Books Every Futurist Must Read

Posted in books, culture, hobbies, technology by johnsnavely on November 2, 2011

I’m a big fan of science fiction. I read plenty of novels for pleasure, but I’m also constantly trying to find good ideas to steal from books. A few weeks ago, I was chatting with co-workers about which books we thought every futurist needed to read. That’s a pretty tall order, what came to mind were all the books that I’ve recently stolen ideas from. They’re not great literature necessarily, in fact some are rather pulpy (which I love), but all of them have some great concepts in them. Here’s a short list in no particular order.

via Alyssa B.

Old Man’s War
Scalzi is a fun and funny writer. I just finished Agent to the Stars one of his earlier novels. In this novel he imagines a future where the elderly leave earth and are given new bodies and amazing technology to fight an interstellar war. James Cameron must have read this before making Avatar. Some ideas I want to build: Brain Pal and Emotional Instant Messaging

Kiln People
Brin’s novel is a hard boiled detective story. It’s set in a world where people can make copies of themselves, with limited expiration dates and then inload the memories of those copies. The whole concept of parallel lives in this novel basically changed how I understood social networking. Now, when anyone says they want to add “Social” (ugz) to a project I wonder how I can make it more like this novel.

Diamond Age
This book was recommended by a friend. For some reason we were talking about how little cultural groups form and joking about a “Helvetica Tribe”. The Illlustrated Primer, a “magic” book, is artfully done. I keep returning to it as an example.

Gibson’s book has been at the top of many of my lists for a while. Almost everything he’s written about in the novel has come true in some form or other.

Ghost in the Shell (1,2, and 1.5)
These graphic novels are works of art. They’re like a Donna Hathaway’s gorgeous nightmare. Machines and people are melded seamlessly and you can never tell the difference between a robot and a human.

Mary Poppins (the movie is pretty good too)
A shout out to the Berg folks. I read all of these when I was very young. (As well as the whole Doctor Doolittle series.) In today’s world, you expect the newest gadget to do something amazing, these books which use magic bluntly applied to the everyday, without the slickness of technology. I’ve been coveting Mary Poppin’s mirror and her endless carpetbag.

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
In Cory Doctorow’s book, nobody dies and a band of people lives and works in an abandoned DisneyLand. Also, there is no money, only reputation points called “Whuffie”– it’s an idea sort of stolen from eBay but it’s evolved into something better here. I’m trying to unify “Whuffie” and “BitCoin” in my brain.

This is one of Nicholson Baker’s early softcore novels. Many of his books dilate time in one way or another, but in this one it’s quite literal: the main character can stop time. The story is both sexually explicit and remarkably boring. Often when I’m thinking about new amazing technology, I’ll try and ask myself how the main character in this story would use it.

Currently, I’m reading “Super Sad True Love Story” which was recommended to me as a book that every futurist must read. Any other suggestions?


Posted in art, hobbies by johnsnavely on March 4, 2010

Trying to write a post about androgyny. It’s not really coming together very well. In the meantime, here’s some random pictures I made that are in my brain.

All that Glitters is Good

Posted in architecture, art, friends, hobbies by johnsnavely on February 12, 2010

I just started my first architecture competition:

The rules are simple:

1.) Make an architectural drawing.

2.) Use glitter.

3.) Upload and win $500

Students of architecture, let’s make it impossible to walk through the country’s architecture studios without coming away with glitter on your soles (for at least a month).

Please share and participate!

ps David Lynch, I’d like you to be a judge. Please.


Posted in hobbies, personal by johnsnavely on August 17, 2009


I spent last week on vacation with K. No, internets. (whew!)

We backpacked for 3 days in the Olympics, which was beautiful even though it pretty much rained the entire time. In a show of solidarity, Mattie packed in and out her own food.




It was really amazing. Afterwards, K and I stopped by Olympic National Park (which doesn’t allow dogs– so we’ll have to come back another time without the furry one) to see the rainforest.

I used to read a lot of fairy tales when I was a kid… [Aside: When I first learned to read my father would only let us read books in the non-fiction section. But I found a loop hole! Myths and fairy tales have a call number, so they count!] Anyway, fairy tales and even Tolkien have represented the woods and forests as something mysterious, dark and even scary. For the most part, I didn’t understand it. At the Olympics National Forest, the trees are huuuuge, with roots that make strange shapes, burrows and passage ways. A series of trees will grow in a row on a fallen log and form a nurse log colonnade. Then the log will rot out and you’ll have a tunnel of roots underneath the trees. Architecture!

Salon, And thanks for all the fish.

Posted in hobbies, personal, projects by johnsnavely on July 30, 2009

My lovely partner, K, has organized a “Salon” at our place and we’re about to have the second of what is hopefully a long series. Basically, we pick two of our talented and unsuspecting friends to give a presentation on something that interests them.

I’ve built a little website for the event here. (still working some bugs and content fixes!)

If you’re around Seattle, and would like to come, please let me know. It’s been really great to talk to people in depth about subjects that they find fascinating.

Maybe you could present?

Presenting Salon Fremont


Posted in architecture, art, friends, hobbies, personal, projects by johnsnavely on July 20, 2009

I’ve been away from this blog for a while, but it’s because I’ve been sort of busy…. and also lazy, so lazy. Here’s a batch of updates in no particular order. More to come, of course.

For work, I’ve been managing construction for two interior projects at Microsoft.

One is an office remodel for my group, Office Labs. We’ve been working in an old building: Building 4– the buildings are numbered by when they were built on the Redmond Campus– that’s been less than ideal for team work and collaboration. Basically, we’re taking down a lot of walls and putting up some glass to provide areas where people can work together more easily. I’ve designed a couple really simple pieces of furniture for the space too. Pictures will come soon.

The other is the second phase of the Envisioning Center, a lab space where my team (the Envisioning Team) will experiment with different software and hardware prototypes. I’ll talk more about this later. There’s still much more work to be done on the space. Another phase. Furniture. Technology pieces. For now enjoy the renderings.


At home, I’ve been playing around with type and some Oppen lines (many thanks to K). Posted a few more to flickr.


In older news, my friend, Pablo Herrera, has published a book which accumulates the work we’ve (Kenfield, Daniel, Pablo & our students) done in  a series of Rhino Workshops in Latin America.

Last but not least, my good friend Arthegall is finally engaged to the lovely R. Congratulations! (It’s about time.)

Soft Hands

Posted in architecture, art, hobbies, music by johnsnavely on January 16, 2009

I thought I’d post this video of a multitouch music interface. (That you can build for under $50).

It’s related to the previous post, but since I haven’t had time to work on my side project, I can’t show you how…. yet.

Problem, Set, Match

Posted in architecture, hobbies, personal, programming, projects by johnsnavely on January 11, 2009

I’m working on a little project that has to do with architecture, but I’m stuck. (Because I’m stupid at math and never took that darn linear algebra course in college.)

So I’m appealling to all my readers who, in fact, are smart. Here’s a math problem for you.

Let’s say I have a ruler and a camera. (which I do) I can take a picture like this:

Fig 1 A

I’ve marked each inch with a little “x”. If we were to look just at the x’s the picture would look like this:

Fig 1 B

Although the ponts are rotated slightly, since the ruler parallel to the base of the camera’s view frustum (ignoring lens distortion), the points are equidistant. If I wanted to figure out what kind of line this was just from these dots, I could easily fit the points to a curve (in this case a straight line) and rotate them straight. To make it look like this:

Fig 2

But what about this case? Where the ruler is in perspective…

Fig 3 A

The dots would look like this:

Fig 3 B

Here the dots are not equidistant. However, I know that this is a straight line and since the distances shrink proportionately each time, I can again redisplay this curve on a plane (again, a straight line) like this (Fig 2):

Fig 2

Now comes the hard part! What if I’ve got a ruler that looks like this?:

Fig 4 A

Dots like this:

Fig 4 B

Can I flatten those to this?:

Fig 5

So the question is: Given a set of points like Fig 4B. Assuming points are equidistant, and the curve lies in a single plane (i.e. isn’t three dimensional) can you transform each of the points into a “flat” plane, where the distance between the points is actually the same?

Some issues:

1.) Since the ruler’s curved, the points are no longer exactly equidistant, but we should assume that they are. (I think, in fact, that the problem is unsolvable if we don’t.)

2.) Without more than one view or camera information, the curve could be reflected. So there are actually two solutions for every input set of points.

3.) This isn’t a 3d to 2d transformation per se, really just a 2d to 2d transformation.

More Vespucci than Gucci

Posted in hobbies by johnsnavely on July 2, 2008

One of the perks of working here is the free gym membership. The gym has squash courts and I love to play. Yesterday I got demolished by a coworker and now I’m so sore I can’t even walk up stairs. It was pretty fun.

For those unfamiliar, squash is sort of like racquetball. It’s played in a four walled court. There are two important differences, though. First the ceiling and part of the walls are out of bounds. (You can see the redlines marked in the video.) Secondly, the ball is a “dead” rubber ball. This means that spin and power have less importance in this game than placement and position. The game, therefore, become a slower more and gradual strategic accummulation than a series of outright winners. Points can last for minutes. It’s this “slow” pace that I really enjoy.

The video features Jonathan Powers former #1 in the world and the son of the Dartmouth’s squash coach. Those guys make this sport look like walking. On the other hand, I have to haul ace to move around the court.


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