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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The Urban Internet of Things 2010. An International Workshop


Coming up is an exciting sounding workshop on the “urban internet of things — programming the real-time city.” Some more opportunities to get this one right..or at least human.

** As more people move to cities, it becomes increasingly challenging )) the necessarily understated preamble (( to build efficient )) maybe we shouldn’t even hope for efficiency (( infrastructures that support the needs of inhabitants without sacrificing the quality of life. The increasing digital instrumentation of urban areas through various networked sensors provides many opportunities to design smarter cities )) smart? i’d settle for clever and wily (( through a meaningful interpretation and usage of all this real-time data. In today’s world, there are strong incentives to leverage the most recent technologies to create digital infrastructures that foster collaboration between the different disciplines involved in urban design. By considering the IoT as a platform for engaging citizen’s action, a new design space is created where citizens are at the center of its urban environment and empowered to actively shape the city they live in.

The goal of this workshop is to gather original and inspiring contributions from technology experts, researchers in academia and industry, designers, urban planners, and architects that are willing to share their knowledge, experiences, and best practices for building smarter cities. We will explore the design of open and efficient platforms and tools to collect, analyze, store, and share the enormous amount of real-time data digital cities generate through a mix of papers, demos, invited presentations and open discussions for collectively create the city of the future. **

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Microsoft Social Computing Symposium 2010 – Notes

Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer

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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.]]

…..as 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.
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Minor Urban Disaster

Montreal, Canada.

Curious minor urban disaster. The brace meant to prevent the signal light from being struck by a large truck or something was struck by a large truck or something and, thence, struck the object it was meant to protect.

Why do I blog this? I enjoy finding these disturbances in perfection and cleanliness. Typical, everyday moments in which a bit of history — however minor — is etched into solid metal and concrete to remind us of the below-the-radar bits of function of the city. We might call this a minor chink in the city’s urban armor battle suit thing.

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A synchronicity: Design Fictions for Asynchronous Urban Computing

This just in: A Synchronicity: Design Fictions for Asynchronous Urban ComputingNicolas Nova and myself conversing about what we’re calling asynchronous urban computing — has been released by the Architectural League of New York. It’s a dialogue on an inverted urban computation framework, with material embodiments of the peculiar designed artifacts we cooked up to help explicate our upside down worlds.

A synchronicity: Design Fictions for Asynchronous Urban Computing

Here’s what the editors have to say:

In the last five years, the urban computing field has featured an impressive emphasis on the so-called “real-time, database-enabled city” with its synchronized Internet of Things. In Situated Technologies Pamphlets 5, Julian Bleecker and Nicholas Nova argue to invert this common perspective and speculate on the existence of an “asynchronous city.” Through a discussion of objects that blog, they forecast situated technologies based on weak signals that show the importance of time on human practices. They imagine the emergence of truly social technologies that through thoughtful provocation can invert and disrupt common perspective.

It’s available from Lulu, which means you can download it for free, or buy it for real and augment the reality of your book pile. I suggest buying it. We don’t get a penny, but the folks over at The Architectural League and the Situated Technologies genies need to keep doing the cool, curious things they do.

Thanks to the Situated Technologies editors, Omar Khan, Trebor Scholz and Mark Shepherd.

Generative Urban Design



Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer

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These images are from a series of generative, algorithmic sketches to describe what Los Angeles might look like as an “augmented reality.” Specifically, one view of the city from my point of view, where the topography and built environments height-density were a function of my presence. An ego city or something.

This is more an idea that has been stuck in my head and needed some expression. I am not at all sure what one does with this or how one uses it in any instrumental way except as a proper augmentation of the one canonical reality. A bit of a Kevin Lynch (Good City Form which I haven’t finished but am enjoying and, of course, The Image of the City) style map of presence, sketched from accumulated presence data rather than specifically what I imagine or how my brain conceives of urban space.

These are simple, early sketches to see how home made cartography might create density maps that reveal some sort of cartographic indication of where you have been, leaving blank or perhaps more obvious the places you have not been. Or a GPS that shows a fog-of-war map, or constructs routes for you based on a principle of exploration — routing you through areas that you have yet to see or explore.

To be continued, as always. Just curious.

Why do I blog this? But, besides that point, I am anxious to find alternative perspectives of the city, especially ones that are dynamic and produced from closer to the ground-up, rather than from the top-down. Using occupancy as a measure, or as the algorithmic seasoning seems like a Lynchian natural first step. Based on the amount of time spent in particular areas, my own personal maps should reflect this somehow, either by fogging out all the rest of the space, drawing the rest of the space as blank or, as in these sketches, altering the terrain height and the built environment’s density and building heights, etc. (Of course, these are not actual buildings from Los Angeles — it is all a thought, a sketch of these ideas. These are the things I have been thinking about, and other kinds of algorithms and/or mechanisms to materialize these ideas, such as Drift Decks, Apparatus, Personal Digital Pal’s etc.

Also, I thought I lost these sketches after complete, well-founded frustration with the absolute most crappiest piece of over-priced software I have ever come across in the whole world.
Continue reading Generative Urban Design

Upcoming essay on the asynchronous city


A high altitude imaging system for providing curious asynchronous perspectives of the world for analysis and synthesis. Artist’s interpretation, by Rhys Newman.

Via Nicolas — Upcoming piece about the asynchronous city:

Just for the sake of bringing things to the table before they do: Nicolas Nova and myself are putting a final touch to a pamphlet entitled “A synchronicity: design fictions for asynchronous urban computing” in the Situated Technologies series. Here’s the blurb:

Over the last five years the urban computing field has increasingly emphasized a so-called “real-time, database-enabled city.” Geospatial tracking, location-based services, and visualizations of urban activity tend to focus on the present and the ephemeral. There seems to be a conspicuous “arms” race towards more instantaneity and more temporal proximity between events, people, and places. In Situated Technologies Pamphlets 5, Julian Bleecker and Nicolas Nova invert this common perspective on data-enabled experiences and speculate on the existence of an “asynchronous” city, a place where the database, the wireless signal, the rfid tag, and the geospatial datum are not necessarily the guiding principles of the urban computing dream.

Due for September 2009. A sort of updated version of near future laboratory thinking that builds upon various projects, discussions (and partly going beyond material from my french book). Stay tuned.

Continue reading Upcoming essay on the asynchronous city

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

Street Mountain

Friday June 19, 17.24.46

Seen here while enjoying a cooling gelato (mix of mango, pear and passion fruit) with friends in the West Village after a successful day of Urban Scout Adventures.

A curious urban mountain or boulder of some sort. I think there’s a story behind this concrete lump, but I’m not 100% sure. It could be some sort of street furniture, or perhaps an accident that occurred while concrete was being poured and no one cleaned it up?