Infographic: “Movin’ on Up” – The World’s Tallest Buildings

A few months ago I wrote about my travels to Dubai, and my thoughts on the architecture of that multifaceted and intriguing city.

This post is a visual follow-up to that, focussing on the engineering and design of a typological resurgence in the built environment: skyscrapers. I was approached by a reader of Pixelated Thinking with this compelling infographic that succinctly captures how tall buildings are becoming an important part in our society, especially as cities become more dense, and urbanisation becomes a force to be reckoned with.

Dubai, of course, leads the pack in most cases. That city of superlatives boasts most of the world’s tallest buildings, and there’s still many more being planned and constructed in that Emirate. Just recently, SOM announced their latest tower, the 90˚ twisted tower that resembles Santiago Calatrava’s “Turning Torso” design, Cayan Tower (previously Infinity Tower), now the world’s tallest twisted tower.

I recommend you follow the link on this infographic to find out some more interesting facts about the world of tall buildings.

Movin' On Up
Source: Best Online Engineering Degree

Apple is Back

A lot has already been written about Apple’s major announcements at Monday’s keynote to kick-off WWDC 2013. So I’m not going to go over what was announced – that can be found at almost any blog covering tech. What I’m going to write about, instead, is what I felt and thought after dutifully watching Monday’s live stream, as the future of Apple unfolded before the eyes of their devout fans.

“Designed by Apple in California”

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1996, one of the things he did was create a branding campaign to re-assert Apple’s image in the eyes of the public, but also strengthen resolve from within the company. At that time, Apple had been struggling – badly. They were near bankruptcy. Jobs managed to rescue the company with a number of radical changes, but the campaign – “Think Different” – a poetic, rousing anthem to the world, best encapsulated all that he stood for and believed in regarding Apple. “Think Different” was very much a Steve Jobs manifesto, a strategic move to associate Apple with the great thinkers, leaders and inventors of the past.


So when Tim Cook premiered Apple’s new branding campaign, “Designed by Apple in California,” I was immediately struck by its similarities with the “Think Different” videos, and also by the fact that it was, essentially, Tim Cook’s vision. His affirmation to the public and to Apple itself that the company is back, that it will continue to prosper and innovate as it always has, and that, despite its new leadership, Apple will continue to be Apple. The new campaign reasserts Apple’s roots in Cupertino, adds direction to their new vision for OS X (more on that just now), and confirms their stance as an American technology company that cares for where it comes from (Mac Pro production based in the U.S.) It’s Tim Cook’s manifesto, in much the same way “Think Different” symbolised Steve Jobs.

Watch the video:

Apple is Back

There’s no doubt that after Steve Jobs’ resignation as CEO, and then his untimely death in October 2011, Apple’s future was left with a big question mark over it. Jobs was very much Apple. The break between two incredibly inextricable entities left a void, and the new CEO, Tim Cook, was given the enormous task of bridging it, of assuring us that Apple would continue to innovate. But what followed was a series of somewhat lacklustre attempts – sure, we had incredible new MacBook Pros with Retina displays, an amazingly thin iPhone 5 and iPod touch… but the spark seemed to have gone from Apple.

Until now.

You could see it in the energy displayed by the executives on stage: Craig Federighi, debuting the new OS X, was enigmatic and reminiscent of Steve Jobs in his presentation skill. Phil Schiller, SVP of Worldwide Marketing, made the statement that best encapsulated the message Apple was trying to send to the world: upon revealing a radical new design for the much-anticipated new Mac Pro, he remarked: “Can’t innovate any more, my a**.”

The Mac Pro reveal itself was done with the drama and panache that only Apple can do: set to the tone of Muse’s “Supremacy,” it exuded cool. Watch the reveal here:

But it’s the new design for iOS that signifies Apple’s true leap forward. They’ve managed to let go of the past, of the “skeumorphic” design tendencies that Steve Jobs himself was a big fan of. Skeumorphism links software ideas to their real-world counterparts in a very literal way. This allusion makes things look gaudy, overdone, and just unintuitive. It’s what dogged iOS for its entire existence, making it look old and creaky in the face of sleek interfaces from competitors like Samsung’s Android implementation and Windows Phone.

The new, minimalist interface from Apple designer Sir Jonathan Ive is clean, well thought-out and befitting of a mobile operating system that runs on devices that pride themselves on distinct industrial design. Yes, there’s still a lot of work to be done on the UI, but this is just the beta phase. Much will be altered before iOS 7 gets gold-master certified for public use later this year. For one thing, I’m not too convinced about the icon design; it looks a bit inconsistent and makes for a jumbled home screen appearance. This, and other UI and UX elements will be tweaked, I’m sure. But overall: I’m impressed. The beautiful use of typography, the subtle animations and parallax concept bring life to iOS without reverting to skeumorphic ideas that come across as plain tacky. This iteration of iOS indeed looks classy, refined, and downright stylish – just the kind of thing you’d expect from a company that prides itself on working at the intersection between good design and groundbreaking engineering.

Here’s Jony Ive talking through the thought process behind iOS 7’s new design:

New Direction: OS X

There’s no more big cats in the name. That’s kinda sad. But OS X is now going to be named after places in California, the birthplace and development home of the Mac operating system. That does seem befitting, and works right into Apple’s new strategy with their “Designed by Apple in California” theme.

The new OS X is called “Mavericks”, version number 10.9. It’s named after the popular surfing location in California, and sets the tone for a new generation of OS X. As with iOS, OS X is also departing from its little stint with skeumorphism, and I like what I’ve seen so far. My favourite features with 10.9 are definitely App Nap, a system that intelligently manages application resources to maximise system performance and battery life. It’s also impressive to note that this OS will be able to run on Macs as old as those from late-2007. That’s what I love about Apple: the longevity of their products.

Closing thoughts

This keynote has made me excited to be a fan of Apple again. I’m confident in their future, one that now has a concrete direction, is rooted once again in good design and innovative engineering principles, and that opens the doors to interesting and compelling new product avenues. I can’t wait to finally get my hands on iOS 7 and OS X 10.9, and I look forward to what the Cupertino company has in store for us in the near future.

The Next Frontier of Civilisation: Contemplating Mars

Curiosity approaching the Martian surface. (credit: www.universetoday.com)
Curiosity approaching the Martian surface. (credit: www.universetoday.com)

It sounds like science fiction: a one-way trip to the Red Planet, with the chance to be one of the first humans to venture forth into the vastness of deep space and establish the first Martian colony. A project called Mars One is attempting to turn that wisp into reality, and already over 70 000 people have signed up. But this entire project draws a deeper level of contemplation: of our future as a civilisation.

Renowned cosmologist Carl Sagan (one of my scientific heroes) wrote this in his bestselling novel Cosmos: 

Human beings have a demonstrated talent for self-deception when their emotions are stirred, and there are few notions more stirring than the idea of a neighbouring planet inhabited by intelligent beings. […] If the planet ever is terraformed, it will be done by human beings whose permanent residence and planetary affiliation is Mars. The Martians will be us.

–Carl Sagan, “Cosmos” (1980)

Our future lies in the stars, on the dusty surface of a distant neighbour we’ve gazed at for centuries, dreamt of visiting, wrote extensively about and let our imaginations run wild upon its rocky, crimson surface. Mars has a special place in my heart. I’ve written about it fictionally, and gave a presentation on it in Grade 10. Even before that, I had whimsical dreams of making a movie called Mission to Mars. But now, the dream of visiting this planet is becoming a lot more real each day. Scientists, engineers, economists, medical specialists, writers are all coming together to imagine just how we could take our civilisation to the next frontier: space.

The Problem Right Now

Earth is a beautiful planet. It has just the perfect blend of ingredients to allow you and I to exist. However, in our advancement as a species, we’ve created a few challenges: globalisation, industrialisation, and the growth of our species has resulted in depleting natural resources and, effectively, a dying planet. Call it what you want – global warming, climate change – our impact has rendered our planet unfit, unhealthy. And whilst urbanists and others try to find solutions to our crises, I do believe that the time to consider a second planet is now.

Yes, it sounds far-fetched. Because it is. But if we were to stop, and consider how rapidly our society has advanced in merely 150 years – from a society dreaming about soaring amongst the birds, to one that takes flight for granted, even complains about the Wi-Fi signal onboard. We’ve progressed. And I think, in that vain, contemplating the Red Planet is only natural; a logical progression from where we were, to where we are, to where we shall be.

Contemplating Mars is an exciting solution to some of our great challenges.

Why it’s compelling

Thinking about establishing permanent residence on an entirely new planet is a truly exhilarating thing. Imagine Mars as a blank canvas: with an already intelligent society descending upon it, we have the opportunity to intelligently design what could be a “civilisation 2.0,” a new take on society, politics, and urban living.

We could start society afresh: history has taught us of the social implications befalling the colonisation of distant lands. It usually leads to civil unrest, civil war, and the assertion of supremacy of one group upon a larger citizenship. These are issues we can avoid, for we now have the chance to strategically plan our new society, and to design all its constituent components. It’s a vision of utopia, yes – and here, literature warns us that utopian conceptions are prone to failure in the face of reality. But by designing everything – from the technology, to the social engineering – we have the opportunity to create something truly remarkable on an altogether fascinating planet. Whilst it may never be perfect, it will be as close to it as we could get.

The science and technology are not quite there yet: much still needs to be done to get our ideas and their execution up to the scratch of the “greatly advanced technology” Sagan talks of needed to accomplish such things as full-scale planetary terraformation. But if we can get more people invested in the notion that going to Mars is a very real possibility, and that we can establish our presence there in a very tangible way, I think the momentum will begin to increase, propelling this dream into reality.

The Mars One Project

Mars One is interesting. At first, its ideas will enthral you (I invite you to visit their website and see for yourself the promises they make). However, their mission should not be considered the final word on this idea. Mars One is still very much a project in its infancy; after all, creating a new colony is extremely expensive. They talk of outsourcing the tech aspects to more qualified private companies, like SpaceX for the launch vehicle. But SpaceX themselves have still got a lot of work to do; they’ve only recently (last year) managed to launch an unmanned craft to the International Space Station. Whether the Mars One project will prevail remains to be seen; 70 000 people think so, but reality in this case seems to be the big door at the end of their dreams.

This brings about another interesting node of thought: will the future of space travel, and thus, exploration, be a triumph of the private sector, or will government agencies continue to take us towards the stars? From the progress of pioneers like Elon Musk’s SpaceX, I think the days of the politically-sided government agency funding space are limited, and the age of commercial travel, and the innovation spawned from competition, will be one aspect that might get us to Mars quicker than bureaucratic methods.

One thing’s for certain, however: those who will eventually be jettisoned to our neighbour may risk the very real possibility of not returning to Earth. Their’s will be a one-way journey to a new future and all its possibilities. Only the most committed souls, those so devout to the advancement of science and the progress of our race, will make that difficult psychological and social cut. But they’ll be heroes, and will get to live the dream many of us have harboured for years.

In closing…

I’m not saying that we should ditch efforts to solve the problems facing us here on Earth; that we should run away (literally) from the challenges of this age. Urbanisation, depleting fossil fuels, and increasing populations are issues that really need more attention. But if, for a moment, we were to step back, and consider advancing our species, propagating ourselves into the stars, and all the opportunities (and inherent challenges) that face us in that grander scheme of things, I truly think we can begin to see innovation on an awe-inspiring scale. We can begin to inspire generations to embrace the concept of moving beyond Earth, of standing on the shoulders of giants like Sagan, and Neil deGrasse Tyson, and those others so invested in humanity’s future. We can begin to see ourselves as not only the explorers, but the settlers too: the founders of a new era.