Cinema City

Or…in this case, cinematic architecture. Jonathan Rennie presented a project yesterday that I found most fitting in the vein of design fiction / architecture fiction. For the studio class run by Geoff Manaugh (@bldgblog) called Cinema City, a graduate studio that starts with this brief and asks the students to consider what they may. There were some interesting projects. This one in particular stood out for me. It was an unconventional approach in an architecture class to present a series of fictions about the future of cinema.

Monday December 13 14:06

Continuous Machinic Cinema

This project explores a particular narrative for the future of cinema and, in turn, it proposes new possibilities for the moving image and its place, content, viewers & screen.

The project proposes a scenario of technological discovery and development where:

** Guerilla film distribution occurs in new places via Lawn Bowl and Shot-put film grenades;

** With anamorphic lenses the perpendicular hegemony of conventional cinema watching is broken;

A shift in content to QR coded cinema is predicted and, in turn..

** A future point where non-narrative images are viewed by post-human machine optics is proposed, with screens affecting the fabric of the city.

The project is a sneak preview for a future of cinema, proposing a continuous cinema that is freed from both the spatial confines of the movie house and the literary expectations of narrative — told by and to non-human machines.

FInal Panels_Further Revised.indd

In the first proposal, guerilla film distribution is done by throwing film grenades, a “weapon” first proposed by the Soviets and designed to be surreptitiously deployed during the Olympics. The weapons are found again by Jonathan during his project research, including documentation and some diagrams describing the clandestine Soviet project.

In the second proposal, Skynet — an extraterrestrial orbital satellite platform — finds QR codes in the landscape of earth. The QR codes embed stories and films that the satellites share with one another. Over time, as they see the same films over and over again and become bored — they begin to look for QR codes elsewhere, perhaps interpreting barcode-like structures in the landscape at different wavelengths — for instance an infrared folliage rendering may appear to contain QR codes. They seek out new films in this way, perhaps even instructing terrestrial machines, such as the cranes at loading docks or tractors in large farm fields, to construct new QR codes containing new cinema and stories.

Still 1

Jonathan also ginned up a sort of graphic novella/short story to go along with the proposal so that each QR code that you see in his poster documentation points to a page in the comic. You can see the full graphic novella here: QR Cinema

Why do I blog this? This is one of those architecture projects that plays at the far end of the spectrum of architecture’s inherent speculative nature. The spectrum runs from the pragmatic *planning what will be* (traditional floor-plan stuff) all the way across to *speculating to help think* (architecture fiction), with *proposing (cardboard models, photoshop site renderings, camera-tracked little films showing the space as it would be) somewhere in the middle.

I enjoy considering the spectrum of realizations as things move from idea to their material form. In this case, Jonathan has used the architectural brief to propose a speculation about machines reading the landscape to interpret meaning, or to watch movies that are referred to by the QR codes they (think?) they see. This is using the landscape as an interface, which I find super intriguing.

What does this help us think about? Well — it’s a fun Sci-Fi comic he’s done here, so there’s that on its own. Aside from this, we can start to think about Cyphertecture — embedding machine-readable (or maybe only-for-machine) texts in physical structures. Like, for example, this bit of landscape cyphertecture from several years ago

Space Invaders: Google Earth Edition

DIY Media? Fan Art in Google Earth

Space Invaders upper right..Cylon Raider bottom left.

Geoff has the more lucid discussion of this point, but suppose cornice details became machine readable physical cuts and bumps that would represent some meaning for, say…Google Street View cars? I’m not saying this is entirely practical, but I could see a day when bold marks like this that are required to exist (for any number of reasons — local services to identify what building they are at definitively, etc.) on new structures. This then becomes turned into an aesthetic to make it more pleasing as a facade, and so on. In any case — Jonathan’s work certainly gives me things to think about in an entirely fun, imaginative way.
Continue reading Cinema City

The Week Ending 291210

2=8.41 1=11.40

Rules, instructions, parameters? Embedded inscriptions of some nature, found on a wall in Sayulita Mexico.

Well, maybe weeknotes are from the *week ending* but posted at the *week commencing*. One advantage of being one’s own blog boss, I suppose.

It was a decidedly *quick* week for some reason — perhaps because the Laboratory’s brother was visiting these last couple and action, thinking and events seem to accelerate the time. There was plenty of discussions of stories and filmmaking, which ties nicely into what *must* happen this month: the re-making of several short (30 seconds or so) of this visual design fiction stories meant to communicate some of our principles of Trust as embodied in some props/prototypes. This proves quite creatively engaging and challenging.

There was a pleasant slaloming conversations with the curious and effervescent Natalie, discussing the Latourian design sensibilities and the ways that debates and conversations embed themselves with artefacts. It was lovely to have this chat, if only to begin trying out the various *props* that we’ve been making that are exemplars themselves of these arguments/theories/perspectives. The question remains — what is new here, as an argument? It was encouraging to here Natalie’s excitement and the geneology of this sort of thinking, reaching back to here canonical Live Wire and Rich Gold’s Evocative Knowledge Objects (to which the Theory Object owes everything.)

This decanted into thoughts on a Latour essay presently at desk side.

The third connotation of the word design that seems to me so significant is that when analyzing the design of some artefact the task is unquestionably about meaning — be it symbolic, commercial, or otherwise. Design lends itself to interpretation; it is made to be interpreted in the language of signs. In design, there is alwas as the French say, un dessein, or in Italian, designo. To be sure, in its weakest form design added only superficial meaning to what was brute matter and efficiency. But as it infiltrated into more and more levels of the objets, it carried with it a new attention to meaning.

[[A Cautious Prometheus? A Few Steps Toward a Philosophy of Design (with Special Attention to Peter Sloterjdijk. Bruno Latour]]

[[And special sideways inspiration from Karen, whose present reading/thinking I seem to be accidentally following alongside.]]

And then, I was thinking about Trust in this context and this precise basis for the process of *embedding* the sensibilities and sensitivities of Trust as a design practice. More as this idea develops.

There was a round of planning for future projects at the Nokia Design Strategic Projects studio, which meant thinking about what from Trust moves forward and in which ways and by what means. Similarly, we are beginning to share Trust. And wondering — to whom and to what ends? I am intrigued by this — how do you circulate ideas and with what goals so you know — in a more actionable way — how the ideas materialize and create other goals, especially within such a byzantine organization. This, I think, is one of the larger 2010 *professional* goals, I suppose (seeing as I have not really captured what those might be yet — bit tardy on that objective — I like to have New Year’s goals rather than New Year’s resolutions) — how to communicate ideas such as these, do so without PowerPoint and do so in such a way that you snap people out of a corporate stupor, or whatever it is — and do more than just scrape a bit of paint on the battleship. Rather, help set a different course heading.

Microsoft Social Computing Symposium 2010 – Notes

Get the flash player here:

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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.]]

… 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.
Continue reading A Curious Crosswalk Clarification

Construction of Things


What was sticking in my mind, and has been recently, and especially after dinner conversation and the lecture which was on Design Fiction with an emphasis on the relationship between props, prototypes, and the normalization/everyday-making of provocative ideas.

A few notes on this point, as reading notes from Latour’s *Reassembling the Social*

Making normal and everyday serves a purpose, I am thinking, in design and in the communication of design ideas.

1. As to the point that it serves the purpose of design, I mean that it brings it into the realm of the familiar, putting something or an experience or a moment into the world and making the engagement *exist* as if it needs no explanation — it is here, and perhaps even it is the case that it is near-obsolete so we can tell a story about its entire life. We defetishize newness and glamour, retreating to the mode of familiar, reliable blandness, as most things go that have lived a full life in the world. If something has not become everyday, chinked on a corner, or experiencing a glitch, or booting a little slowly this time, or making an aged complaint, it has not had a good, long life in the world ((discounting a normative assessment as to what is *good*, or the point that perhaps “it” is new and just crappy and poorly made.)) Which basically suggests it was here for one failed Christmas push and then dropped off the edge of the Earth. Or has just become a cherished relic, or is simply old and worn, but still precious and useful.

2. In the communication, making something everyday is meant to suggest that it has become part of life — perhaps not everywhere, which is not always the goal, nor is ubiquity. But, ‘part of life’ suggests that it’s a good idea and the effect is to communicate as much as this — that it could have been here, around and with us. The communication normalizes the thing to the point of routine blandness. Whether this happens by association or more directly is significant. In the communication, don’t have people smiling with glee when operating/experiencing/discussing the thing, and don’t explain what is going on as if the communication is a features-and-functions list. Didactic and apologetic explanations are a poor substitute for a well-designed thing that expresses itself through a story or fits into everyday life without a list of “whys” or “whats.” Cinematically speaking — *show it, don’t tell it.* Let the communication describe if it needs to — but don’t explain. If you still need to explain something, you need to *explain* in the material — go back and iterate the design. The explanation should be the product of the design, not a way of substituting for an opaque object — the materialization of your ideas in the object/thing/service/widget should effervesce from the communication.

Dump of Crap

Once cool stuff

3. Rather than the design tactic of spectacle-making, what about making things normal so that designs move into their place in the world, perhaps even moved off to the utility drawer of the world to become either quaint or so routine and everyday that they are taken for granted. Like a AA battery. No one every made much of a spectacle of those things, except maybe Madison Avenue, once, together with a phalanx of Rabbit troubadours.

4. I am wondering about implementations and ideas that are two-way props/prototypes. A design tactic that is encouraged to go into the future by materializing new ‘near future worlds’ and then come back into the past, as in an archeological unearthing and investigation and un-constructing of what is around us today. On the one hand, forward-into-the-future design creating new worlds that are hopefully better than the ones we have today. On the other hand, taking what we have today and describing it in the way of sociology-of-associations, anthropology, science studies, &c. Dig something up that once existed and tell its story — or mis-tell it for the purpose of showing how a thing can be re-inscribed with unexpected contexts so as to remind us how significant the interaction and the experience is in making the object meaningful.

So..what? Why this strategy for design and communicating a speculation, or an idea, or something future-fictional?

**To help imagine what things will become and to defetishize the things that are normally elevated beyond themselves — like when new gadgets are oogled and ahhhhgle’d and beyond what they deserve because, ultimately, at some point, it all becomes crap that’s thrown out anyway. (The Near Future Laboratory Defetishization Bureau recently issued a Fatwah on all ‘unpacking’ blog posts and descriptions.)**

In plain English, to say something is constructed means it’s not a mystery that has popped out of nowhere, or that it has a more humble but also more visible and more interesting origin. Usually the great advantage of visiting construction sites is that they offer an ideal vantage point to witness the connections between humans and non-humans. Once visitors have their feet deep in the mud, they are easily struck by the spectacle of all the participants working hard at the time of their most radical metamorphosis. This is not only true of science but of all the other construction sites, the most obvious being those that are at the source of the metaphor, namely houses and buildings fabricated by architects, masons, city planners, real estate agents, and homeowners. The same is true of artistic practice. The ‘making of’ any enterprise — films, skyscrapers, facts, political meetings, initiation rituals, haute couture, cooking — offers a view that is sufficiently different from the official one. Not only does it lead you backstage and introduce you to the skills and knacks of practitioners, it also provides a rare glimpse of what it is for a thing to emerge out of inexistence by adding to any existing entity its time dimension. Even more important, when you are guided to any construction site you are experiencing the troubling and exhilarating feeling that things could be different, or at least that they could still fail — a feeling never so deep when faced with the final product, no matter how beautiful or impressive it may be.

Latour, Reassembling the Social [p88-89]

Also, consider failure and its opportunities. Cf. Nicolas Nova on failures. Failures are situations that reflect on the assembly of things — err – their disassembly or their accidental destruction in a perhaps inglorious fashion.

But still — why do we want to see the made-ness of things this way? Is there more to be seen below the surface that reveals..what? The possibility of reconnecting things in other ways? That reveals the contingency of the construction — who was involved? What they did? Where the principles and sensibilities and politics of the thing are? Why was this fastener chosen over another possible one? To make it more secure and stable? Or to make the BOM cheaper and more likely to fly apart when dropped? Can you point to a part and say something about the principles of the design?

One insight from Latour that reflects on the importance of revealing the in-progress, in-construction aspect of things — things disassembled, or in exploded-view. These sorts of indicators of construction, constitution, assembly suggest a made-thing — which we always know if pressed that everything must be. Showing the components in-assembly or in-explosion suggests to us that this could have been done differently.

Why is this important?

Momentary Visibility Ways of bringing the associations amongst things into view. “Social” is a fluid visible only when new associations are being made..a brief flash which may occur everywhere like a sudden change of phase.

Why make the social visible?

Develop and execute — is this the preferred pattern of constructing things? No? Rather, might a more considered approach that learns lessons all the way down be design as perpetual iteration?

A list of situations where an object’s activity is made easily visible

Fortunately, it is possible to multiply the occasions where this momentary visibility is enhanced enough to generate good accounts. Much of ANT scholars’ fieldwork has been devoted to trigger these occasions..

1. Study innovations in the artisan’s workshop, the engineer’s design department, the scientist’s laboratory, the marketer’s trial panels, the user’s home, and the many socio-technical controversies.

2. Second, even the most routine, traditional, and silent implements stop being taken for granted when they are approached by users rendered ignorant and clumsy by distance — distance in time as in archaeology, distance in space as in ethnology, distance in skills as in learning.

3. The third type of occasion is that offered by accidents, breakdowns, and strikes: all of a sudden, completely silent intermediaries become full-blown mediators, even objects, which a minute before appeared fully automatic, autonomous, and devoid of human agents, are now made of crowds of frantically moving humans with heavy equipment.

4. Fourth, when objects have receded into the background for good, it is always possible — but more difficult — to bring them back to light by using archives, documents, memoirs, museum collections, etc., to artificially produce, through historians’ accounts, *the state of crisis in which machines, devices, and implements were born.*

5. Finally, when everything else has failed, the resource of fiction can bring — the the use of counterfactual history, thought experiments, and ‘scientification’ — the solid objects of today into the fluid states were their connections with humans may make sense. Here again, sociologists have a lot to learn from artists.

Latour, Reassembling the Social [p.80-82]

What is relevant here – possible tactics for design, assuming something has been made, without making it, and back-tracing the ‘controversies’ of its assembly. Assume you have only fragments of ‘what the thing was’ or ‘what the thing will have been’ and unpack it as an investigator/sociologist-of-associations/anthropologist/archeologist-of-associations; track back through the associations and construct what it might have been.

However, we worry that by sticking to descriptions there may be something missing, since we have not ‘added to it’ something else that is often called an ‘explanation’. And yet the opposition between description and explanation is another of these false dichotomies that should be put to rest — especially when it is ‘social explanations’ that are to be wheeled out of their retirement home. Either the networks that make possible a state of affairs are fully deployed — and then adding an explanation will be superfluous — or we ‘add an explanation’ stating that some other actor or factor should be taken into account, so that it is the description that should be extended one step further. *If a description remains in need of an explanation, it means that it is a bad description.*…As soon as a site is placed ‘into a framework’, everything becomes rational much too fast and explanations beging to flow much too freely. The danger is all the greater because this is the moment most often chosen by critical sociology, always lurking in the background, to take over social explanations and replace the objects to be accounted for with irrelevant, all-purpose ‘social forces’ actors that are too dumb to see or can’t stand to be revealed. Much like ‘safe sex’, sticking to descriptions protects against the transmission of explanations.

Latour, Reassembling the Social [p. 137]

So..what? Why do I blog this?
Is there anything about the sociology-of-associations and Actor-Network Theory that can become a part of a design practice that does more than incremental innovation? Or, what does the sociology-of-associations and ANT have to say about design practice? Why might it? Because ANT concerns itself with the making of things — or, also, the un-making to implicate practice in the creation of stabilized systems. Here, at the Laboratory, we are makers of systems that stabilize and cannot see how it would not be beneficial to understand how these systems stabilize — or at least to have an articulate point of view on how an idea hatched in California plops off the end of an assembly line 15 times a minute, 11 months later, and then get buried in the ground 24 months after that. And, if you understand — or have one or two of many possible articulate points-of-view on this — you have a better grasp on how to do this better, or perhaps how to decide in particular situations how not to do this, or how to design differently so that we don’t drown in things coming off of assembly lines 15 times a minute..only to end up filling land 24 months after that.

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

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.
Continue reading Tangled Knots

Pogoplug and The Rise of Network Fog


Pogoplug in the wild. Some edition of Linux in there, stripped down to basically require zero configuration. Plug it in to your network via an RJ45, and plug in your USB drive(s) and they appear online.
BTW lying under the tech is a first edition (1973) of the brilliantly quirky and prescientThe Velvet Monkey Wrench by John Muir (yes..related) with hippy-days illustrations by the talented Peter Aschwanden, who also illustrated the repair manual for my very first beater VW Rabbit. It has been recently re-issued. Chapter 8: “In Which Money Becomes Electrified”, complete with “E-Sellers” and “E-Cards.” Great future-past stuff.

Along with Augmented Reality, Cloud Computing seems to be one of the more thorough-going technology memes these days. The concept is consistent with the logic of the network. As bandwidth speeds level-up, and bandwidth costs go down (not free, just less, despite what Chris Anderson hypes) the asymptotic extreme approaches a curious quandary: where should “processing” be placed in relation to “data”?

Imagine if data can move (or appear to move) fast enough between where it is consumed and created such that it doesn’t actually matter where it lives? That might mean that I don’t have to lug around lots of big portable computing power — I can use a svelte device with just a sliver of CPU and enough screen to see what I need to see. No hot, power-hungry hard drive. Etc.

I’m curious about this intersecting graph and so decided to introduce an experiment using this newly available Pogoplug device. Effectively it’s a condensed bit of pre-existing technology wonderfully packaged into simple oneness. Simple oneness — my half-assed way to describe the Pogoplug without referring to it as either “smart”, as an “appliance” or a “smart appliance.” It’s only smart in the degree to which it does not make me feel dumb.

I have to say, it certainly appears clever in a number of ways. First of all, it does something obvious, and I mean that this way: the bits of technical kit required to make ones data appear close to one no matter where one is, within the constraints of reasonable access to networks and so forth — this has been around for quite some time. I can remember — and I’m sure every geek with an itch to not just speculate but live a bit in the future — I can remember cobbling together this and that to get my screen, my data and my command prompt to appear and be accessible from other places. It was all there, all the little packages and so forth — it was just an unpleasant, distasteful peasants stew. Pogoplug adds some robust seasoning. I didn’t have to touch a thing except to plug everything together, copy a unique identifier found in the box into a web form — and the Pogoplug mothership found my unit, prompted me to pick a username and password and then I saw a web interface to all the drives I had plugged into the unit. Nice, simple, surprising.

There’s a bit of software for Windows and OS X to allow the drives to appear like ordinary desktop storage, making drag-and-drop and browsing quite familiar. I can assign files to be shared to specific people — there are no global permissions it appears, which is just fine with me. Although, one interesting aspect of this is a possible shift in the locality of served data. I’m curious about this — rather than data living in the more typical, canonical places like data centers, does it distribute in a fashion, so that your data is accessed at its place of origin, or where you decide to keep it and perhaps you like to keep it close by or even under your mattress or the equivalent in the networked age. And perhaps it is served up and processed more locally, such as at my home, in my car’s computer, directly from my mobile computer or mobile phone or even from my camera.

It’s just a speculation, but a more distributed network of nodes is a peculiar inversion of the typical run and hype of cloud-y things, which implores us to move everything into one or two or many clouds run by cloud service providers. What about an infinity of highly localized service points? What about my front doormat? Should it be a service provider? Can the guys who insist on bringing door hanger adverts for the local Thai restaurant just upload it to my door handle instead? Save the paper? Can I unsubscribe to the inevitable digital version of the crappy real estate newspaper that appears on the lawn in the morning?

I don’t know the specific advantages this might offer when measured against the usual metrics of the technology business — faster, cheaper, more profitable — but I enjoy the concept of keeping my stuff — data, touch points, access ways — close to me, nearby, on me, in my devices, etc. There are times when I feel like I am too trusting when I put it off somewhere I don’t even have physical access to. Perhaps my furniture secures my stuff, hidden in the overstuffed arm rest of my reading chair or something?
Continue reading Pogoplug and The Rise of Network Fog

Urban Historical Infrastructure Layers

Tuesday June 16, 10.30.48

A strange reveal within the historical layers of this New York City post office building. Changes in typography standards forced the new layer? Found here.

Tuesday June 16, 14.30.08

Another form of layering within the infrastructure and architecture of the city. A new bit of building fitted upon the old. In this case, some fancy condo module plopped on top of an older light industrial building in Brooklyn, err….DUMBO.

Wednesday June 17, 16.05.28

NYC Highline Park evolved from an old abandoned stretch of train track that sits one story above the ground. An elevated light industrial infrastructure repurposed for public and pedestrian usage. Found hereabouts. Still a very delicate, very monitored thing. Feels more like walking about a museum exhibit (don’t step there, for godsake! what’re you doing! stop that..!) than a park. Partially understandable, sure, but like china still which turns it from a park into something else.

Three curious examples of a kind of infrastructural sedimentation, found in New York City and Brooklyn. The first one shows a broken portion of a (ugly) sign that had been placed over the original art deco style lettering on a behemoth post office. The next is a (ugly) fancy condominium module that has been plopped on top of an old light industrial / warehouse building in the now Tony / over-the-top section of Brooklyn’s “DUMBO” (down underneath the manhattan bridge overpass) section. Finally, The Highline, a new urban park that was found within an old abandoned stretch of train track that sits one story above ground, along the westside of Manhattan, around Chelsea-ish.

The first example of the Post Office signage feels like one of those things where an old infrastructure is long forgotten and is then revealed and someone in the office of infrastructure, or probably a local resident with a civic interest says — hey, that old art deco chiseled into that building? It’s historical! And, it’s cool type. Lets reveal it all! And someone writes a little pithy, clever blurb in the “Around Town” section of the New Yorker, interviewing someone from the company that’s going to remove the old sign. I’d put a fin down saying that’s what’ll happen within the next 2-3 years. There’ll be some revival of sorts to continue this tendency in NYC of rehabilitating and making more habitable the city and its views. In any case, the layers here are quite a stark contrast it seems. I wonder why the sign was put up in the first place. Maybe it was easier to let the sign be dirty, as it inevitably will become from the street exhausts and so forth, because of its dark background.

This second example of historical and material sediment in Brooklyn shows a Continue reading Urban Historical Infrastructure Layers


An intriguing juxtaposition between machine and this unusually emotional sticker, desolé drew me in. At first, looking at this scene in the Underground City of Montreal network — a hybrid space that occupies many square blocks underneath the city and consisting of mostly retail spaces interconnected with tunnels and escalators and subway train stops — I was drawn to the sprout of infrastructure awkwardly placed in the midst of an area where people approach a ticket booth to purchase tickets or make inquiries and so forth.

This box was just sprouting like a weed in the middle there, clearly the result of either a system upgrade which required some additional infrastructure, or perhaps it was always there of necessity and was built around. Either way, it’s undesigned because it takes into account only the functioning of the infrastructure and not people and the ways they participate in the network of underground flows. Sure, it’s absolutely instrumental and utilitarian, but there is where the design component leaves the solution. Without thinking about people, you have a bunch of boxes and wires that makes the engineers proud, but forces the machines, as in this instance, who participate as social objects always and never just as instrumentalities, to plead to the people who must walk around it — sorry. I’m really sorry that I have been introduced as a nasty, sharp edged box right in the midst of your path. I can only imagine the flows here during a busy morning or evening commute!

With this post, I introduce a new category — Undesign — to capture the observations I come across in which instrumentality and the lack of people-thinking is so clearly the guiding principle of the object or activity that I need to annotate and continue to work through my thinking about design and people and their relationships.

Continue reading Apologies