Categories
Environment News Science

Bacteria, Fungus and Decomposition (and growing new materials)

Maurizio

Bacteria, fungus and decomposition.

Doesn’t sound like a great start for a technology blog. But last week I was fortunate to visit a lab in Utrecht University where rather unsurprisingly I learned a lot about decomposition, fungus and how to grow innovative new materials.

A young Italian designer runs the lab, this is him above, working on the border between art and biology. His name is Maurizio Montalti, founder of the “Officina Corpuscoli” in Amsterdam (2010), whose goal is not only to produce beautiful artifacts, but to stimulate thought about the central aspects of design (above all the use of materials) and to provoke questions about much more. The nature of humans (the relationship between life and death) or the nature of progress and its relationship to the world and its ecosystem.

Materials

The lab is the point of departure. Here he showed me different materials with different properties, all grown from fungi. Some is like plastic, can be transparent and in sheet form, and others look and feel a bit like skin, some looks like polystyrene.

Grown Pellet
A Grown Pellet

The choice of materials is central to the idea of the project. The materials that are currently favoured in design such as plastic, foam and metals, are produced using industrial processes that are detrimental to the environment. Maurizio wanted to raise this issue for discussion, and so he began his fungus interest.

For the designer the beauty and fascination for fungus lies in its role in nature. He told me that fungi are everywhere, in the soil and in the air, but we associate them with revulsion, disgust and danger, and we minimize their importance, whereas in fact they are fundamental for decomposition, transformation and recycling. He is interested in its role as re-cycler of biological materials.

Synthetic Biology

And the holy grail: the System Synthetics project, turning plastic waste into energy. Maurizio was interested in crossing fungal capacities to degrade with that of yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, forcing them into symbiosos, to create a microorganism able to decompose plastic materials and give back energy in liquid form (bioethonol produced by the yeast). It is a synthetic biology program whose objective is to provoke questions about the potentials and implications for this discipline (very much a work in progress, whose aim is to involve a wider public in the synthetic biology debate).

other forms
other forms

I would like to add that Maurizio is part of an informal network of “fungicites”, here find an article of a start up in the USA that is producing bricks from bacteria, cutting out the clay and baking process and making it a much more sustainable product.

Read more about Maurizio here, including photos and an interview.

Categories
Media News Science

Designing a Better World

Last year I wrote a post about a baby incubator made from car parts, built here in Boston by not-for-profit organization Design that Matters. The incubator uses car parts because they are easy to find practically anywhere in the world.

One of the problems with baby incubators and other pieces of technology used in hospitals is that they are often abandoned once they break down because access to the parts is difficult. In many cases it just needs a fuse to go that cannot be locally sourced and a hugely expensive machine becomes unuseable.

The car parts incubator hopes to avoid this problem. Read more in the post here.

Readers will be glad to hear that the Design That Matters organization have been named as finalists in Fast Company magazine’s Innovation by Design Awards. They appear in the category of Social Good, and that really represents the philosophy of the organization.

Project Firefly
Project Firefly

This year they have received numerous awards and special mentions for their Project Firefly, a safe, robust and inexpensive tool to provide infant phototherapy and warming for otherwise healthy newborns at risk of developing hyperbilirubinemia (leading to jaundice) and hypothermia.

Design that Matters (DtM), the East Meets West Foundation (EMW) and Vietnamese manufacturer MTTS have launched a collaboration to develop the device. It is hoped that the product could save hundreds of thousands of babies from disability or death through jaundice related complications.

I believe that design really could improve the world. We might think about some relatively inexpensive technological idea that can improve life for many people. In an article I also wrote last year on the Bassetti Foundation website I mentioned the Microsoft Imagine Cup, a competition organized to promote and support such ideas.

Many great ideas come through design schools. One example is the liter of light project started at MIT. Plastic bottles are used to reflect light into dark rooms by being placed in the roof. They run on water, bleach and sunlight, and have brought light into thousands of homes. Check out the video on the post linked above.

A Liter of Light in use
A Liter of Light in use

One fantastic source of “design to save the world” is the website Inhabitat. This site contains posts submitted by its editorial staff and readers that bring such projects to the public eye. They have a newsletter, and there is something for everyone, from technology, to architecture and an entire section for kids.

Really educational, interesting and fun, and maybe you will get a world improving idea yourself.

Categories
Media Smartphones

Smarter Cities

Following on from my post last week about Apps and Christopher’s post about smart skies on Tuesday of this week I would like to introduce smart cities. Harvard University graduate School of Design run a course that they describe as Urban Cybernetics, called in fact Smart Cities. It is taught by Nashid Nabian, and the aim is to design urban projects that use technology to improve urban life.

The final projects are available to browse online through the course website, and many are very interesting. Cameras and sensors are some of the tools of the trade, used to measure pedestrian or cyclist use of the city, to improve traffic flow or better understand the mechanics of the city from a host of other points of view.

One of my favourite projects is called The Listening City and was written by Carolina Soto within the Real-time Cities course in autumn 2011 as part of the Responsive Environments and Artifacts Lab. Her project involves the use of QR codes that can be scanned using a smartphone. The codes are attached to street furniture, dustbins and all types of functional objects for the running of the city. If a passer by wants to report a problem with any of the objects, they just have to scan it with their smartphone.

 

An example of a QR code in use
A QR code on a traffic signal in Cambridge MA

Once scanned, the user is lead to a website where they complete a questionnaire related to the functionality of the object (in the case of a dustbin if it is full or empty etc, or for a pedestrian crossing light if it works or not).

As the position of each code is known the problem can then be signaled on an interactive map, with the data centrally collected so that it can be analyzed and patterns discovered that may help in improving services.

Take a further look and watch her slide presentation here.

Design and designers affect almost everything in our lives, and working towards improving city life through technology seems like a great idea to me. We are talking about real life improvement that can be seen and measured, information about which bins fill and overflow first is important, the city can be redesigned to confront the problems caused. It might also create solidarity within the residents, more participation in civic life and resolve some of the niggly issues that urban living throws up.

Categories
How To Guides Internet

How to keep up to date with web design trends

A lot has changed in the world of web design in the past few years. For instance, today we use a lot of design terms such as minimalistic web design, intuitive interface, contextual menus etc. All these terms were unheard of or not so common, a few years ago.

Nowadays, there are a number of spectacular websites, which are dynamic in nature. These sites have been designed using some of the latest tools and technologies. Hence, if you too want to be a part of this new world and develop some of the most amazing and innovative websites, then you must be well-versed with the latest web design trends in the market.

Let us take a look at some of the ways how you can stay updated with the latest web design trends doing the rounds.

Take part in discussions with fellow designers

Take an active part in discussions with fellow designers on various forums and blogs or even face-to-face. This allows free-flow of information, which includes the latest design news and trends. For example, on one of these forums, you may get a chance to interact with an expert designer, who has used a certain technology on his/her website and end up getting a tip or two on that particular technology. Later on, you can implement whatever you learnt, on your website.

Make full use of the internet

You get a wealth of resources online, to update your knowledge in the latest web design trends. Let us take a look how you can use the power of internet for your advantage.

Social media sites – Social media sites need no introduction. Such sites are growing by leaps and bounds these days. You can use various social media sites like Twitter and Facebook to keep yourself updated with latest web design trends. For instance, you can visit various design forums, share your work, connect and network with the industry experts and fellow designers, join various groups, attend designer events and do lots more on these sites.

Design blogs – There are endless design blogs and even full-fledged websites dedicated to website design such as Smashing Magazine, Mashable, DesignModo etc. You can go through these blogs and websites and read reviews, comments, write-ups and learn numerous tips and tricks relevant to website design.

Smashing Magazine's logoeBooks – A number of latest web design ebooks penned by expert authors are available online. You can buy a number of such books at discounted rates or download some of them free of cost. Use these books as a reference when you design your sites.

Newsletters and magazines – Subscribe to receive various newsletters or online magazines from different sources. For instance, you can visit various tech-blogs or tech-news websites and sign-up to receive their newsletter/magazines directly in your inbox.

Browse the work of top designers

Whenever you find some time, go through the work of top/expert web designers. Many of these designers have their own sites. View their galleries/portfolios to get an idea about the latest, ongoing trends in web design and take a cue from them.

In conclusion

These are some of the ways through which you can know the latest web design trends in the market and design innovative websites.

Categories
Business How To Guides

Ideas on how to promote a startup on a budget

Successful startups have some things in common and top notch marketing is one of them. You might have come up with the greatest idea in the world or built the coolest application, but if other people don’t know about it, your idea or product isn’t worth much. Many young entrepreneurs get so sucked into the creation of the product, that they treat marketing as an afterthought. But as I said before, if users don’t know about a product they won’t be using it.

The immense popularity of the internet has leveled the playing fields, so someone with a small budget working from a garage can compete with big companies as long as they have a cool idea. In fact they might have a better chance in some niches because people have started to distrust companies. Below are few ways you can promote your startup – specifically tech startups.

Social Media

The starting point is creating a Facebook page and a Twitter account. Both are free to start and you have the potential to tap into millions of users. You can get the ball rolling by asking your friends to like and share the page.Business Networking in the 21st Century

Social networks are a good place to share your ideas and plans and get some feedback on them. Every little things count to successfully promote your product. If you have a product that is catering to a specific niche, then try joining a similar niche social network as well.

Contacting Leading Blogs and Getting Press Coverage

Once you come up with a working solution you can contact leading industry blogs to cover your product. Most major technology blogs like TechCrunch and Mashable have separate application forms for startups, so if you are confident about your product you can submit to them.

EDITOR NOTE: I must have misread, I couldn’t see Technology Bloggers among those ‘major technology blogs’! 😉 One day… – note by Christopher

Not only will you get massive exposure you will be able to get funding as well. Even if you don’t get published in major publications there are many other websites that promote startups and you can find many of them by doing a simple Google search.

Attending Conferences

Attending conferences and your local tech gatherings is another great way to spread the word about your product. Attending major conferences helps you network with people and pitch your product to industry leaders.

Local gathering are important because in most of these you will be able to present your product to an audience using a projector, which is far more effective than reading an article about your product. You will also get instant feedback on how you can improve your product as well.

Search Engine Optimization

Another promotion stream that is ignored by most startups is search engine optimization. Although most people in the technology field know about SEO, few actually try to leverage its power. This is especially useful if you are a global product catering to a non tech crowd. They won’t be reading Mashable and attending tech conferences, so the most probable way they will find your product is via search engines.

Even if you are catering to a tech crowd search engine optimization is a must. The long term benefits of SEO are immense. Although it is advisable to outsource your SEO work, if you have lots of content produced through your blog and website, it is better to hire your own SEO engineer. Be careful though, as black-hat SEO can be very damaging to a site, so if you do outsource, make sure it is to someone trustworthy.

Mentioned above are some major things you can do to promote your tech startup. Always remember that more people know about your product the better. The bigger your customer base, the likelihood is, the more money you will make/people you will help!

Categories
Updates

Letting you know about recent updates

As the loyal readers among you may have noticed, there has been a lack of posting in the last week or so, but don’t worry, this trend shall soon be halted, as there are many new and exciting posts written, planned and on the way very soon.

This article is just to keep you in the loop and let you know what is going on.

Usually, I will endeavour to keep people up to date with updates to the blog via our social channels, specifically Facebook and Twitter. I feel the blog is a place for content, whilst notifying you about updating the ‘frills’ that are the design and functionality updates should be the place of social media.

Social Media Updates

Let me start by letting you know how our social side is currently evolving. A few months ago, Facebook stopped feed compatibility, meaning that if you liked us on Facebook, you no longer got updates regarding new posts. Now however I have linked Twitter to Facebook, so every tweet @tecbloggers tweets is also posted on our Facebook page.

UPDATE: We now tweet under the username @TechBloggers.

This means that you can now receive updates of new posts via your Facebook feed.

Some tweeters like to spam you with content every five minutes, likewise, update Facebook statuses practically all the time. I don’t believe in this, and only post/tweet an update should it be something you may want to know. Updates like small site improvements/issues and interesting content are the sort of thing we use our social media channels for.

Occasionally if I find, or someone brings to my attention something interesting that I think is worth sharing to the community, but doesn’t warrant a post, then it may get shared via social media. Don’t worry about getting spammed if you subscribe, we will only be posting stuff you probably want to know about.

I have also recently added a cover photo to our Facebook page, as it was looking a little bland. I didn’t have any great ideas, but I think it works for now 🙂 If you have any suggestions, by all means leave them in the comments below.

Facebook cover photo
Technology Bloggers Facebook cover photo.

In future, I don’t plan on writing as many of these sort of posts, as I feel it is better to keep you informed via social media, of updates as and when they occur.

If you don’t want to miss out on future update news, subscribe now!

Twitter Icon

Facebook Icon

In other news…

Top Writers

For a long time now we have had a top commenters widget at the bottom of every page, however the observant among you may have noticed the appearance of a new widget: a top writers list.

I came across the plugin whilst searching for something else, and thought it was a good idea. This is a community blog, so if we highlight the top commenters, why should writers not be recognised too? Well now they are 🙂

A screenshot of the top commenters and top writers list

The top commenters list excludes administrators and resets every month, the top writers list doesn’t.

Design Updates

Technology Bloggers design is constantly being updated and tweaked. I believe that continuous improvement is important. Most of my time is spent writing and replying to comments, however I do dedicate some time to improving other areas of the site.

One recent update is the removal of the social icons from the sidebar, and the addition of a new set of social buttons to the header. I felt that this area needed a bit more colour, and the buttons bring just that!

More Speed!

A few weeks ago I posted on our social channels:

“Just moved servers in order to speed up the blog 🙂
Do you notice a difference?”

We encountered a few problems, however they were soon sorted out, leading me to later post:

“A few hiccups later, Technology Bloggers is fully functioning and faster than ever!”

The blogs response time was sometimes really quite slow (usually higher than 2000 miliseconds!). I moved the blog to a different server and the response time is now around a quarter of what it was, currently around the 550 ms mark.

That is one reason you may have noticed the blog loading faster, another is because of the relentless efforts that I have been putting into slimming things down and reducing load times.

Google’s Page Speed tools have been very useful, enabling me to see where the site lags, and what can be done to improve it. I think there may be an article on the way soon with more detail on Page Speed, and how I have and am still using the tools to speed up the blog. Watch this space.

Jonny

For a while now, Thursday here on the blog seems to have been Jonny’s day, with him posting a regular feature on a Thursday for more than ten weeks now.

The day is not a dedicated day to the writings of Mr Hankins, however at the moment, I feel it is good that the regular feature is on a fixed day, as it gives consistency. His articles are very popular, and it is a delight every Thursday looking to see what new and innovative topic he has chosen to cover.

Jonny has been busy travelling of late, meaning that last week he was unable to post. Don’t worry though, he already has an article written and lined up for us for tomorrow 🙂

Competition

Just a quick note about a competition I plan on launching next Monday. Technology Bloggers has teamed up with two other blogs, and hopefully will soon be launching a competition in which anyone bar the three prize donors can enter for a chance to win one of three $50 USD prizes in a $150 competition!

UPDATE: This will now launch on Tuesday.

Until Next Time

That’s about it from me now, so remember, if you want to keep up to date, be sure to subscribe to our social profiles, and stay tuned to the blog to see our exciting future unfold…

Categories
How To Guides Internet

Tips on website design

A notepad and a pencilWeb redesigns can be a huge undertaking. There are many things to keep in mind as you approach redesigning your or another website. Here are some of the basics of good web design to help keep your focus where it belongs.

User Experience

At the forefront of any web redesign should be the overall user experience desired. How do you want people to interact with your website? What do you want them to take away from your website? These are just a few starter questions to ask yourself as you go about planning the redesign. The easiest thing to do in order to answer these questions is to think about what you like about your favourite websites and what you dislike.

Design Aesthetics

The best designs are often the simplest designs, and keeping things clean is more inviting than a cluttered page. Cohesiveness in design throughout the site is key here. The content delineates one page from the next; not a whole new pallet of colours. Clean, modern designs are also easier for the user, making them more likely to interact with information you have posted, whether through a blog post or messaging forums.

Ditch the Gimmicks

This is not the time to go overboard and incorporate everything you have learned in your experience with web design and cram it all into one page. Ditch the shadow boxes and the splash pages, and make your page more inviting by making it easy for users to use and interact with the site.

SEO Friendliness

Incorporating aspects of SEO into your site’s design and content is very easy to do, but it has to be done right. Everyone wants their web page to ping higher on search engine results, which is easily achievable. Just make sure you are not taking away from the site content at the same time.

Check the Coding

Finally launching the web page after a redesign can be both an exciting and nerve-racking experience. After all the work that was put in to choosing the colours and overall aesthetic look, as well as the content, you want the launch to go off without a hitch. Nothing dashes the excitement of a site launch than to spend most of launch day fixing broken codes. Before you make it public, check your coding. Then double check it just to be sure.

User experience, above all, is the most important element. Having a website that users can easily use will keep users visiting your site regularly and will keep new traffic flowing in regularly. Keep the user experience in mind, and all the other necessary elements for good web design will fall easily into place.

Looking for a professional company for effective yet affordable Web Design? Please check out Snap’s website design.  Also don’t forget to advertise your offline business with advertising flags.

Categories
Apps Reviews

With F.A.M.P. store asset details in your iPhone

The need for managing details about one’s assets, valuables or important documents in a quick, streamlined manner is something that is required today. A few people of the extremely wealthy group, have that luxury of deputing their own wealth managers, while some take their own approach to have the time to handle it. If you are like me and tech savvy, well then you can get a little bit of help from ‘F.A.M.P – Archive Assets’ iPhone app.

F.A.M.P. (Find and Archive My Property) helps users record and store information about their valuable assets to keep track of them. This app is pretty simple to use, to be honest – just take a snapshot of your assets and label it accordingly that you may remember for future reference. Users can also edit the archived details and also have an option to export them to their emails accounts as PDF files, pretty cool. There is also an archive calendar that one can use to sift through information in a periodical manner. In short, the F.A.M.P. iPhone app, offers a simple method to organize, label and store information about one’s assets for future reference.

FAMP iPhone appThis app is somewhat unique, I searched the app store for a similar app but did not find one. The concept of the app is clear and the interface is easy and intuitive to use. No fancy gimmicks and this shows that the developer has tried to keep things simple.

Even though the app is simple to use usability wise, the interface is a blast from the past. The developer needs to address it and I would personally prefer a web 2.0 style interface with a quality and clean design.

Moreover, the app also needs clear set of instructions in its ‘Help’ section for users to easily get a grasp of things. There is also a game within the app called ‘HOT and COLD’ and this too needs clear instructions as I had a hard time to learn how its played. It turns out to be a ‘identity’ game that one plays with his family / friends by guessing what the asset is about. Not sure if this is my cup of tea, but try out yourself to find out.

Another feature I would like the developer look in to is security, which I assume they have overlooked. What happens if my iPhone is lost? Will the data be secure? Are there any means to password protect the details? This is a serious feature that needs to be addressed and I would like the developer to have this solved in the near future.

F.A.M.P. is available for US $1.99 at the App Store and this app is compatible with the iPhone and iPad running iOS 3.0 or later. Have a play with it and share our experience via the comments section.