Quiet But Not Quiescent

Judge not the less yammer-y state of the studio blog to indicate that there is nothing worth yammering about. It’s just that the clang of steel caressing code has been going on and that in great measure, too. Some of you may have glimpsed and grinned at the fantastic electronified edition of the paper Drift Deck that we developed a couple of years ago. That’s right. We’ve added *batteries to the Drift Deck and it’s fallen into the *app well..it’s an app which is fantastic because it means the last remaining physical card editions can become properly *artisinal and the electronic battery editions can spread the sensibility of the Drift Deck concept to the rest of the world.

Release is imminent. Prepare ye iPhones. Hop expectantly from foot-to-foot. More news in a short while, including linkages to downloadables. In the meantime, check out the new Drift Deck webified “page” and the fantastic roster of hammererers that batteryified the ‘deck.

..And then — onto the next thing here. It’ll be quiet a little, but good things are baking in the kiln, rest assured.

*Willow next. The superlative friendregator for the discerning social being.
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The Urban Internet of Things 2010. An International Workshop


Coming up is an exciting sounding workshop on the “urban internet of things — programming the real-time city.” Some more opportunities to get this one right..or at least human.

** As more people move to cities, it becomes increasingly challenging )) the necessarily understated preamble (( to build efficient )) maybe we shouldn’t even hope for efficiency (( infrastructures that support the needs of inhabitants without sacrificing the quality of life. The increasing digital instrumentation of urban areas through various networked sensors provides many opportunities to design smarter cities )) smart? i’d settle for clever and wily (( through a meaningful interpretation and usage of all this real-time data. In today’s world, there are strong incentives to leverage the most recent technologies to create digital infrastructures that foster collaboration between the different disciplines involved in urban design. By considering the IoT as a platform for engaging citizen’s action, a new design space is created where citizens are at the center of its urban environment and empowered to actively shape the city they live in.

The goal of this workshop is to gather original and inspiring contributions from technology experts, researchers in academia and industry, designers, urban planners, and architects that are willing to share their knowledge, experiences, and best practices for building smarter cities. We will explore the design of open and efficient platforms and tools to collect, analyze, store, and share the enormous amount of real-time data digital cities generate through a mix of papers, demos, invited presentations and open discussions for collectively create the city of the future. **

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iotaSalon: The City @ UCLA

Sunday March 29, 13.18.40

This sounds like fun.

May 6, 2010, 7pm
Experimental Digital Arts at UCLA.

iotaCenter’s mission is to inspire both new and existing artists in a historically dispersed and constantly changing technological environment.

The theme for our next iotaSalon is THE CITY. We will be investigating the way urban environments are depicted in abstract and experimental works. How does construction influence image creation? How does the urban environment surrounding an artist inform or invade their work? How does the process of abstraction change our view of the city? How have architectural tools and thinking affected abstract and experimental moving images?

Screening on 16mm ((16mm FTW!!)) as part of the historic film segment:
Sausage City (1974) – Adam Beckett
Diagram Film (1978) – Paul Glabicki
Commuter (1981) – Mike Patterson

Screening on video for the contemporary segment:
Giant Steps (2001) – Michal Levy
Communicate (2009) – Erick Oh
Berlin Skin (2007) – Kim Collmer
Continue reading iotaSalon: The City @ UCLA

Fake for Real

Saturday September 19, 13.24.47

Found in a small toy/novelty store in Jeju, South Korea.

Two forms of fakery. On the left, a faux Lego set using all the cues and clues of the real, Danish deal for a Lego build set of the Space Shuttle complete with astronaut. On the right, a *toy* Glock pistol. Both kids toys (n’aach on the gun), but each with its own degree of imitation. The Lego bit is a fake of a toy. The gun — well, to the best of my knowledge that’s a real imitation of a Glock, making it a legitimate toy.

Saturday September 19, 13.08.58

Why do I blog this? A curious mish-mash of really fake stuff that outlines the boundaries amongst imitation, flattering imitation, and arguably nasty real fake toys taht don’t seem particularly playful. Is it even worth fussing over the clear delineations between real/fake; virtual/digital; really me/avatar me? What are the stakes that make these lines of distinction things to fuss and argue over?

But wait..there’s more!

Saturday September 19, 13.19.40

More in the category of the *trinket*, as opposed to the refined, detailed and thoughtfully sculpted imitation of a real really dangerous thing that might fool someone who is handling the real, real thing — a gumball machine with a miniature arsenal, for those who just can’t do without the seductive power of things that go boom and blam.
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Microsoft Social Computing Symposium 2010 – Notes

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

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I attended the Microsoft Social Computing Symposium, 2010 edition, held at New York University’s ITP, and sponsored Microsoft Research’s Creative Systems Group. The theme of the event was on the theme of “city as platform”, a very intriguing and curious topic for the Laboratory, especially in light of the recently published A Synchronicity book with Nicolas Nova (who also attended), which explores the theme of ubiquitious computing in urban contexts, and does so without the assumptions of efficiency, seamless connectivity and interaction perfection.

There were a number of highlights, which will likely appear in the videos that were captured by the capable A/V Club at ITP.

Monday January 11 11:30

I’ll give some notes from the notebook.

Kevin Slavin’s talk that related high-frequency trading in financial markets to the location of high-cost network data center carrier hotels 10ths of milliseconds closer to where trade’s were happening, to the Rothschild’s carrier pigeon fleet that put them 10s of days closer to Waterloo where Napolean’s war was happening, to the stealth bomber algorithms of hiding big things by scattering them all over the place..that are suspiciously similar to the ways the high-frequency traders hide their massive, bulky transactions as they attempt to make their financial-bomb runs through unsuspecting public markets. I don’t think that adequately summarizes it as it was a far-ranging, epic talk with many linkages to very intriguing things, and made great use of imagery and archival videos that correlated the absence of the brush and push and crazy gesturing of market trading in by-gone eras to the more ephemeral actions of today’s push-button trading. Yet..there is still the physicality and materiality of this, as with most things social — only this time it is the locations and the physical infrastructures that have become significant. It turns out, as we know — the network happens in specific places. The hubs and nodes are physical structures — data centers, carrier hotels, terminal entryways for submarine cables connecting continents, etc. Now it is 80 Hudson for Wall Street — an enormous infrastructure building, formerly owned by Western Union which is where the internet happens for New York City and Wall Street. The real estate within and surrounding it is expensive out of all conventional proportion — because it is *closer by milliseconds* to where the network transactions happen. The physicality of moving bits of data around that must push their way through routers, hopscotch through switches, pass their baton of information over hubs, slip and fall on microsecond-long packet blockages — all this means that the closer you can get in time to *where the internet is* — the less likely your transaction event will be spotted by the next guy in time for them to piggyback like a pilot fish on your enormous, sharkish money-making gobble.

I’m sure I’ve mangled the substance of his talk, and this is just my recollection a week-on. Hopefully, we’ll have the video soon. ((You might also do a hashtag search on Twitter for condensed, real-time notes from the event…just start at the beginning and work toward the present to get the right flow. The stuff at the end is mostly people saying how much fun they had.))

Monday January 11 09:50

Steven Johnson

There were several other very good, thought-provoking talks: Steven Johnson‘s talk that introduced to me exaptation…..

[[Exaptation, cooption, and preadaptation are related terms referring to shifts in the function of a trait during evolution. For example, a trait can evolve because it served one particular function, but subsequently it may come to serve another. Exaptations are common in both anatomy and behavior. Bird feathers are a classic example: initially these evolved for temperature regulation, but later were adapted for flight. Interest in exaptation relates to both the process and product of evolution: the process that creates complex traits and the product that may be imperfectly designed.]]

….in the context of cities and creativity, a rethink for a moment on *new ideas need old buildings* alongside of that, and a curious applique of Kleiber’s Law….

[[Kleiber’s Law is the observation that, for the vast majority of animals, an animal’s metabolic rate scales to the ¾ power of the animal’s mass. Symbolically: if q0 is the animal’s metabolic rate, and M the animal’s mass, then Kleiber’s law states that q0 ~ M¾. Thus a cat, having a mass 100 times that of a mouse, will have a metabolism roughly 31 times greater than that of a mouse. In plants, the exponent is found to be close to 1.]]

…..as a metaphor for understanding urban mass/density and its relationship to the metabolic/creative/energy production in cities. Or something along these lines. ((despite my mucking it up, there’s something curious here that Steven implied was a topic in the book he is presently working on — also, some ties into Hunch and DIYcity, the endeavor he is working on in collaboration with John Gerachi.

Molly Steenson gave a fascinating swirl around the topic of a history of the city and computer, with lots of curious imagery of things like Western Union people rollerskating around to deliver messages and pointing out this relationship between AI and architecture, including a book by Nicolas Negroponte that should probably be reprinted called The Architecture Machine: Toward a More Human Environment which is just too curiously designed and too provocative a title by an author whose contemporary work gives me an annoying rash and makes me sigh — this one looks intriguing. Unfortunately, only available used, but I’m a book whore. Add-to-cart.

Dan Hill and Duncan Wilson gave a good talk overview of various very curious projects at Arup with the emphasis on projects that are about “Making the Invisible, Visible”, using real-time data to expose neighborhood activity. My favorite point here was the use of neighborhood “smart towers” — like a church tower or water tower or something that can be seen from the *neighborhood* versus the more individual/home-based “smart meters.”

That’s it. Great event with smart, interesting talks and workshops and all that. Thanks for the invitation. Oh, wait — one additional thing: it was quite interesting to see the communication of ideas using more video/time-based motion in *slides*, moving clearly away from static slides. Nothing wrong with that — it was just curious to see much of it happening rather than just static images.
Continue reading Microsoft Social Computing Symposium 2010 – Notes

A Curious Crosswalk Clarification

Friday January 08, 14.46.08

Friday January 08, 14.46.21

A curious inscription left by someone to clarify which button expedites which crosswalk signal. Someone has written with an indelible marker “B” and “W” on each button (for Broad Street and Watchung Avenue respectively), as well as writing an abbreviation on the pole (“WAT”, for example.) What is interesting here is that an official sign also indicates which direction is controlled by the button (“Push button to cross *arrow* Watchung”) making me wonder if this was an addition made after some complaints about the confusing buttons. What made this confusing initially was probably the fact that there are two crossings in roughly a straight line. You cross a small bit of one-lane street that subsequently does an easy turn onto Broad Street from Watchung, and then stand on this island with the buttons. Then you cross a larger street — Watchung Avenue proper — with several lanes. Approaching the island after a nervous crossing and then looking out into a daunting sea of fast-moving traffic on your way to a quick sugar fix at Holsten’s, you might think the first button you see is the one to hit, which would be wrong.

Why do I blog this? I find these sorts of thoughtful, improvised inscriptions fascinating. A different kind of “read-write” city or read-write urbanism, where people in their everyday moments take it upon themselves to make additions, hacks, DIY improvements and adjustments to make the city more livable and agreeable to their sensibilities. The points where urban design from the top-down meets urban living from the bottom-up.
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Beyond Public Toilet Maps — Prehistoric Augmented Reality Devices

Saturday November 28 12:35

Saturday November 28 12:55

Saturday November 28 12:52

Saturday November 28 12:55

A small collection of historic augmented reality devices, found during a rake through a flea market in Paris with fellow Urban Scout Nicolas Nova last Saturday. Mostly bashed up, broken things — but evocative devices that, when run up against all the excitement surrounding “Augmented Reality”, suggest more to me than the more typical, canonical — hold-my-flat-screen-mobile-device-up-in-front-of-me mode of operation.

Tactically, the evolution of mobile practices like this might learn from the everyday pre-historic rituals, such as gazing through a telescope which, in its infancy, was probably quite close to a kind of augmented reality. It allowed merchants to gaze to the horizon while sitting at port to see what ships were coming in, with what loads. The more speculating merchants could foresee shifts in the local markets because cotton was coming in and eek out their profits with the foresight brought to them courtesy of their expensive, privileged optical devices. A kind of future-seeing device used to their advantage.

Today’s augmented reality has none of that sparkle and magic. The visions of the AR future as best as I can tell is overturned by the fetish of the technology. This truly is a bad approach to making new kinds of worlds. The instrument comes first — a display, compact electronics, embedded compass and network connectivity — are what guide the vision and the “scenarios” (if you can call them that) entail something that basically is an expensive way to ask someone standing right next to you, who probably speaks a language you speak anyway — where the nearest public toilet is. Or where the metro stop is. Or in what direction the museum is. All of these things are problems that have been well-solved and need no tax imposed upon them like data roaming fees, or the inconvenience of a [[bad network/crap GPS signal/annoyance of dropping your $500 toy//&c]].

Augmented Reality in this mode of “design” is a bit like finding a nice door knob…and then looking for the house that looks good around it. Starting with the door knob — the instrumental technical stuff — is a really bad way to design a house, I think.

Why do I blog this? Poking and prodding at a more satisfying set of metaphors, language, histories for what a looking glass / viewmaster / binocular of the near future might be and what lessons it might learn from its prehistoric kin. I’m curious about the possibility of learning from the evolution and development and cultural valance of these earlier devices — considering them in the mode of a magical, exciting bit of technical kit from their time. But what did they do and how were they used? How much of the device and technical characteristics guided what they became, like today? Was someone walking around with some carefully, expensively constructed optics, not entirely sure what to do with them? Or not sure how to sell them to people? How were they to be assembled, technically speaking? What was the level of knowledge of combined optics — was it similar in its sophistication and arcane incantations like programming embedded devices and mobile phones today? What did it take for someone to use the telescope as something other than a device for starring at the moon or constellations? And other questions like this…what can be learned from shifting contexts, moving to historic moments, fictionalizing alternative possibilities for those histories, or fictionalizing the near future of these weird “augmented reality” speculations.

What might “augmented reality” augment besides directions to a public toilet?
Continue reading Beyond Public Toilet Maps — Prehistoric Augmented Reality Devices

Design Fiction Chronicles: Urgency and Emergency, Notification and Warning

Saturday January 31 11:07

Tsunami Evacuation Route on Washington Boulevard at the border — basically 60 degrees North-North-East, directly opposite the coastline in the other direction, but essentially only a few meters above sea-level for a good couple of miles.

Last week, when there was that earthquake in Samoa, we happened to be talking about Tsunamis in the studio — thinking about the ways that the California coast could be gobbled up in an unfortunate, epic disaster. It’s a distinct possibility, and with the Pacific Ocean popping off earthquakes with increasing frequency (or so it seems..), it makes one think about what sort of early warning system could be put in place — and one that would not rely too much on quite fallible technology-based networks. These are the things that typically fail even without a disaster at hand. (For instance, at the Venice Beach Music Festival a few weeks ago, with a relatively smallish contingent of people occupying Abbot-Kinney Boulevard, me and those I was with were hard-pressed to get a cell signal. If you have all of Venice Beach panicking because of an approaching Tsunami, what are the chances AT&T will be able to handle the load? I’d rather not count on them, to be perfectly honest, to help me communicate with family in a disaster.) Perhaps mesh-y networks that do not rely on too much pre-built systems like cellular base stations.

Or, are there more esoteric warning systems, like these rattling cups? Hairs on the back of your neck? A forest of yammering, naddering wild life suddenly falling dead still and quiet? The color of the sky in the morning? Scattering insects all going in the same direction? A sudden feeling that comes from another array of sensors — ones not invented by scientists or technologists or relying on a functioning grid of power, communication and all that?

What are the other “weak signals” of impending disaster, besides the news?

These fictional moments in movie scenes popped into my head while thinking about early warning of impending disaster.

Why do I blog this? Place marks for ideas related to early warning systems and the stories around them. Signals that are not explicit, but suggestive, providing some clues and cues that force one to be more attentive and resilient and resourceful.
Continue reading Design Fiction Chronicles: Urgency and Emergency, Notification and Warning

Brand Obama

In the Itaewon neighborhood of Seoul, where every other store-keep on the main drag is trying to measure a tattered, soaked urban scout for a new suit, this garment was spied — a rather natty, silky, shiny shirt with a monogrammed cuff with another man’s name. Not an unusual fashion idiom — wearing someone else’s name — but this one sort of moves things in an unusual direction. I don’t know if I have ever seen a garment adorned with the name of a sitting United States President, especially overseas. Now, I’m not talking about a pejorative protest t-shirt or some such. There are plenty of those — I don’t even need to guess about that one. This here? It’s meant to imbue its wearer with a special power. Much more than Calvin or Tommy. Or even Shaq or LeBron.

Related, somehow is this bit of work by studio brother Andrew Gartrell, riffing on some peculiar image I found in the New York Times of an Obama-Spock photoshop. What is curious here is the ways in which images, names, stories swirl in a vortex of possibility, hope, lawsuits, fair-use and fashion. It’s in the making that the social exists, always becoming and this sort of riffing on what “Obama” is — something that happens rather than something static.

What is in a name, anyway? Sometimes nothing, sometimes everything.

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Tangled Knots

Found in the Itaewon neighborhood in Seoul — a tangled web of the old carted off to make way for the new. The muck and mess of an old building taken away and hidden off in a landfill or perhaps it will be smashed, melted and repurposed. That tangle could be good steel if redone. I can think of no more appropriate physical metaphor for the ways in which things made become something else again, in time. The intractable tangle and knotted hair ball embodies the history — Latour’s “knots” and “entanglements” are more apropos of the complexities of social collectives than the finished, burnished glass-and-steel that will likely replace whatever had been here in this spot.

I often get peculiar looks when photographing these sorts of half-built/half-broken objects and crap — definitely not tourists sights. For the most part, these sorts of things are compelling physical metaphors of ‘social assemblages’ — the things that hold us all together. Seeing them in “ruined” form and not as generically photogenic resonates the “made” qualities of the world around us, and brings to the foreground the sense that the world is constructed and always in process — always changing, always being re-made.

Perhaps the most concise appreciation or understanding of what “the social” is can be seen in this image — it is what holds us together, and not the result of that ‘holding together.’ But, it is more than a physical metaphor because we should not, to paraphrase from Latour, limit what gets to participate in ‘the social’. That is, it is not only people — humans — who do the structural holding-together. Things, as well — things of all sorts participate as much as normal (and not-so-normal) human beings shape and mold and vector the entire collective, stretching it into odd shapes and enrolling all kinds of human and non-human ‘hybrids’ into something new. A good reason to think about new ways to map these associations and assemblages with things other than just people, for example.

Why do I blog this? I find myself again reading Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory (Clarendon Lectures in Management Studies) simultaneous with The 33 Strategies of War (Joost Elffers Books) so as to gain additional (perhaps better? perhaps ultimately worse?) perspectives and points-of-view on the ways social-technical assemblages function and survive. A mix of tactics and strategies to create these assemblages, which always look more disciplined in their final presentation, but are always somehow much more intriguing in the process of their making. The ways things come to be is always much more than the technical particulars of their components, which is a point I think I misunderstood until my first professional job designing mini-computers while the mini-computer industry was well into its tumble off the cliff created by the X86 and 68000 architectures. Shifting into new territories requires epic degrees of flexibility, insight and guile perhaps above all. Luck, I am fairly certain, has nothing to do with responding successfully and reacting quickly to system altering changes.
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