6th Swiss Design Network Conference – "Negotiating futures. Design fiction."


From the Design and the Elastic Mind exhibition at MoMA (NYC) in 2008.

negotiating futures. design fiction.
6th Swiss Design Network Conference
October 28 – 30 2010 in Basel, Switzerland

It’s super far off (but not the calls for stuff), but this upcoming event next year looks intriguing!

Designers see the world not simply as it is, but rather as it could be. In this perspective, the world is a laboratory to explore the contingency of the existing and the thinking in options. Imaginations of the contra factual are a key source for the creation of alternative political, technological, social, or economic constellations of artefacts, interfaces, signs, actors, and spaces. At the same time, strategies of materialization are pivotal to shift the boundary between the fictional and the real and to finally bring possible new realities into being. The conference addresses the questions of how fictions are designed and how the multiplicity of possible new futures is negotiated and realized.

Important dates 2010

March 08th – Call for papers
April 18th – Deadline paper abstracts
June 3rd – Notification of acceptance
July 18th – Deadline papers
July 18th – Call for workshops
September 27th – Registration
Oktober 28th – Conference opens

Continue reading 6th Swiss Design Network Conference – "Negotiating futures. Design fiction."

Avatar On Its Face


Strangely — because I trained to be a cynic-critic — I actually enjoyed Avatar. I don’t know if I expected much more of a nuanced story from James Cameron, so I didn’t go in there looking for insight and reflection on the complexities of sci-tech versus anti-tech (delivered, ironically, by a super high tech
production), exploitive corporations versus pristine cultures (created, ironically, by a corporation spending $250M on its production), militarism versus peaceful warriors (by the guy who materialized his fantasy of the battlesuit-wearing Space Marine), sentamentalist essentialism versus… Cameron didn’t fool me into thinking he had something important to say about cultures’ relationships with *nature* or *the other*.

I already know how the Noble Savage works as a pivot point for wrangling my emotions in a film’s narrative round-up. Or — *gasp* — the white man’s burden. To work that angle is tiring as a critique, however topical it might be. To critique it over and over again. And again.


But..that’s me. I spent many years in a smarty-pants lit-crit-swaggering grad school. Been there, read that, saw it over and over again. What else is in there? Anything at all? Is it just a roughshod rehashed ham-fisted anti-colonialist apologist’s romp? Really? Is that all I get for my $12.50 Imax 3D experience?

I mean..it’s James Cameron. The animation and production ruled the day. It’s best understood either as a 3 hour treatment for a video game, an advert for the Global Consciousness Project, or a simple Pocahontas-y Christmas story. Simple stories for simple people on holiday. If one of those simpletons thinks for a moment about the sinewy interconnectedness of all living things, I’d be surprised. That’s a MacGuffin to move us to a battle sequence that shows that steel and explosives can’t bend a mind’s will. This point, however you can make it, is worth the price of admission and can never be said enough — even with a moronic, chanting-in-teh-forestz-with-drums plot line. It’s simple, but 8 years of Bush-Cheney will take lots of stupid stories with important principles underneath them to clear up their mess.

If anything, what I enjoyed most is this latest addition to a growing line of sci-fi visual commentaries on the growing displacement of consciousness — plugging ourselves into other selves and other places: Brainstorm, The Matrix, Surrogates, Gamer..there’s a curious theme and, despite the flat-footed, easily critiqued, buffoonish scripts — brilliant invective of the era of the *online*, the *Avatar* just below the surface of a middling (or worse) story.

Still — Avatar is a good film for reasons *other* than the story.

cf. Sascha’s review

cf. Steven Shaviro’s / Pinnocchio Theory’slong-but-worth-it analysis of Gamer

cf. David Denby’s Avatar review in The New Yorker
Continue reading Avatar On Its Face

The Week Ending Today 251209

Naturally, it was a holiday week so not all that much was going on, except that there was of course plenty going on. As pertains the Laboratory, we’ve been fussing around with various tool chains for doing matchmoving animations, perhaps something useful for performing designed fictions to explore and experiment with new ideas. Most recently, it’s been Syntheyes and Maya. Bit of a muddle — it’s a bit more involved than I had initially hoped, especially for hand-held camera work, but even so for tripod moves.


We’ll figure it out. One thing learned is the importance of perspective revealed in the shot. In fact, perhaps it is more important to have movement than not, I think.

Holiday Reading Stack

On other fronts, these books were piled up as the reading list for the coming weeks. Probably no hope of truly finishing these — but we aspire.

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RIG DataDecs / Data Materialization + Quantified/Historical Self

Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer

var so = new SWFObject(“http://www.db798.com/pictobrowser.swf”, “PictoBrowser”, “500”, “500”, “8”, “#EEEEEE”); so.addVariable(“source”, “sets”); so.addVariable(“names”, “RIG DataDecs”); so.addVariable(“userName”, “julianbleecker”); so.addVariable(“userId”, “66854529@N00”); so.addVariable(“ids”, “72157623057949220”); so.addVariable(“titles”, “on”); so.addVariable(“displayNotes”, “on”); so.addVariable(“thumbAutoHide”, “off”); so.addVariable(“imageSize”, “medium”); so.addVariable(“vAlign”, “mid”); so.addVariable(“vertOffset”, “0”); so.addVariable(“colorHexVar”, “EEEEEE”); so.addVariable(“initialScale”, “off”); so.addVariable(“bgAlpha”, “90”); so.write(“PictoBrowser091223105407”);

Russell sent this through — a materialized quantified-self set of Christmas ornaments representing my activities in the online through various services. I got some wonderful “404” ornaments I guess cause the data was not found. Explanations? Well, I don’t last.fm, for no particular reason — or, I guess mostly because there is one DJ in the studio who takes requests and managed to get his computer to stream through the firewall. And as for no Flickr Aperture data — I think I made my camera details and photo location data not shared on Flickr, partially because I got super, duper paranoid last summer and went data/location quiet when I appeared on TMZ’s website and was on their seamy TV show and was not particularly politely pursued (including appearances at my front door) as a biological father to Michael Jackson’s kids. [[Mostly for my own records — but do enjoy if you wish — here is the video of this escapade. ]]

Anyway — thanks Russell + Really Interesting Group. This *Rules*.

Why do I blog this?Well, it’s a great holiday surprise present. Plus, this association between things materialized and things quantified is really significant. This is in the same idiom as Chris Downs perspective on data and its value — he has this perspective that ‘data is the new oil’ — that it has value in some form that can be sold or monetized and he is pursuing the business end of personal data analytics. The reflection of our activities online in something else is quite intriguing. In this case, the Really Interesting Group has turned my data into Christmas ornaments. In other instances, I am certain that folks (Google + all the others) are *securitizing* data and packaging it in various ways — such as lenses that focus and help better position advertising, which is valuable to someone, but much less interesting to us here in the Laboratory and, it would seem, much less interesting to the Really Interesting Group. To capture a nice idiom that has been mistakenly directly attributed to Bruno Latour but is in fact stated by Edwin Hutchins in his wonderful book Cognition in the Wild

..artifacts came to embody kinds of knowledge that would be exceedingly difficult to represent mentally.

[[p. 96]]

That is, ’tis better in some circumstances to make the data tangible than ’tis to not do so. The embodiment of data in physical, material form gives it a different kind of legibility. How else can you make your data hang on a Christmas tree?

(Looks like Preoccupations also received one.)
Continue reading RIG DataDecs / Data Materialization + Quantified/Historical Self

Buzz Aldrin Signs Teh Bookz

The second guy to walk on the moon — Buzz Aldrin — has been doing the rounds, signing his new book Magnificent Desolation talking about how his life was destroyed cause he was famous for being the second guy to walk on the moon. And how we should go back to the moon. And stuff like that.

Anyway, he was signing books like a machine for four hours the other day. The queue wrapped around the stationary / shredders / valu-pak post-its aisle, down along bulk pet food and turning around into the army-sized tins of name brand coffee. Some people were using the ginormous Costco shopping carts (like..1.5x normal, everyday ones making adults look like diminutive game characters) to shuttle 12, 15, 18 books for an astronaut to sign. He never stopped — sign, shove..sign, shove. It was a little disheartening. I occasionally will go to a book signing — anytime T.C. Boyle’s local with a new one, or Martin Amis — I remember a Martin Amis signing..I even went to a Brenda Laurel signing when I was writing my dissertation about VR and thought I should read her book on, like..computers and theater or whatever. Now I have two books with Buzz Aldrin’s name in them cause his hand scribbled it. I didn’t get to say even hello or welcome home or anything. Pfft. So industrial. Perfect for a Costco. I imagine these are going to 20% above list on EBay or something.
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The Week Ending Today 181209

Saturday November 28 13:30

Some old-fashioned augments — I think that’s some Mario and an old-fashioned, chemo-tech *wheat paste* post-up — found in Paris, France over the Thanksgiving holiday — which means nothing there in France.

Last week was maintenance and tidying-up. Like returning from a long trip and sorting through all the stuff, experiences, dirty laundry and receipts. There was mostly a bit of cataloging and filing of material related to Project Trust (aka *Project Foghorn*, a.k.a. *Project Firefoot*), which has tipped into a nice swirl of spin-off explorations mostly related to the power of sight/speech and signaling. Very exciting futures yet to be had.

Over the last few weeks we sluiced quickly and excitedly into the world of *match moving* production for the purposes of exploring some of the background challenges of designing and communicating design concepts in a way that avoids the dreaded *PowerPoint* ((cue blood-curdling scream)) — there will be more to say to this point when we can cue up some examples of why and what-for this approach to designing and communicating the designing (in-process, in-final form, &c.) All 12 people who read this blog will know why this is important and, indeed — significant to doing what we do. In the meantime, take it on faith that this will be a cornerstone of the design fiction idiom. Visual communication + story.

To this point, we have been adding to the design quiver — Mocha, Syntheyes and a rough competency with AfterEffects, Maya and an ongoing leveling-up of Catia and Bunkspeed’s Hypershot. (Sadly, the new Bunkspeed Hypermove animation package — while perceivably as easy to use as Hypershot with the addition of *time* has no integration with fbx animation throughputs so the tool basically sits on its own in a big world of scripted or programmatic animation. We’ll keep an eye on it for future editions that would allow camera moves to be integrated properly.)

It was pre-holiday time in the Nokia studio with lots of people drifting off for their vacations, which the laboratory will do *as well* starting presently. Vacations are vague in the Laboratory. I expect to see lots of ongoing dips and dives in and out of what we do.
Continue reading The Week Ending Today 181209

A Trio Of Posted Things

Friday December 18 16:12

A curious solicitation framework, perhaps done by someone schooled in the layout practices of Ogilvy — attention grabbing image, followed by seductive copy (in French here) and the final *call to action* — Handymen and a phone number. Along the morning bike route, Venice Beach, California.

Thursday December 17 17:08

A desperate plea for a lost week’s pay — and the plea to conscience to do the *right* thing. Seen right here in Venice Beach, California.

Friday December 18 02:29

Finally, the obvious made plain as a reminder. Evidently, it is a fairly common occurrence for distracted self-service pumpers to simply drive off with the pump nozzle still shoved in their tank. These things — I’ve been told — are designed to pop off their couplings without causing a Die Hard style explosion or gasoline fountain. Seen around Calabasas, California.

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Minor Urban Disaster

Montreal, Canada.

Curious minor urban disaster. The brace meant to prevent the signal light from being struck by a large truck or something was struck by a large truck or something and, thence, struck the object it was meant to protect.

Why do I blog this? I enjoy finding these disturbances in perfection and cleanliness. Typical, everyday moments in which a bit of history — however minor — is etched into solid metal and concrete to remind us of the below-the-radar bits of function of the city. We might call this a minor chink in the city’s urban armor battle suit thing.

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Plastic Happens

Plastic Slippers

Plastic slippers, found in Seoul, South Korea

To go along with the previous *blog all dog-eared pages* post, an additional description of *what plastic is* — to include alongside of all the others chemical, political, economical, historical, technical, medical, fictional, &c — done in the story-told style, again from a dog-eared page in Richard Powers’ *Gain* — a fictional industrial historical novel of a soap-making company alongside the memoir of those implicated in its adventures to make the world clean, we find this formula:

Plastic happens; that is all we need to know on earth. History heads steadily for a place where things need not be grasped to be used. At a shutter click, a bite-sized battery dispatches a blast through a quartz tube filled with halogens. Excited electrons, falling back down the staircase of available energy states, flash for a second, to dissipate the boost that lifted them briefly into rarefied orbitals. This waste energy bounces off the lines of a grieving face and back down the hole of the aperture, momentarily opened. Inside, reflected light ruffles the waiting film emulsion like a child’s hand impressing a birthday cake. Years from now, metal from the flash battery will leach into runoff and gather in the fat of fish, then the bigger fish that eat them.

Why do I blog this? I like these adjunct descriptive-formulae for things that reframe things in contexts as suited-for and as relevant as what one might typically consider *the* description. Plastic may almost always be framed as in the context of its chemical properties, or chemical architecture. Perhaps also in its marketing terms — how it is sold, or how to frame it as a useful, beneficial part of one’s life. Which of its many varieties can be recycled, which is often never *just* an aspect of its chemical properties, but also a municipal decision or even a legal ordinance that dictates that it *must* be recycled if it is sold in a specific geography. An so on. These multivalent, multiple terms that *are* what make something what it is — their ontological furniture of all sorts, not just the habitual, common-place or “common knowledge”, but those valences of a thing that go alongside of it as well, that are as material and as relevant as the proto-typical and everyday. Perhaps even more relevant, as the Powers’ passage above suggests. More everyday and experienced rather than the rarefied industrial-chemical.

Can these alternatives provide a more legible basis for telling a story about something, and do so in a way that is more meaningful and with deeper, thicker, world-changing impact?
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