What does good thinking look like?

Earlier this week, I posted up the four images above on a twitter poll and on instagram, and asked the simple questions; A, B, C or D? No context, just that – of the four images, which would you choose. I’d said I’d explain a bit about it, but first though, what were the results?

Twitter folks go for D, then A:

Instagram folks are kinda similar, though it’s a much smaller sample size. The reactions, when people sent some additional thoughts, are also really interesting, but in particular I’m going to draw attention to Richard‘s comment here:

The real extremes in the test are A and D, to my mind.

The former is a solid, simple structure that’s trying to do one thing. All the colours are aligned, all the gradients are consistently directed. As Fraser said in his response, “a designer’s designer would say A“.

The latter, D, has a whole lot of things going on.

At first, it just feels a bit like random chaos, especially in context with the others. But then as you scan it a bit more, looking more closely, or holding it at arms length, it starts revealing different things. Richard’s idea about it making the mind feel ‘kaleidoscopic’ is bang on, I think.

Beyond playing with delights of isometric shapes and gradient effects though, I did promise to explain a bit more about what it’s for though.

Last year, various streams of work and teaching the Innovation & Future Thinking course at IED in Barcelona made me start wondering about revisiting the underlying tools and frameworks of Smithery’s work (Strategy, Prototyping, Culture, Design, Innovation… etc), and how all of those things connect. The last time I’d done this was back in 2014, when a month of blogging every day produced a set of theories and practices which formed the backbone of the following five years’ work.

Back in January, in ‘the before’, I gave a talk called “A Blacksmith Makes Their Own Tools“, which set the seeds of the reading and reflection on our work so far since starting in 2011. Then these past couple of months have provided a brilliant opportunity to get torn into that work properly, and start to shape a few early parts of the new work, of which the images are part.

What I’d been working on was a graphic representation of a basic information process, from sensing what’s out there in the world, through to the actions people take as a result. It pulls on a few pre-existing models already (Boyd’s OODA loops, some of Boisot’s information space) as well as some other reading I’ve been doing, and it’s not finished as yet. As a basic general framework, it’s a fairly useful starting point for me at the moment, and would already serve as a useful tool in asking questions of clients or students (Where do we get information from? How do we process it? What filters can we identify that prevent some information getting it?) in order to identify intervention points and practices to deploy.

I’m not going to dwell on it a lot now, but come back instead to the “A versus D” thing from above, as to which best represents the ‘in here’ part of the model. In short, what does the processing of information look like internally, be it as an individual (the things in your head) or an organisation (the knowledge we hold)?

Now, if I’d framed a question around this (perhaps ‘which of these represents thinking?’ or something similar), and presented people with the four images, I would imagine the answers would be very different. We are aware of the unstructured nature of our own minds as much as we are of the information and knowledge that resides inside the organisations we populate.

I would argue though in this context, the neatness and perfection of A is likely not what we’re looking for in these terms; the Sisyphean task of organising all our ideas and workflows into perfect order, I think, will remain forever beyond the grasp of people. Which opens up the question; if striving for perfection in structure is a futile goal, then what should we be aiming for instead? What does good thinking look like?

Anyway, that’s the next couple of months of thinking and writing sorted – pursuing the above and the themes obliquely sketched out below. I’ll be sharing more as soon as it is ready (and maybe an additional post on why it’s not following the same process as a month’s worth of blogging from the last time). Thanks to everyone who played along with the picture experiment.

Pond life

There’s a giant tadpole in our pond, the amphibian Jaws of suburban Sussex.

I started wondering if it had just had a head start out the frogspawn, and so did some research. In a way, it probably has had a leap ahead, but from last year, not this. It turns out that if the conditions aren’t right to turn into a frog (too much competition for food, weather, etc), some tadpoles just stay as tadpoles during the winter. Waiting, feeding, growing. Then when the spring conditions come round again, they’re first out the gate, and become bigger than average frogs.

This is perhaps a year to live in the pond, and become a stronger frog when spring comes around again.

Table View: a video call hack

During the first virtual Cardstock meetup on Friday, we (the collective group) mentioned we’d play around with different ways of making the ‘card method’ work for us all online, and report back. I was going to find this, a prototype made from an Ikea desk lamp and a webcam, from five years ago, and see if I could get it working again.

One day later, after our friends suggested finding a way to play a board game with our two families over a video call, I dusted it down, and it was very effective in setting up a game of Diamant across our two houses.

I’ve upgraded it a bit.

A better Logitech 1080p webcam, and now attached with a Joby GorillaPod to the main desk lamp piece, means a sharper, higher-res image with more flexibility in positioning and set up.

And running through the laptop (with sound off and mic muted) as one call into whereby, and then using an iPad as the device for the main room camera, means everyone can see and hear you, as well as the muted feed that shows you the table.

Home Cured Bacon

No, not the usual kind of Smithery post… but these are strange times, no? Helen and the kids bought me a bacon curing course for my birthday a few years back, and since then I have regularly made some bacon we’re feeding lots of people (Christmas, half-terms, camping trips, etc). I offered to share the recipe on twitter, and so a few folks put their hands up. Here you go…

WHAT YOU’LL NEED

Cure mix 

There are various types of bacon cure you can buy online – try:

https://www.weschenfelder.co.uk/bacon-curing/curing-salts/supracure-dry-cured-bacon.html

…which is a 5% cure, meaning for a 1kg piece of pork, you will use 50g of cure (5%)

Different cures have different ratios – ALWAYS follow the instructions that comes with a specific cure mix.

Flavouring

When you combine other ingredients with the cure to make a rub, what happens is that the meat will be gently flavoured with the other ingredients, as the cure begins to replace the water inside the meat. This is my standard recipe that produces a tasty bacon that doesn’t need smoking – you need allspice, rosemary, black pepper and sugar. But do search online for other ideas.

Pork

Either use pork loin to make back bacon, or belly to make streaky bacon. Get the meat deboned by the butcher before you start, or just buy a piece without bones.

If you can include the bones when you’re curing, in order to get bacon bones for making stock for soup. If you do this, then the meat weight includes the bones when you calculate the amount of cure to use. You can leave the skin on in order to have a rind. If you do, make sure to take a sharp knife and pierce through the skin into the meat in various places, to ensure the cure penetrates well.

Two large ziplock plastic bags

Some folk have vacuum packing machines at home already, but I’ve never found the need for one for bacon.

METHOD

1. Prepare the mix for the rub

Combine the curing salt, sugar, allspice, rosemary and pepper in a bowl, and mix round. The amounts are dependent on the weight of your meat. As a general rule…

1 kg pork
50g of 5% cure (e.g. 5% as the name suggests)
20g sugar (unrefined granulated sugar, brown or Demerara sugar)
4g allspice
4g freshly chopped rosemary leaves

A pinch (0.5g) of crushed black peppercorns

2. Rub the mix all over the pork

First, place the pork in a large ziplock plastic bag. Then tip some mix in on one side of the meat, and rub it in throughly all over. Turn the bag over, and rub it in on the other side of meat, and down the sides. By the end, all the mix should be in the bag with the meat, and you can seal it up, getting as much air out as possible. I then put that bag in a second ziplock bag too, and get the air out again.

3. Cure for 4-7 days

In the bag after the first day or so, you start to see a watery brine forming in the bag, as the water is replaced in the meat. Keep turning the bag over every day or so, and give the meat a little massage when you do – it means the cure will distribute evenly. Don’t empty the brine out of the bag. The longer you leave the meat to cure, the saltier it will become – my personal preference is a 4 or 5 day cure.

4. Rinse and dry

Finally, open the ziplock bags and empty the brine out into the sink. Take the meat out and give it a really good rinse under the tap, or place in a sink of cold water. It’s totally fine to submerse it like this, and leave it in there for a while if you want it to be a bit less salty.

Pat it dry with a tea-towel all over (you’ll probably need two tea towels).

Place on a chopping board covered in baking parchment. You can cut a small slice or two off the end now, just to try what it’s going to be like (I’m not judging you, I never fail to do the same).

But you’ll find (especially if the rind is still on) that it’s a little hard to slice. Leave in the fridge for another couple of days, and it’ll firm up a bit more, the rind is easier to get through, and the joint holds its shape better. Then just slice rashers off with a long sharp knife when needed.

A good trick is to use a second, thick chopping board over the top of the bacon, and slide you knife blade down the edge of it as you cut the bacon below.

If you cured the bones too, just rinse them off too, and make a stock but putting the bacon bones in a large soup pan of water with a few roughly chopped vegetables and maybe a bay leaf. Makes an excellent stock for a pea soup.

And there we go, home cured bacon. It will keep like this, unwrapped, for a good few weeks in the fridge.

If you get to the end, and it’s becoming tricky to slice, just chop into small pancetta style pieces to add to other dishes.

28 Days Later

It’s hard to know whether London is quieter this weekend, or just feels quieter.

A new chapter for “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds” no doubt.

Interesting to note how quickly a poster information campaign can be everywhere though. The last mass media format.

via Flickr https://flic.kr/p/2iBJqqb

Plant-Based Lifeforms

There’s something quite Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy about the phrase ‘plant-based’ – echoes of the description of humans as ‘carbon-based lifeforms’.

If it persists as a phrase, ‘based’ is a term that might end up doing a *lot* of heavy lifting, in the same way that ‘craft’ does in beer.

via Flickr https://flic.kr/p/2ix52Py

Startup Prontoprint

Kinda interesting – positioning itself as a walk-in creative studio, where you pay by marketing services by the hour. “Marketing for all” they say on the website. Which is also possibly just flipping round the standard printshop model, where if you wanted the poster, they had someone on site who’d design it for you too.

via Flickr https://flic.kr/p/2ivqu6L

Charging Infrastructure

In a new cafe, who’ve installed all of their power points like this… it’s easier to pull out the plug from the table above, I’m guessing.

via Flickr https://flic.kr/p/2it8KBj