Weekending 21012012

Fabien and Nicolas went to Madrid for a workshop at BBVA innovation about Smart Cities. Organized by Urbanscale (and more specifically by Jeff Kirsh, Adam Greenfield and Leah Meisterlin), it focused on opportunities to use networked data for the client. It basically followed up on the previous work we have done with this bank last year.

The workshop went well, with a combination of short talks, field observations (qualitative and quantitative) and discussions. This workshop was followed by an open session entitled “Beyond Smart Cities” at BBVA’s Innovation Center, with Adam Greenfield, myself (Nicolas) and Kevin Slavin. My slides are on Slideshare. There’s a write-up of the event at the following URL. As described by Kevin on his tumblog, “As surely as it feels like a movement has a name (“Smart Cities”) it also feels like the critique of said movement is collectively more articulate and persuasive. Now the key is to find language to describe what it should be, to go beyond popping the balloon and figuring out what the party really needs.“.

Here in Los Angeles Julian has been hard at work puzzling over an incredibly simple problem of making a little audio device called an Ear Freshener avoid having a power switch and a volume knob. He thinks the solution was intimated by a generous comment poster who told him to slap a couple of transistors in strategic locations in the circuit. So he tried that. It seems to make sense. Hopefully it won’t destroy everything.

Related to this were discussions about the principles behind/between things that make sound — such as sound should just come out of them, rather than be all fussy with settings, configurations and network connections. And that tied into an ongoing thinking thing about latter day considerations about “simplicity”, “one thing done well” and skinny Williamsburg/Brick Lane 23 year olds with full beards who’ve done nothing to deserve a full beard but rock Holgas and fetishize film/vinyl/casette tapes fixed-gear bikes and the like. Thus, we’ve been working on a short essay on the topic of the Cult of the Analog Cult. Or something like that.

Meanwhile, on the East side of L.A. Jayne (with Kickstarter funding in hand) has been getting back to making new Portals. They’re still in the physical draft/sketch phase of things but making the upgrade from end-table-foam-core to mdf feels quite satisfying. The insides are still very rough and she’s still getting started with hooking up the magic/technology bits, but at least now a pair of Portal boxes exist in the world, ready to be filled with interactive goodies.

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Sightseeing Oprah Winfrey Crop Circles with Google Satellite Maps

Stumbled across this Google Maps..thing. It’s not quite collaborative mapping, but it has a draw.

Sightseeing with Google Satellite Maps

I’ve added it to my Google Maps Mash-Up Bibliography. (I know, I know, other sites catalog Google Maps Map Things. I’m not playing the “been-here-first” game — I just want something that I can taxonomize and hierarchicize and annotate as befits my own brain.)

Why do I blog this? This Sightseeing Google Satellite Maps thing isn’t a “mash-up” in the same way that these others are, which gets me thinking that the mash-up is about instrumentalizing social practices and doing the GIS map-making thing. Take crime (a socially embedded practice), instrumentalize it if it isn’t already (Seattle provides public access to its 911 calls data in a machine-friendly structure), and cobble it together with Google Maps open API.

The Sightseeing Google Satellite Maps project takes a social practice, doesn’t bother to instrumentalize it except to find out where a particular “sight” in the world is, and uses a God’s eye POV to show you that sight. Why is this at all interesting? It adds a bit more precision to what the mash-up idiom means, in the context of Google Maps. It’s always been all about [w:AJAX] or whatever, and there’s a social AJAX going on with these Sightseeing projects.

Once the fascination with figuring out the Google Maps API wears off, what’ll be left? I’m speculating that collaborative mapping will be the compelling upside, perhaps. Creating maps with lots of people, with a utility that goes beyond just saying where you grew up. And that has a specific point-of-entry for a specific task that makes the practice more legible for a self-identifying audience (people who need to know which powerlines are down or what tree needs to be trimmed back, or where the dumping violation is occuring.)

By the way, Mark Bolas and I are teaching the 1st year MFA students in the “mobile module” of their introductory course, how to work with the Google Maps API. They’re supposed to learn about “mobile” and we extended that to location and mapping. They’re also supposed to learn some prototyping skills. Google Maps’ API provides a unique kind of prototyping environment — I think – for locative media projects.

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