Everything I Know I Learned From Old Ladybird books

We recently inherited a stack of Ladybird books and have wasted many happy hours inside the uncomplicated mind of the 1960s educationalist. Here’s what we’ve learned:

  1. Computers do not have brains and they cannot really think for themselves
  2. A stockbroker in the City is probably more interested in financial news, and has time to read long articles about it. A train driver may be more interested in sport, and prefer short, lively articles
  3. Anglo-Saxons built castles out of wood. So did Africans
  4. The videophone is really a combined telephone and television which enables the person speaking to actually see the person he or she is speaking to
  5. All new babies look very much alike. Nurses make sure that the babies do not get mixed
  6. It may one day be possible to have plenty of fresh water and grow an abundance of food in the deserts by using the heat from nuclear reactors
  7. England has never had a better ruler than Agricola
  8. Some musical shows, particularly ‘pop’ shows are mimed. The artistes do not actually make any sound at all
  9. Some newspapers employ a women’s editor
  10. As with most hobbies, there is a vast amount of equipment it is possible to use in stamp collecting

If this fount of knowledge were on every child’s bookshelf we’d have no need of Wikipedia :)

Pattern: Bundle of identity

The Enlightenment philosopher David Hume proposed that identity is nothing but the bundle of our past experiences.

Don’t test me on this, because I just read it on Wikipedia, but it seems like a good place to start this piece of introspection on the need for a unified identity.

It goes like this.

Context: I work in two offices with different contactless card entry systems. I also have an Oyster card for travel in London. Several times I found myself absent-mindedly trying to get into the office by touching in with my Oyster card. (It doesn’t work.) Then I tried swiping my door card to get onto the Tube. (That doesn’t work either, but it annoys the person behind you in the queue.)

Problem: How to gain access to multiple offices and transport networks without thinking, thus freeing up vital seconds for scanning free newspaper headlines, checking answerphone messages and generally daydreaming.

Solution: I observed that many people now put all their entry cards, along with other stuff like tickets and house keys, into the handy plastic wallet that comes with an Oyster card.

I tried this DIY aggregation of authentication and payment: it works. Now the world’s my marine molusc (subject to the access restrictions imposed by Transport For London, my employer, and other competent authorities.)

At least it will be until I lose the whole lot of it in one go.

The private life of a digital camera

Flickr etiquette is a tricky thing. For starters I have to pigeonhole the tangled web of people-with-whom-I-share-photos into “family”, “friends” and that wonderful catch-all “contacts” (maybe we should all be using a Cold War-style dead letter box in Regent’s Park?)

But that’s nothing to the almost daily dilemma of how to share each photo I upload.

  • If I make this or that picture public am I giving away just a little to much of my family’s privacy?
  • Maybe someone, someday might find a use for that snap of Leonardo Da Vinci’s printing press?
  • Just how many photos of my kids can my work colleagues stand to see?

I think it has to do with the intimacy gradient:

Conflict: Unless the spaces in a building are arranged in a sequence which corresponds to their degrees of privateness, the visits made by strangers, friends, guests, clients, family, will always be a little awkward.
Lay out the spaces of a building so that they create a sequence which begins with the entrance and the most public parts of the building, then leads into the slightly more private areas, and finally to the most private domains.

Now for “building,” read “photo sharing service”.

But I’ve noticed one thing when skimming through my photostream: I’m far more likely to mark a picture public if I take it with my cameraphone than if I take it with my digital camera.

The regular camera is used in intimate situations – in the living room when Pascal smiles, or when Ludo falls asleep standing up. It only leaves the house in its faux leather case for special occasions – family parties, days out, when we value good pictures of never-to-be-repeated moments.

The cameraphone is the Bic Biro of image capture devices. Always in my pocket, with me everywhere I go in my everyday life. It’s helping me to take pictures I’d never have taken before – stupid pictures, random pictures, might-come-in-handy-one-day pictures. These are the pictures I’m happy to mark public on Flickr without a moment’s thought.

What we say versus what we see

So I know what you’re going to say, text isn’t the point of mobile blogging – it’s all about pictures, videos, media, capturing the moment and storing it up or sharing it out. Yes, I love taking pictures with my phone and zapping them up to Flickr, and yes, Shozu is one of that rare breed of sensitively designed mobile apps that does one thing really well.

But the thing is, if I’m going to carry around a “reality acquisition device,” I’d like to acquire the whole of reality as I experience it, not just the bits that can be captured directly as light waves or sound waves.

There are places a cameraphone just cannot reach.

And anyway, sometimes a handful of words can paint a thousand pictures. Take this August 2001 mobile post:

Circle Line, King’s Cross to Liverpool Street. Boy 11ish is playing the accordian for money. Badly. He looks exhausted. Most of us ignore the upturned baseball cap. Boy 9ish gives him a half-finished pack of mints

Get the picture? Text is still one of the most expressive ways we people have of capturing reality. Take it away and mobile blogging will be like a foreign language film without the subtitles.