Archive for September, 2008

Sarah Palin at the UN: The secret footage

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

(I’m not the only one to spot the similarity – Andrew Sullivan got there first)

Argh! Make it stop!

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

If only this film were real:

See more funny videos and funny pictures at CollegeHumor.

Oh wait a minute. It is:

Watch CBS Videos Online

And in case you’ve still not scratched your eyes out of your head…

Autumn lecture programme

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

Here’s my Autumn semester lecture programme in 3D. Click on the link for a higher definition version. Of course it looks better in the flesh on the big screen 🙂

(The timeline was created in the rather clever program Timeline)

University of Dundee Design History, Theory and Practice lecture series from Jonathan Baldwin on Vimeo.

Funniest cartoon I’ve seen in ages

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

This cartoon was in the current edition of Private Eye. It’s had me chuckling all weekend.


Designers win medals too

Friday, September 19th, 2008

This is something I wrote for the study guide for my Design History, Theory and Practice (DHTP) module which starts next week. The first lecture asks “what’s the point of DHTP?” and I try to head off the usual complaints about having to write and read and go to the library. I’ve found spending the first lecture on making the case for approaching design from an intellectual point of view not only saves time later, it tends to improve attendance and grades!

Plus, I happen to believe in it.

The 2008 Beijing Olympics offered a showcase not just of excellence in sport, but in design as well. Everything from the equipment being used to the garments being worn was designed. Ask the average person what we mean by this and they will undoubtedly talk about what things look like – the ‘style’ of the outfits, the shape of the bikes and so on.

brennan_sydney_main.jpgBut to take a view like that is to miss what we might arguably call the ‘real’ design, the design that’s the product of years (if not decades) of intense research into textiles, alloys, aerodynamics, ergonomics and more. When people talk of the millions of pounds spent on sports in the UK, they may think that all gets spent on training. But it doesn’t. Chris Hoy’s bike, Rebbeca Adlington’s swimming costume, Charlotte Burgess’s bow, and Deborah Brennan’s wheelchair are all the result of investment worldwide in design research.

And then there are the games themselves – everything from the obvious opening and closing ceremonies to the transport networks, the global television feeds, the ticketing systems, the catering, even the queues — all designed.

Design history and theory are no longer simply endless slideshows of the great and the good; pictures of this designer and that piece. Over the next three years you’ll be exposed to, and encouraged to discover, not what’s gone before but what’s possible. DHTP is about the future as much as it’s about the past. It’s also about broadening your view of what design is, from the ‘man on the street’ idea of design as style to something a little more ambitious and all-encompassing. And it’s about encouraging you to pursue a role in the cutting edge through your own research.

If I get the time, I’m going to do a video to go with it too…

Sarah Loves Charlie

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

I ran Sarah Palin’s Charles Gibson/ABC interview (part 1) through <a href=";
title=”Wordle: Palin 1″>Wordle and, as suspected, she uses “Charlie” like it’s some sort of punctuation mark. A great bit of coaching by her handlers.

If you read the transcript and substitute your chosen expletive, it’s a lot funnier. And God knows, reading it back, we need all the laughs we can get…

Wordle - Palin 1.jpg

Quick summary: the woman knows nothing. Heaven help us all.

Americans left abandoned by Bush

Thursday, September 4th, 2008

The parallels were amazing: in the wake of Hurricane Katrina thousands of Americans were huddled together in a sports centre wondering where their president was. And in the wake of Hurricane Gustav, thousands (just about) of Americans were huddled together asking the same question.

I was glad to see The Daily Show spot the irony. This is one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a long time. Enjoy:

Diplomas explained

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

The Guardian has a handy summary of changes to the school curriculum in England from today, including this summary of the new Diplomas:

Starting this term are the first five diplomas in engineering, construction, information technology, creative and media studies, and society, health and development. There will be 17 in place by 2011. [including product designsee this post for news of the announcement]

The new qualifications are intended to be an alternative to GCSEs and A-levels for 14- to 19-year-olds, blending hands-on learning and theory.
There are three different levels of diploma: foundation (level 1), higher (level 2) and advanced (level 3).

All are made up of three parts: principal learning; generic learning and additional specialist learning.

Principal learning is made up of qualifications, or units, specifically developed for the diploma subject and a project.

Generic learning includes ‘functional skills’ such as English, maths and ICT, alongside presentation, communication and teamworking skills.

Additional specialist learning involves more academic theory, an extended project and other qualifications, such as a GCSE or A-level, chosen from a catalogue of approved awards.

Diplomas will also involve 10 days’ work experience, ideally in a field related to the diploma subject.

Remember, if you recruit English students to design courses at college or university, you need to know what’s in the diplomas as they are intended as entry qualifications to FE and HE. They won’t show up for a few years yet, but they will eventually. It would be worth finding out if a school near you is offering a diploma in your subject and getting in touch to make sure there’s no mismatch between what’s offered and what’s needed, and maybe to offer some time to give a talk or demo.

The problem with graphs

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008

Take a look at this graph. It accompanies a story on the BBC News website about the property market and today’s announcement of Government measures to boost flagging sales.


The graph plots the change in house prices as measured by two banks, The Nationwide and The Halifax. On the face of it things look pretty dreadful.

Except that the graph is wrong*. The values it is plotting are ‘rates of change’, so it’s a bit like plotting a car’s speed by plotting its acceleration and deceleration. You wouldn’t really do that as you can’t use such a graph to say what the car’s actual speed is at any one time, without making some tortuous calculations.

Let’s give an example. The graph plots changing values from April 2007 to August 2008. But the individual points relate to the relative change in house prices during the year to that date. So if you look at the point for the Halifax figures in April 2007 you see approximately 11%. What that means is that a house bought in April 2006 for £100,000 (good luck finding one that cheap) was typically worth £110,000 in April 2007.
Now look at April 2008. The graph shows that house prices fell by 1% in the previous 12 months. So that house which was worth £110,000 is now worth £108,900 – so it’s still 8.9% higher than it was two years previously.

What you can’t do with this graph is look at the August 2008 part of the graph and say what the value of that house is now, because it wasn’t bought in August 2007 – the figure is meaningless, therefore the graph is meaningless. (This is the same problem you get with monthly inflation figures – a figure of, say, 5% might be seen as high but it means prices went up 5% over the last 12 months, not in the last month. If prices stay at the same level, inflation will be 0% but that doesn’t mean things are getting cheaper. It means they’re staying just as expensive as before)

If I had bought that house in April 2006 I couldn’t use these figures, or this graph, to predict what the house is ‘worth’ now. But that would still be irrelevant unless I was thinking of selling now. But house purchasers don’t tend to buy and sell in a year, but after several years (often decades). A graph on that principle would show a steady and sustained increase in the value of houses. There’s a lot of people worrying over nothing – if you’re not thinking of selling your house then you have nothing to worry about, yet this graph is intended to make you worry.

(Let’s say that house price inflation stood at -10% in April 2009, then I could calculate the value of my home. It would be £98,010 – a drop in value for sure but of £1,990. In other words my house would be worth 1.99% less than it was when I bought it, not 10% less. See how it works?)

The only conclusion I can draw from this graph is that whoever inserted it is attempting to make things look more dramatic than they really are.
Which leads to a suggestion: the best way to increase confidence in the property market would be to ban stupid measures of the market that plot relative values over 12 months. The housing market doesn’t work on such small cycles.

(*Actually, ‘wrong’ is not the word, rather it’s ‘misleading’, but it’s so misleading it might as well be wrong)

New design-related schools diploma – competition or support for product design degrees?

Monday, September 1st, 2008

The Guardian reports that:

The government’s qualifications regulator, Ofqual, has accredited five new diplomas that will be taught from September next year.

The diplomas will be in business, administration and finance, environmental and land-based studies, hospitality, and manufacturing and product design.

Whether this diverts potential design students straight in to industry rather than in to colleges or universities remains to be seen. And of course, whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing also remains to be seen. But the immediate(ish) implications are clear: in the next few years product design courses will start to see applications from students with diplomas, not A-levels. That needs some preparation.