Friday, October 31, 2008

Hello open-Source Learning

An interesting and viable alternative to old-school learning, where knowledge is seen as more of a contextual re-aggregation of knowledge content that is already available in a cyber repository of sorts..somewhere, and mankind just the mere manipulators of these knowledge to suit their own needs. I also like the idea of what is happening in Iraq, and how the idea of 'cultural imperialism' is being brought up over there, and can be avoided through the use of such an open-source platform for learning. The original clip, taken from is here:

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Product Presentation 4: Slideable Warning Sign

The last of the four clips that I have come out with for a Design Appreciation lessons package. Again, I do hope that the salient points that I have pointed out in this, and all the other previous videos will be helpful to all the design educators out there, especially to those that are dealing with students at the high school levels. Do write to me should there be any comments from any of you out there, I would really appreciate them. Enjoy.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Product Presentation 3: Rotating Display Case

This is the 3rd clip of four that I managed to come out with within the last 2 weeks. Again, the artefact is only so-so, nothing impressive really. But I do hope that the things that I have pointed out in my video/s would be helpful in any future design lessons that is specifically targetted towards high school students, or even others! Enjoy.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Product Presentation 2: Dynamic Donation Box

This is a second clip that I did for the Design Appreciation package. The artefact is so-so, but more importantly the ideas that I am trying to put forth should be good enough for a basic understanding of some areas of design. Hmmm, I think I am getting the hang of making my own videos now...perhaps I should try making more that perhaps can look at several other aspects of design. Hmmm. Anyway enjoy. Constructive comments are welcome too!

When the 'Flatness' spreads!

I had dinner with my significant other earlier today and was pleasantly surprised to be served by a non-local waiter at the dining place that we patronised. And in fact that was not the first time that I noticed the dining places over here using non-locals as part of their permanent staff. Seriously I got nothing against them, and in fact am lauding the fact that they have found a good place to earn a good decent living over here in Singapore. What does come to my mind however, was the book by Thomas Friedman, 'The World is Flat', in which he highlighted about the pervasiveness of outsourcing practices, especially in the IT sectors, and its related businesses.

What comes to my mind at that moment was not about the usual IT businesses, but more of the the usual practice locally for these food and beverage and retail sectors to be staffed by students, especially during the school holidays. Now it is already serious enough that these industries have a very high turnover rate amongst the locals, but it would be made worse when the students themselves realise that they would NOT be hired at all when their usual jobs are replaced by the more reliable, and I guess more skillful and dedicated non-locals. I guess with all the lecturing and nagging by my colleagues and other teachers on the need for our local students to buck up and meet the challenges of the new economy and the new world order head-on, what would be a lesson that my generation have faced only when we start work are already heading the way of my young charges even earlier in their lives, even before they are ready to contribute to the economy. It is a good lesson for them I think, since lecturing and asking them to read the book in itself would be an almost uphill, if not impossible task. My god, I really do hope that my young charges realise what they are up against, and are really prepared for it. That's my only hope...for now!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Defying Single Discipline Approaches - the case for a multi-faceted education

One of the things that I have always propounded is the idea that education in itself should move away from the traditional boundaries of a singular or silo-like nature of subject matter, and should evolve towards the integrative evolutionary approaches. No longer is an engineer just a mere tinkerer of technical specifications, much like a doctor no longer just be expected to make sense of symptoms and dispense medication to the sick. The world is constantly evolving, and if the subject areas that our future leaders are still being taught like those that had been imparted a generation ago, then I guess something should be done to make that education evolutionary change possible! I was pretty much inspired by this text of a speech given by Professor Yrjö Sotamaa, a Professor of Design innovation and the former Rector of the University of Art and Design Helsinki. Here is the full text of the speech, taken from here:

- Expanding the Creativity of the Nation

Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

The challenge today is not simply to evolve in a changing world, but to do so in a world where the rate of change is unprecedented. This acceleration has created a broadening gap between our traditional structures of knowledge and the nature of problems we are confronted with. We are also confronted with growing global competition.

How can a small country like Finland keep its position as a forerunner in the changing world? How can we build conditions for continuous sustainable success?

It is clear to us that without constant renewal we will not be the forerunners for long. We should not be blinded by the present day admirable rankings Finland holds in global innovation and competitiveness reports. They can fade away quickly as we all know.

The key instrument in addressing these challenges is the renewal of the Finnish Innovation Strategy, which was presented to you by Mr. Esko Aho, President of SITRA. The Innovation Strategy is a core element of Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen’s cabinets program and currently under preparation in the Ministry of Employment and the Economy. The Parliament will discuss it in a few weeks' time.

Addressing Internal and External Challenges

Besides the external challenges Finland has two fundamental internal challenges in the future. Finland is becoming gray faster than any other European society. In this respect Finland and Turkey are in a very different situation. The share of people in Finland over 65 years will be by 2030 over 25%, which is a 10% increase to the present situation. Thus, the labor force will shrink rapidly.

The other challenge is connected with the size and resources of the Finnish society. The total R&D investment in Finland is approximately 6 billion euro. This is in global comparison a very high share of the GNP, but very small amount in absolute terms. Many companies put more yens, dollars and euros to R&D than the whole Finnish society.

Our 6 billion is equal to the investment of companies like Ford and Pfizer. In this respect, too, Finland and Turkey are in a very different situation. We have to be able to use our resources more effectively, be more focused, more dynamic and have a better innovation capability than others in order to survive in the growing global competition.

Paradigm Shift in Innovation Thinking

When the young Finnish students demonstrated last spring loudly in front of the Finnish Parliament against the new Innovation University their slogan was “Make love, not innovations”. For them innovation meant only business, technology and product development.

Even if love is not the solution the students were right in one aspect. It is very true that in the past our strategy has been technology lead: turning technology into new products, services and businesses. This strategy has been a true success story.

Finland has grown from an importer of technology to a global exporter of high tech. The mobile communication giant Nokia is the flagship of this amazing story. It is a combination of visionary thinking, advanced technology, cutting edge design and excellent business strategy.

The new strategy aims at strengthening the core competencies of Finland through a radical university reform. And it is turning innovation thinking 180 degrees around to human-centric thinking. It does not lessen the importance of technology and business know-how, but in the future the innovation drivers are stronger tied to the needs of users and the opportunities on the market. The shift to user-driven innovation highlights the importance of design. Design has a huge and very new potential for innovation.

The new strategy promotes also the idea of open innovation systems, which would expand the innovation base by involving all actors in the society to the innovation processes. The strategy emphasizes also our connections to the global knowledge networks. Finland is actively developing at the moment research networks between the centers of excellence of several countries in nanotechnology, digital technology, energy, wellbeing, environmental sciences and functional materials. The strategy also wants to build a research and innovation environment, which would attract the best researchers, students, innovators and investors to Finland.

Global Hunt for Talents

In essence the new innovation strategy is very close to the thinking of the hottest international creativity guru Richard Florida. His formula of successful regions and countries is simple: attract, develop and retain. Attract the best talents, give them first class education and make them stay and contribute to the development of the society.

The City of Helsinki has also revised its thinking and is putting much effort in increasing the attractiveness of the city center. The Lord Mayor Jussi Pajunen talks enthusiastically of vivid student life and a creative urban culture. In the past students were only an expense and they were pushed to live on the outskirts of the city.

Richard Florida also claims that the most successful and competitive societies will be the ones, which can expand the creativity to the whole society, where everyone can use his or her creativity and contribute to the success of the society. In this respect the new innovation strategy follows Florida’s advice and the thinking of Finland’s President Mrs. Tarja Halonen.

The Finnish University Reform

Innovation is defined in the new strategy as “a knowledge-based competition advantage, which has been utilized”. In the strategy the application area in which innovations should be utilized is broadened from business, to societal applications and wellbeing. This aims at renewal of the whole Finnish society.

The key element of the strategy is the first part of the previous definition: we are preparing the society to knowledge-based competition. As the increase of our productivity cannot be based on growing labor force, the only way to grow is through advanced knowledge and human creativity. Therefore the university reform mentioned before has become the key project of the present government. It has been rightly called the “Reform of the Century”.

The reform is basically similar to what was done in Japan in 2004. Our 20 universities, which are all public universities and now government offices, will become financially and legally independent by January 1, 2010. The number of universities will drop to fifteen.

The reform gives on one hand greater autonomy to all universities and on the other hand it tries to strengthen their resources though mergers. The government has also promised to increase significantly the financial resources of all universities, which has not usually been part of similar reforms in other countries.

The spearhead project of the university reform is the innovation university. It has been named the Aalto University, according to the world famous Finnish Architect Alvar Aalto. The Aalto University is a foundation, which was established on June 25th, this year by the government and the industry.

The Foundation is an independent, multi-disciplinary arts and science community active in the fields of technology, economics, and applied art as well as other closely associated fields. For the first time both public and private bodies have joined their forces in education and research to secure success of our society. The active role of the industry has been important in pushing the reform forward.

The Aalto University will be formed through the merger of three existing universities all with 100 years of history. The University of Art and Design Helsinki, the Helsinki School of Economics and the Helsinki University of Technology. They are all leading universities in Finland with high international reputation in their respective areas.

Ambitious Goals, Investment and Schedule

The ambitions and schedule of the Aalto University are both equally challenging. It should grow in ten years to be one of the prime universities in the world and it starts operating in ten months time, in August 2009.

The government and industry will give the foundation an endowment of 700 million euro. This is not much compared to Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Oxford, Cambridge and many of the other leading universities, but in the Nordic context it is a very large amount and lays a foundation to the financial independence the Aalto University.

In addition to this, the government has promised to increase the funding of the annual running costs of the Aalto University by 100 million euro by 2012. This is a 60% increase to the present level. The size of the investments and the reform as a whole tell clearly of Finland’s will and its unique capability to implement radical reforms rapidly through good collaboration of different actors in society. That is one of the secrets of our success.

Dynamic Governance

The new university will get a dynamic governance system and is lead by a Board consisting of seven high caliber members all with a doctorate degree. They have extensive experience from research, education, business, management, society and culture. Three of the seven are women. Two of the members come from leading universities in USA, from MIT and the Boston University and one of them is Director of the European Science Foundation. None of the Board members are employees of the university.

The Board has just launched an international search of the first President of the University. If you know potential candidates, I hope you will pass the word to them.

The Chairman of the Board, Dr. Matti Alahuhta, and the CEO of Kone Corporation has said that art and design and their creative tradition make the combination unique in the world. This will turn the cultural assets and the great design tradition of Finland to key drivers of the new innovation thinking.

Aalto University is an Answer to the Big Picture Problems

The new innovation thinking in Finland connects us to the global grand challenges and also to the global opportunities. This thinking has been well manifested by the President and CEO Curtis R. Carlson of SRI International at Stanford University and the President of the University of Tokyo, Professor Hiroshi Komiyama in his book Vision 2050.

For Carlson and Komiyama the buzzword means breakthrough innovations, which change the world. How do we use our knowledge and skills to solve the grand problems we share: energy, climate, food and poverty? How do we turn the challenges into new opportunities and to a sustainable future?

The Aalto University is an answer to the “big picture problems”, which defy single discipline approaches. Our society has been served successfully by deep and narrow specialties, but the nature of today’s “big picture” challenges fall at the intersection of what we know. Not unlike cooking, the solution today is not in any one ingredient, but in the mix. The key idea of the Aalto University is build education and research on the synergy between design, technology and business.

Because the key decision makers cannot always see a complete synthetic whole, they are often blind-sided by the unintended consequences of their action. As an integrative human centric discipline, design is uniquely positioned to fill this strategic need. Therefore, design is one of the key assets of the new user-centric and need-driven innovation strategy and of course to the Aalto University, too.

New Opportunities of Collaboration

There are many well working university and research contacts between the best institution in Turkey and Finland. The Finnish university reform gives new opportunities to expand and deepen these contacts in key areas of knowledge. The renewal of our societies provides us exciting opportunities to share our experiences to build future success.

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this forum and the opportunity to present the actions Finland has taken to tackle the global knowledge and innovation challenges.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Product Presentation Clip 1: DiPlanta

I have just finished doing some video clips for my design lessons next year and beyond. This is the first of those clips. This presentation is on the artefact nicknamed DiPlanta by my student, an acronym for Display-A-Plant. It aims to present a more unique, creative, innovative, and some say, safer mosquito-free way of displaying your potted plants. I do think that this product does have potential, if some design fine-tuning is done. Nonetheless for the sake of design lessons, I do think that the student have learned enough to bring him forth to the next stage of his education journey. Enjoy...!

Monday, October 20, 2008

DESIGNERLY INTERROGATION: The third level of Design Quotient (DQ)

A quick summary of what has been covered so far:

  • Level 1: KNOWING - the semi- or full-conscious state of realising the superficiality of design
  • Level 2: MEANINGFUL REALISATION - the realisation of the functional state of the design realisation
  • Level 3: DESIGNERLY INTERROGATION - a state of designerly awareness that goes beyond the functional state of a design, but deeper into the realms of the why's of the intended designs

Someone who is at this state of level 3, in my humble opinion, would see the just beyond the mere 'story' of a particular design of a product, but goes deeper to understand then why it is DESIGNED a certain way. More than just about the technicalities of a particular design intent, at this state, one would question the underlying basis or ideas that were made to come out with such a design. Examples that I can quote are those that have taken an in-depth ethnographic study of the intended users, or those that perhaps adapts itself from the study of animalistic behavourial patterns or draws inspiration from nature, i.e. biomimicry. These are perhaps a state whereby the designer itself has looked at just beyond the mere realisation, but even deeper into why such designs exists, or can exist for that matter, in the contextual world that we live in. Perhaps an important consideration is that the design in itself has gone through a rigorous interrogation by the designer, as to finally make it to a state of existence.

I am assuming that there can be a level 4...or even more. Perhaps, this I can classify further as Level 4: Design Nirvana, that I would touch on in my subsequent posts.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Some nifty add-ons on Firefox

I am back on Firefox now, after trying out Flock for a little while. Can't make up my mind which one is better, but that is for another day for me to decide.

In the meantime, let me just share two pretty neat and cool add-ons that you might want to consider adding to your Firefox, to turn them on into real 'foxes'.

One is by none other than Google, the 'Notebook' application, which lets you work on the fly, especially people like me, who would like to have an integrated tool that lets me do my research work without the cumbersome use of more than one software tool. Show you a screenshot that I took with Copernicus (a freeware app for screen capture, for Mac, of course!).

The second neat tool that I want to share is this one called 'Your Reading List'. If you like to read lots of stuffs on the Net, but do not want to read them all in one go, or don't have the time, or don't like to have many bookmarks bookmarked, then this is the tool for you. Here's the screenshot.

Hope you find these useful, as much as I have find joy in using them.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The irony of the Peter Principle

In my recent discussions with some colleagues of mine, we had a discussion on the ramifications of the Peter Principle. For those not in the know, the Peter Principle describes a situation whereby one is promoted to a higher level in the organisational hierarchy, but need not necessarily become more competent at his new role or job. The short terminology for it is 'being promoted to a state of incompetence'.

Now relating it back to the local education system here, my colleagues and myself, do find a great degree of parallels within the system here. Because based on how the performance of a particular teacher is, those who are deemed to be performing better at his or her teaching, and henceforth given the chance to move up the management ladder, will find himself in a predicament whereby he is actually spending a significantly lesser amount of time sharpening his teaching skills, but more time on organisational administrative duties, of which, he might not be suitably capable or worst still, be incompetent in! So what does that leaves the remaining group of teachers who are still not 'moved up' the ladder? Does that mean that that they are not necessarily capable? I beg to differ on that, but seriously if you ask me, the sad state of affairs is that at times, we still do need these 'better-ability' teachers to stay around a little while longer, to sort of beef up the 'frontlines' before they 'sit back at their saddles' and start to orchestrate the 'war manouvers' from their mounts. Personally sometimes I do feel that nothing beats having a 'battle scar' here and there, as evidence that you have been 'through hell and back', the only way of which is if we were to hang around a little longer at these frontlines, and fight the battle in the classrooms, a battle of the minds that is. :)

On a more positive note, I do feel that it is not that bad a situation right now, I mean with the additional help being offered and the various schemes that is put in place, or are going to be put in place soon. It is just that sometimes, we really do need every 'muscle that we can muster, at the heart of the battle.'

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Bluetooth possibilities...

I am in the market for a bluetooth mouse; I guess I just got sick and tired of the wired versions, and the much-touted wireless versions that have humongous and ugly-looking dongles sticking out like a sore thumb from the sides, and I have come to realise that it is still very much an early day for it. Looking at the versions available at most local stores, I realise that a bluetooth wireless mouse still commands a premium in all shops here, more expensive than the regular wireless versions here. I guess it will take some time for the prices to go down a little, and while waiting for that to happen, I just had this idea of what are the possibilities of this wireless technology, that I heard the first time waaaaaaay back in 1997, during my initial hunt for jobs right after my graduation.

1) Why not a bluetooth charging unit. I've heard news a couple of months back that there are currently research on some form of an electromagnetic charging unit, without contact, done at MIT. Hmmm, I can just envision the day when charging your mobile phones is easy, you just need to be in the transmission zones for you to be worry-free on how long your phones can go per charge!

2) An all-in-one hands-free earpiece, one that can sync with your iPods, mobile phones, home entertainments systems, Skype phones, and everything else in between, effortlessly. It is quite a hassle for you to be changing headsets for all the various gadgets that you have, wouldn't it be nice to just have ONE piece of headset that can intelligently know which gadget to sync with?

3) Perhaps a bluetooth-enabled cup and coffee-maker unit. The cup will inform the coffee-maker to start heating up or boiling the coffee when, say, the cup detects a low amount of coffee, or when say, it is turned over from its inverted position, signalling that coffee is needed pronto.

4) A bluetooth-synchronised clocks, where all the clocks in a particular housing unit or office, can be synchronised to only ONE timing, not a minute more, or less. Pretty much the problem that I have at home right now! :)

5) A bluetooth-capable car, where you can do diagnostics testing and stuffs like that with your car! It can even be 'wired' to you laptop, so that when it is time to for you to leave your office space, it is able to start the air-conditioning or the heater unit of your car, just in time for you to be cosy in it when you reach for the doors and enter the car.

Hmmmm, so far so good. What do you think?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

How to write a Design Brief?

A great article from I guess this can be used in the context of a high-school design education too, although with some tweaks here and there.