Hunting for urban electricity


Seen in Paris few weeks ago, a private car using the Autolib infrastructure to power up its batteries.

Why do I blog this? The need to recharge electrical objects – ranging from smartphones to cars – is more and more prevalent... and lead to such kind of behavior... reminding me of people looking for power plugs in trains (obviously toilets can help here) or in weird urban places (such as the outlets made available for farmers market owners). 

On Cuban repair cultures

Here’s a list of services offered in an AC-intense mobile phone repair shop in Trinidad (Cuba): "desbloqueo decodificatión y liberación de celulares, código de usuario, cambio de idioma, cambio de frecuencia, reparación de software (flasheo), reparación de celulares Chinos, reparaciones generales de hardware (display, flex, táctiles, bocinas, micrófonos, régiment de carga), eliminación de humedad a móviles, instalación de aplicaciones, actualización de sistema Android, actualización de sistema IOS, configuración del coreo nauta, información et asesoria gratuitas."

A rather broad and interesting inventory. Some of the services can generally be fond in this type of shop ((I regularly visit these stores while traveling here and there )); unlocking the SIM card and change components (speaker, microphone ...) in particular. I also understood "eliminación of humedad has móviles" is not related to the climatic constraints of moisture as one might think, but rather to the fact that many people, there as elsewhere, seems to drop the phone in the water 📱💦. The other services are less common : assistance with phone configuration (language, messaging software, update OS) or app installation. The precision concerning the Chinese mobile phone repair is obviously intriguing too.

Basically, this type of store is not very different from those I have just a few meters from my home in Geneva. However, Cuba has many other shop/counters/garage/apartment????) offering repair services for all kinds of other artifacts : for automobiles of course (from 1951 Plymouth to the latest Audi), electro-mechanical watch/clock, garden and kitchen hardware, bikes, etc.

Plastic and metal parts sold on the street in Trinidad.

Plastic and metal parts sold on the street in Trinidad.

Electronic shop in Viñales.

Electronic shop in Viñales.

Given the difficulty to acquire property on the island, this is not hardly a surprise, but it reflects a important“repair culture". However, unlike many titles of articles or reference guide saying that a visit to Cuba is a “frozen in time", it is a lively present. With, one the one hand, a variety of technical objects both old and new, not necrotic at all. And, on the other hand, altered artifacts, with more or less recent parts. The best example being the bicitaxi (bicycle taxi) that are certainly rudimentary at first but whose sound consists bluetooth speakers hanging on the ceiling (cardboard, metal or wood) and controlled by a smartphone (iPhone or Android ). Similarly, American cars are certainly old, but the driver may well have a bluetooth headset for phone calls, and a USB key inserted into car stereos with tons of mp3s collected in in music stores delivering content more or less fresh downloaded from the Internet (and potentially via the Paquete Semanal). The government also contribue to this, as attested by the Soviet-like toll arches on Havana highways ... on which fixed cameras read the registration plates (according to our taxi driver) in a very contemporary robot world-readable fashion. This type of arrangement is also not limited only to hardware tinkering, it is found in fact in the service of such design… with Airbnb being available for in some casa particulares (guest capita ) with a payment made through an intermediary in an agency in Miami.

A repairman in Trinidad.

A repairman in Trinidad.

Another consequence of this culture of DIY also concerns the recycling of objects, materials and spare parts from multiple devices. Some examples encountered : along with the inevitable mention of 1950s US cars, I ran across a lawn mower made up of a screw motor metal rods and a small motorcycle tank, a leaf blower assembled with a vacuum cleaner motor mounted on a leather harness and a North American switch, a Lada VAZ-2101 engine placed in the hood of a 1957 Dodge, etc. This kind of bricolage is also described by the anthropologist Sarah Hill in a fascinating article titled "Recycling History and the Never-Ending Cuban Life of Things" ... who goes into more detail on what I describe here. Without idealizing these practices, it would be intriguing to compare this practices with other recycling and repair cultures including Gambiarra described Felipe Fonseca in Brazil.

Engine from a taxi car in Habana.

Engine from a taxi car in Habana.

Without offering the same conditions (political, social, technological and other) that the Western world, the island is far from being “frozen in the past” as I’ve seen written here and there. And one can also wonder wether this type of lively hybridization cannot be also considered as our future. It seems reasonable to think that a culture of recycling or DIY could become widespread in the Western world due to the scarcity multiple commodities / rare metals.



Some serious business going on here: a Facetime-enabled visioconference operated while walking (seen in Geneva, Switzerland). Verbal and non-verbal communication in the context of a heated debate on a subject I could not parse because of my lack of knowledge of this language.

Why do I blog this? Such situation is nonetheless utterly fascinating as a curious rituals happening these days (with or without a selfie-stick). The "private bubble" located in the public sphere in a new way with different instruments.

Networked coffee-machine


This coffee machine encountered at the University of Lausanne (thanks Olivier G. for pointing me this example) seems like an interesting example of an everyday situation reconfigured by digital technology. Apart from cash, coffee drinkers can use their RFID "campus card" (see the plastic things that hold the card on the reader), which also happens to open door and pay restaurants among other tasks:


Why do I blog this? documenting the digital everyday, as mundane as it may be.

“Supercargo: a parable of desire”

Found at (author unknown)

Found at (author unknown)

"Supercargo: a parable of desire" by Peter Moosgaard looks like one of the most interesting tumblr I've seen in months. It's a set of pictures that highlight the evolution of material culture. I haven't seen in any textual description about it but I can't help inferring the meaning of these things. It actually feel very close to  the Gothic High-Tech/Favela Chic dialectic described by Bruce Sterling (in this speech), the sort of visual equivalent to vapourwave built on the debris of the plastic/computing culture of the last 20 years... the equivalent to the cargo cult that occurred few decades ago in Melanesia as the paradigmatic metaphor of our material everyday.

supercargo2 supercargo3 supercargo4

Why do I blog this? Collecting examples of curious projects that show the evolution of material culture is a good way to think about new typologies. These ones are particularly intriguing.