Some Critical Thoughts to Inspire People Active in the Internet of Things


It has never been so easy to build things and throw them into people’s pockets, bags, phones, homes, cars. Almost inevitably — with this abundance of ‘solutions’ — it has never been so easy to get caught in the hyperbolic discourses of perpetual technological disruptions with their visions of flawless connectivity and seamless experiences. When translated literally, theses visions often take the form of a questionable world of Internet of Things (IoT).

At Near Future Laboratory, we get the chance to meet amazing people active in the IoT who request critique and feedback on their products. We help them abstract from the hype of the dominant vision and gain fringe insights that can refresh their strategies. To do so, I often dig into the rich literature produced in the early days of ubiquitous computing. Some of the texts were published more than 10 years old, but — trust me — they all carry inspiring thoughts to improve the contemporary and near future connected worlds.

I hope this accessible academic literature is useful for people active in IoT curious to enrich their ethical, human, geographic and social perspectives on technologies. En route and beware of shortcuts!

The shift from the showcase of the potential of technologies to the showcase of active engagement of people

Written in 1995, Questioning Ubiquitous Computing critiqued that research in ubiquitous computing is conceived as being primarily as the best possibility for “achieving the real potential of information technology” and had little to do with human needs and much more with the unfolding of technology per se.

Ten years after, based on similar observations, but with more constructive arguments, Adam Greenfield wrote Everyware to question the implications of the scale up of ubiquitous computing and genuinely how to improve the connected world he coined as “everyware” [my notes].


In the same period voices raised to rephrase the approach of ubiquitous computing. For instance, in Moving on from Weiser’s vision of calm computing: engaging ubicomp experiences Yvonne Rodgers promotes connected technologies designed not to do things for people but to engage them more actively in what they currently do [my notes].

The shift from the design of a perfect future to the design for the messiness of everyday life

Similarly, in Yesterday’s Tomorrows: Notes on Ubiquitous Computing’s Dominant Vision Genevieve Bell and Paul Dourish highlight that the problems of ubiquitous computing are framed as implementation issues that are, essentially, someone else’s problem, to be cleaned up as part of the broad march of technology. In other words, the dominant vision of ubiquitous computing promotes an indefinitely postponed future in which someone else will take care of solving any technological (e.g. interoperability, fluctuant connectivity, or limited battery life) or social issues. Consequently, the text argues for a “ubicomp of the present” which takes the messiness of everyday life as a central theme [my notes].

That notion of messiness of technological settings provoked the interests of researchers to regard technological imperfections as an opportunity for the design of everyday life technologies. William Gaver pioneered work in that domain with his proposals of Ambiguity as a Resource for Design that requires people to participate in making meaning of a system [my notes] and Technology Affordances that promotes interfaces disclosing the direct link between perception and action. Practically, as advocated by Matthew Chalmers in Seamful interweaving: heterogeneity in the theory and design of interactive systems, this means that people accommodate and take advantage of technological imperfections or seams, in and through the process of interaction. In No to NoUI, Timo Arnall gives excellent additional arguments that question the tempting approach of “invisible design”.

Observing the dynamic relationship of technology, space and humans to demystify the perfect technology

In her PhD dissertation A Brief History of the Future of Urban Computing and Locative Media Anne Galloway shows that ubiquitous technologies reshape people experiences of spatiality, temporality and embodiment in the networked city. Her contribution augments an extensive literature that investigates how technologies are not the sole drivers of urban change and how they co-evolve with the urban fabric as they become woven into the social, economic and political life of cities. Code/Space is a seminal book by Rob Kitchin and Martin Dodge that precisely discuss software from a spatial perspective, analyzing the dynamic relationship of software and space. The production of space, they argue, is increasingly dependent on code, and code is written to produce space [my notes]. In that machine readable space bugs, glitches and crashes are widely accepted imperfections as the routine part of the convenience of computers [my notes]. Also, ubiquitous computing helps remake urban spaces through new formed strategies of security. For instance some chapters of the book Cybercities Reader talk about the emerging militarized control society encouraged by the dream of the perfect technology and the myth of the perfect power [my notes].


Precisely with the objective of moving beyond these dreams that foster indefinitely postponed futures, Nicolas Nova wrote Futurs? La panne des imaginaires technologiques that explores alternative ways to imagine and design future objects and experiences including Design Fiction.

I took many shortcuts to put together these heterogeneous publications but I hope that some of them can help you better question the dominant visions of the IoT and enrich your approach to improve any of the technologies that are constantly getting closer to people, their homes, streets and clothes (e.g. AI, Big Data, etc).



I love the magically mundane virtual real world of Google Streetview, and like others I’ve longed for my 15 frames of blurry low-res Street View fame. So I’ve been wondering, how can I get into Street View without having to stalk the car and chase it down? Actually, I don’t just want to appear in Street View, I want to play in it and add things to it too. And I want to be able to invite my friends to join me on the street. I want to use Street View for more than looking at a random piece of the past. I want to use Street View as a place to make alternative presents and possible futures.

To help me fulfill this desire (and part of my thesis project), I’ve been prototyping magical portals to get into Google Street View.

I’ve also decided to launch a Kickstarter project to help take the prototype to the next level and see if other people might be interested in exploring this and other related ideas with me.


It turns out, making portals is also happens to be a good way to think about a lot of other things as well. For instance, why does the screen still feel like a glass wall between me an an interface? And how could I get around this wall in a fun and fluid way?

Lately, people have been really into using touch screens (pictures under glass) and gestures (lick a stamp!). But as cool as these things are, they still keep us on one side of the screen and the interface on the other. Not that I think we need to get rid of screens entirely and just have holograms in dark rooms every where. Screens are actually quite magical and we can take advantage of them. But what would happen if we could just make a little space for the real world between the screen and the interface?

Also, what other ways can we think about being co-present with people? There’s the completely CG virtual worlds, full of anonymity and low polygon fantasies. We also have plenty of banal desktop sharing and collaborative white boarding applications. Then there’s standard video conferencing which keeps people in their own separate boxes awkwardly avoiding eye-camera contact. And of course there’s always Real Life, but that’s bound by the rules of space and time. What if we could take a little from all these things and combine them into something that is both more real and more magical?

These are some of the things that I’ve been researching through making these portals. I’m not sure what other questions might come up as I move forward, but it’s a starting point for now.

If you’re interested in helping me explore these ideas while making these Portals, check out the Kickstarter project!

Continue reading Portals

The Mind & Consciousness User Interface: SXSW Proposal?

A visit to the Psyleron facility in Princeton New Jersey

A couple of years ago — 2009, I believe — my brother and I went to visit the facilities of Psyleron, a very curious research and engineering company in Princeton, a few miles from Princeton University. He piqued my curiosity about the operation, which was extending the research of the PEAR lab at Princeton — Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research. The PEAR lab has been in operation for decades and Psyleron is a kind of way of commercializing the insights and theories and all that.

They developed a random event generator and software to allow the at-home enthusiast practice their brain control skillz. It’s called the REG. You can buy one. Adam Curry at Psyleron was kind enough to loan me one. The object needs some industrial design help, which would be fun to work on.

Why is this interesting?

* It’s atemporal, I think. There’s a twist of the Cold War paranoia about mind-controlling Russkies arranged in a phalanx on the ground, specially trained to shoot brain waves to make enemy fighter pilots shove their sticks forward and crater their jets. It’s 50’s era thinking infused into something that is still futuristic. I like the history. The story of the Princeton Engineering Anaomolies (PEAR) laboratory start comes from that history — a chance encounter at a weird proto-DoD sponsored workshop on the role of consciousness in hot-shot right-stuff-y fighter jocks in the 50s who were better able to tame the barely stable faster-than-sound aircraft than other pilots. Were they more synergistically coupled to the planes, all other things being equal? It was a real question, and a contingent of the defense apparatus wanted to know and thus funded the PEAR studies.

* People are going to tire of their fascination with “gestural” interfaces. That term already sounds antique. Even thinking about it makes my mind groan and roll its eyeballs. What’s next? I’m not saying that brain control *is next — it is a logical, automatic extension to go from contact to contactless interaction, sort of like ranges of massage and body work — from the brutalist Swedish deep tissue stuff to the hands-off, chimes-and-insense Reki flavor.

* This guy Dr. Jahn who co-founded the PEAR lab lived nearby when I was growing up. That’s kinda cool to have this weird return to early days. He was squirreling away on this research in the basement of a building I used to sneak into during those easy, trouble-free adolescent years in breezy, leafy Princeton.

Cabinet Magazine has an good short article on Dr. Jahn and the background of his research.

There’s all sorts of curious artefacts and media and materials in and around the proto-Psyleron PEAR laboratory research experiments. The PEAR Proposition DVD is an epic, 3 DVD collection of lab tours, lectures, lecture notes about the project. Margins of Reality is the reading equivalent. Good “research” materials.

Psyleron also has a number of devices to activate the principles and propositions of mind-control/consciousness control and influence. An assortment of stand-alone probes and dongles — keychains, glowing lamps and that sort of thing. A robot is forthcoming!

The most curious to me — because it produces information that can be studied, allowing one to conduct experiments and because it could probably be DIY-ified — is their REG or random event generator. The REG in general stands at the center of the research as I understand it. Having a “pure” REG that is not influenced by shaking, bumping or jostling of any sort allows one to have a sort of “white noise” norm for measuring any external effects. The best way I can understand this is one needs to remove any bias on the system except for the influence of consciousness/es. A great REG is purely random data — white noise. Supposedly the white-noise randomness of this device is superlative. Who knows? It may be, or may have been before some innovation or whatever. I think there’s some quantum tunneling mojo going on in there beneath that bit of metallic shielding.

Why do I blog this? I’m *way behind on any project related to the work at Pear and my own personal affiliation with the research itself — Dr. Jahn lived in the neighborhood when I was growing up and the kids in the neighborhood all played together in the streets and yards of the neighborhood, including his daughter. I’m also thinking about writing a talk or panel proposal for SxSW 2012 on the topic, perhaps with Mike, who’s interested in looking into brain control interfaces.

I think there’s a nice continuity between the *macro interface of many minds/bodies of the Psyleron work and the more local, *micro interface of one mind with the likes of this stuff from this operation called emotiv. I like the continuity from consciousness and action-at-a-distance to the more directly coupled, sitting-on-the-head-stuff. Making a continuum from levers, knobs, switches, lights; punchcards keypads, teletype rigs; typewriter keyboards and CRTs; mice and keyboards and CRTs; 3D mice and all that up to “gestural” interfaces and touch and then into the mind could be quite and interesting graphic. A more complex graphic or an additional vector within that one could also look at the particular semantics and syntax of thought that is required to operate the devices — the ordering of knowledge necessary to frame a task or problem and then explicate it for the specific set of interface elements one is afforded by the device. Command-line interfaces, as we well-know, allow/disallow specific tasks; menuing systems are beards for what happens on the command-line — making the framing of the task more amenable to more people (?) and certainly less terse. It’s a translation effectively of what might normally go on the command line.

One possible approach to understanding this stuff is, of course — to start using it.
Continue reading The Mind & Consciousness User Interface: SXSW Proposal?

Design Fiction Chronicles: The Dark Knight's Ubicomp Mobile Phone Sonar

Here’s that scene from The Dark Knight where Batman has secretly installed a surveillance system that traces the legal, moral and ethical contours iconic to ubiquitous computing networked devices of this sort. What’s going on — as explained in the short bit of dialog — is that all of the mobile phones used by all of Gotham’s citizens have been secretly connected to this rig that is able to produce sonar-like visualizations of their surroundings to such a level of resolution that one can *see and *hear everything. Batman is asking Lucius Fox / Morgan Freeman to man the rig and listen out for The Joker and direct Batman so he can capture him and end his felonious shenanigans. Lucius plays the moralist here, drawing issue to the fact that Batman would be invading people’s privacy and, moreover, misusing the system that Lucius constructed.

As pertains the Design Fiction motif, what I enjoy about this scene is how quickly it is able to center the pertinent extradiegetic debate on surveillance technologies. Whatever one feels about ubiquitously networked devices and their implications for issues such as the possibilities for over-arching surveillance, state control, and so on — this one scene and its spit of dialogue, together with a suggestive and fairly easily explained and dramatic apparatus — together all of this is able to summon forth the debate, frame its rough contours and open up a conversation. Nice stuff.

Listening Post

Parenthetically is this device shown above. Called, suggestively, Listening Post, one might be forgiven for mistaking it for a prototype of the surveillance device in The Dark Knight which it may be, or not, or may be both a *real prototype and a probe or a propmaster’s prototype for the film. Or something. In any case, it is a sculpture done by Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin. Listening Post “is an art installation that culls text fragments in real time from thousands of unrestricted Internet chat rooms, bulletin boards and other public forums. The texts are read (or sung) by a voice synthesizer, and simultaneously displayed across a suspended grid of more than two hundred small electronic screens.”

It’s quite curious and depending on what is going on in the world — lovely to listen to. When I first saw it at The Whitney in New York City it was in February of 2003 very shortly after the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster — and the tone of the snippets of chat room conversations were echoing the sentiments of that event. In a sense the device anticipates the aggregation of *chatter that comprises or can be cohered into *trends or *trending topics as the year of Twitter has made increasingly legible.

In any case, the similarity of these two devices — The Dark Knight apparatus and Hansen and Rubin’s “Listening Post” are clearly in some sort of conversation with one another, both provoking similar discussions and considerations, whether or not anyone except me is raising these points.

Why do I blog this? This is a useful example of the way a small, short scene — barely even a story — can help raise an issue to a more tangible and more legible level, making it perhaps more intriguing to grapple with abstractions like the ethics of surveillance. It provides a hook for these conversations in material form.

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

Companion Species Training Game

Wednesday July 15, 14.35.42

The new-to-me Nintendo DS “Personal Trainer Walking” (heck of a name..) alongside of the Japanese language game whose name I forget and cannot read.

I found out about this Nintendo DS game from Kevin who found out about it from Russell. I literally just got it yesterday, but it’s pretty exciting to see. I can only imagine in my head out the play dynamics unfold, but I’ll be playing with it and have some more thoughts before long.

So far I enjoy the “blind” design of the pedometer part of the concept — not too much display other than this blinking light which changes color when you’ve reached your goal. Simple, direct and not a nagging taunt from a fancy LCD that shows more than you need. You focus on your activities or just being a normal human being without poking and prodding at the device all the time, checking your status in detail, etc. When you’re in the world, be in the world, I say.

Wednesday July 15, 15.47.20

Wednesday July 15, 15.14.44

This one aspect of the design is quite curious — there is an extra pedometer device for your dog! I mean, I get the idea — people walk their dogs and so this is perfect for you and your dog to get some training together. The language in the users manual / guidebook is very funny, and I’m not sure if this is deliberate or perhaps the sensibilities of a Japanese game design company? I know none of the facts and that does not matter so much to me, but maybe it’s my sensitivities to things that fold together different species into what my advisor calls “transpecies” or “companion species” — species that need each other, or play and interact together in curious ways. (cf The Companion Species Manifesto) Thus, I cracked up when I read these items in the guide:

Wednesday July 15, 15.12.07

The meter should only be used by a person or dog. It will not work properly with any other type of animal.

The meter should only be used on a dog when supervised by a person. It should be attached in a location where it is not at risk of being chewed or swallowed.

Great stuff. I’m looking forward to seeing how the DS experience works.

Downside: I’m pre-disappointed that walking is the only physical activity it seems to work with. I ride a bike and want this to count. And there are so many other sorts of physical things that won’t count, I assume.


Russell points out the simplicity of the synchronization ritual, which is fantastic. Point. Press. Watch your pedometer pebble appear from a pipe on the screen and become “alive” on your screen. If you’ve ever tried to synchronize ANYTHING you’ll laugh out loud, as I did. If you’ve ever designed ANYTHING that requires synchronization, take close note of the interaction ritual here. It’s fantastically playful and simple and sensical.

Some related topics: this perpetual Laboratory project, Flavonoid.

Design Fiction Chronicles: The Augmented Reality Near Future Imaginary Par Excellance

A still from John Carpenter’s They Live, set, appropriately enough, in the near neighborhoods around downtown Los Angeles.

Well, the recent round of chit-chat about augmented realities and their current canonical motivations, design prototyping and concepts has leveled-up in my own mind. On the 12th floor of the Laboratory complex, we’ve decided to fill up the vacant cubicles and set up some bits of kit, post-it notes, fiducial-filled sheets of paper, and set up our new Bureau of Inquests Into Reality Augmentation & Alteration.

It’s early days, but we’ve found one near past design fiction of a possible augmented reality prototype in John Carpenter’s camp-fantastico film They Live. If you haven’t seen it, you know nothing about Augmented Reality. I’m so serious about that, my hands are shaking. A few years ago, when I was teaching a lecture class that ran four hours and was about as painful as you could imagine to prepare, until I realized it was four hours because it was a film class that was meant to show films – I had They Live pulled from the vaults or whatever for a viewing. I was really surprised that only one or two students had ever seen this film. It’s not superb as a film, but it is superb enough to have a cult status and to be evocative of the things college kids get into if their on the left side of the fence – Naomi Klein-Noam Chomsky-Barbra Krueger style stuff. Good 70s media theory McLuhan-y things. Plus, you get an excruciatingly long, wrestle-y, award winning fist fight featuring Rowdy Roddy Piper.

“They Live” in my mind is the canonical, defining vision of what any sort of Augmented Reality should start with. Sort of presenting an “anti” world — the world made strange so that we see it in a different way. Reconstructed. No Pink Pony scenarios or anything that makes the engineer-accountants get eager, sweaty palms. Weird stuff to invert things and better see the alternative possibilities beyond way-finding, tour-guiding, and informatic overlays of measured data. Something like Julian Oliver’s “Artvertiser” concepts for a reality altering set of binoculars that turns public advertising displays into canvas’ for public art, if you so desire. That is, transforming the landscape with user-generated content or new “preferences” to the world. These worlds that you see in the worst of prototypes – with hideous post-its floating all around the world or something. Pop-ups and arrows pointing out the names of buildings and stuff like that? That, I predict, will be the epic fail of reality augmentation.

A still from the Institute for the Future‘s wonderful, somewhat tongue-in-cheek prototype of a possible Augmented Reality experience, delivered at the “Blended Realities” workshop. The prototype world is very informatic, but I think it also pokes a bit of harmless fun at some of the curious/bizzaro conclusions to this, and to where it might go, and how it might inflect quotidian social practices. The glasses are pretty Elvis Costello, tho.

Check out They Live.

Why do I blog this? A strong, avuncular urge to think about other possible augmentations of reality and an allergic reaction to the ways engineer-accountant led designed things turn out.

But wait..there’s always more…this video, found by pheezy on the Twitter and created by Anatoly Zenkov (wow..), is another useful instance of a proper AR experience. I that makes a lot more sense in that it exhibits the kinds of reality I’ve come to know and love and appreciate and understand from first principles.

Me too (doing some AR stuff)! from Anatoly Zenkov on Vimeo.

…and even more, more..this thing has come in from the Bureau’s phalanx of data scouring AR-y miniature house maid, done in the fine, Japanese style of Lolita Maid-o!

Continue reading Design Fiction Chronicles: The Augmented Reality Near Future Imaginary Par Excellance

Dog Eared "Distraction"

Turn Over LA "River" Thursday March 12, 21:39:03

Running the blog-the-dog-eared-pages algorithm on Bruce Sterling‘s fantastic “Distraction“, I’ve selected these gems. They’re all intriguing speculations about a near future world to be, complete with some insights and implications that trace the now to the then if you think about how such moments, conversations, objects and designed artifacts could come to be in the year 2050. Particularly at this agitated moment amongst the the various and multiple worlds’ and their financial-political-socio-technocultures.

Oscar took the opportunity to learn how to use a Moderator laptop. He had been given one, and he rightly recognized this gesture as a high tribal honor. The Moderator device had a flexible green shell of plasticized straw. It weighed about as much as a bag of popcorn. And its keyboard, instead of the time-honored QWERTYUIOP, boasted a sleek, sensible, and deeply sinister DHIATENSOR.

Oscar had been assured many times that the venerable QWERTYUIOP keyboard design would never, ever be replaced. Supposedly, this was due to a phenomenon called “technological lock-in.” QWERTYUIOP was a horribly bad design for a keyboard — in fact QWERTYUIOP was deliberately designed to hamper typists — but the effort required to learn it was so crushing that people would never sacrifice it. It was like English spelling, or American standard measurements, or the ludicrous design of toilets; it was very bad, but it was a social fact of nature. QWERTYUIOP’s universality made it impossible for alternatives to arise and spread.

This is a good one. I’ve been fascinated with the ways a particular configuration or design like this — the keyboard layout — becomes a kind of expressive social object. There are all of these deep histories it seems, depending on who you believe, about all standards which are always social-political-historical compromises that lock-in specific meanings. Sometimes you hear that QWERTY was a way to slow typists down so that the mechanical aspects of pre-digital keyboards would not jam the machines in early typesetting and so forth, as Sterling describes in this passage. I’ve also heard that QWERTY was a way to help early typewriter salespeople sell the typewriter because they could easily type out the word “typewriter” only using the top row of letter keys and impress early would-be purchasers. (QWERTYUIOP gives you each letter of “typewriter”, which is something many people to recognize.) In this passage, Sterling is reminding us of this first point — that things set in place, like someone etching their name in drying concrete and, even if flawed, these become “social facts of nature” leaving the inscriptions of all the considerations that will always flow forth from those early debates and conventions and compromises, which become especially resonant when the “lock-in” is for something that spreads widely becoming a universality. p.382

We love those Regulators like brothers and sisters. We got nothing in common with you. Except that…well, we’re Moderators because we use a Moderator network. And the Regulators use a Regulator interface, with Regulator software and Regulator protocols. I don’t think that a newbie creep like you understands just how political a problem that is.

Protocols, interfaces, software, networks yielding to differentiation at the level of social and political factions is a very curious extrapolation. At the same time, it is a kind of embodiment of the politics of protocols as well-expressed in Alexander Galloway’s fascinating two network books Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralization and
The Exploit: A Theory of Networks (also with Eugene Thacker).

Without the high-flying theory and Deleuzian barnstorming, Sterling captures the reasonable future world in which the world wide network has fractured in this way between Moderators and Regulators for some reason having to do with social and political differences between these two groups. A near future such as this seems reasonable, international standards bodies notwithstanding. Receding back into the recent past of incompatible networks would be an outcome of the collapsed world Sterling depicts in Distraction, where global networks may be seen as creating exploitable linkages between teetering giant centers. For instance, the interconnectedness of financial institutions that allowed them to become too tightly connected in strategic terms — able to trade amongst each other too easily so that the game of hot potato that led us to today’s crisis finally caught everyone with bad potatos in the end — could be something that is regulated and controlled. In other words, if an outcome is that institutions must insulate themselves in some fashion, or they become categorized as to who they can do business with, a result could be different kinds of network protocols optimized for that specific business. Regulated banks use the Regulator network; Moderate banks use the Moderator network. p.335

But this was not the strange part. The strange part was that brand-new nomad manufacturers were vigorously infiltrating this jungle of ancient junk. They were creating new, functional objects that were not commercial detritus — they were sinister mimics of commercial detritus, created through new, noncommercial methods. Where there had once been expensive, glossy petrochemicals, there was now chopped straw and paper. Where there had once been employees, there were jobless fanatics with cheap equipment, complex networks, and all the time in the world. Devices once expensive and now commercially worthless were being slowly and creepily replaced by near-identical devices that were similarly noncommercial, and yet brand-new.

When “DIY” attains to its logical zenith, fake becomes the new real. I actually can’t wait for this to happen. The pinnacle of knowledge circulation in the networked age. How-to, tutorials, maker culture, sharing of knowledge (or maybe just descriptions and step-by-step procedures) all coming together so that people make their own stuff, from new materials that do not have to be tuned for epic scale levels of manufacturing. You need something, make one or two rather than having 100,000 of them made offshore someplace and shipped at great expense and with enormous carbon footprint. Natural experimentation with alternative materials, features, etc. p.329

Motility Network

Kevin bought four sets of earclips from a blanket vendor. “Here, put these on.”

“Why?” Greta said.

“Trust me, I know my way around a place like this.”

Oscar pinched the clamp onto his left ear. The device emitted a little wordless burbling hum, the sound a contented three-year-old might make. As long as he moved with the crowd, the little murmur simply sat there at his ear, an oddly reassuring presence, like a child’s make-believe friend. However, if he interfered with the crowd flow — if he somehow failed to take a cue — the earcuff grew querulous. Stand in the way long enough, and it would bawl.

Somewhere a system was mapping out the flow of people, and controlling them with these gentle hints. After a few moments Oscar simply forgot about the little murmurs; he was still aware of them, but not consciously. The nonverbal nagging was so childishly insistent that accomodating it became second nature. Soon the four of them were moving to avoid the crowds, well before any approaching crowds could actually appear. Everyone was wearing the earcuffs, so computation was arranging human beings like a breeze blowing butterflies.

The fairground was densely packed with people, but the crowd was unnaturally fluid. All the snack-food stands had short, brisk lines. The toilets were never crowded. Children never got lost.

Just a fascinating extrapolation into the near future of a number of ideas, such as a kind of flash mob concept, where a crowd is optimized to itself, allowing for smooth flows and transfers — a meta surveillance and control system that does not have the nasty baggage that such things normally. Ground traffic control system that helps you get from “A” to “B” in an optimal way, whatever “A” or “B” might be. This is a concept expressed here that is quite intriguing to me, such as strategies for exploring especially urban space, like the analog Near Future Laboratory project, “Drift Deck” and other psychogeography and cartography explorations. p.326-327

There was a long uneasy silence. Then Griego burtst out in a fury. “Don’t get all high-and-mighty with me, Mr. Third-in-His-Class. You think it’s easy running corporate R&D? It was just fine, as long as the guy didn’t have anything. Jesus, nobody ever thought a goddamn sugar engine would work. The goddamn thing is a giant germ in a box! We build cars up here, we don’t build giant germs! Then they pull this crazy stunt and..well, it just makes our life impossible! We’re a classic, metal-bending industry! We have interlocking directorates all throughout the structure, raw materials, fuel, spare parts, the dealerships…We can’t get into the face of our fuel suppliers telling them that we’re replacing them with sugar water! We own our fuel suppliers! It’d be like sawing off our own foot!”

“I understand about interlocking directorates and mutual stock ownership, Ron. I was sitting right next to you in business school, remember? Cut to the chase — what about the battery?”

“Batteries have the highest profit margin of any automobile component. We were making money there. You can’t make real money anywhere else in our business. The Koreans are building auto bodies out of straw and paper! We can’t support an industry when cars are cheaper than grocery carts! What are we gonna tell our unions? This is a great American tradition at stake here! The car defines America: the assembly line, suburbs, drive-ins, hot rods, teenage sex, everything that makes America great! We can’t turn ourselves inside out because some big-brained creep has bult an engine out of bug guts! There wouldn’t be anything left of us! The guy is a menace to society! He had to be stopped.”

“Thank you for that, Ron. Now we’re getting somewhere. So tell me this — why didn’t you just pull his damn funding?”

“If only it were that simple! We’re required by federal fiat to invest in basic R&D. It was part of our federal bailout deal. We’re supposed to have trade protection, and we’re supposed to catch our breath, and jump a generation ahead of our foreign competitors. But if we jump a generation of the damn Koreans, our industry will vanish entirely. People will make cars the way they make pop-up toast. Proles will build cars out of bio-scrap, and compost them in the backyard. We’ll all be doomed.”

So you’re telling me that you’ve achieved a tremendous scientific R&D success, but as a collateral effect, it will eliminate your industry.”

“Yeah. That’s it. Exactly. And I’m sorry, but we just can’t face that. We have stockholders to worry about, we have a labor force. We don’t want to end up like the computer people did. Jesus, there’s no sense to that. It’s total madness, it’s demented. We’d be cutting our own throats.”

Well, this is very much like the collapse of the automotive industry in the US, clearly. I also like this dig at corporate R&D. This idea that things discovered that could turn into something that is to the larger good would be hidden away if it would overturn the existing order. R&D in this way is ultimately conservative. I’m not sure I believe in R&D, for these reasons and others, but that’s a longer post. p.295-297


“But the economy’s out-of-control. Money just doesn’t need human beings anymore. Most of us only get in the way.”

“Well, money isn’t everything, but just try living without it.”

Kevin shrugged. “People lived before money was invented. Money’s not a law of nature. Money’s a medium. You can live without money, if you replace it with the right kind of computation. The proles know that. They’ve tried a million weird stunts to get by, roadblocks, shakedowns, smuggling, scrap metal, road shows…Heaven knows they never had much to work with. But the proles are almost there now. You know how reputation servers work, right?”

“Of course I know about them, but I also know they dont really work.”

“I used to live off reputation servers. Let’s say you’re in the Regulators — they’re a mob that’s very big around here. You show up at a Regulator camp with a trust rep in the high nineties, people will make it their business to look after you. Because they know for a fact that you’re a good guy to have around. You’re polite, you dont rob stuff, they can trust you with their kids, their cars, whatever they got. You’re a certifiable good neighbor. You always pitch in. You always do people favors. You never sell out the gang. It’s a network gift economy.”

“It’s gangster socialism. It’s a nutty scheme, it’s unrealistic. And its fragile. You can always bribe people to boost your ratings, and then money breaks into your little pie-in-the-sky setup. Then you’re right back where you started.
“It can work all right. The problems is that the organized-crime feds are on to the proles, so they netwar their systems and deliberately break them down. They prefer the proles chaotic, because they’re a threat to the status quo. Living without money is just not the American way. But most of Africa lives outside the money economy now — they’re all eating leaf protein out of Dutch machines. Polynesia is like that now. In Europe they’ve got guaranteed annual incomes, they’ve got zero-work people in their Parliaments. Gift networks have always been big in Japan. Russians still think property is theft — those poor guys could never make a money economy work..”

I love this idea of reputation servers — a possible near future for today’s social networks, friend followers, etc. Somehow participation in today’s networks yields a new index of sorts — your trust ranking or something like this. A nice substitute for today’s “credit rating” systems, which are ridiculously opaque, operating on algorithms we who are rated can only guess about. Besides, in the near future, when the role of banks will have possibly whithered to a collapsed prune of their former selves, we may in fact circulate and leverage financial activities within networks of trust that are more peer-to-peer, like this Susu financial practices that is a cornerstone of various expat communities. p.256-257 (See also

Continue reading Dog Eared "Distraction"

Workshop on Pervasive Advertising

It amazes me how non-relevant this topic is, particularly nowadays when there can be little reason to entice a consumer to engage in letting loose of whatever cash they may have. By the time we get out of the current morass of mistrust, misspending and misguided expectations of a world where all the growth graphs go up and to the right, we should be happy to have a pair of trousers that fit and a spigot with potable water running out of it.

But, the topic of pervasive advertising goes further than that. What could the outcome of a workshop be other than..a world of pervasive advertising. I mean, working out the details is all good, but what about a workshop on a world without advertising? Could that even be possible to have without essentially saying you’re going to quit your job as an engineer/scientist of pervasive stuff?

It just turns out that the vision of a near future of pervasively advertised-to humans just comes out all wrong. It’s only ever annoying and bothersome, or a horrid expression of human-database symbiosis.

There’s really not much more of an end game for pervasive advertising than that of the extrapolation of today’s conditions as in the remarkable design fiction of Spielberg’s visual rendering of P.K. Dick’s “Minority Report”. The assemblage of participants in the world of advertising is optimized for itself, which is well-greased linkages between me, my “interests” (to the extent these translate into commerce) and those who have something to gain in economic terms from selling me my interests. It’s optimized to leverage the pervasively networked, databased world and this can only lead to an intensely uninspired, technically awesome, intrusive and annoying world. It can’t really go any other way than that shown in the various compelling and fascistic interpretations in “Minority Report” of the pervasive advertising future – retinal scanning, holographic “pop-up” adverts, yammering cereal boxes with laminated displays and gesture recognition (to know when I’m trying to tell it to stop yammering, which is guaranteed to fail any number of times, as adroitly shown in Spielberg’s film), fascistic large urban screens, etc.

Yet, this workshop sounds pleasantly inviting. I don’t, though, see how the conditions of possibility for a world of pervasive advertising would lead to anything but the nuisance we experience today, times a billion. Who knows. Maybe today’s economic blight will wipe advertising as we know it off the face of the map for something else. What that is, i have no idea but so long as we think of advertising as a “sure thing” along with death and taxes, it’ll be nothing more than what it is today, except with a few network links and even bigger screens. We’ll still have “pop-ups” only they’ll stand in front of us when we try to get from here to there. We’ll still have messages on otherwise blank walls reminding us to give feedback on that Torx wrench we just bought from Callium Carbide Tools of Peoria last week. I mean..sounds wretched.

$100 for the first person who can come up with a compelling imaginary of a world without advertising, and one that renders viable and with a buzzing economy.


1st Workshop on Pervasive Advertising

In conjunction with Pervasive 2009
May 11, 2009 – Nara, Japan

Submission Deadline: February 10, 2009

“The only sure things in life are death, taxes and advertising. Although
pervasive technologies cannot avoid death or lessen the pain from
taxation, advertising is fertile ground for research on pervasive

[[What ninny said this?? What? Did Moses take out a 2 minute spot during the parting of the Red Sea? If this is the principle of pervasive advertising, fatwa on all pervasive advertising workshops! If advertising really is a necessary evil, like death and taxes, lets get to work on making it an obsolete evil thing that has been eradicated, like the Pox and Foot and Mouth disease; get rid of it already. Or get onto something different and inspired and more in keeping with the times. Stop twiddling about with technologized versions of the same old crap. Seriously.]]


Electronic displays have become ubiquitous and replace traditional
posters and billboards. Hence they not only provide a way of showing
dynamically updated content, but also means to react implicitly and
explicitly to the audience in their vicinity. In order to interact with
the target audience, technologies need to be explored capable of
identifying the user or his interests / needs.

[[Well, this is speculative. I see plenty of peeling wheat-paste-ups all over the place. but, okay. Let’s assume that J.C. Decaux is well-positioned to introduce digital displays ubiquitously. Do I want to know that they’re linked to a database of me? Who is J.C. Decaux anyway? Can I tell him to leave my database alone?]]

The current generation of mobile phones come with high speed Internet
access and built-in location sensing. Those properties make mobile
phones a powerful mediator between the advertiser / advertising platform
and the customer.

[[Good God. That’s just wrong. I mean, who wants an ad to pop up on their phone?? I have enough trouble when I get an SMS. Seriously. Who is it? Am I missing something here?]]

Social networks such as Facebook, MySpace or LinkedIn are rapidly
growing. Such platforms include detailed information not only on the
interests of users (based for example on profiles and histories) but
also on their network. This information is placed on the Internet and
shared with friends or even the public.

[[Yeah, but under my own terms. Or should be. Can I opt out of pervasive advertising networks?]]

These technological advances, and others, change the opportunities and
challenges for advertising radically.

[[Not really. It’s the same crap, only with a network and a database and real-time data links. Really. Don’t fool yourself to think that something innovative is going on here. It’s just optimization of an existing schema for knots and linkages between my wallet, my sensibilities and some company some where.]]

Consequently, advertising is becoming one of the major drivers of
pervasive computing technology for many end-users (e.g. mobile ads,
digital signs, context awareness, RFID). Yet we believe that the
attention this topic received in the pervasive computing community does
not equal its immediate impact on society.

Taking a positive view we can envision advertisements that precisely
match a person’s interests and fit the current situation so well that
people enjoy receiving them and see advertising as a pleasant
distraction. On the contrary taking a negative view one could imagine a
world where people cannot escape from advertisement, where we are
continuously tracked and where advertisements reduce the quality of
life. Both views even though very extreme are worthy of further
discussion. Hence we hope to provide a venue for this discussion by
offering this workshop.

[[I’ll be looking for the workshop write-up. I’m dubious. No one in my mind has come up with anything other than that which will lead to the “Minority Report” imaginary. Seriously. As pleasant as it is shown in the PowerPoint, it’s always enormous screens beaming down to me Coca-Cola ads or encouraging me to buy a watch only someone like Sir Edmund Hillary would know, those big, multi-face “chronometers” that look like an exercise weight.]]


We ask potential attendees to submit 2-4 page papers describing their
research interest and particular focus on the workshop topic. The paper
may include the description of ongoing research, results found,
experience gathered, new ideas, future projects or questions on topics
related to pervasive computing and advertising. Each participant is
asked to provide a short paragraph (up to 200 words) on their vision of
advertising in 25 years from now. All submissions will be peer-reviewed.

More information can be found at

All submissions must be sent electronically to
The format for submissions is Springer LNCS, the same as that of
Pervasive 09.
Templates can be found at

Papers should be no longer than 4 pages. All papers must be submitted in
PDF. At least one author for each accepted paper is expected to attend
the workshop.

Non-archival working notes will be produced containing the papers
presented at the workshop. Selected papers from the workshop may be
considered for expansion and inclusion in a special issue of a journal.


* February 10, 2009: Deadline for electronic submission
* March 1, 2009: Author Notification
* May 1, 2009: Submission of camera-ready
* May 11, 2009: Pervasive Advertising Workshop at Pervasive 2009


Jörg Müller, University of Münster

Albrecht Schmidt, University of Duisburg-Essen

Bo Begole, PARC

Aaron Quigley, University College Dublin

Why do I blog this? I dunno. This stuff kinda bugs me, if you can’t tell. It’s pretty clear that the angle is to create something that has commercial viability, rather than thinking things through for an alternative near future of connecting people, interests, ideas and so forth. On the one hand, it’s exciting and futuristic stuff. On the other hand, it’s not a future that I think has particularly exciting prospects in the category of “habitable”, fun, non-invasive, non-bothersome, non-pop-up-in-your-face futures. And, the advertising thing. I’m serious. If someone can’t paint a picture of a world without advertising..I’m listening. And I got your $100 here.
Continue reading Workshop on Pervasive Advertising

Drift Deck

Drift Deck. For Conflux 2008, NYC

For Analog Play (batteries not required.)

(Some production documentation above; click “Notes”.)

The Drift Deck (Analog Edition) is an algorithmic puzzle game used to navigate city streets. A deck of cards is used as instructions that guide you as you drift about the city. Each card contains an object or situation, followed by a simple action. For example, a situation might be — you see a fire hydrant, or you come across a pigeon lady. The action is meant to be performed when the object is seen, or when you come across the described situation. For example — take a photograph, or make the next right turn. The cards also contain writerly extras, quotes and inspired words meant to supplement your wandering about the city.

Processed in collaboration with Dawn Lozzi who did all of the graphic design and production.

For exhibition at the Conflux 2008 Festival, NYC, September 11-14, 2008, and hosted by Center for Architecture located at 536 LaGuardia Place, New York, NY 10012

The motivation for Drift Deck comes from the Situationist International, which was a small, international group of political and artistic agitators. Formed in 1957, the Situationist International was active in Europe through the 1960s and aspired to major social and political transformations.

Guy Debord, one of the major figures in the Situationist International, developed what he called the “Theory of the Dérive.”

“Dérives involve playful-constructive behavior and awareness of psychogeographical effects, and are thus quite different from the classic notions of journey or stroll.

In a dérive one or more persons during a certain period drop their relations, their work and leisure activities, and all their other usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there. Chance is a less important factor in this activity than one might think: from a dérive point of view cities have psychogeographical contours, with constant currents, fixed points and vortexes that strongly discourage entry into or exit from certain zones.”

Psychogeography was defined in 1955 by Guy Debord as the “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.” Psychogeography includes just about anything that takes pedestrians off their predictable paths and jolts them into a new awareness of the urban landscape.” The dérive is considered by many to be one of the more important of these strategies to move one away from predictable behaviors and paths.érive

The cards will be available for festival visitors to borrow and return for others to use during the Conflux Festival.

Design and Implications by Julian Bleecker and Dawn Lozzi. Creative Assistance and Support from Nicolas Nova, Pascal Wever, Andrew Gartrell, Simon James, Bella Chu, Pawena Thimaporn, Duncan Burns, Raphael Grignani, Rhys Newman, Tom Arbisi, Mike Kruzeniski and Rob Bellm. Processed for Conflux Festival 2008.

Special Joker Cards featuring compositions by Jane Pinckard, Ben Cerveny, Jane McGonigal, Bruce Sterling, Katie Salen, Ian Bogost and Kevin Slavin. Joker illustrations by Rob Bellm.

Original Proposal

Part of a long, proud line of land mapping technologies that includes PDPal, Ubicam Backward Facing Camera and Battleship: Google Earth, and WiFiKu.

Continue reading Drift Deck