EKO's and Theory Objects, or — Why Do I Blog This?

I have always enjoyed Nicolas Nova‘s way of appending his posts with a framing statement describing why he blogged what he blogged, so I took up this Talmudic Why do I blog this? practice, but this post is about a higher order question: Why do I blog? or, more to the point, Why should design agents blog?

For me, it comes down to making things public in a way that is part an experiment in a kind of open-source design practice, part as a way to manage a torrent of ephemeral material, snippets, thoughts, sketches, cobbled together prototypes, Shandy-esque projects that start and then stop and then start and then divert — a collection and idea circulation machine. It’s a way to circulate thought within my modest network of thinkers, knowledge agents, dudes and doodlers and enroll them in the process of creating terribly evocative objects that move beyond what I could create on my own. Sometimes, I need to start them on my own — or carry them through to a point at which they begin circulating as theory objects, evocative knowledge objects, or prototypes that help get them off the bench. At some point, they become their own agents of creativity, becoming more willful for the way they’ve created other kinds of theory objects or EKOs through their circulation within the network of evocatively thinking design agents.

Nicolas’ recent post on Latour’s business on research inscriptions got me thinking about this topic. Question about the purpose of object design and construction has come up a few times in as many days. In conversations with students and colleagues, the questions have been around, why we make things, or when do we start making things, or when do we know we’re done with design and can move onto making things, or what are we doing here, anyway?. I want to jot a few notes on this while it’s still fresh. I’m realizing more and more (or with increasing conviction) that the process of creating artifacts and objects is a sort of theoretical activity. I mean that in the sense that creating objects are ways to “do” theory, for example, in an articulated, working-through of some questions, or as a way to frame certain questions.

I met with some grad students from various area design/interactive media departments who are working on their thesis projects, and we discussed the process of moving from grab-bags of ideas, literature reviews, interaction sketches, idea imagery — to “the project.” My take is that the activity of accumulating all of this must be thought of as a kind of introductory chapter for the thesis project and that the slow articulation of this ephemera into form (construction) is a way of asking and framing the important questions that undergird the project, and the construction.

Tara McPherson calls these theory objects, a term I love. Recently, Mark Bolas described something design practices refers to as EKOs — Evocative Knowledge Objects (as from Rich Gold’s "The Plentitude") — a kind of object that is meant to generate thought and inspire the evolution of ideas. These are also kinds of fictional technologies (or, perhaps better, what Mimi Ito has described in recent discussions as technology fiction — that does the same sorts of things that science fiction does in imagining different kinds of worlds we may have or will inhabit.) These terms get closer to the important design goal of making the practice of creating designed objects legible — how are things made?

When you’re creating a semantic object — say, a thesis, or a bit of software, or an aircraft wing — the process of going from vague idea to demostrable, exhibited, named thing has a significance that is more important than what we oftentimes misconstrue as the “final version.” The process and practice of moving from idea to final version is all too often a process of making the richest part of creativity illegible.

Why? Because oftentimes we don’t treat the practice of constructing objects and things as a kind of theorizing in itself. More often than not, moving from being hopped-up about some excellent user scenario that exists in our imagination, brimming with cool possibilities, to a sketched out “ideas”, to the art & construction of “objects” to the poorly named “final version” are activities that remain poorly documented. Maybe there are some notes around, but they get discarded, just like discarded lecture notes from classes back in the day.

So, how come we don’t well-understand the relationship between ideas and imagination and objects — between ephemeral concepts to the articulation of those on the lathe and FDM rig? Because that process is made opaque. We don’t normally toss in our sketches, notes, “wrong” turns in the design process, white board sketches, note book drawings, etc.

I think capturing and even sharing widely — as blog posts? flickr sets — these articulations at even embarassing stages would go a long way toward enrolling semantic objects into the larger ecology of social beings. If you can see the craft work that goes into creating such weirdness as airplane wings, we can do useful things with that knowledge, like create more efficient airplane wings — or use the airplane wing’s design in a new kind of airplane design. (I may know lots about airplane body design, but little about wing design — now I can borrow the knowledge of the wing’s design in a larger project.)

Revealing with openness and clarity the sometimes muddled, circuitous, confused way in which an idea become a “thing” reveals the role of our hand in the craft work. And that might be variously embarassing, extra work, not seen as necessary — any variety of reasons.

But, that’s all got to change. Why? Well, like a theory object, I still haven’t worked out an entirely satisfactory reason. But, because I’m not allowing myself to be embarassed by sharing evolving ideas I’ll risk embarassment and say it’s becuase in the knowledge ecology that is made possible by the world of connected thought — the Internet — creativity, innovation, making stuff that makes for more habitable, sustainable worlds is a massively multiplayer game.

That is why I blog this.
Continue reading EKO's and Theory Objects, or — Why Do I Blog This?

Licoppe on a Geolocated Game – The "Mobility Turn"

I just finally got to Liccope’s paper (ICTs and the Engineering of Encounters: A case study of the development of a mobile game based on the geolocation of terminals) on the design, development and deployment of a geolocated mobile game in Japan — Jindo, which became Nido. (I’m pretty sure this is about Mogi Mogi, but if someone knows for sure, please let me know. Nicolas confirms these are code for Mogi Mogi. Thx Nic) This paper has been tagged ToBeRead at least since the summer. It’s a participant-observation study on the evolution of the game from whimsical game designers’ aspirations, to the hard reality of commercial game development when you’re game isn’t commercial fodder. I found the paper engaging, in the way that somewhat ethnographic participant-observations studies can be — you get a sense of the actual activities of the designers, business folk, etc.

It’s a hard thing, generally speaking, to make a game. I can only imagine how much harder it becomes when you have a wonderful idea, but are stymied by the requirements of deployment in a context where the mobile money making ecosystem has a nearly impenetrable barrier to entry in the form of operators who won’t trouble themselves unless there’s a revenue stream. (This is different, of course, to a certain extent, in the networked jungle of the Internet where pretty much anyone with access, time and passion can craft a game experience and develop their own network infrastructure. Mobile operators own the network and a by-your-leave is required to get on it, or gain exposure, in most cases, or to use specialized services, such location sensing — a requirement for this particular game.)

Besides the description of the game’s design and evolution, I really enjoyed the way Licoppe described the “paradigm of mobility”

For a long time, spatial mobility was just a means to an end. Even in the eyes of such a keen observer of cities such as Simmel, industrial life led to a lengthening of distances, “which makes of every useless wait or travel an irretrievable time loss� (Simmel, 1989). Recently, social science studies of mobility have taken a different turn, arguing that mobility patterns should be understood with respect to an actor with motives, skills and instrumental resources pertaining to mobility, moving in an environment that “affords� mobility in many ways. In this “paradigm of mobility� (Sheller and Urry, 2005), places cannot be considered independently from the people that inhabit them, however fleetingly, and urban movement may be a creative experience by itself.

I think this is what I’ve been trying to describe as motility — purposeful, agency in movement.

I also really liked the way the engineers/designers vision of what the game could be (based largely on their own passions and experiences) was “engineered” by players into designing the game so as to mediate social encounters. The game originally had the vision of a kind of MMORPG, but for mobile contexts, using location-sensing technology. An augmented reality sort of experience where your movements in the real world corresponded to movements in the game’s world. Largely as a response by the telcos, the game was redesigned in a way that the designers found “simplistic” — a kind of collect-the-blue-gems game. When the game first deployed in Japan, they found that this kind of game experience was resonant, and they set about designing for what it seemed the players were doing. Get it? The players engineered the design. It’s a kind of circulation of engineering. Players becoming designers, not in the sense that they had a cubicle, drawing pad, desk and squishy fruit, but the cycle of creativity was allowed to widen in a productive way. Cool stuff.

GAM3R 7H30RY — And Near-Future Books

In collaboration with The Institute for the Future of the Book, McKenzie Wark, professor of cultural and media studies at the New School is book-blogging his new book GAM3R 7H30RY, an examination of single-player video games that comes out of the analytic tradition of the Frankfurt School (not surprising..) Here’s an interest aspect of the experiment:

As with Hacker Manifesto, Ken has written Gamer Theory in numbered paragraphs, a modular structure that makes the text highly adaptable to different formats and distribution schemes — be it RSS syndication, ebook, or print copy. The obvious thing to do, then, would be to release the book serially, chunk by chunk, and to gather commentary and feedback from readers as it progressed. The trouble is that if you do only this — that is, syndicate the book and gather feedback — you forfeit the possibility of a more free-flowing discussion, which could end up being just as valuable (or more) as the direct critique of the book. After all, the point of this experiment is to expose the book to the collective knowledge, experience and multiple viewpoints of the network. If new ideas are to be brought to light, there ought to be a way for readers to contribute not just in direct response to material the author has put forth, but on their own terms..

Why do I blog this? We were just talking this evening about how ideas are shared, admiring Bruce’s Shaping Things for its evocative content, certainly, but also for the process of going to press in a lickity-split 6 months, and with a beautiful design, to boot. New kinds of publishing models that are more amenable to my rapid-prototyping version of authoring ideas — you have an idea that gets you hopped up and you have words to share about it, so why can’t you have a book, maybe a near-future form of book? and the blog isn’t tangible the same way (you can’t hold it and admire it; but it can be a Spime, but the pleasure of the design process still holds some value for me, or the “container” of the paged book is desirable?)

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Lift Conference

Julian Bleecker and Nicolas Nova
Date: February 1st, 2-6pm
Location: UniMail, Geneva, Room M-4193

Blogjects – a neologism Julian Bleecker came up with for objects that blog – exemplify the soon-to-come ‘Internet of Things’, i.e. a network of tangible, mobile, chatty things enabled by the miniaturization, the ubiquity of consumer electronics and a pervasive Internet. In its most basic form, a blogject is not dissimilar to people that blog – it is an artifact that can disseminate a record of its experiences to the web. It would report the history of its interactions with other objects and with people. Because it exists as a physical object, occupying physical space, proximity and movement play an integral role in the interaction syntax. A very simple example is the AIBO “roboblogject”: a robodog that harvests its daily experiences from its surroundings and shares these experiences in the form of a blog; presenting pictures and account of the day (like running distance, or people and objects encountered).

Therefore, this topic ties into the idea of proximity-based interaction and usage scenarios for mobile contexts. One of the underlying assumption is that the future of content creation and dissemination won’t just come from people. It will also come from the social world of objects – things that have histories and experiences. A different kind of witness upon the world, and a witness to events that are of interest to the other blogging species – people.

The motivation here is not just to create objects that blog, as we now understand blogging. But to use the framework of the complete blogging dissemination network and social formation as one in which objects participate – first-class – in the entire multipath culture circulation network. That means syndication, layering meaning on content, trackback, etc.

Aim of the workshop:

discussing usage scenarios of blogjects, the design issues they raises as well as their significance in various usage and design contexts.


  1. Julian Bleecker (USC, LA)
  2. Nicolas Nova (EPFL, Lausanne)
  3. Regine Debatty (WMMNA, Berlin)
  4. Fabien Girardin (UPF, Barcelona)
  5. Mauro Cherubini (EPFL, Lausanne)
  6. Robert Scoble (Microsoft, Seattle)
  7. Daniel K. Schneider (TECFA, Geneva)
  8. Jean-Baptiste Labrune (INRIA, Paris)
  9. Daniel Kaplan (FING, Paris)
  10. Cyril Rebetez (TECFA, Geneva)
  11. Aram Armstrong (IDI, Ivrea)


  • Before: think about 3-4 questions/hot spot to think about (see after)
  • Introduction (Nicolas Nova)
  • Presentation of each of the participant (name/location/domain)
  • Short talk about Blogjects (Julian Bleecker)
  • Everybody describe the 3-4 points (pre-event questions) -> it allowed us to specify different ‘areas’ or ‘blogject concepts’ to create groups.
  • Small Group brainstorm about potential scenarios related to the concepts
  • Presentations by each group
  • Wrap-up

Topics for consideration

  • A blogject is…?
  • What are examples of mobile, tangible, chatty networked objects today?
  • “Technology-Fiction” is a genre of writing based upon Fictional Technology for design-innovation practices in which the style and language of technical, design, research and technical report writing is used to help envision an imaginary (future or past) technology that does not yet exist. It is distinct from fictional technology in that it emphasizes the social-cultural aspects of the world in which the technology exists, and distinct from science fiction in that . In effect, technology-fiction is a way to creatively explore novel, potentially unrealizable forms of technology for the purposes of design-innovation.
  • In what usage contexts do you think a blogject or something related to this concept could be part of a compelling design?
  • What would then be the design challenges of creating such a thing?
  • For particular objects and specific user communities, consider blogject scenarios.
  • Think about an object that can track history of interactions with other objects or with people. How might these interaction histories be used?
  • Alongside of recording its history of encounters and experiences (where it has been and what it has seen, for example) what would a blogject have to say to other blogjects?

UC Humanities Research Institute Sympoium — Technofutures

UCHRI Summer Seminar in Experimental Critical Theory
August 14-25, 2006; UC Irvine Campus

The UC Humanities Research Institute (UCHRI) invites applications from scholars – faculty of all ranks and students – wishing to participate in the third annual Seminar in Experimental Critical Theory (SECT).

Applications are due, along with a $20.00 application fee, by February 15, 2006.

Program Overview
SECT is an intensive two-week summer program for graduate students and faculty from the UC system and elsewhere, as well as other scholars, professionals and public intellectuals. The Seminar brings together distinguished instructors and a group of 50-60 students to study a pressing issue or theme in contemporary critical theory, in both its “pure” and “applied” modes. SECT is neither exclusively an introductory survey course nor an advanced research seminar. Rather, it is an academy or “laboratory” where students and faculty at all levels of previous experience can study with scholars involved in important and creative theoretical thought. Truly innovative work is of necessity both fundamental and advanced, hence needs to be presented in ways that are simultaneously accessible and challenging for the widest range of scholars. Participants are encouraged to think experimentally and critically, reflecting on prevailing structures of thought while dynamically engaging intellectual inheritances and pushing for theoretical innovations.

Participants in the 2006 Seminar will explore new ways of thinking about and with technology. The two-week Seminar will include paired conversations between technological innovators and experimental humanists, around the many issues that engage the human and the technological. The two-week Seminar will also include demonstrations of new technological devices, classroom applications and scholarly practices. Participants will have opportunities to engage with new digital applications in the context of small-group workshops, large-group social networking exercises and art/technology installations. The objective for SECT III is to broaden the participation of humanists in the transformation of spheres of technological experience.

Conversations with: Julian Bleecker; John Seely Brown; Craig Calhoun; Lisa Cartwright; Cathy N. Davidson; Scott Fisher; Tracy Fullerton; Guillermo Gómez-Peña; Katherine Hayles; Lynn Hershman; Norman Klein; Geert Lovink; Tara McPherson; Michael Naimark; Saskia Sassen; Larry Smarr

Workshop Topics: Wikis; Blogging; Google Jockeying; Creative Commons; New Genres of Digital Scholarship; History of Electronic Literature; Database Narrative; Multimedia Documentary; Distributed Collaboration in the Humanities; Creation of Digital Archives

Performances & Presentations: Beatriz da Costa; René Garcia, Jr.; Guillermo Gómez-Peña; Lynn Hershman; Perry Hoberman; George Lewis; Michael Naimark; Simon Penny

Application fee: $20.00 (non-refundable) is due at the time of the online application submission. Applications will not be reviewed until the application fee is received.

Registration fee:
$1,750 for the SECT series. The fee includes tuition for the two-week Seminar and daily refreshments. It does not include the cost of housing or meals.

The UCHRI will make available up to 10 scholarships for full-time registered students covering the full SECT fee. Scholarship awards will be announced by April 15, 2006. Applicants are encouraged to seek funding from their home institutions.

One-page statement covering education, relevant publications (if any), background in an area of study relating to the current SECT topic, and reasons for requesting course of study; and abbreviated curriculum vitae (two pages maximum).

More information and registration instructions are available.

Why do I blog this?The topic of figuring out new ways to think with technology is something that is near and dear to my intellectual and creative heart. I’m planning on exhibiting WiFi.ArtCache and a new piece of MobileSocialSoftware at the Symposium, too. So, that’ll be exciting. I also like this idea of panels that are two person conversations on a topic — promising way of working through a conceptual or intellectual question.

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CHI2006 Student Design Competition

<img src="http://www.chi2006.org/img/chi2006logo.gif"

As last year, I'm helping jury the entrants for the CHI 2006 Student Design Competition. I have to say, this is one of the more engaging jurying gigs I’ve had in my brief career of doing such things. It’s like teaching, only you skip right to the final project. Seeing the oftentimes bright and thoughtful designs that students come up with for addressing this or that particular challenge is eye-opening.

We invite students to address the following design challenge:

In recent years, nutrition and health are increasingly reported as a problem facing many nations. The World Health Organization states that “malnutrition covers a broad spectrum of ills, including under-nutrition, specific nutrient deficiencies, and over-nutrition; and it kills, maims, retards, cripples, blinds, and impairs human development on a truly massive scale world-wide”. Specifically dealing with over-nutrition, the World Health Organization reports the global percentage of obesity in adults is 6%. The US Department of Health and Human Services survey reports 30.5% of adults over 20 years of age in the US are considered to be clinically obese, and approximately 300,000 adult deaths in the US each year are attributable to unhealthy dietary habits and physical inactivity or sedentary behavior (US Weight Control Information Network). Over-nutrition and poor exercise habits are reported to be linked to increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, gall bladder disease, osteo-arthritis, sleep apnea and some forms of cancer. US employers currently lose more than $12 billion per year due to the consequences of obesity, which include increased healthcare utilization, increased absenteeism, as well as elevated health and disability insurance premiums. A UK government report estimated that the national cost of obesity and its consequences in 2002 was over £2.5 billion. A government public health white paper published in the UK in 2004 set out a number of recommendations, including health advice to be made available over the phone, internet and digital TV.

We invite student teams to design a service for personal monitoring of diet, exercise and health for individuals. Solutions need not, but could, address certain groups with specific health needs. Solutions could address educating consumers about processed and pre-packaged foods, or could address teaching children about diet and exercise. Alternatively students could address the needs of a sub-group suffering from some form of malnutrition.

Why do I blog this? One reason is that I’ve been too busy (blech..) submitting to conferences, sketching prototype projects, reviewing papers and doing up research proposals to do much blogging. The other reason is that this particular design challenge — broadly around addressing health, nutrition and fitness issues — is something in which I’m quite interested. I’ve been trying to tie the mobile experience design into this area by thinking about mobility, motility and kinesthetics — no-brainer ways to get bodies moving rather than slouching in front of the TV..or in front of the computer. I think that’s one of the reasons why I got a stand-up desk! It’s more effortless to become mobile — you don’t think twice about “getting up” and moving.

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Bar Camp LA

Pack the pack for Bar Camp. Is this the alt-dot for the Alpha Class Foo Camp — Foo a playful and somewhat self-aggrandizing meme translating to Friends of [Tim] O’Reilly.

Bar Camp s an ad-hoc un-conference born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment. It is an intense event with discussions, demos and interaction from attendees.

The organizers describe the LA Bar Camp, to be held on March 4 and 5 one as a good warm up to O’Reilly ETech. Okay. Good idea. I’ll be presenting at ETEch, so this’ll be a good opportunity to, you know..warm up.

Viewmaster of the Future

Configuration A - Binocular Form Factor

I started experimenting this summer with using orientation sensing as part of the interaction syntax for some kind of near-future cinematic interface. The idea is that your mobile device like a window into a panoramic visual story world. This is a prototype of Naimark’s Viewmaster of the future idea, in many ways. I think it’ll require some alternative rigging, perhaps an angled mirror so that the display (a TabletPC, just as a prototype — obviously too heavy, even the small 8.4″ display unit) is horizontal and the mirror reflects the image into your eyes. And, of course, stereo/3D video..and how do you create that? With the right eyepoint nodes so that stereo is maintained in a panorama?

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Here’s one project that slipped into the back of my memory until very recently for two unrelated reasons. The first is that I received an email from the Walter Philips Gallery this morning, which commissioned the MobileScout for its Database Imaginary show up at the Banff Center for the Arts, talking about the travels of that exhibition and preparation of a catalog. The second reason is that I was just at UC Irvine to give a talk yesterday and met Robert Nideffer who has a sweet set up over there. Some swell projects, one of which was a phone-based game experience, so we got to talking about the interesting and fun challenges creating game experiences that use telephony as a game mechanic.

A Mobile Phone and Web Public Art Project by Julian Bleecker, Scott Paterson and Marina Zurkow

Are you in a concrete jungle or swamped by tourists? Who’s around you, what do you see? A deer, a dump or a daydream? Saintly acts or sinful facts?

Mobile SCOUT is a public art project that collects audio narratives of your local surroundings, personal rituals and public sightings. Using your mobile phone, you leave a voice message of your observations with the Mobile SCOUT Ranger, our automated quirky naturalist.

Turn your observations into a brief message about the flora (landscapes), fauna (characters) or behaviors (events) that populate your surroundings.

Call the Mobile SCOUT Ranger – 1 (877) 564-3060 – he will guide you through the experience.

When you call you’ll:
pick your mission (flora, fauna or behavior)
pick two habitat attributes
leave a recording

Further instructions for operating Mobile SCOUT are available at our online brochure at http://www.mobilescout.org/brochure.htm.

Mobile SCOUT defines place as being made of social habitats, not geography. Your recordings are organized into an audio/visual field guide according to the kind of space you occupy, be it play, work, nature, culture, public, private, branded or free speech.

See the field guide and listen to recordings left by others by visiting the web site www.mobilescout.org.

Mobile SCOUT was commissioned by "The Database Imaginary", an exhibition at the Walter Phillips Gallery at The Banff Center, and curated by Sarah Cook, Steve Dietz and Anthony Kiendl. Mobile SCOUT was produced with support from BeVocal for voice application hosting http://www.bevocal.com.

Why do I blog this? The discussion of ways to use the mobile handset as an interface device, more than just as a screen on which one plays Pac-Man or whatever, reminded me that there are a bunch of interesting interface possibilities. Robert had a project some students were working on a game experience that combined location with telephony/voice.

R/C Katamari Damacy Prince

[wikilike_img src=http://static.flickr.com/39/85371593_970d77ac75_o_d.jpg|caption=Still from a Quicktime of the Wireless Katamari Guy|url=http://a.parsons.edu/~hmcho/2005_fall/wireless/images/001.mov|width=321]

I’m not sure exactly what this project is called, or even who did it, but I couldn’t resist blogging it. It seems to be from a Making Wireless Toys class at Parsons Design & Technology department and looks to be a remote control Katamari Damacy rolling prince that actually rolls real things in the real world. Fun, creative, cool.


Can anyone fill me in?

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