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DxF2009, Utrecht: "All the time in the world"


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Given at Design By Fire 2009, Utrecht

Talk description:
"People, places, time. The triumvirate of factors at play in mobile, social, locative services might be familiar at the surface level to designers and developers.

Our relationships to each other, the cities and places we inhabit and navigate have been transformed in the last few years by the technology, products and services that we have designed — but what about that last one of the three — time?

Using examples from the development of and other services — alongside historical and science-fictional perspectives — Matt will explore what we might call neochronometry and illustrate some directions we could take as interaction designers to treat time as a material."

Published in: Design, Technology, Education

DxF2009, Utrecht: "All the time in the world"

  1. 1. The talk opens with a short video clip of The Doctor explaining the nature of Time, from “Blink” - you can watch it here: http://
  2. 2. We have all the time in the world… Design by Fire, October 2009 Nederlands Spoorwegmuseum, Utrecht 52° 5′ 13.99″ N, 5° 7′ 52.97″ E Matt Jones
  3. 3. Hello. Hello. My name is Matt Jones, and I’m a designer. I work at a small design and invention company called BERG in London. We do product, service and media design, and produce our own products to take to market.
  4. 4. I live in Greenwich, London
  5. 5. How many of you have heard of Greenwich?
  6. 6. You’ve probably heard of Greenwich Mean Time, or the Meridian Line
  7. 7. Or you might have heard of the Royal Observatory
  8. 8. Which is where the Prime Meridian of the World passes through...
  9. 9. (Happy 125th Birthday!) Here I am, half in the east of the world, half in the west. So this is where maps start, or end. P.s. it’s the 125th birthday of the Prime Meridian this week...
  10. 10. “Where time comes from…” And here’s the Observatory. “Where time comes from...”
  11. 11. What does that even mean? Where Time comes from? What does that even mean? Where maps start?! The arrogance! How can we even say such things? Well - what I want to talk about today is how we, as human cultures - CONSTRUCTED time, and as a result how we, as designers, can DE-CONSTRUCT it and RE- CONSTRUCT it.
  12. 12. What is Time? So, first of all we’re going to have to take a lightning tour of Time.
  13. 13. While putting this talk together I used this book by Dan Falk as a guide - it’s an excellent overview - touching on the cultural, cognitive and scientific aspects of what we call “time” - a lot of the quotes I’ll use are from the book.
  14. 14. Time is physics? Let’s start with the science bit...
  15. 15. In the 1600s, Sir Isaac Newton gave us a firm grip on the universe and how it worked. It was a majestic mechanism - clockwork, predictable, discrete and very neat!
  16. 16. He didn’t have it all his own way at the time though - from Falk’s book: “Time, the relationists [e.g. Leibniz] argued, is simply a way of comparing one event to another. In the relational view, time is not independent of the material objects that make up the universe. Just the opposite in face: the physical objects and their motions are what define the passage of time.”
  17. 17. . 0! 2 About 100 years ago, Albert came along and proposed something very different. His was a much more messy, subjective universe that we were tangled up in. It’s highly contextual, everything is deeply interwingled and fuzzy. In many ways, Universe 2.0! Sorry.
  18. 18. “Physics makes no distinction between past and future. Some physicists think of time, together with space as a vast block in which past and future have equal status. ‘Now’, meanwhile is reduced to a subjective label, just like “here”…”
  19. 19. This is a diagram of an observer’s passage through spacetime - it’s DOPPLR a diagram we used a lot as a metaphor when we were designing Dopplr... DOPPLR is about the future, which you can’t automate (yet) DOPPLR Where next? Where next? Where next?
  20. 20. “The hypersurface of the present” THE HYPERSURFACE OF THE PRESENT! What a great sentence!!! It is where we all are, right now. Right now? You said there was no such thing as now. Well, yes. It all gets a bit Morpheus, very quickly, doesn’t it.
  21. 21. Martin Hilpoltsteiner From Falk’s book again: “It is difficult for us to abandon the idea of a universal 'now." We imagine we can utter the phrase "everything in the universe that is happening right now" and have it refer to a meaningful set of events. But Einstein shows us this statement has in fact, no clear meaning. Each observer has his own list of events that appear to be happening "now", and no one persons list is more authoritative that the next. There is no "master clock" for the universe that can tell us what happened when. "Now" - one of the simplest and most-often-uttered words in our language - seems to have slipped from our grasp.”
  22. 22. Hypertime! So if there’s no now, how does time flow? In the 1960s, the philosopher Jack Smart gave us a clear account of the problem: "If time flows... this would be a motion with respect to a hypertime... if motion in space is feet per second, at what speed is the flow of time? Seconds per what? Moreover, if the passage is the essence of time, it is presumably the essence of hypertime too, which would lead us to postulate a hyper-hypertime and so on infinitum."
  23. 23. Hypertime is a favourite thing of one of my partners in BERG, Jack Schulze. Here he is talking about it with reference to comic books...
  24. 24. The Invisibles And if you think about comic books, they are kind of Hypertime. Time flows, there’s a now - but everything is there at once. We construct the flow in our minds as we read. "To take the space-time view seriously," [philosopher Michael Lockqood] writes, "is indeed to regard everything that ever exists, or even happens, at any time or place, as being just as real as the contents of the here and now."
  25. 25. Planetary This is Planetary, by Warren Ellis - probably one of my favourite comic books of all time. It’s about secret historys - PLANETARY are a team of archeologists of secret fantastic things. It’s about time, and hypertime - and just ended with issue 27. In it, is state- of-the-art Time Travel theory.
  26. 26. “[Retrocausality] is, roughly, the peculiar state of affairs in [quantum entanglement, where] the future can affect the present or the present can affect the past - the subatomic equivalent of arriving at work before you've left the house. Though it sounds wildly counterintuitive, there's nothing explicit in the laws of physics that rules out such influence.”
  27. 27. Flash Forward If you think about it - the number of shows
  28. 28. Fringe That feature complex retrocausation loops...
  29. 29. layers and layers of them
  30. 30. Heroes Is incredible...
  31. 31. Lost So, perhaps we are becoming pretty literate in such things...
  32. 32. Dan Hill This is a time-based notation -almost a musical notation - created by Dan Hill of to describe the overlapping, interlinking media of the LOST story... around, through and beneath the TV broadcast...
  33. 33. Steven Johnson maintains that the complexity of our media is making us cleverer...
  34. 34. Time is cognition? Which leads us to this thing - our brain. From Falk’s book: “Harvard psychologist Daniel Schacter, writing in a recent issue of 'Nature Reviews - Neuroscience', says one can think of the brain "as a fundamentally prospective organ that is designed to use information fom the past and present to generate prediction about the future. Memory can be though of as a tool used by the prospective brain to generate simulations of possible future events."”
  35. 35. A San Diego man known as E.P. suffers from [a brain injury] Fifteen years ago, an infection destroyed large portions of his brain's temporal lobes. he has forgotten his past and cannot form new memories. Writer Joshua Foer gives a moving description of E.P. in a recent National Geographic cover story: "Without memory, E.P. has fallen completely out of tome. He has now stream of consciousness, just droplets that immediately evaporate... Trapped in this limbo of an eternal present, between a past he can't remember and a future he can't contemplate, he lives a sedentary life... He is trapped in the ultimate existential nightmare blind to the reality in which he lives." and yet his daughter reports that E.P. is "happy all the time. Very happy. I guess that's because he doesn't have any stress in his life."
  36. 36. How much of that "perception [of time]" is rooted in biology, and how much is cultural? "We have no dedicated sense organ for the measurement of elapsed time," [anthropologist Alfred] Gell writes. "To speak of the 'perception' of time is already to speak metaphorically."
  37. 37. Time is cultural? To speak metaphorically - to come to the crux of it, is to speak from the cultures of time we have constructed.
  38. 38. M-Time vs P-Time Another book... Edward Hall - “Beyond Culture” He describes cultures as broadly tending toward M-Time or P- time...
  39. 39. I first came across this reading Joi Ito’s blog... where he discusses how his use of the internet moved him from being M-Time to P- Time... “M-time emphasises schedules, segmentation and promptness. P- time systems are characterized as several things happening at once”
  40. 40. Time is Money, etc. Classic dictum of M-time societies: Ben Franklin famous’ equation
  41. 41. but it stretches back before this: “...the quantisation of time may have been part of a larger trend of assigning numbers to previously uncounted (or poorly counted) entities – what historian Alfred Crosby has called the "quantitative revolution." Anthropologist Anthony Aveni points out that perspective painting, double-entry book keeping, polyphonic music, monetary standards and a new precision in weights and measures all appeared on the scene at the same time. "In a relatively brief span of years around 1300," he writes "virtually everything in the western world became an essence to which a number could be assigned - a sea change in the very perception of reality."
  42. 42. The idea of linear time... became a cornerstone of the Western world view. It may have paved the way for the Scientific Revolution and the Industrial revolution... By the end of the 17thC, Europeans viewed time as an abstract entity, something wholly independent of human activity.
  43. 43. Industrial Society But anyway - this world view jump started the industrial revolution: "...the clock, not the steam engine, is the key machine of the modern industrial age" - Lewis Mumford
  44. 44. ...the use of clocks and calendars (specifically the Gregorian calendar) to mark time has probably penetrated farther than the West's other well-known cultural exports, such as the English language, liberal democracy and rock music (to name just a few). For anthropologist John Postill, "clock and calendar time" - he abbreviates it to "CCT" - is "one of the West's most successful exports. Indeed, he claims there are "no reports of successful resistance to it."
  45. 45. Controlling our metaphors of time has been of utmost importance to Ceasars, Popes and Rulers throughout history - this is the French Republican Calendar, from the time of the French Revolution. I was introduced to this by my friend Tom Coates - more from him later (!) though.
  46. 46. These charming ladies are the personifications of the new months “Amid nostalgia for the ancient Roman Republic, the theories of the Enlightenment were at their peak, and the devisors of the new systems looked to nature for their inspiration. Natural constants, multiples of ten, and Latin derivations formed the fundamental blocks from which the new systems were built.”
  47. 47. For instance, it’s currently Vendemiare the 29th! “Each day in the Republican Calendar was divided into ten hours, each hour into 100 decimal minutes, and each decimal minute into 100 decimal seconds. Thus an hour was 8640 conventional seconds (more than twice as long as a conventional hour), a minute was 86.4 conventional seconds (slightly longer than a conventional minute), and a second was 0.864 conventional seconds (slightly shorter than a conventional second).”
  48. 48. Changing our time-cultures has moved from being a expression of power, to an expression of lifestyle... "We're living in a time famine" adds Harvey Moldofsky, director of the Centre for Sleep and Chronobiology at the university of Toronto. "There isn’t enough time in our waking periods to accomplish all of the expectations industrial society requires of us."
  49. 49. From Falk’s book again: “For us, [in the Western Industrial world] time is inanimate: we feel that it passes at a constant rate, with no heed paid to man or machine. We can neither give it a boost nor slow it down. For the Maya, however, time was organic – and men and women were intimately involved in its passage. Because time was organic, it was also responsive to the actions of man. In fact, keeping time on its course was a community effort; everyone had to pitch in.” - interesting...?
  50. 50. Sociologist Mike Donaldson notes that in the Dreamtime, "time, place and people were as one. One knew the time by the place one was in, and by the company one shared." - sounds like mobile social software?
  51. 51. Khronos The Ancient Greeks had two words for time. Khronos was the personification of ‘m-time’ - the relentless passage of linear time. Here he is, painted by Goya, eating someone. From this subtle hint, you may discern he is the ‘villain’ of our tale...
  52. 52. Kairos The other word was Kairos - which is sort of the ‘best possible time’ - Kairos was the embodiment of flowing opportunity and serendipity...
  53. 53. Which leads me to Dopplr... sort of...
  54. 54. “Serendipity is looking in a haystack for a needle and discovering a farmer's daughter.” Julius Comroe Jr. This is my favourite definition! Could we create a system that increased the happy little coincidences in your life as your travel through the world?
  55. 55. Back to this diagram... Which was very much our “parti”. Dopplr DOPPLR was about building a model based sharing your travel plans with people you trust, so that you could see your coincidences in the is about the future, which you can’t DOPPLR future and maximise the Kairos... But it also became about the automate (yet) DOPPLR bottom of the light cone - the past... more of that later... Where next? Where next? Where next?
  56. 56. We tried to make Khronos as ‘fuzzy’ as we possibly could, to maximise the opportunities...
  57. 57. “For the world to be interesting, you have to be manipulating it all the time.” Brian Eno Everything begins with an E(no)
  58. 58. Play to find the perfect line We wanted to really turn this into a tool for finding the perfect line. And hopefully keep it delightful and playful while doing so. This is a diagram from Will Wright of ‘local maxima’ in a continuous landscape of fun... This was a design document, not a UI element, AFAIK.
  59. 59. Travel time maps / Stamen / MySociety This is some work by Tom Carden of Stamen for - a UK NGO that shows travel times into central London. Using time as a lens to examine place is powerful stuff...
  60. 60. Which has now turned into a product called Mapumental, which also gives you sliders on house prices and ‘scenicness’ or natural beauty, for you to make descisons on where to live...
  61. 61. Time is technological? Lastly on our lightning tour of time, a specific slice of culture that we’re all probably involved in... technology’s impact on our cultures of time.
  62. 62. This is the Harrison H4 chronometer - the most important clock ever. It allowed the first accurate finding of Longitude, and hence greatly enhanced world wide trade and communication by sea.
  63. 63. From New Scientist: “Today’s optical atomic clocks that hold thousands of atoms in a lattice made of intersecting laser beams. The design, in which ytterbium atoms oscillate or “tick” at optical frequencies, has the potential to be more stable and accurate than today’s best time standards, which are based on microwaves at much lower frequencies.”
  64. 64. Since Harrison, our accuracy at marking time, allows us greater accuracy in marking space...
  65. 65. Resulting in a pulsing blue dot telling us exactly where we are, and when we are, all the time.
  66. 66. All reinforcing the M-time machine?
  67. 67. Maybe not. From “In search of time”: “The introduction of the cell phone - which has become ubiquitous in industrialised nations towards the end of the 1990s -is making time 'squishier than ever." "Squishy here does not mean slow; it just means that we are more now connected than ever, and this in turn, is radically changing the way we manage out time. As rushed as our culture may be ... it contains pockets of "soft time" - especially when friends plan their evening and weekend activities"
  68. 68. “Real-Time” The paradox is that this “Squishy-time” or “Fluid-time” as Michael Kieslinger and his team at IDII Ivrea researched in 2003/4 is as a result of advances in “REAL-TIME” computing in networks. “Real-Time”, historically through the 60s, 70s and 80s was reserved to complex control systems in things like nuclear power stations, but as moore’s law advanced it moved through to less critical applications such as video game graphics rendering. More and more, all our information systems can be described as ‘Real- Time”
  69. 69. PubSubHubBub... Increasingly, technologies like XMPP and PubSubHubBub are changing the internet from something asynchronous to something synchronous, and real-time.
  70. 70. “What are you doing?”
  71. 71. Jyri Engeström People to watch in this: Jyri Engestrom, ex-Jaiku and ex-Google is increasingly talking and publishing on “real-time”
  72. 72. Tom Coates ...and Tom Coates, creator of FireEagle, one of the first big users of XMPP has been thinking about real-time products and the mindset we need to generate them for longer than most. This talk was directly inspired by him and his talks at Webstock and FooCamp this year...
  73. 73. ...even TechCrunch is challenging m-time interaction norms , in response perhaps to the rise of real-time []
  74. 74. Wave! Who’s used Google Wave?
  75. 75. Who’s figured out what it’s good at? Ok - this is a cheap shot, and Wave is a very exciting thing that’s challenging existing paradigms for communication... ...But it seems kind of ‘orthodox’ in its UI and interaction behaviour - at least with the initial client (is that even the right word any more!) that’s been released for it? Even though it’s using new language to describe itself (you share ‘waves’) is it using any new interaction design language to introduce new behaviours?
  76. 76. And that’s the thing. In discussing the “real-time product mindset” with Tom, we talked a bit about some of the lanugage of the discourse we use...
  77. 77. Pings I’ll ping you. X pings Y then Z happens. PING! PING!! PING!!!
  78. 78. Pings overwhelm with their “nowness” - what if we didn’t think about pings, but... Heat?
  79. 79. Heat This is a heat-map by Mike Migurski of Stamen (again), and individual events that might be realised by pings, instead are aggregated into a different type of signal, something that we can read very easily... How might we use a metaphorical switch like this in our interfaces and products to transmute...
  80. 80. Khronos turn Khronos
  81. 81. Kairos Into Kairos... Noise into signal... Distraction into Opportunity...
  82. 82. So this is my assertion. I think we need to really start playing with...
  83. 83. Time is a material. With Time as a material.
  84. 84. Michel Gondry 2mins of The making of Star Guitar. You can watch the whole thing here:
  85. 85. Back to Schulze. We are not dentists. I believe we need to engage with cultural constructs of Time and bring them into the reconstruction and design of our products and services.
  86. 86. Red Dot Fever There’s a term called “Red Dot Fever” - I don’t know who coined it - maybe Mike Migurski of Stamen, or Aaron Straup Cope - but I first heard it from Tom Taylor of RIG. It refers to the acne that our maps start to contract once connected to internets.
  87. 87. Kevin Slavin Kevin Slavin of Area/Code and NYU’s ITP programme gave a talk recently about his work, which he characterised as being in response to GPS and mapping technology: “We can know exactly where we are, all the time - F*ck That.”
  88. 88. Much as artists responded to photography with a rejection of photorealism, and a move to abstractions as deeper examinations of ‘reality’ - he wants to respond to our perfect knowledge of where we are with playful or provoking ‘neogeographies’
  89. 89. Little Hand Fever So, culturally, we’ve had the same thing with time for a while... even though our clocks have only been internet-connected for a short period of their existence...
  90. 90. And here are some responses, just by way of inspiration perhaps. This is “The Average Day” limited edition watch by designer Crispin Jones
  91. 91. He’s a friend, but no relation! (But they are lovely watches)
  92. 92. This is the one that my other design partner Matt Webb wears. Here we can see it’s almost exactly Orange o’clock.
  93. 93. And here’s an experiment with video Webb was doing - deforming the time-base of each pixel.
  94. 94. The Khronos Projector by Alvaro Cassinelli Here’s some similar, earlier work by Alvaro Cassinelli - THE KHRONOS PROJECTOR!!!
  95. 95. Art+Com Here’s some lovely work turning time into solid forms by Berlin’s ART+COM... reminds me of The Invisibles.
  96. 96. Art+Com
  97. 97. Art+Com These are all from a great list of these time-deforming artworks I found, compiled by pioneering video/code artist Golan Levin:
  98. 98. FluidTime On the service side - I mentioned Keislinger and Fluid Time earlier - he’s now part of a consultancy that has productised the work they did at Ivrea into services that aim to work with city infrastructures to create fluid, flowing experiences for its inhabitants...
  99. 99. Email Clock, Tom Igoe This is some neochronometry for sure: “For every new email I get, it ticks forward one tick. The speed of the ticks is dependent on the total volume of mail in my inbox.   The higher the number of kilobytes, the faster the ticks move.”
  100. 100. Che-Wei Wang Che-Wei Wang also of ITP in New York.
  101. 101. “3.16 billion cycles” Che-Wei Wang A 60 rpm (revolutions per minute) motor drives the entire mechanism. It rotates once every second. The following pulley rotates once every 5 seconds (1:5 ratio). The next rotates once every 60 seconds or 1 minute. Then 5 minutes, 1 hour, 1 day, 1 month, 1 year, and 1 decade. The decade wheel carries the load of the large arc. The large arc rotates once every century. The final ratio between the 60 rpm motor and the large arc is approximately 1:31.6 billion.
  102. 102. Which leads us to the Clock of The Long Now... Which you probably know... From “In search of time” again: “Writer Brian Hayes is ... critical [of the Clock of the Long Now]: by assuming that civilisation 10000 years from now would share any our values, let alone our desire to keep track of time, we're committing an act "of chronocolonialism, enslaving future generations to maintain our legacy systems."
  103. 103. Howies Here’s a nice simple example of objects or systems that declare their lifespan, their projection into the future via a service aspect, like this simple design touch in Howies Hand-Me-Down jacket of a name tag that encompasses generations. The coat of the longish now!
  104. 104. Matt Locke Data+Time = Story And I think Howies have hit on something with that, something we aimed to do with Dopplr too... My friend Matt Locke summed it up really nicely...
  105. 105. 2008 Personal annual report for Barack Obama Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Manchester Boston Washington Kabul Berlin Denver New York Chicago January 05 February 04 June 04 July 20 July 24 August 28 October 16 November 04 You took 234 trips in 2008, which In 2008, you spent added up to 337,729 km or 92% of the distance to the moon. 133 233 In 2008, you mostly coincided with: You have 4 travellers in your network. They travelled a total of 657,789 km in 2008, and everyone on Dopplr Joe travelled a total of 1331.4 million km or 8.9 AU in 2008: the approximate distance to Saturn from the Earth as including Des Moines and Washington of January 2009. John Your personal velocity for 2008 was 38.10 including Peterborough and Washington km/h, which is about the same as a You spent the most time in Chicago. Lauren Your carbon for 2008 six-lined race runner lizard. Michelle Kurtz has a tip: “The Publican. Amazing beer The 5 most popular cities in your network are list and melt in your mouth food. In the Fulton including Washington and Detroit Washington, Columbus, Cincinnati, Denver and Miami. Market area.” Sarah in Columbus The furthest distance you travelled was to Kabul (11,211 km from Chicago), which is the 829th most popular city on Dopplr. The shortest distance you 42,299 kg CO2 (4.2 Hummers) travelled was to Oregon (6 km from Toledo). Based on figures from, 1 x Hummer H3 4WD truck produces nearly 10 metric tonnes of CO2 a year. The visualisation above uses this figure to illustrate your carbon from Dopplr as calculated by our friends at and is an approximation only. The city images above sourced from Flickr and are used under a Creative Commons Attribution Licence: Sunset on the Charles by Pear Biter, Pennsylvania Ave - Old Post Office to the Capitol at Night by wyntuition, we'll meet again by chaosinjune, Colorado State Additional imagery by Flickr users: Gongus, Matthias Winkelmann, Wendy Piersall, Spotbott and Beard Papa With our Dopplr Annual Report we were trying to tell tiny stories with data. Here’s Barack Obama’s report...
  106. 106. And you can see a story embedded in it...
  107. 107. Time is a material. So, time is a material, a substrate - a canvas.
  108. 108. Back to this... remember the lightcones describe all possible points DOPPLR we could occupy in the “past” and the “future” is about the future, which you can’t DOPPLR automate (yet) DOPPLR Where next? Where next? Where next?
  109. 109. Ben Cerveny, talks about interaction design as ‘sculpture in possibility space’ - interventions that create or shape spacetime, sociality and systems.
  110. 110. “The Possibility Jelly lives on the hypersurface of the present” A conversation with him earlier this year featured this phrase...
  111. 111. “Past” “Future” It spawned a huge long post on my blog about location-based services, mobile, social networks yadda yadda. Search for “jellyfish” on - but the jellyfish is a metaphor for interaction in spacetime I keep coming back to.
  112. 112. “Future” “Past” A big balloon of opportunities in the future that pass through the surface of “now” to become trails, tendrils of interactions and data as part of my history...
  113. 113. Both the jellyfish and the cones seem to show how thin “now” is... but that’s what the blue dot and the second hand seem to fix on. And what a lot of our m-time thinking is resulting in.
  114. 114. Kairos We need to design for Kairos.
  115. 115. At BERG we keep coming back to a theme of designing “macroscopes” - it’s a term we discovered through John Thackara. It’s something lets us see both the small interactions and their aggregation into very large systems at the same time.
  116. 116. Here & There This is something we explored with the “Here & There” map projection
  117. 117. Which gives you the perspective of being able to see where you are and where you’re heading at the same time.
  118. 118. Now & Then? How might we make a “Now & Then?” macroscope?
  119. 119. Kairos Something that really was the embodiment of Kairos.
  120. 120. Khronos Which is not to say Khronos needs to be replaced - I think I have given him a bad rep.
  121. 121. Khronos Khronos is pretty useful after all. I just think he needs to be balanced.
  122. 122. Pings That we need to balance a sense of being alert...
  123. 123. Heat With a sense of opportunity
  124. 124. Maybe we can find a balance with the new real-time technology...
  125. 125. Kairos And bring back some Kairos and p-time, to balance our m-time monopolies.
  126. 126. “For the world to be interesting, you have to be manipulating it all the times” We need to use all the times in the world.
  127. 127. To go and make the better time machines...
  128. 128. Thanks Matt Jones Thanks for your attention (and time...)