The Farmers Market and Open Source

Food from farmers markets has a lot in common with open source hardware and software. The groups of people that create and use these products want to know similar things: How is stuff made? Where does it come from? How do we fix it when it breaks? Independent makers, like small farmers and open source programmers, make an effort to help people answer these questions. Large corporations, for the most part, don’t.

Can you think of other systems that fall into this category? Other systems that are transparant, repairable, and  accountable?


Nile Rodgers and Figure-Ground

There’s a formal principle in art called “The Figure-Ground Relationship.” In a painting, for example, the figure is the subject of the painting and the ground is the background. But great artists don’t think of the background as something that is secondary to the subject. Instead, they think that backgrounds are just as important. This is why designers value negative space. This is why academics value context. A subject is made more meaningful when placed in a ground or context that’s handled with care.

The interview above with music producer Nile Rodgers illustrates this concept of figure-ground. Rodgers talks about how his rhythm guitar grounds the melody, the figure, in a song.

“The main role that I learned to play in  R&B music was to support those stars that came up on stage and play more of a secondary role. But I wasn’t playing a secondary role. In fact, I was playing a primary role because a lot of the stuff that I was playing — if you take that part out, the song goes away. It’s just not there any more.”

He’s not being arrogant here. He’s just articulating the importance of each piece to a composition. To hear more NR, click here

The “Home Field Advantage” for Humans

I’m a big fan of media theorist Douglas Rushkoff. He predicts the future by looking at the past, pretty far back, to a time before centralized currency. Above is a great interview with lots of gems about a shift towards decentralized currency and manufacturing. This argument is relevant to making better stuff because the global supply chains we work with now are broken. And every time we buy the outputs of that broken system, we vote for keeping it in place. But Rushkoff sounds hopeful that a shift toward something better will occur:

“I think the home field advantage for humans is the local reality; this return to local, whether it’s community supported agriculture and local sourcing and local employment, isn’t just a style. It’s not just some northeast cultural creative, San Francisco, Birkenstock trend.

“There’s a deeper social need being filled here, and part of that is the sense that we can’t depend on banks to lend money to factories and corporations to hire people to give you a job. This long supply chain of employment is not stable, and it doesn’t create security.

“But people in communities are beginning to recognize that there’s a whole lot of economics that they can do with one another, and maintain what I’m calling the home field advantage of a local economy.”

And here’s a gem on 3D printing:

“3D printing is a taste of things to come. It may be a baby, baby taste. It may be to local decentralized manufacturing what the typewriter is to the Internet because right now we’re talking mostly about plastic and metal, and where do you get the plastic, and how does it work? But it helps people envision decentralized manufacturing and production.

“It will end up going one of two ways. Either people are going to get a free 3D printer from Jeff Bezos — he’s going to stick it in your garage and you’re going to be able to use it as long as you’re buying your plans and printouts from Amazon — or it’s going to be some kind of MakerBot, open source thing that will really flip stuff open.

“The real question, though, is what ends up going in the printer? It’s the cartridges. What are we using? If it’s some high-cost, bizarre polymer that requires Africans to dig it out of a slave cave and then ship it over here, then you don’t really change anything.”

transcript here

The Designer Fallacy


Philosopher Don Ihde identifies a phenomenon he calls “The Designer Fallacy.” It takes its cue from an idea in literary theory called “Intentional Fallacy,” which refers to the mistake of thinking that the meaning of a text is restricted to what the author intended; it’s presumed that meanings emerge from texts in various ways. Unintended “meanings” often emerge in design as well. End users of designed objects use them in ways that the designers never intended. The results of this new use can be good or not so good, but I just heard of a good unintended use of a design: there was a bit today in the NYTs on people using parked bikes from NYCs new bike-sharing program in an interesting way:

In a fit of urban guile more likely to affect gym memberships than program memberships, some New Yorkers seem to have identified the newest, cheapest way to tone their lower bodies: hop aboard the seat [of a NYC bike-share bike] and pedal in place — with the bikes still locked — as if the stations were rows of exercise equipment.

Creativity is everywhere, isn’t it?

read the rest of the NYTs piece here

abstract of The Designer Fallacy  here

photo via Thoughtless Acts

Scratch on MOOCs


Scratch is an  easy-to-use web platform for making games and animations. It’s for kids and the cool thing about it is that it nudges kids toward designing games rather than just playing them.

I’ve been dabbling with Scratch in a free online workshop from The ScratchEd Team at Harvard University. They do incredible things with it and you should check them out. But I do weird things with it. Well, at least today I did.