Monday, March 31, 2008

Whose movie are you in?

Today, as spring break came to its lamented but inevitable end, I finished reading a work I'd been wanting to get through for some time.  Robert M. Pirsig's Lila is a sort of sequel to his wonderful Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, one of my favourite books (Amazon; full text).  Pirsig employs, in both works, a hybrid structure which is part autobiography, part novel; part travelogue, part philosophical tract.  In the hands of a great writer, I find this use of travelogue-memoir as vehicle for other kind of investigation enormously effective (it's also used in Bruce Chatwin's The Songlines, and Sven Lindqvist's Exterminate All The Brutes -- both of which books I love and recommend wholeheartedly).

So, I don't want to ramble on about this, but just pick out, for my own interest, really, a pair of related insights which jumped out at me from Lila, and to which I think I may want to return at some point:

When you enter a movie theater you know that all you're going to see is 24 shadows per second flashed on a screen to give an illusion of moving people and objects. Yet despite this knowledge you laugh when the 24 shadows per second tell jokes and cry when the shadows show actors faking death. You know they are an illusion yet you enter the illusion and become a part of it and while the illusion is taking place you are not aware that it is an illusion. This is hypnosis. This is trance. It's also a form of temporary insanity. But it's also a powerful force for cultural reinforcement and for this reason the culture promotes movies and censors them for its own benefit.

Phædrus thought that in the case of permanent insanity the exits to the theater have been blocked, usually because of the knowledge that the show outside is so much worse. The insane person is running a private unapproved film which he happens to like better than the current cultural one. If you want him to run the film everyone else is seeing, the solution would be to find ways to prove to him that it would be valuable to do so, Phædrus thought. Otherwise why should he get he get "better"? He already is better. It's the patterns that constitute "betterness" that are at issue. From an internal point of view insanity isn't the problem. Insanity is the solution.

~Lila, pp. 408-409.

There's an interesting contrast with an earlier passage where Pirsig (again, writing of himself in the third person as Phædrus, his narrator character) reflects on a meeting with Robert Redford in a New York hotel (described pp. 278-284), about turning his preceding book, the bestselling Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, into a film...

That's what was wrong with making a film about his book. You can't film insanity.

Maybe if, during the show, the whole theater collapsed and the audience found themselves among the stars with just space all around and no support, wondering what a stupid thing this is, sitting here among the stars watching this film that has nothing to do with them and then suddenly realizing that this film is the only reality there is and that they had better get interested in it because what they see and what they are is the same thing and once it stops they will stop too. . . .

~Lila, p. 367

Bear in mind that these are just brief asides in a very wide-ranging book.

Yet this metaphor of film as cultural script (or scenaric universe) contains something essential, it seems to me.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Public service and self-promotion meet on the adaptive path

While doing some research on the use of concept designs, I encountered this video from San Francisco design consulting firm Adaptive Path...

Basically, they set about redesigning the daily treatment system for diabetics, and this design concept called the "Charmr" was the result. Says the blurb accompanying the video:

Blogger Amy Tenderich posted her "Open Letter to Steve Jobs" in April [link], pleading with the Apple CEO to apply some of that company's design expertise to improving the lives of the 20 million American diabetics who rely on technology to manage their condition every day. Amy asked for better products for diabetics, but we recognized that those products had to add up to an experience that would satisfy their emotional and psychological needs. So we set out to develop an experience design concept that addressed user behavior and psychology as well as current technological trends to project how insulin pumps and glucose meters might work five years from now.

The company blog contains has a pretty comprehensive rundown of the whole design process, the driving motivation of which was "to generate enthusiasm for human-centered thinking and thus inspire broader change throughout the medical device and design industry". And, says Adaptive Path Interaction Designer Alexa Andrzejewski, reflecting on the process:

The result of this project was not a polished product, but a vision — a vision of what the diabetic experience could look like in a few years if considered from a user-centered perspective.

Now, a few possible points of interest:

1. The video uses a combination of documentary and TV commercial codes, lending it (what I've heard my political science colleague Ashley Lukens describe as) a "texture of truth". It has a number of the qualities of an artifact from the future, presenting vividly imagined piece on a plausible future world (albeit one whose social dimension is limited by dint of its gadget focus).

2. Apart from the opening title cards, the video content presents itself in-scenario; that is, it's not set in the present day talking "about" the hypothetical future in which the product is available, but comes to us "from" that future, so to speak. The former could be called the "inside-out" approach to presenting a scenario; the latter "outside-in".

3. This research and development project was done on spec, i.e., on nine weeks of the company's own time (and money). This makes it an interesting combination of self-promotion -- showcasing the design talents of the team -- and public service. There's an important lesson in that hybridity, of which we recently saw a more commercial, but no less interesting, variation in the Nokia Morph video.

4. I'm reminded of an earlier t.s.f. post which dealt with the contrast between marketing tangible products, versus marketing ways of thinking. This virtual product, particularly insofar as it represented a project of passion for the Adaptive Path design team, plays interestingly with the line between those two categories. Their efforts embody and enact an extension of their type of design thinking to a genre of medical products that typically lack it; products that are poorly designed from a user experience standpoint. By envisioning and demonstrating an improvement in the experience of treatment for sufferers of diabetes, there emerges a synergy of selling the way of thinking (design), and selling the thought (changing that aspect of life for that particular group of disease sufferers) -- to the tune of 17,573 views at YouTube to date. Which is quite admirable, really.

This is part of a broader trend in design thinking, according to IDEO's Allison Arieff, who blogged on the Charmr at NY Times on 14 January 02008:

Could a refrigerator be designed to last longer? Could fewer materials or a smaller carbon footprint be used in manufacturing it?

These are the sorts of questions that smart companies (and the designers, engineers and marketers who work for them) are beginning to address.
The recently launched Designers Accord was founded by my IDEO colleague Valerie Casey as a sort of voluntary Kyoto Treaty for design and innovation firms focused on working together to create positive environmental and social impact. [...] By collectively agreeing to initiate a dialog about environmental impact and sustainable alternatives with each and every client, designers will be able to change the way things are designed, and that will change the way business works.
Consumers are also getting into the act, pushing companies to tackle the products, improvements and functions that we truly need as opposed to those they think we’ll desire. I recently came across the writer Amy Tenderich’s open letter to Steve Jobs on Tenderich’s blog for people with diabetes.
The sort of design innovation that Tenderich is after is about much more than aesthetics or styling; it is really about improving quality of life. No one needs much convincing that this is a huge potential growth area for the health and medical care industries. Certainly Adaptive Path didn’t. The San Francisco-based design consultancy contacted Tenderich and agreed to accept her challenge; their prototype, called the Charmr, is not in production but may help guide future design improvements...
The list of products for such reimaginings is infinite.

Encouragingly, it seems, companies prepared to share their "reimaginings" with the wider world -- preferred futures , in the form of ideal design concepts -- stand to do well, and also to do good, at the same time.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

San Francisco's awesome future

All images in this post via Steve Lambert's website | Link for this photo

A public art project entitled "Wish You Were Here! Postcards From Our Awesome Future" has just concluded in the streets of San Francisco (press release):

The San Francisco Arts Commission's Art on Market Street Program's new Kiosk Poster Series by artists Packard Jennings and Steve Lambert features visions of a future San Francisco, including transportation improvements and other imaginative urban developments.
Artists Packard Jennings and Steve Lambert asked Bay Area architects, city planners and transportation engineers, "What would you do if you didn’t have to worry about budgets, bureaucracy, politics, or physics?" Ideas from these conversations were then merged, developed and perhaps mildly exaggerated by the artists to create six imaginative poster designs for exhibition in the Market Street kiosks.

The six original poster designs include a Muni of tomorrow,

expansive new wildlife refuge areas throughout San Francisco,

suggestions for commuter friendly activities on dedicated BART cars,

a farm in the Candlestick stadium,

a new individual commuter line (literally) from the top of the Ferry Building in San Francisco to Oakland,

and suggestions for removing or moving unpopular buildings following a public vote.

Packard Jennings and Steve Lambert, both together and individually, often collaborate with a wide range of people for their projects, which typically engage directly with audiences in public settings about social and political issues.

The artwork combines the schematic line-drawing look of airline safety cards with a warm, whimsical quality which recalls the Victorian-era images of the future associated with writers like Jules Verne. It's really nice to see the too-often sombre, expert-oriented discourse of planners and architects invite engagement with the popular imagination in this way.

It's interesting to compare this project to the Red Cross earthquake awareness campaign blogged here last May. To find such radically different forward views -- shattering vs upbeat -- appearing in different public art projects within the same city begs the question how people reconcile images of the future that are so dramatically at odds with each other... especially at a subconscious level, since few of us are trained to pay specific attention to the competing elements of the futures imaginary.

This is a question to address in more depth as we go along, but I want to mark that as being, in my view, among the primary ongoing tasks of academic futures discourse in general, and this blog in particular.

There remains an open invitation to all readers of t.s.f. who encounter manifestations of scenarios, or images of the future, in any medium, to submit them for inclusion in the evolving gallery of possibilities curated here. On that note, it was NYU media professor Steve Duncombe who emailed Jake and me about this project, which, he said, "seems to resonate with your FoundFutures work" [link]. Thanks, Steve!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Darfur Olympics

Advertisement: Saatchi & Saatchi, Brussels | Photo: the sceptical futuryst

This newspaper advertisement, featuring a hypothetical "Darfur 2020" Olympic flag, has been at the centre of a recent controversy in Belgium. It's an ad for the University of Ghent, and the Flemish (Dutch) slogan "Durf Denken" means "Dare to Think".

The Darfur region in Western Sudan has been riven by conflict and humanitarian crisis for the past five years, so the incongruity of the ongoing tragedy with the presumably sunny prospect of Olympic candidacy not far in the future deliberately evokes a kind of cognitive dissonance in the reader in early 02008.

The International Olympic Committee requested that the university pull the ad on the grounds that the use of the trademarked olympic rings is forbidden. As yet, there seems to have been virtually no English-language coverage of the story, but here's one report from Radio Netherlands Worldwide; and one from weekly news magazine Flanders Today.

The Brussels office of advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi, which produced the piece, defended itself at the company blog (posted March 5th):

We presented the ad above to the Communication committee of the university in the beginning of December 2007, after a check with the BOIC [Belgian Olympic Committee] who told us we would be allowed to use them in this context. The campaign never intended to be a political statement, but it sure is one way to view the ad.

For the record, that's what we've been trying to do with all the ads for the University of Ghent from the beginning: invite people to start thinking. In this case, the ad raises several questions: will the world be changed by 2020? how would you start organising such a thing? what is the role of sports in global politics?...
It is true that the whole commotion surrounding Steven Spielberg and the role of China (as the host country) in the african conflict became hot news at a certain point (culminating in the heading 'Breng de Olympische droom naar Darfur' -transl. bring the Olympic dream to Darfur- in De Morgen on the 15th of February). But as we did not see it grow into a bigger issue we decided to publish the campaign anyway.

And while we can understand the IOC's decision to ask the University to withdraw the campaign (even though we had permission from the BOIC), we don't agree with the allegations that we capitalise on a small political event to use in a campaign for a client which steadfastly allows us to make great work for a fantastic brand.

Radio Netherlands Worldwide reports:

University rector Paul Van Cauwenberghe insists: "It's all a big misunderstanding. We never intended to offend anyone ... All we wanted to do with our posters was to get students thinking ... And it looks like we achieved our objective."

For my part, I think it's a brilliant bit of artwork. Also, as a piece of advertising, I find it entirely appropriate to the client/subject -- a state university -- an institution which properly ought to engage its public in grappling with provocative ideas, continually. (A purely commercial entity could more understandably be accused of poor taste or political insensitivity.)

Now, clearly the ads are intended to be mildly disruptive or arresting. If they didn't contain any sort of edginess or risk, the phrase "Dare to Think" wouldn't mean anything.

But how disturbed should we find the Olympic Committee's choice to police its intellectual property in this manner? As my colleague Jake "Neurofutures" Dunagan might point out, patrolling IP in this context is effectively policing thought. Which is insidious enough in any form, but the stakes somehow come out in sharper relief when it comes to curtailing expressions of possible futures. It could be said that the IOC, in exercising its copyright-holders' veto, is literally curtailing the public's ability to imagine a future in which a now-conflicted region turns things around to the extent of becoming Olympics-ready. Regardless of what might be added about the probably feeble motives of the Committee in doing so, and whether or not permission had already been granted by the IOC's Belgian arm; the point stands. This situation is structured such that IP obstructs, rather than facilitates, the public interest in free expression.

One observer has argued, as reported here, that the University of Ghent's usage of the olympic rings logo in this case probably qualifies for the "fair use" exception to the copyright holder's dominion (and if this were to prove correct, the university could have insisted on its rights and refused to withdraw the ad). In any event, to my mind this situation really crystallises what's at stake in the distinction Lawrence Lessig draws between "permission culture" and "free culture". The withdrawal of the ad is a symptom of a permission culture, in which a public intellectual institution that is trying to encourage its constituents to think unusual thoughts is itself cowed into backing off from its own mandate.

To pull the ad is a direct negation of its message. Dare to Think, indeed.

Some of the other ads produced for the campaign (which has been running for several years), mentioned in the advertisers' blog above, have functioned very similarly to futures (or counterfactual) artifacts. Some of these visual thought experiments also -- again, appropriately, in my view -- press political buttons...

Some of these strike me as even less likely to pass muster in the United States than in Belgium. And yet: these are precisely the kinds of ridiculous thoughts which comprise the essence of useful, provocative futures thinking.

My hat goes off to Saatchi & Saatchi for this piece of work. It would be great to see the University of Ghent insist on its right to proceed with the campaign; but failing that, to hear the International Olympic Committee explain its trepidation about lending its logo to a region of the world whose futures desperately need to be reimagined.

(The ad was published in a Belgian daily newspaper, De Morgen, on 3 March, p. 7. It was spotted -- and thoughtfully delivered to me in person! -- by Belgian futurist Maya van Leemput, who just visited Hawaii. Dank u, Maya!)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The compleat Wired future artifacts gallery 02005

[surgery kit] | Wired 13.01

[food analysis] | Wired 13.02

[teleportation insurance] | Wired 13.03

[horoscope] | Wired 13.04

[robot driver] | Wired 13.05

[antivirus mirror] | Wired 13.06

[dream maker] | Wired 13.07

[crossword] | Wired 13.08

[space elevator] | Wired 13.09

[genetic eraser] | Wired 13.10

[smart diaper] | Wired 13.11

[hoverboard] | Wired 13.12

[Back to the 02004 collection | On to 02006...]

Friday, March 07, 2008

Morphing art and design into advertising

Image: "The Morph Concept", Nokia

Image: "The Morph Concept", Nokia

The above six-minute clip (and its abridged 3 1/2-minute counterpart, also posted at YouTube) is a fascinating hybrid of artwork, corporate advertisement, and conversation piece. In some respects, it's very much like the work we at HRCFS have recently been doing, producing scenario images for a client that is developing prototypes of ICT gadgetry. The role that "design concepts", as expressed in visual media, play in the -- inherently iterative -- design process is a topic we'll take up another time. Meanwhile, one notable contrast between this project and ours is that the imagery we've been producing has to remain under wraps, at the client's request, while Nokia has taken the interesting step of making the idea for the "Morph" concept device, along with what appears to be quite a bit of the user interface development, generally available.

Without assuming anything about the payoff from a design perspective of "open sourcing" the Morph idea, to my mind there's a suggestion that from Nokia's point of view, the perceived value in being "generous" with future visions lies in managing and maintaining the association of those visions with the brand. As a commercial strategy, there is probably great value in associating a beyond cutting-edge, over the horizon technology with an existing product. Sort of like product placement and branding directly into the futures imaginary, which might be compared with the more roundabout method of product placement in TV and movies with a future setting.

From the Nokia press release, 25 February 02008:

Morph is a concept that demonstrates how future mobile devices might be stretchable and flexible, allowing the user to transform their mobile device into radically different shapes. It demonstrates the ultimate functionality that nanotechnology might be capable of delivering: flexible materials, transparent electronics and self-cleaning surfaces. Dr. Bob Iannucci, Chief Technology Officer, Nokia, commented: "Nokia Research Center is looking at ways to reinvent the form and function of mobile devices; the Morph concept shows what might be possible".

Dr. Tapani Ryhanen, Head of the NRC Cambridge UK laboratory, Nokia, commented: "We hope that this combination of art and science will showcase the potential of nanoscience to a wider audience. The research we are carrying out is fundamental to this as we seek a safe and controlled way to develop and use new materials."

Professor Mark Welland, Head of the Department of Engineering's Nanoscience Group at the University of Cambridge and University Director of Nokia-Cambridge collaboration added: "Developing the Morph concept with Nokia has provided us with a focus that is both artistically inspirational but, more importantly, sets the technology agenda for our joint nanoscience research that will stimulate our future work together."

The partnership between Nokia and the University of Cambridge was announced in March, 2007 - an agreement to work together on an extensive and long term programme of joint research projects.

This collaboration of research science and commercial enterprise is nothing new, but it's fascinating, I think, that the chosen outlet for bringing their joint effort to the world is the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) in New York City.

The current exhibition "Design and the Elastic Mind" is attuned to many of the current preoccupations of this blog and its writer:

Over the past twenty-five years, people have weathered dramatic changes in their experience of time, space, matter, and identity. Individuals cope daily with a multitude of changes in scale and pace—working across several time zones, traveling with relative ease between satellite maps and nanoscale images, and being inundated with information. Adaptability is an ancestral distinction of intelligence, but today’s instant variations in rhythm call for something stronger: elasticity, the product of adaptability plus acceleration. Design and the Elastic Mind explores the reciprocal relationship between science and design in the contemporary world by bringing together design objects and concepts that marry the most advanced scientific research with attentive consideration of human limitations, habits, and aspirations. The exhibition highlights designers’ ability to grasp momentous changes in technology, science, and history—changes that demand or reflect major adjustments in human behavior—and translate them into objects that people can actually understand and use.

Of particular interest is a strand called "Design for Debate", described at the MoMA website as follows:

Design for Debate is a new type of practice that devises ways to discuss the social, cultural, and ethical implications of emerging technologies by presenting not only artifacts, but also the quizzical scenarios that go with them. These projects shamelessly place the human being at the center of the universe and seek to take into account scientific and technological progress while respecting and preserving our essence as individuals.

Expect more on this topic as time permits exploration of the site, and, I hope, the exhibition behind it also, since I'm planning to visit New York in a couple of weeks.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Sometimes it doesn't belong in a museum

On one street corner in Lower Manhattan, the World Trade Center is still spoken of in the present tense, confusing some passers-by, enlightening many others.

"Now, every weekday, 50,000 people come to work in 12 million square feet of office, hotel and commercial space in the seven buildings in this city within a city," says the seven-foot-high Heritage Trails New York sign at Church and Cortlandt Streets, opposite ground zero.

The Alliance for Downtown New York, which maintains the 11-year-old Heritage Trails markers, has deliberately left this one untouched since 9/11 as an authentic — and poignant — remembrance of the trade center’s astonishing vitality.

But in recent days, the sign has been imperiled by construction crews working on the Fulton Street Transit Center.
It will be donated to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center, which is now under construction.
"We’re just honored and delighted to be the permanent custodians," said Jan Seidler Ramirez, the chief curator of the museum.

"The sign has been doing wonderful service — as it was intended — up until the last precarious few weeks of construction," she said, "because many visitors never knew the towers, never saw Lower Manhattan with the towers intact. I saw lots of people beginning to come up and read it and, for themselves, begin to process the present-tense description of the animation of the World Trade Center campus."

Ms. Ramirez said many passers-by "totally grasped the fact that this was a survivor artifact" and that foreign visitors whose command of English was not all that strong would probably not have been bothered by the anomalous verb tenses.

But she also said, "Others might have thought they were in on one of the biggest editorial gaffes of all time."

~The New York Times, Friday 29 February 02008 [p. C11, Business section, print edition]

It's impressive that this sign has been preserved in situ for so long -- 11 years total, and seven six and a half years after 9/11, 02001. That is, it's been a "survivor artifact" in its present position for longer than it stood in the shadow of the WTC towers. These aren't huge timescales, of course, and little wonder that reconstruction at the site is finally relegating the object to a museum. The wonder is that, given the sensitivity of many Americans to painful reminders of the loss that day has come to represent, the sign has taken so long to be harvested and processed by the nostalgia machine.

And yet, I would venture, this fascinating anachronism is (or was? -- perhaps by the time you read these words, the past tense will be necessary) infinitely more interesting in the street where it stands (stood) than it will ever be in a museum, its future (present) home. That change of context is bound to render it safer and -- to precisely that extent -- more dull; just one historical relic among many, an occasion of cognitive dissonance and enlightenment no longer. Contra Indiana "That belongs in a museum" Jones, sometimes the valuable artifact does not belong in a museum, but can serve as a more effective and arresting portal to another time in its original environs; without extraneous explanation (or, in the words of Steven Johnson, "flashing arrows").

The bemused tourist encountering this sign in the street post-9/11 is unwittingly cast as an archaeologist of the recent past. She is challenged to come to terms with a fragment of a world gone by that is, as much as any ancient civilisation, irretrievably lost. The cognitive (re)construction process that, we surmise, has to occur in order to make sense of this experience, is symmetrical (but not identical) to the moment of encounter with an "impossible" future object.

That is to say, this report describes the moment of an encounter with a puzzling object which I think functions similarly to certain artifacts from the future. What we call "found futures" -- scenarios made manifest, then left lying around to seed such unexpected encounters -- are as this article says, "confusing" to some, and "enlightening" to others.

All of which leads me to the next concept in our nascent series about designing future artifacts.

One of the ways we think about the task of designing future artifacts is the idea of "reverse archaeology". After an archaeologist digs up an artifact of a past civilisation -- an urn, let's say, or a clay tablet -- they set about trying to deduce from its features things about the society which produced it (rituals, social structure, economy, and the like). When we design future artifacts, we almost always start from a written scenario of the future in question, the building of which provides the opportunity to consider its internal cohesion, its coherence with the present and with history, and so on. Therefore, whereas the archaeologist must deduce the "world" from the "fragment", we as multimedia futurists deduce the "fragment" (or fragments) from the "world" expressed in the scenario. (This is not quite the same as what Dator refers to as "deductive forecasting", which has more to do with the prior step of crafting the scenario around the structural features of one of the four "generic images of the future".)

The embodiment or encoding of the scenario thus accomplished allows the artifact finder to decode or deduce something about the world from which the artifact "came". But the encoding or mediation of possibility space at the design stage can be thought of as "reverse archaeology".

Now, another word about the puzzle posed by this (type of) sign. I want to suggest that, as described in the previous post, this disjuncture between the present tense of the sign and that past tense of what it describes is a "disturbing hole" (and we're not talking about the big one in the ground where the twin towers used to be). It may be tempting to assume that in communicating foresight, clarity is all-important; that an artifact which confounds is one which fails to communicate. On the contrary, we believe that such puzzlement is invaluable, a pedagogically priceless moment, a conundrum which the audience needs to struggle (ideally, only for a few moments) to resolve. To put such an object in a museum, where pieces of our other "worlds", previous times, are each designated their little soapboxes from which to declare their once-upon-a-time reality, all but neutralises their power to confuse as well as their power to enlighten. The two are inseparable.

Now, the trick is not to confuse permanently: we want to stop people in their tracks, but only for a moment or two. This is one place where the art of artifact design comes in. And inevitably, however well thought out the design, it won't function equally well for all comers. Comically improbable as it may seem, I have little doubt that some of the passers-by did indeed imagine, on seeing the WTC sign, that they had discovered some monumental "editorial gaffe".

I'm reminded of the bronze memorial plaque we installed on a Honolulu street corner late in 02007, a testimony to the resilience of the Chinatown community, and that of the island of O'ahu at large, in the face of a (hypothetical) tragic bird flu epidemic in 02016.

One of our favourite responses through the entire process of FoundFutures:Chinatown was from a woman who came across this sign in the street, and stood before it for a good few minutes, taking it all in -- the fresh leis; the scale of the tragedy outlined in the inscription (the likes of which the city has not seen since the 19th century); and the occasion of the memorial's supposed dedication 02017 date (almost ten years forward, to the day). "Ha!", she snorted, "They got the date wrong!" And she trundled off down the street.

To appropriate a quote attributed to Lincoln, you can't get through to all of the people all of the time.

But you can have a lot of fun trying.

Correction 16/05/09: So, maybe we didn't get the future date 'wrong', but my arithmetic on the post-9/11 lifespan of the sign was off by a year. Poetic justice: life's favourite brand of irony.