You'd Be Right To Wonder

Wednesday January 12 00:17

You’d be right to wonder why there has not been much here for a couple-few weeks. Contrary to a vicious rumor, we neither adopted a needy office pet nor did we father-seed a dead pop star’s child.

It’s Annual Planning Month here in the Laboratory, when we assess what will be our near future priorities, goals, strategic themes and projects. It’s weeks of mulling, muttering, hemming, hawing, pausing, sputtering, drinking and brow-furrowing. After all the strategery comes the planning. We’re deploying a rigorous phalanx of unforgiving planning-to-do tools, reacquainting ourselves with our old avuncular friend — Mr. Gantt and his fabulous chart. Along with this is Mr. Gantt’s trusty Sancho Panza, Mr. Miles Stone.

That’s right. Planning, charting, back-filling objectives and sticking to our guns. This way, at the end of each “Q” (that’s Quarter to you non-accomplishers-of-things) we can re-assess and re-target. In fact, we might even be working at the level of the “P” (sorry, “Period” or one of your Earth “Months” to you terrestrials) and perhaps even the microscopic time element — the Week.

Where has this sudden bit of planning gluttony come from?

*Shrug. Who the fuck knows.

But, it feels right and it will help the Laboratory to say “no” because it’ll all be right there, in Mr. Gantt’s chart and resource managers can point and wag a finger and say “Uhn uhn uhhhnnn..that’s not going to happen. Back to your computation terminal!”

The ring of the ball-peen hitting the work piece on the anvil. The smell of the coke smelting the ore. Lustful, material things. Things getting done and made.

So — what’s on the plate?

Well, I can give you the *general theme, but nothing super specific, and that’s only because of the deeply sensitive nature of our work and the fact that it might have deep political affect on the ways the needle-heads upstairs in Finance & Control’s (mis)understand what exactly it is we do and how it brings incalculable value to the efficiency of the Laboratory — unlike the Bridges and Thoroughfare Systems Group which never, by the way, ever did a damn thing to contribute to our bottom line, least as best as I can tell.

Wednesday December 29 17:00

Here it is. This year’s theme: Less Yammering. More Hammering.

Let me explain. In the recently deceased year, we spent the bulk of our informal projects time talking about things that were *more than interesting to us.

It was more than interesting. Supra-interesting. Boundless interestingness. I’m talking mostly about, well — talking about #designfiction. And this will continue as a theme within whatever theme happens to be the theme-of-the-day.

At the same time, the yammering meant there was less time (despite having it on the list of the Professional Development Plan) actually making things. Now — I love to talk and have conversations around engaging, new, whacky-but-intriguing ideas. That’s the guano of innovation. It’s how things change, grow, evolve. Ideas come to life in the conversations. The conversations are that which promote and propagate; they contain the narrative logics that poke and prod and stretch and materialize those thoughts, making them more tangible and more legible. So — I love to yammer. As you may know — I also really love to hammer: to make things that are distillations and materializations of those conversations. Little props and provocative objects that help think-through and evolve those conversations.

Years ago the Laboratory wrote a tremendously short essay called Why Things Matter in which I ham-fistedly explained my thinking about the importance of “social objects” and the ways that these can become as yammer-y as normal human beings and, thereby, bring about material change to the world. It was most an interest in how things like Pigeons or Salmon suddenly connected to the *network in oftentimes simple ways could alter the terms of conversations about things like environmental issues, pollution or fishing legislation.

What I learned through that was the importance of making things — but it’s not just the made-thing but the making-of-the-thing, if you follow. In the *making you’re also doing a kind of thinking. Making is part of the “conversation” — it’s part of the yammering, but with a good dose of hammering. If you’re not also making — you’re sort of, well..basically you’re not doing much at all. You’ve only done a *rough sketch of an idea if you’ve only talked about it and didn’t do the iteration through making, then back to thinking and through again to talking and discussing and sharing all the degrees of *material — idea, discussions, conversations, make some props, bring those to the discussion, *repeat.

Friday January 14 12:04

So — we’re not done here with the #designfiction theme, but it is an idea that needs some material-making, at least here, and lots of people are doing this as well. But, generally thinking — it’s time to get back to making stuff, building little probes and provocateurs and trouble-makers. That means booting up the old software-making toolkits, breaking a few of Simon’s milling tools (sorry, again..), learning how to CNC myself so I can make my own mistakes, getting a CAD package in that old PC in the Laboratory, etc.

There’ll be posts here and status updates and of course — yammering. It’ll just be tempered with and by and through the making as it once was oh a couple-few years ago when we were making hellzalot of electronics.

This’ll be the year of trouble-making apps of various sorts, I think. The first one is the digital edition of the previous Drift Deck, analog edition which has had a sort of silver-year’d renaissance thanks to @bldgblog writing a nice, thoughtful little post about it. That’s being done by Jon Bell and Dawn Lozzi with myself being the design project equivalent of the annoying sot who wants to have “just one more.” Allegedly, so long as I *don’t have “just one more” this should be done by the new networked age’s equivalent of the finish line — South by Southwest, which’d be March 11. (Here is a printable PDF of the Drift Deck, analog edition for those who have had trouble downloading it from Slide Share.)

There are other things, of course. The completion of the Laboratory’s re-make of 2001: A Space Odyssey, finally doing the animated Death Match between Apollo LEM and Space POD, a *book project with more images than words, revisiting two old location-based software toys, and a crackapp that may hopefully get us in good trouble with parents.

Thursday January 13 17:56

Finally — this is it, really: the sub-genre of this year’s theme “Less Yammering. More Hammering.” is — “Low Brow.” In fact “Low Brow” was the original theme, but it didn’t test too well in the experts’ reviews. But, if I think about it, it lives on in a way. It provided the transposition algorithm, turning the wonderfully optimistic “Get Excited. Make Things.” that our friend Matt Jones (@moleitau) of Berg meme-seeded into a sort of by-the-scruff, morning drunkard, roughneck-ificiation — “shut up and just do it, you moron” — only I made to rhyme so that I can sing it — should things come to that.
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Counter Intuitive


How do you find the spirit and play of exploration in an optimized geography?

In the idiom of maps and cartography, the tendency is to thoroughly identify as many attributes of the physical world and coordinate them to geographic, you know…coordinates, typically using latitude and longitude. Those attributes are usually other instrumental and worldly markers, like street addresses, nearly immovable physical markers like, you know…landmarks, buildings, franchise stores, and so on. The database tables fill in with this information, sorted, sifted, refined. Some deletes and updates.

In between the record sets are the most interesting possibilities for new services, new ways of experiencing the physical world and new kinds of adventures. What I’m thinking about are ways to creatively explore within a fully instrumented, surveilled and mapped world, with counter intuitive uses of this data. There are some excellent examples within the art-technology and design-technology communities, such as GPS Drawing, as shown above. This practice is intriguing because it couples measurement with expression and finds an alternative use for the devices involved — a GPS and a mapping application like GoogleEarth.


Surveillance Camera Players using CCTV cameras as a site for performance opportunities

Younghee wonders, in this context, what are the ways of minimizing “digital traces” — those indications of where you are, and where you have been, in a surveillance world. She says,

That leaves another interesting question: How would people drop out of, or at least minimize their digital traces and minimize contributing to create others’? We are probably not expecting stickers and badges showing “this person does NOT have cameras” or “this person will NOT use cameras”. One of the memorable Ubicomp conference talks was on the interesting concept of creating capture-resistant environment, preventing camera phones to take photos by overexposing photos attempted in the region covered by this technology. While I am sure there are certain types of places this technology would be very useful, I do have my doubts if there would ever be any technology successfully controlling people’s digital behaviors.

Similarly, in a reverse mode, Life: A User’s Manual by Michelle Teran captures the signals leaked into public space by RF-based video cameras and reveals intimate spaces in a very DIY and performative fashion.

Minimzing traces is one possible perspective. I think, perhaps in this era where digital kids do not reflect so much on how much of a trace they leave behind, and indeed have entirely different perspectives on the meaning of surveillance and its implications. How many digital kids (the next “us”) have read “1984” for example?


In contrast to the Surveillance Camera Players and their performances — where they are maximizing their imact and traces for counter-intuitive purpsoes, and counter-systemic purposes — groups like the Institute for Applied Autonomy have constructed — years ago, pre-Google Maps — a digital map system called iSee of surveillance cameras that would allow one to plot a course that does precisely what Younghee wonders about — minimzing one’s impact. In other words, the mapping system plots routes that avoids surveillance cameras.

It may be that the question is no to much avoiding “capture” but how to turn that space into something where your voice can be heard. I’m not convinced, but it seems that we (a bit older people) think of surveillance in one way that digital kids (the next “us”) will see as an opportunity for a new form of living.

Beyond this, I am interested in a kind of Personal Positioning System that points out the absences in my experiences in the world. For example, showing me where I have not been rather than showing the entire world from above, as if its fully prepared for my exploration. I’m interested in finding things like longer route between two points, rather than the minimal route. Or routes that are deliberately constructed based on streets or regions I have not been. Purely as a form of creative, digital-era perambulation or motoring. Exploration in a world that is pretty much completely mapped, indexed, databased and optimized. What is exploration in an optimized, instrumented world?

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