[Humanist] 26.202 flashing lights and silent hoovers

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed Aug 1 18:42:40 CEST 2012

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 202.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Tue, 31 Jul 2012 13:58:57 -0400
        From: Matthew Bernius <mbernius at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.197 flashing lights
        In-Reply-To: <20120731151027.C52782869C2 at woodward.joyent.us>

This reminds me about a similar story that comes up in talks on design
affordances being made to budding designers.

Sooner or later someone tells the story about how one of the major home
appliance manufacturers, during the mid century (usually the 50's) created
a silent vacuum cleaner only to have it rejected by customers. The reason
given is that despite its cleaning ability (which according to the story,
matched that of it's noisy brethren), people wanted to hear the noise of
the engine to be sure that the vacuum cleaner was working.

Whether or not the story is apocryphal, the popularity of the fable (and
its related moral) is worth exploring -- in particular how it leads to a
sort of design thinking that, I suspect, has contributed to the wide number
of skeuomorphs that currently make up much of the consumer digital

Matthew Bernius
PhD Student | Cultural Anthropology | Cornell University |
mBernius at gMail.com | http://www.mattbernius.com | @mattBernius
My calendar: http://bit.ly/hNWEII

On Tue, Jul 31, 2012 at 11:10 AM, Humanist Discussion Group <
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:

> No reliable documentation, as such, but the Connection Machines [1]
> famously had all-black front panels which had red lights representing the
> state of the nodes in the machine.  It seems, though [2], that these had
> little real connection with the state of the machine, and were instead for
> a range of purposes including being Cool (an important attribute at
> Thinking Machines, it seems, during its short but beautiful life).
> It's a tangential point, but Cray clearly also cared about the
> (intimidating?) aesthetics of their machines.  A supercomputer should
> _look_ super, dammit, and Crays do look to be dolled up in the hardware
> analogue of primary-coloured lycra and a mask (hmm: I'm thinking of
> Spiderman, here, not Kiss).
> Best wishes,

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