Monthly Archives: January 2010

What if typography was still the principal means of expression?

What if typography was still the principal means of expression?

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7vsde5LgN0&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]

Wikipedia defines typography as the “art and technique of arranging type, type design, and modifying type glyphs.”  If typography is an art whose rules are part of a precise code, the great typefaces like Garamont and Bodoni, among others, have certainly made their mark by expressing very diverse styles (see the choices available on your mac!).  Contemporary artists like Neville Brody or Pierre di Sciulio have shown us the incredible range of expression that comes from playing with various typefaces.

A “typographic” video is making the rounds on the social networks these days.  The above was brought sent to me by Cécile Schneider and Nicolas Gemeline; it shows typefaces featuring in a happening.  See what happens when fonts serve a killer idea!



What if all that remains is inventiveness?

Every Sunday, I post an article dedicated to a contemporary thinker (philosopher, sociologist, economist, etc) who is currently in the news.  After Edgar (“Morin What if our disintegration becomes a metamorphosis?”) and Amartya Sen (“What if the pursuit of happiness wasn’t enough?”), I now turn to Michel Serres, who many consider to be the most important Francophone thinker living.  Serres has recently published a remarkable book entitled The Time of Crises (“Le temps des crises” in French).  This slender volume invites us to become more intelligent and more inventive.  According to Serres, inventiveness is all that remains for the modern man, a man who has “lost his head”, and lacks nearly all capability but still posses certain extraordinary capacities thanks to computers.

A former naval officer and an alumnus of France’s prestigious Ecole Normale Supérieure, Michel Serres has been a member of the French Academy since 1990.  Since 1969, he has taught at the Sorbonne and since 1984, at Stanford University.

Michel Serres is the rare contemporary philosopher with a worldview that incorporates the Sciences as well as the Humanities.  Since the beginning of the recession, Michel Serres has been sought after by the media, corporations and institutions wishing to hear his opinion on this worldwide phenomenon.  In The Time of Crises, he has provided an answer.

In this book, Serres states that the current financial crisis only scratches the surface of a bigger story that is told through huge societal change: in demography, health, transportation, and in computers. According to him, everything has changed, except for institutions. Serres qualifies these institutions as being “international” but not global and not truly representing the general interest.  He proposes a new institution called WAFEL (Water, Air, Fire, Earth, Life) that would intervene as a third party on behalf of the planet. Michel Serres is convinced that we must change our way of being, in order to bounce back, to go from a time of crises to a time of renewal, a new dawn…

What if ideas came to us while we played?

What if ideas came to us while we played?

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OinrOnjzH_A&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]

Thanks to Gil R who introduced me to this project through a pingback on his blog “Strategic Content”.

If you were raised, like I was, in a Lego-centric home, you will appreciate the “Lego Click” project that has just been launched (see the above movie).  To celebrate the moment when an idea takes hold (the “click”, “Eureka!” or “Aha moment”), Lego Click offers inventors, artists and idea lovers, a collaborative environment where they can share their vision and innovations.  This community is present on Facebook, Flickr and Twitter.  You can also go to the “DesignByMe” website to create the Lego universe of your dreams.  Lego, clearly not lacking in ideas, has just created a free iPhone app that allows you to “legofie” your photo.  I figured you would probably prefer to see the result on Marilyn than on me! 😉

What if the iPad was the future electronic backpack?

What if the iPad was the future electronic backpack?

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=poaUbmdUcCY&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]

The iPad’s unveiling (see above video) will most certainly reignite the debate on technology in the classroom.  Why carry a bag full of books when they can be contained within an iPad?  Why are middle and high schools still investing in computer equipment that is rapidly becoming obsolete, instead of investing in laptops for students?  How much longer can schools resist digital pedagogy?  These are the question that Jean David Olekhnovtich, a teacher and a blogger (http://www.360emedia.fr), asks in his spontaneous post below.

“In the 1980’s when I was young, we had access to the program “Computers for All”, by Thompson MO5/TO7, (the ancestor of the local network) that allowed us to use computers as a learning tool.  Frankly, this was not a huge success: the teachers were poorly trained, the tools were outdated and, despite whatever nostalgia my generation might have for this, it was not at all practical.

Since then, computers have made their way as teaching tool, with inconsistent success, based on good will and local initiatives.  Even some brands got into the act.  One memorable instance was the world famous One Laptop per Child, an ambitious project that never quite got underway (1 million computers were liquidated).

Still, when I see my children’s backpacks overstuffed with books, I can’t help but think that in the age of the e-book, Wikipedia and blogs– education has remained extremely traditional. You touch a nerve whenever you bring up introducing electronic devices (thus less paper) into the education system. Yet, when I see the potential of this technology, the lack of progress in the educational sector is very frustrating.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eg_ToU7m1MI&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]

The work Alan Kay, a computer scientist known for having created user interfaces since the 70’s (and former “Apple Fellow”) is remarkable.  He takes the computer for what it ought to be: not as an end in and of itself, but as a tool that allows one to stimulate our curiosity and to advance.  The best illustration of this way point of view is the analogy that Steve Jobs made between computers and bicycles.

Concretely? I teach at a university (in the Computer Sciences) and, for the last two years, I’ve noticed that on campus, the desktop workstations are less frequently used: the students all have their own laptops, paid for with their own money (or their parent’s).  There is a real gap between the money invested in desktop stations and the structure that we ought to have in place to track the evolution of solid Wifi networks and more open servers.  In spite of this difficulty, the students with laptops are surprisingly efficient: they have complete mastery of their computers and they can take them wherever they go, unrestrained by computer lab hours.

So, in 2010, what should we do: simply “tolerate” this evolution, or anticipate it and encourage it with sweeping global measures, as we did here in France in the 80s, but with better developed tools?  Economically speaking, this could be tenable: huge sums are already invested in under-used equipment (“computer labs”, etc). Reallocating this money, along with (paper) book buying budgets, towards electronic devices over a 3-year period, would make good sense.  The “Digital Divide” will only widen in the years to come and updating equipment would be an excellent antidote.

Concerning students, we run a risk by doing nothing: by believing that today’s youth has perfectly adapted to new technologies, we could turn out with generations who although able to surf the Net, would not be able to decode or analyze due to the lack of scholarly support.
As for publishers, they have no choice: staying solely with paper is a recipe for disaster.  Their attention is now focused on e-books, with each publishing house trying to find a way to get in on the action.  What’s more, going paperless makes sense in the age of sustainable development.

And finally, with teachers, it’s a mixed bag: some anticipate the change and try to equip their students with the fundamentals, but these are more often the exception than the rule.  Other teachers decide to strictly adhere to “the basics”.  This is not without reason, as it would be foolhardy to ignore the importance of paper and handwriting, which are still fundamental.

In practice, things won’t be so simple: what to do if a computer crashes and a student loses his or her data?  How to create a love of books even if their form changes radically?  There are many important questions to resolve.  This is a controversial subject, but that isn’t a bad thing, it’s what we’re here for, right?

What if Earth’s water fell from the sky?

What if Earth’s water fell from the sky?


I read a fascinating article written by Serge Brunier in the February edition of Science et Vie magazine wherein Brunier questions a preconceived idea.  The notion that during Earth’s formation, water was put into the atmosphere during magma fusion, resulting in torrential rains is an idea that many scientists reject.  Rather, they believe that Earth’s water supply came by comets and asteroids during a period that lasted millions of years.

Francis Albarède, Geochemistry professor at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Lyon, stated in an October 2009 Nature article that “There was no water on Earth at its beginning, it was brought by comets and asteroids much later”, this analysis was confirmed by English and American geologists who published similar findings in the review Science.  The classic explanation for Earth’s waters has become increasingly questionable in light of recent research, which indicates that in the beginning Earth was as dry as the Moon (this is due to the low presence of sulfur and lead in its core).  It seems that indeed, water arrived by asteroids some 100 million years after Earth’s formation.

The arrival of an enormous amount of water created a geological process that is unique to the rest of the solar system: plate tectonics.  The water penetrated Earth’s terrestrial mantle, making it mobile and allowing for continental drift and for subsequent evolution of life.  This evolution is celebrated in the movie La Planète Bleue (“The blue planet”), check out the below clip.  While we don’t know whether or not the Gods blessed Earth’s waters we have no doubt that they were heaven sent!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPL5JItVcQ0&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]