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Originally published at Eggwhite's Eggbox. You can comment here or there.

I have a theory.

Two things will become understood in the next 40-60 years:

  1. Spontaneous Human Combustion
  2. Time Travel

The first will not only become well understood, but will be provided for via commercial off-the-shelf tools, or at least hobbyist/enthusiast tools and readily available instructions. The second is easier to explain in light of the first.

My reasoning can be explained as follows:

  1. I have been made to work on HTML emails again.
  2. If this happens again, I intend to travel back in time and visit every single ancestor of every single person who has ever lead to my having to work on HTML emails and set them on fire.  For the good of humanity, of course. I’ll feel bad, but it’s necessary .

Because there have been documented (however poorly) instances of spontaneous human combustion in the past, the above course of events clearly occurs at some point in my lifetime.

It’s the only way things make sense.

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Originally published at Eggwhite's Eggbox. You can comment here or there.

Picture a vision of the high-tech future.  Go on, picture it.  In your fleshy meat-brain.

Did it involve a lot of brushed aluminium, clean white plastic coated things and bright blue LEDs?  If it does, I’m not surprised.  That’s been the default vision of the future since bright blue LEDs first came on the market in the early 1990s.

Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) only appeared around 30 years before that, and red LED displays defined the look of the future for quite some time… particularly in the form of seven-segment LED displays, which were used to form things that looked close enough to letters and numbers if you squinted a bit and turned your head slightly.  But red LEDs lost their appeal over the course of the 1980s…  after all, anything fashionable in one decade is destined to be deeply unfashionable in the next.

In the 90s, though, the future turned blue.  Now, two decades later, it’s still blue .  Blue LEDs are still seen as the look of the future.  Even though the black mirror of the touchscreen has taken over to a certain extent, the black mirror still often finds itself in the company of the “searingly bright so it illuminates the whole room” blue LED.

They’re so bright and so blue that I’ve taken to sticking a square of black PVC electrical tape over every blue LED, just to dampen the light of the future enough to let me sleep at night.  They’re everywhere.  Clearly nobody sleeps in the blue-LED illuminated future.

So, designers of the world… what should the new future be?   Black mirrors everywhere, more blue LEDs, or down the natural and sustainable materials route?  I know I’d prefer the latter, but it really doesn’t sell that well.  The future isn’t the future these days unless it’s on sale on the high-street, after all…

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Originally published at Eggwhite's Eggbox. You can comment here or there.

I’ve been thinking of this post for a while, and have decided that rather than trying to come up with a better way to explain it, I’d just explain how I picture it in my head.  Consider this post to be one-part UX design related and one-part insight into my mental processes.

It’s a UX related thing, but I’ve not been able to work out how to explain it particularly clearly. It’s a discussion of the complexity of designing a user experience versus the complexity of the resulting experience, and how it’s far from a one-to-one mapping between the two. By which I mean that a really simple experience can be really complicated and troublesome to design, whilst a complex looking design is often the result of a *lack* of complexity in the design process.

Read the rest of this entry  )

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Originally published at Eggwhite's Eggbox. You can comment here or there.

Half finished posts from the archives #2

Calculator. Computer. Software.

What do these three words have in common? Well, they all involve technology, but that’t not what I’m getting at. They all have the letter R in them? Again, it’s true, but not what I’m getting at. What about their meaings? Got it yet? How about I put it this way:

Caclulator – One who performs calculation. From “calculation” (n), which is from the late latin calculationem (n), which is in turn from the latin Calculare (v.).

Computer – One who counts or sums up. From the “Compute” (v.), meaning to count or sum up, from the latin Computare (v.).

Software – “woolen or cotton fabrics,” also, “relatively perishable consumer goods,” from soft (adj.) + ware (n.).

Events of Language

Sometimes, something happens which forever changes the meaning of a word. Of course, whole new words can be invented… but from time to time an existing word just goes through a midlife crisis and comes out of the end as something different entirely. Using the examples above, the events are easy to understand. “Calculator” switched from being a person who did a job to the tool they used around the time of the invention of the mechanical adding machine – the first recorded use is in 1784. The first use of the word with recognisably the same implications it now carries was in 1946. The first acknowledged switch of the word “Computer” from being a person to being a device for the same purposes was in 1897, referring to a mechanical calculating machine. The first use in the sense by which we now understand it was in 1937, and then only in a theoretical sense, referring to a Turing Machine. It was only in 1945 that the true modern meaning (“programmable digital electronic computer”) came to be. Software has an even stranger history – it’s a word that leapt in to being fully formed in 1960, and just happened to flatten another perfectly good word in the process. There’s no connection between the two meanings. The modern usage of the word is simply a way of saying computer related things that aren’t hard (adj.) + ware (n.). An opposite to hard was needed, and soft fitted the bill. The fact that prior to that point “software” meant cloth and preishable consumables rapidly became irrelevant.

World changes, word changes

In each case, the world had changed in a way that meant a word’s meaning was changed. There are plenty more words like this out there, and in each case, thinking of the words and how they came to be tells you something about a cultural or technological change. There are plenty of words that are in the process of making such transitions, or where extra meanings have been added, sometimes becoming the first thing that leaps to mind when you see them. For example, would you expect a film called “Alien” be about somebody who owes fealty to somebody in another country? Or about a strange visitor from another country? The usage implying extraterrestrial origin didn’t appear until the 1940s, and even then it was an adjective – an alien being or an alien device. “Alien” as a noun – ” an alien” – didn’t appear until the mid 1950s. Then there’s the political and entymological football that is the word “gay”. Everyone knows it’s modern connotations, and most people understand the “happy and full of joy” meaning as well. But what about “brilliant and showy”, or (with the same pronunciation and derivation but a different spelling – gey ) a tramp who sells himself when he has no other means to live. Or a young beggar who travels with an older beggar for tutelage? How about as an adjective implying promiscuity? That last meaning sounds like a modern use of the word, but actually dates back to the seventeenth century! The word itself has been the rope in a tug-o-war between legitimate use, euphemism, slang and empowering reclamation to the point where it’s become so charged as to be dangerous to use in polite society!

Sudden Upheavals

Most of the changes talked about beforehand are slow, gradualt evolutions. But sometimes it doesn’t work like that. For example, there used to a be word that meant “like a titan”, but doesn’t anymore. Well, technically it still does mean that, but in two hours on the night of the 14th and 15th of April 1912 the word came to mean something else. One “unsinkable” ship, one iceberg and a couple of unfortunate decisions… and the word “Titanic” can never be used to name a ship again. Disasters like this steal words from the language and it takes a long time to put them back… if it ever happens.

Out with the old…?

The majority of words that have had their meanings abruptly changed by the ever advancing world, though, are roles or job titles that have been replaced by tools to do those jobs. How long do we expect to wait before “shop-assistant” becomes a device of some kind? Have you been to Argos lately, and seen how the shop assistants role has dwindled to almost nothing. What about when you want to buy some music? How often do you ask the shop-assistant in the music store for recommendations these days? Or do you just look at what iTunes or last.fm recommends? How long until “manager” becomes the name of a piece of software that prioritises resources and facilitates the achievement of a function… no, wait – we’re already seeing software components that do just that, and are called managers. They’re not quite at the point of making decisions on their own yet, but in some people’s eyes that just makes the word fit even better…

Reference Materials

  • [url=http://www.etymonline.com/] Online Entymology Dictionary [/url]
  • [url=http://en.wikipedia.com/] The All Knowing Wikipedia [/url]

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