to Ikea and bought some shelving. We bought it right before I went to Europe, so we didn't get it assembled before I left; but on Saturday we got it built. Finally, I've got space for all my books. I've got to put two rows on each of the shelves, but I've had to do that since Berkeley, so I'm used to it.
my daughter alphabetizing books, via flickr
So now I have bookcases and working space on three sides: the armoire, the new tall bookcases beside those, and the short white bookcases forming the other arm of the U. Heaven.
my son in my new intellectual control center, via flickr
I'll spend the next few days happily alphabetizing the books, then figuring out the ideal way to arrange them around me. Actually, I'm not likely to ever find an ideal system; I'll keep reorganizing them forever, as projects come and go.
Update: A Finnish friend informs me that the design for the Ikea bookcases I just bought is, shall we say, an homage to bookcases long sold by a Finnish company, Lundia. Their Web site doesn't seem to have an English section, but their designs-- particularly their chairs-- look edgier than most Ikea furniture these days. Maybe the difference is that Ikea design, for all its Swedish origins, is now a generic global modern, manufactured in and designed to appeal to buyers in China and Copenhagen alike, while Lundia's is more purely Finnish.
My day starts in earnest now. I never got back to sleep, so I spent a couple hours doing e-mail and reading, and making sure my various alarms work. (They do.)
I'm meeting someone at 9 (in a couple minutes), then another person at 10.
I actually had quite a good conversation last night at the pub-- we spent a while talking about an article I'm supposed to be writing about the future of futures, and it was one of those drunken states in which you manage to think through a bunch of things all of a sudden. Incredibly, I pretty much remember it all. Usually it's only a plane ride or gigantic amount of coffee that puts me in that state.
I finished up things at the National Academies, and am on the 6:00 Acela to New York.
As a friend of mine put it, the Acela rocks. It's basically a nice European train, which makes sense, since this is just about the only part of the country that could support train service of this sort. And yes it's expensive, but the Keck is about 7 minutes from Union Station, and my hotel in New York is two blocks from Penn Station; so even though JetBlue or the Delta shuttle is cheaper, once you figure the time and cost of getting out to Dulles or Reagan, up to JFK or Laguardia, and then back into midtown, it's easily a wash.
Today's meeting was pretty good. We got a lot of useful criticism, which from a group of very smart scientists and VCs is what you want. If you just get faint praise, or worse yet no reaction at all, you know you're in really serious trouble. Only really promising projects are worth tearing into.
Tomorrow I'm spending the morning in New York. I'm meeting a friend who's an IP lawyer, a hedge fund guy, and a collaboratories designer, and by a remarkable set of coincidences, they all work within view of (or literally within) the New York Public Library.
One of those strange things.
Then I'm back to Philadelphia, and on the plane home.
I'm in 30th Street Station, waiting for my (now delayed) train to Washington DC. This is not an unfamiliar situation: I spent a lot of time in 30th Street Station was I was living here, as it was my portal back home to Virginia, up to Boston to the MIT archives, or other points along the Northeast Corridor.
On the Penn campus!
I'm on Flight 188, about half an hour outside Philadelphia. I worked for a while, napped fitfully, then woke up again and am doing some more stuff.
Not quite long enough a flight to enter a deep version of the Airplane Creative Zone-- some of my best ideas seem to come to me on the long overnight flights to Europe-- but I did make some headway in an article I'm writing for one of my colleagues at Oxford, on a future of futures. Essentially I'm trying to lay out what our work would look like if we were to create the field from scratch, and took into account what brain scientists and psychologists have learned in the last twenty years about the way people think about the future.
I'm at SFO, about to catch United 188 to Philadelphia. I'm on a slightly crazy trip this week. I'm in Philadelphia tomorrow, meeting with people at the Chemical Heritage Foundation; Wednesday I'm in Washington, for a National Academies meeting; Thursday I'm in New York, to meet with various people at the New York Public Library and elsewhere.
Except for dinner with my brother, it's all future of science-related, all the time. The project has pretty much taken over my life, which is just what I wanted to have happen.
As is my wont, I'm on the redeye, and will step off the plane and into a full day of meetings. I'm going to spend as much of the flight as I can refining the talk I'm giving in Washington (I'm nothing if not predictably obsessive about these things), as the rest of my trip just requires being sharp and interesting. And while I tell myself I do this mainly to prove how much of a road warrior I am-- and how young-- the fact is, I prefer to have the few extra hours with my kids than to spend an extra night on the road. Perhaps when they're older none of us will feel like this is so valuable, but for now it definitely is. I suspect the kids think so, too.
I made it to the airport in twenty minutes, and remembered my travel mug this time (I forgot it when I went to Malaysia and Singapore). So so far, things are going well.
I think with this trip I'll get into 100K territory on my frequent flyer miles. This year I'm probably spending close to two months on the road-- broken up into several big trips and lots of little ones, but still, the days add up. I'm already taking the kids to Europe this summer, but I should think about another trip with them. I feel like they're not traveling enough. By the time I was my daughter's age, I'd spent two years in Brazil, and been to Korea once; of course, my parents were divorced, so things kind of balance out.
In my sound bite, I reveal that I like paper because it's harder for me to break paper than the screen on my Nokia N95.
I played the piece for my kids this morning before I took them to school. At the end of it, my son came up to me and said, "You know, Dad, you really do drop your stuff a lot." Gee, thanks kid.
[To the tune of Handsome Boy Modeling School, "The Projects (PJays)," from the album "So...How's Your Girl?".]
I've been in Malaysia and Singapore this week, conducting workshops on the future of science and innovation. It's been a very interesting week, talking to scientists in Penang and Kuala Lumpur about the future of science, and what role they see Malaysia playing in that future. The people I've been talking to are pretty convinced that Malaysia, which has a respectable but not world-class scientific community, can evolve into a global player in science in the next couple decades. They don't want to emulate American and European institutions: you won't see multi-billion dollar particle accelerators here any time soon. But they're pretty aware that cloud computing, cheap genomics, and other inexpensive research tools will lower the economic bars to develop world-class competence in some important fields.
So I was especially struck by Gregg Zachary's latest column in the New York Times, which asks, "might cheap science from low-wage countries help keep American innovators humming?" At least a few policy analysts and scholars studying global trends in science think that the United States can profit from the growth of scientific excellence in the developing world.
Americans have long profited from low-cost manufactured goods, especially from Asia. The cost of those material “inputs” is now rising. But because of growing numbers of scientists in China, India and other lower-wage countries, “the cost of producing a new scientific discovery is dropping around the world,” says Christopher T. Hill, a professor of public policy and technology at George Mason University.
American innovators — with their world-class strengths in product design, marketing and finance — may have a historic opportunity to convert the scientific know-how from abroad into market gains and profits. Mr. Hill views the transition to “the postscientific society” as an unrecognized bonus for American creators of new products and services.
Mr. Hill’s insight, which he first described in a National Academy of Sciences journal article last fall, runs counter to the notion that the United States fails to educate enough of its own scientists and that “shortages” of them hamper American competitiveness.
The opposite may actually be true. By tapping relatively low-cost scientists around the world, American innovators may actually strengthen their market positions....
Precisely because the gap between basic science and commercial innovations is large, Mr. Hill’s postscientific society makes sense to innovators on the front lines. One implication for the future is that the United States “won’t have to import so many scientists,” says Stephen D. Nelson, associate director of policy programs at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
The association, which for decades has generally favored policies to expand the ranks of American scientists, is devoting a portion of its annual policy seminar next month to talk about the “postscience” situation.
Industry, meanwhile, is adapting to a world where scientific goods can come from anywhere — and fewer scientists work on abstract problems unrelated to the market. “It is no accident that many corporate labs have fallen apart,” Sean M. Maloney, executive vice president of Intel, says. “They were science farms looking for problems.”
What is this post-scientific society that Hill writes about? As he explains it,
A post-scientific society will have several key characteristics, the most important of which is that innovation leading to wealth generation and productivity growth will be based principally not on world leadership in fundamental research in the natural sciences and engineering, but on world-leading mastery of the creative powers of, and the basic sciences of, individual human beings, their societies, and their cultures.
Just as the post-industrial society continues to require the products of agriculture and manufacturing for its effective functioning, so too will the post-scientific society continue to require the results of advanced scientific and engineering research. Nevertheless, the leading edge of innovation in the post-scientific society, whether for business, industrial, consumer, or public purposes, will move from the workshop, the laboratory, and the office to the studio, the think tank, the atelier, and cyberspace.
There are growing indications that new innovation-based wealth in the United States is arising from something other than organized research in science and engineering. Companies based on radical innovations, exemplified by network firms such as Google, YouTube, eBay, and Yahoo, create billions in new wealth with only modest contributions from industrial research as it has traditionally been understood. Huge and successful firms like Wal-Mart, FedEx, Dell, Amazon.com, and Cisco have grown to be among the largest in the world, not as much by mastering the intricacies of physics, chemistry, or molecular biology as by structuring human work and organizational practices in radical new ways. The new ideas and concepts that support these post-scientific society companies are every bit as subtle and important as the fundamental natural science and engineering research findings that supported the growth of firms such as General Motors, DuPont, and General Electric in the past half century. But innovation in these two generations of firms is fundamentally different.
The piece is well worth reading, as it has a number of provocative implications for science policy, innovation policy, and education. Essentially, Hill is arguing that a decline in America's monopoly on science-- even if that does happen-- is not to be lamented any more than the shrinking of the agricultural workforce: it doesn't reflect a weakness, but a more fundamental shift to a different kind of economy, in which the sources of value aren't facts, but what you do with them.
--and I've been up for a couple hours working. I tend to run on nerves on business trips, and this one is no different; combine that with the time difference, and it means I'm falling asleep at what for me are radically early times, and getting up before the crack of dawn.
Time for a shower.
[To the tune of Alanis Morissette, "Uninvited," from the album "City of Angels".]
I'm on my way to southern California tonight. I'll be there for a couple meetings at the National Academies.
I'm in San Jose airport, which I think is the most business-oriented airport I travel through. San Francisco has lots of tourists, as well as business people; Oakland I only see late at night when I'm doing the redeye to DC, and everyone looks the same at 11 PM. San Jose, in contrast, seems like it's 90% lawyers, Intel and Cisco people, and other high-tech types. Of course there are some tourists or families, but the proportion of people checking their Blackberries and talking on their Bluetooth headsets is much higher than SFO or OAK.
My flight is seriously delayed, but that just means I'm working on my talk in the airport rather my hotel room. Business travel is an odd combination of going somewhere, and ignoring your surroundings.
I don't think I'll be able to get to Disneyland, except possibly on evening between the first and second meetings. This is a shame, as I'm very fond of Tomorrowland, and consider it an essential destination for any futurist. There's nowhere else quite like it-- and certainly the future shows no sign of being like it.
[To the tune of Bruce Hornsby, "Every Little Kiss," from the album "The Way It Is".]
My son and a friend of his are having a playdate at my house this afternoon.
I'm taking this as an occasion to try out the new USB headset that just arrived, and to do some work on my article on paper spaces. I'm not quite as negligent as, say, Homer Simpson in "Treehouse of Horror," and I figure that so long as no one is crying and nothing is breaking, I probably don't need to involve or concern myself with what's going on.
[Blogged with Flock]
Looks like I have several big trips this coming year.
Flying from San Francisco to Frankfurt, September 2007, via flickr
One or two to Asia, and at least one that'll take me back to Europe. I'm also applying for a very cool-sounding conference in Oxford in late June. Plus whatever we can afford to do as tourists.
Train from Oxford to Shrivenham, November 2006, via flickr
I'd better buy some more Post-Its.
Flying from San Francisco to Sydney, via flickr
Spent most of the morning in the unrenovated (but earthquake reinforced) Stanford library stacks.
There's something about the exposed pipe, asbestos, and proximity to vast numbers of books that makes me work better. There are much nicer areas in the library, but I'm kind of old school. Or maybe this wing reminds me of Penn's Van Pelt Library, which was also kind of industrial and extremely functional, though in more of a New Brutalist way.
[To the tune of Mono, "Sabbath," from the album "Ex Plex, Los Angeles, September 24, 2005".]
Computers are a mercy for writers, but they do encourage books that are too long. I write by hand first and then type it up. Writing with a fountain pen is a real pleasure and many writers are pen queens - you'd be surprised at how some of the toughest guys can't wait to tell you about their new Mont Blanc. (Hanif Kureishi, quoted in the Guardian's special report on writers' rooms)
Since my son and I were trying out fountain pens tonight (he was trying out mine, having become curious about them after leafing through a pen catalog) this jumped out at me.
Trying out a Rotring Skynn I bought in Oxford a couple years ago
And yes, I'd be happy to tell you about my Mont Blanc!
[To the tune of Joe Jackson, "You Can't Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want)," from the album "Body and Soul".]
I'm going to go to the Renyi Institute, one of Budapest's most important centers for pure mathematics, this morning. (I know how to have a good time.) We're starting-- have started, really-- a new project on the future of science and technology, a kind of turbocharged, Web 2.0-ified version of the Delta Scan, and so I'm going to log a little time on the project by going over and talking to people there.
One of the things I'm really interested in is the big trend from Cold War brain drain-- where world-class minds tended to gravitate from the Third World (or global periphery, or global South, or whatever you like to call it), to Europe and the U.S.-- to brain circulation, where people tend to move back and forth between various countries.
Hungary has a pretty incredible tradition in pure mathematics, and the Renyi Institute is interesting to me for a couple reasons. First, I don't know that much about Hungarian science, and I figure mathematics is as good a place as any to start learning.
Second, Renyi runs a school for foreign students in mathematics, and I'm curious to understand why undergraduates come to it. I think I know the answer, but you'd think that mathematics, of all fields of inquiry, would be place-independent. After all, math is the same everywhere. It's all people standing in front of blackboards, or writing equations on pieces of paper. So why travel anywhere to do it? What's that about? Essentially, the school is a case study in brain circulation-- and conveniently for me, it's one in which Americans go abroad, rather than the other way around.
So this morning I checked the directions on the Web site, got out my map of Budapest (99% of the time the free maps you can pick up at tourist information desks or in hotel lobbies are good enough for my purposes), and spent a sleepy minute looking around for it. Turns out it's about 3 minutes' walk from here.
So I've got a little more time to shower and get some breakfast than I expected, which is cool. I'm pretty smoky, and didn't shower last night, as I got back from Tandem around midnight and was working on my end of cyberspace talk.
I'm now really excited about the talk, by the way. It's not all the time you get to come up with a new way of explaining a subject you've been working on for a couple years, but I think I've done it, and that's very satisfying. I'm going to get at least a chapter section out of it, plus an article in the conference proceedings. Mmmmm, c.v. lines...
[To the tune of Sarah Shannon, "I'll Run Away," from the album "Sarah Shannon".]
I spent several hours on the plane working on the talk I'm giving at the philosophy of telecommunications convergence (I'm giving several others, but they're either completely informal or already scripted to within an inch of their lives). I worked through a new angle that brings together some stuff I've been reading on cognitive psychology with the work I've been doing on the shape of the post-cyberspace world, and while I've got some more to do to it, I'm pretty pleased with the basic framework.
I now do some of my best thinking on planes, and I'm trying to figure out why-- and how I can replicate it on the ground.
Part of it is that the flight is often the last serious block of uninterrupted, reasonably conscious time I have to work on a talk. The pressure is on, and either I deliver now or I face screwing up. But I think a big part of it is the utter neutrality of the space: the cabin is a blank space, free of distractions but generally plentiful in caffeine. It's physically blank-- other than the other passengers, there's very little to look at or be distracted by, except for the movie-- and therefore psychologically blank.
I wonder how to recreate this at home. I've been playing with ideas for a home office that involve lots of hulking Ikea bookcases, which would let me bring books home from the office and out of storage; and while I still need that, I wonder if perhaps the actual space where I sit and write should be a lot plainer-- just white or wood, without so much as a pencil cup, just a chair and whatever I carry into it.
[To the tune of Django Reinhardt, "Nuages," from the album "The Best of DJango Reinhardt".]
The kids are asleep (or at least in their rooms and not making noise), the kitchen is cleaned, and tomorrow's lunches are made. The perfect time to do some work.
And I'm entering one of those intense phases where I've got to finish off a couple big projects in the next week, because I'm going to a family reunion next weekend, then am off to Budapest for a week. I'm speaking at a conference on the philosophy of telecommunications convergence (approximately the coolest conference subject ever), then the following week am doing some more Institute-related talks and meetings. The conference is being hosted by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, which has a pretty amazing building. I suspect no matter what I pack, I'm going to spend the whole time feeling underdressed.
I've never been to Budapest, and know shockingly little about Hungary. In college I dated a woman whose mother was Hungarian, and she (the daughter-- I never met the mother) was brilliant and just a tiny bit volcanic, so I look forward to the trip with just a little apprehension.
[To the tune of David Bowie, "Black Tie White Noise," from the album "Black Tie White Noise".]
I'm in DC for a meeting at the National Academies. (I really like typing "National Academies." Must be all the time I spent reading Hunter Dupree's book on the National Academy of Sciences and the history of American science.)
I've done my usual redeye thing, but since the plane was a little late and the meeting starts a little early, I'm probably going to be a bit late getting there. But this time I'm staying overnight, rather than leaving this evening, which is a bit of a novelty.
Other than being a few minutes late, the flight was pretty uneventful. I put on my noise canceling headphones, turned on the Beethoven symphonies, and read for a little while. I got a couple hours' sleep, but will definitely be running a caffeine drip for the rest of the day.
Last night as I was heading out the door, I stopped at the refrigerator to get a drink before leaving. I managed to knock over one of the drawers on the door of the refrigerator, breaking a jar of pasta sauce and sending a couple bottles of wine and other stuff flying. Not what you mean to do with seconds to go before leaving, but I still managed to get to the airport even after cleaning it up.
So now I'm in a cab, hurtling toward downtown. I always enjoy taking the Metro, but I don't have time this morning: I'd get to the meeting at least an hour after it started, and don't particularly want to miss anything. My driver has decorated his cab with Persian rugs and copies of Maxim, leavened by numerous objects with American flags or bald eagles on them. On the other hand, he's got Democracy Now on the radio.
I'm staying a hotel I've never been to before, but there was a deal on Expedia. So it'll be a little adventure.
I'm going to be spending Sunday at BarCampBlock, an event that Ross Mayfield catalyzed over the last few weeks. The Institute is serving as one of the hosts-- we're doing a future camp, no surprise-- and so I'm coming in Sunday to serve as adult supervision, as much as that's possible.
I've never been to one of these, much less hosted one, so it'll definitely be an interesting experience.
[To the tune of Talking Heads, "Born Under Punches (The Beat Goes On)," from the album "Remain in Light".]
I've finished Daniel Gilbert's Stumbling on Happiness. It's quite good, but if you don't have time to read it, his Edge talk is a decent overview of his argument, and his recent Smithsonian interview hits several of the high points as well.
I also got back a copy of an article I submitted to a sociology journal a few months ago-- I'd misread (or merely misunderstood, whichever is stupider) the guidelines for handling references and endnotes, and so had to spend a couple hours this evening going back through the article and setting things right. At least, I hope I got them right this time.
I'm pretty much back to normal now, other than the occasional wheeze, and a little bit of fatigue. My appetite is back, which is a mixed blessing: I could have done with another week or no appetite, but no nausea. Ah well. If Gilbert is right, it's likely that losing a lot of weight won't make me substantially happier, despite my rock-ribbed conviction that it would.
[To the tune of Crowded House, "Don't Dream It's Over," from the album "Recurring Dream: The Very Best Of Crowded House".]
I read Gary Pisano's Harvard Business Review article, "Can Science Be a Business?" today. It's pretty mind-blowing. Its basic contention is that "biotech has not delivered on its promise because the industry’s structure–much of it borrowed from Silicon Valley–is flawed." (114) Strong stuff.
To those of us who live here, the "Silicon Valley model" (whatever we happen to mean by that) sometimes is thrown about as a kind of silver bullet that can be profitably applied to any industry; but I think Pisano's article offers some valuable clues to understanding the conditions that are necessary for it-- or for other kinds of highly networked, open models of innovation-- to work.
Combined with last month's conference in Finland on culture and innovation, where I gave a talk about the often-overlooked relationships between innovation and manufacturing (a particularly rich creator of productive cultural resources), I think I'm getting close to a better understanding of when networked, outsourced, or open innovation models work, and when they don't.
[To the tune of The Beatles, "A Hard Day's Night," from the album "Anthology 1 (Disc 2)".]
We're on UAL 931, heading back to San Francisco. Dinner has been served, curtains are drawn, overhead lights turned off-- though it's only early evening London time and we're flying in sunlight all the way to California-- so it's time to put on the noise-cancelling headphones and take stock.
The big thing on my persona plate is a piece for a German history of science volume on visualization in science. I'm adapting a chapter from my eclipses book, which means cutting it down by about 70%, and maybe working in some new stuff (if there's any room at all) drawing comparisons between 19th century challenges in fieldwork and representation (in particular the issues around reproducing delicate images for publication) and current issues in simulation or computer visualization. There probably won't be room for the latter.
I'm also supposed to audition for a little column in an Asian culture magazine. I'll throw together something based on a couple posts to my kids' blog, but I think I've got too much on my plate to do a regular gig.
At work, there's more going on than I really want to think about at the moment, but I can get it all together.
My wife and I will be on our way to Turku, Finland, via London. We'll spend about 24 hours on the road before finally getting into our hotel, then I'll be at a conference on "Culture as Innovation: The Search for Creative Power in Economies and Societies." (When I told one one of my son's classmate's mothers about the trip, she said, "Wow. You really have the perfect job, don't you?" It's hard to argue with her.) We'll spend the weekend in London (London! on a weekend! with my wife! and no talks or workshops! I may explode!), then fly back here on Monday.
Are we packed? Of course not. Is my talk outlined? Yes, but I rewrite my talks at least twice in the couple days before giving them, and I don't expect this trip to be any different. (If you're reading, conference organizers, don't worry. They get better as I revise them: simpler, sharper, more throughtful.)
The bed is covered in power adapters, guidebooks, and other essentials. I've got to start getting it into a suitcase.
[To the tune of Shirley Bassey, "Light My Fire (Kenny Dope Remix)," from the album "The Remix Album...Diamonds Are Forever".]
I write about people, technology, and the worlds they make.
I'm a senior consultant at Strategic Business Insights, a Menlo Park, CA consulting and research firm. I also have two academic appointments: I'm a visitor at the Peace Innovation Lab at Stanford University, and an Associate Fellow at Oxford University's Saïd Business School. (I also have profiles on Linked In, Google Scholar and Academia.edu.)
I began thinking seriously about contemplative computing in the winter of 2011 while a Visiting Researcher in the Socio-Digital Systems Group at Microsoft Research, Cambridge. I wanted to figure out how to design information technologies and user experiences that promote concentration and deep focused thinking, rather than distract you, fracture your attention, and make you feel dumb. You can read about it on my Contemplative Computing Blog.
My book on contemplative computing, The Distraction Addiction, will be published by Little, Brown and Company in 2013. (It will also appear in Dutch and Russian.)
My latest book, and the first book from the contemplative computing project. The Distraction Addiction will appear in summer 2013, published by Little, Brown and Co.. (You can pre-order it through Amazon or IndieBound now, though!)
My first book, Empire and the Sun: Victorian Solar Eclipse Expeditions, was published with Stanford University Press in 2002 (order via Amazon).
PUBLISHED IN 2012
PUBLISHED IN 2011
PUBLISHED IN 2010
PUBLISHED IN 2009