Time machine user interfaces: Back to the future

Back to the Future (1985)

Back to the future User Interface

User interface: Delorean
Doc Brown’s Delorean is hands down the coolest time machine ever. All that and a sensible user interface. Okay the time control circuits only take Gregorian dates but I’m not going to nitpick – I want one! All you need now is to get 1.21 Gigawatts of power and hit 88mph!

For a full tour of the systems inside a replica Delorean check out this great video from BTTFParts.

Inspiration, Journal

Interactive infographics III

I’ve commented on this before but I think online designers are spoiled. For all our superpowers (animation, interactivity, connectedness etc) we rarely produce work that communicates information as well as a good newspaper infographic.

As Flash developers/designers we know how to create an immerse experience that will engage the user. That’s a given. We’re only now learning how to extract meaning from raw data and then communicate those insights effectively to the user.

It’s no surprise then that the best interactive infographics work is coming out of the interactive departments of traditional newspapers. A few years ago the New York Times amalgamated their graphics and online department and the results of this crossover have been spectacular. In the video below Matt Ericson and Shan Carter from the NYT discuss the thinking behind their interactive graphics for the US election.

Matt Ericson and Shan Carter – SND NYC meetup from Society for News Design on Vimeo.

via Infographics News

Inspiration, Journal

Speaking at OKCon 2009


I’m really pleased to announce I’ll be speaking at the Open Knowledge Conference 2009 in London this weekend (28th March 02009). The venue will be the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) which is in the Cruciform building just off Gower Street.

It’s only a short slot but I hope to cover the architecture of The Computus Engine and some recent findings about the roots of common temporal data formats. If you are interested in open data and open knowledge then it should be well worth attending. The full line up is here.

Inspiration, Journal

2009: A year of anniversaries

Apollo 11 bootprint

Apollo 11 boot print image courtesy of NASA

If you’re a regular reader then I’m sure you know by now that 2009 is the International Year of Astronomy. [For the programmers: they seem to have called their superclass constructor as 2009 is the Year of Science as well.]

The IYA is marking two anniversaries this year, namely the Apollo 11 moon landings and the first observations made by Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei. These along with the ever-amusing and escalating theological bus-war that surrounds Darwin 200 got me thinking about anniversaries.

An “anniversary” is a bit of a nebulous thing. It’s the correlation of a significant event with a pretty number – any multiple of ten will do nicely. Births, deaths and major events are all acceptable criteria it seems. Given the loose parametrization it’s not a surprise to find out that 2009 is full of them…

40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

125th anniversary of the selection of Greenwich as the Prime Meridian

150th anniversary of construction of Big Ben.

200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin.

250th anniversary of the founding of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, and the 205th anniversary of the birth of Scottish poet Robert Burns.

400th anniversary of Galileo Galilei’s first observations with a telescope.

500th anniversary of Henry VIII’s accession to the throne of England.

800th anniversary of the founding of Cambridge University.

Inspiration, Journal

Abraham Lincoln’s pocket watch

Yesterday morning a small crowd gathered in a conference room on the first floor of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. They were there to watch master watchmaker George Thomas open a pocket watch that had been owned by Abraham Lincoln.

Illinois real estate attorney Douglas Stiles is the great great grandson of Johnathan Dillon, an Irish immigrant watchmaker. Stiles recently approached the Smithsonian with a story that had been passed down to him by family members.

The story goes that in April 1861 Dillon had been working in a watch repair shop in Washington DC. By an incredible coincidence he happened to be repairing Lincoln’s pocket watch at the same time that news arrived of the attack on Fort Sumter in South Carolina. This was the first battle in what would become the American Civil War.

Upon hearing the news Dillon opened up the watch and etched the message:

“Jonathan Dillon April 13, 1861. Fort Sumter was attacked by the rebels on the above date. Thank God we have a government.”

The watch was returned to Lincoln who carried it with him through the civil war, Gettysburg and the Emancipation. And there the message lay, unseen for 150 years.

Inscription inside Lincoln's pocket Watch

image copyright National Museum of American History

via The Watchisimo Times

DaVinci, Development, Flash, Harrison, Journal, Latham

Projects update March 2009

I’ve made a few changes and updates to the site over the last few weeks. I thought it might be worth posting a quick update.

Da Vinci
This project now has it’s own page and the BaseComponent class is checked into the repo. I’ve made a couple of updates to the code since the ahem, “finished” version I posted a few months back. Firstly I’ve added Grant Skinner’s EventDispatcher optimization. And the second is a workaround for a weird bug in the Flash Player.

It turns out that a stage resize can fire the ADD_TO_STAGE Event twice. This causes the BaseComponent init() to be called twice. I didn’t notice it when working with components on the Flash timeline but it becomes really obvious if you use it on an Actionscript only project in FlexBuilder. The fix is to remove the listener after the first event is fired.

This project also has it’s own page and the Timekeeper class is in the repo now as well. I’ve built a new combined example to go along with it. If you’re interested in music sequencing you might like to check out Studio Anuirin’s remixed version of the Timekeeper class.

This is the current project I’m working on. The first two base classes are built and they happily pass all the unit tests I can throw at them. Although it’s early days for this one I’m inclined to open it up as soon as possible to get some feedback. I’ll put a proper post together about it soon.

Inspiration, Journal

KEEP on running

Fingerbobs Quite Big Demo

Back in the late 80’s I was involved in the Atari ST demo scene. Our crew (The Fingerbobs) put out quite a few demos and boot disks over that time and through the magic of VM emulation they are still viewable today.

Digital data is fragile though. Although it’s very easy to copy in the short term, most modern hosting media are far from robust. This is especially true over the long term where format and reader redundancy have turned common storage media such as floppy disks into museum pieces in just a few years.

So how can you preserve your digital data in the long term? Kevin Kelly favours the LOCKS (Lots of Copies Keep ’em Safe) principle. Interestingly, one of the great by products of open source is lots of copies. The current trend for storing your data in the cloud is still no guarantee of safety. Jeremy Keith recently wrote about his experiences of trying to recover his online bookmarks after the sudden death of magnolia.

Whilst hardware emulators such as STeem are helping to keep individual formats alive, a pan European effort is underway to create a universal emulator for any digital object. The KEEP project (Keep Emulation Environments Portable) not only aims to do just this, but also emulate all future environments by being emulatable itself!