Nextfest Nextfest. Nextfest '89. Nextfest Nextfest. I went with Sumana and friends to this alleged fest, thinking it would be a mini World's Fair. I mainly thought this because it featured a corporate mega-sponor with its own "GE Pavilion", including -- I am not kidding -- "The Kitchen of the Future".
However the most prominent feature of Nextfest was the big-ass line that took an hour to get through. You really need to buy a ticket online. Okay, that ordeal over, there was some cool stuff in the various pavillions. For instance, Atari (??) had a pavillion full of entertainment stuff like a Claymation terrarium studio and a real-world fighting game, both products of Finnish ingenuity.
There were also many disappointments. Many exhibits had, instead of a thing, a flat-screen TV showing what the thing would look like if they were here. Example: the Lifestraw, one of the greatest inventions of this century, which is tiny and costs about $5 but they didn't have one on display. Ben was excited about seeing the "hybrid locomotive", until (according to him) he discovered that there was only a small model of said locomotive, and a picture of someone standing next to a larger model of the locomotive.
The "Exploration" (ie. "Space") section was kind of a disappointment -- as, indeed, has exploration itself been recently. There was a good exhibit on the Orion capsule, and according to the brochure an exhibit on detecting black holes which I missed.
I will forever consider the biggest rip-off "The Kitchen of the Future". You may have noticed a pattern here where you see something promised in the glossy color ad, with a description written by the same people who write quick, pat descriptions of new technology for Wired, but the thing itself is nowhere to be seen. There was no kitchen.
"Oh but it's not the future yet Giblets" you say, "You just need to wait til the video of the present becomes the kitchen of the future." Maybe it was the present this afternoon but now it's the future and still no kitchen!
What's more, when you call something "The Kitchen of the Future" and only provide a video, you're calling up memories of all those 1950s and 1960s videos on the same topic: Design For Dreaming et cetera. Here's a good historical overview that includes the new video. We expect some camp or at least some style. But this video was dull and creepy. You seemed to be inside some monolothic kitchen appliance, looking out at the people tapping on the touch-screen interface and following the recipe instructions displayed thereon. Both you and they seemed trapped.
And what are the benefits of this kitchen? RFID readers in the fridge, meal suggestions, shopping lists, automatic oven setting. The same things that these kitchens have been promising us forever; only the terminology has changed. I wrote a song eight years ago (called, yes, "The Kitchen of the Future") making fun of this exact thing. The song isn't very good, which is why no one but Jake has seen it, but I think I've made my point by now. If you can't get to the future in fifty years, then if it's world peace or artificial intelligence you should keep trying, but if it's a new kind of kitchen I think you should take a break and rethink the whole project.
Anyway, so as not to by totally cynical, an honestly cool thing about this kitchen of the future: the mega-appliance manages its energy by tricks like "using oven heat to warm dishwater". I've often thought that people could save a lot of energy with a lightweight, portable heat sink that plugs in elsewhere as a heat source. That's probably not possible though.
Looking through the catalog for other cool things I saw... Laser harp! Not really "future" but certainly futuristic and festive. Oh, we went to a demonstration on robots as entertainment, where we saw a great video from robotlab. They program industrial arm-robots to draw portraits, tune them so that you can play music on them, and so on. Lots of odd musical instruments in this show. The equivalent of the .org Pavillion here was "Robot Row", which was full of robots, including robots built by high school students to compete against other robots in a basketball-type game. That was a lot of fun, though I don't really get robots. You may have noticed that I'm not really a hardware guy.
Cool-sounding stuff I didn't see: text-free user interface, some kind of cameraphone-based barcode reader for doing your microloan business paperwork (?), a biofeedback game, and Pixelroller.
PS: here's a Wikitravel guide to the most recent World's Fair.
PPS: There were a bunch of cars. Boring. Except they were hybrid cars. Sensiboring. Some of them ran on ethanol. This was demonstrated by patches of corn surrounding the exhibit. The corn was fake, ie. plastic, ie. made from oil. Secret of ethanol -- revealed!
PPPS: Here's Design For Dreaming and I'm also gonna toss in a link to Explosives: Tools For Progress just on the basis of the name.