Drama, Boredom, Simply Infovisualized

Found on this blog by David Sivers.

A sketch in 2D of real life as David Sivers reflects on remarks and a drawing done at a talk by Kurt Vonnegut where he is explaining his perspective on why people like drama. The conclusion, summarily: life is boring and without change. Drama brings that rollercoaster ride into our experience. And, if I remember my high school biology correctly, the human sensory apparatus responds to change more so than steady state. Which may be the biometric quantification of boredom. You know..”quantified-self” in its most fundamental, meaningful sense. Whoever’s graph does not normalize out to “boredom”, wins.

So the question here that is intriguing circles around this question of communicating ideas, socializing ideas by pumping them into the circulatory system of human meaning-making, human ear-listening, creating knowledge and insight from ideas and then inciting the will in such a way as to bring about material change in the world. A “boredom” graph won’t do this. There is no change, no inflection into other experiences and other possible near future worlds. What sort of change and inflections might one (or me, I suppose) strive for? The kind of change that creates more habitable ways of living. This is the change that matters, and why design is, from my mind, so important in shaping the world into a richer, more meaningful, less boring place. Objects, let’s say for the moment, that can create these dramatic stories around themselves. Certainly not by themselves, but like the MacGuffin, something that takes you on a pursuit, or makes something meaningful and ultimately rewards you in a way that makes life more worthwhile to live.

This is called bios [bible] by robotlab (Matthias Gommel, Martina Haitz and Jan Zappe). A machine in the ritual action of inscribing perhaps the world’s most widespread dramatic stories — the Bible. This machine will inscribe, as a scribe, in this style of drawing letters, the full text. It will take seven months. The plain motivation by the artists comes down to this: “The installation emphasizes scripture as the elementary function for religion and science — two cultural systems that are fundamental for societies today.”

A bit bland, and arguable, of course, but this only comes from the “wall text” found in the exhibition documentation, which always limits the discussion out of production constraints. That’s fine.

Whatever it says in this brief remark, being the sort to invest more attention in systems of meaning-making and knowledge circulation, to me it is less the script — the ritualize handwriting — than about stories that activate the imagination and thereby the will to make material change in the world.
Why do I blog this? Story telling is not only intriguing to us here at The Near Future Laboratory, it is a crucial socialization ritual. A friend remarked recently that we tell stories to remind us of who we are, or, variously, to refashion our own image of who we are — even if they are the same little silly “small talk” chatter about some experience. Okay, this may not be the insight of the year or anything like that, but it helps with the comprehension of various things — like, why an idea or object or something needs to exist in time, over time if it is to become comprehensible. Even if we see some weird designed fiction object that has no previous relationship — it’s foreign in a way — a story must be told about it that brings it into the quotidian, “boring” everyday. This is why I am intrigued by this sort of design fiction style of representation where the thing that would normally be exciting — a new gizmo, or something that indicates an evolution of today’s interaction rituals into a near future — that thing is made ordinary, or even burned-out and chipped and broken in places. So the fantastic exciting dramatic thing of today, has moved into a near future and become either ordinary, or underwhelming in a way. It reflects the graph of promises of great new things, and great new ways of interacting, or making toast — whatever — and then just fulfills the inevitable conclusion of — “ho, hum” present tense worlds, with your klunky, problem-prone, Ono-Sendei Industries Super Deluxe Near-Time Traveling dongle (the one you got from the Sky Mall catalog) asking you to update its firmware..again..and then shutting down, leaving you stranded and making you late for your meeting three days ago.

Continue reading Drama, Boredom, Simply Infovisualized

Ikky Futures — Back To The Futures on VHS Tape

Thursday August 06, 18.53.55

“Icky Futures” — a brilliantly distorting collection of corporate visions of the future, packaged in an original BTTF VHS (FTW!) tape. The redoubling ironies here are precious.

This arrived in the mail over a week ago and I just now managed to actually watch the thing, mostly because access to a VHS deck is not super easy. There are a few around the studio. Irony Number One: The first one I tried — which I tried because it appears to be connected via some piping of cables into a wall, probably up in a ceiling, then down the wall on the opposite side of the room, finally tumbling out in a completely incomprehensible bundle of unmarked, inconsistent wires which vaguely attach themselves to a fantastically huge piss-off-and-die flatscreen of the sort I am certain Sir Edmund Hillary would demand were he alive today.


The only thing that came through, despite a good 45 minutes of fiddling and wrangling from the guy who used to run the film loops and projectors and such back in the day — was sound.

A few days later, an attempt in the other room with a VHS deck, but the television — a proper, gentleman’s cathode “ray” tube — wouldn’t turn on. Just wouldn’t.

Finally, got one going in the other, other room and the tape rolled. Not wanting to push my luck as far as actually seeing something, I watched on my computer screen through my trusty ADVC110 video converter.

Called “Icky Futures” — the video cassette tape that Chris composed contains almost 1h:30m of corporate future visions, many of which I would be hard pressed to watch while keeping a straight face. Of course, some of that has to do with production style and value, or seeing yesteryears technology darlings (Bellcore, for example, Apple with a striped rainbow logo) pin their dreams on one thing or the other.

Well, despite these things having a compendium of past future visions of what some little aspect of the world might look like is fantastic stuff. These sorts of things should be required viewing for anyone who gets into the racket of trying to communicate their vision of possible near futures. Observing tried techniques for expression of sometimes tricky ideas is a quite useful approach to the communication craft. Talking heads combined with described scenarios? Or acted scenarios? Do you show the technology in its prototype form? Or do some visual special effects to make it seem as though it is working? What kind of people? What fields of trade? Business people? Cops? Etc.

It is also interesting to identify visions of the future that “failed” (or did not come to fruition, not yet at least.) So much attention is placed on things that happen, we rarely look at the things that were supposed to (according to some people), but did not. This is endemic to the futures community, I think. You can say lots of things, and you only have to be right once for those “misses” to fall away.



What I would say Chris and Natalie are doing or attempting to achieve in part is precisely what was enacted through this mishegoss of trying to get a VHS tape to play and be seen and potentially enjoyed. As well, the fact that the material is in a physical object and in some sense “unique” for each instance. I can’t actually “send it around” in the sense of uploading the digital bits without violating some aspect of the physicality of the thing. Yes, i know this is stretching it — I could “rip” the VHS tape into digital form, but then it is something else, at least I assume different from Chris’ intention with it. And I like having it up on my shelf this way. It has a certain integrity to itself. A different sort of media and content that will ultimately degrade into something barely viewable or not viewable at all because the extremes I would have to go to to find the equipment to play it will be way too much for me to endure.

There are some powerful ironies and a heavy wiff of whatever us optimistic cynics dose ourselves with before going on the hunt for the next ridiculous “meme” that everyone gets hopped up on. The combination of the means of delivery of this object (Chris mailed it to me, using the normal, human postal service), and the VHS tape (which forced me to stop and think about how/where I could actually view this), the scratchiness of the video picture (which is a configuration of zillions of magnetic particles intricately aligned on a microscopically thin plastic tape for chrissake) — all of these things force one to think about what futures were planned, which came to be and which did not, what futures we actually deserve, and the things we end up leaving behind.

Why do I blog this? A nice, evocative object to think with. Thanks Chris! Check out Chris’ project page for more.
Continue reading Ikky Futures — Back To The Futures on VHS Tape

Design Fiction Chronicles: Found Futures Image Testaments

I don’t regularly read Wired, but I will occasionally flip to the “Found” back page which, according to words on the networks, is moving to the inevitable user-supplied content/contest model. In the meantime, our avuncular net BFF bruces found a collation of them, which are actually quite nice to look at all in one scrolling column. More of them are hyperlinked via this metafilter page.

Why do I blog this? These “Found” pages demonstrate an intriguing sort of visual story telling, breaking through the road blocks to future imaginaries. They provide a rather techie continuity — most Found futures are driven by the technical designed futures, showing how today’s science columns and news and Wired-style prognostications of various inevitabilities (in the eyes of Palo Alto / Bay Area cultures). They appear variously scary or humorous or sarcastic, and always extrapolations that one hears abuzz amongst the alpha geeks today. Many of the image testaments fall into, inevitably, the “wouldn’t it be cool if..” sort of future worlds.
What I find intriguing here from the design fiction side of things are the way an image can tell the story of the speculation. We find a compelling way of activating the imagination through the power of a single image, whose story is there to be read. There is certainly a kind of literacy necessary to see these images and construct the story. Not everyone would get it without the context of Wired, I imagine. But the objects themselves and the context surrounding it create this sense that this thing/device/scenario lives amongst us and is possible.
Continue reading Design Fiction Chronicles: Found Futures Image Testaments

Dog Eared "Distraction"

Turn Over LA "River" Thursday March 12, 21:39:03

Running the blog-the-dog-eared-pages algorithm on Bruce Sterling‘s fantastic “Distraction“, I’ve selected these gems. They’re all intriguing speculations about a near future world to be, complete with some insights and implications that trace the now to the then if you think about how such moments, conversations, objects and designed artifacts could come to be in the year 2050. Particularly at this agitated moment amongst the the various and multiple worlds’ and their financial-political-socio-technocultures.

Oscar took the opportunity to learn how to use a Moderator laptop. He had been given one, and he rightly recognized this gesture as a high tribal honor. The Moderator device had a flexible green shell of plasticized straw. It weighed about as much as a bag of popcorn. And its keyboard, instead of the time-honored QWERTYUIOP, boasted a sleek, sensible, and deeply sinister DHIATENSOR.

Oscar had been assured many times that the venerable QWERTYUIOP keyboard design would never, ever be replaced. Supposedly, this was due to a phenomenon called “technological lock-in.” QWERTYUIOP was a horribly bad design for a keyboard — in fact QWERTYUIOP was deliberately designed to hamper typists — but the effort required to learn it was so crushing that people would never sacrifice it. It was like English spelling, or American standard measurements, or the ludicrous design of toilets; it was very bad, but it was a social fact of nature. QWERTYUIOP’s universality made it impossible for alternatives to arise and spread.

This is a good one. I’ve been fascinated with the ways a particular configuration or design like this — the keyboard layout — becomes a kind of expressive social object. There are all of these deep histories it seems, depending on who you believe, about all standards which are always social-political-historical compromises that lock-in specific meanings. Sometimes you hear that QWERTY was a way to slow typists down so that the mechanical aspects of pre-digital keyboards would not jam the machines in early typesetting and so forth, as Sterling describes in this passage. I’ve also heard that QWERTY was a way to help early typewriter salespeople sell the typewriter because they could easily type out the word “typewriter” only using the top row of letter keys and impress early would-be purchasers. (QWERTYUIOP gives you each letter of “typewriter”, which is something many people to recognize.) In this passage, Sterling is reminding us of this first point — that things set in place, like someone etching their name in drying concrete and, even if flawed, these become “social facts of nature” leaving the inscriptions of all the considerations that will always flow forth from those early debates and conventions and compromises, which become especially resonant when the “lock-in” is for something that spreads widely becoming a universality. p.382

We love those Regulators like brothers and sisters. We got nothing in common with you. Except that…well, we’re Moderators because we use a Moderator network. And the Regulators use a Regulator interface, with Regulator software and Regulator protocols. I don’t think that a newbie creep like you understands just how political a problem that is.

Protocols, interfaces, software, networks yielding to differentiation at the level of social and political factions is a very curious extrapolation. At the same time, it is a kind of embodiment of the politics of protocols as well-expressed in Alexander Galloway’s fascinating two network books Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralization and
The Exploit: A Theory of Networks (also with Eugene Thacker).

Without the high-flying theory and Deleuzian barnstorming, Sterling captures the reasonable future world in which the world wide network has fractured in this way between Moderators and Regulators for some reason having to do with social and political differences between these two groups. A near future such as this seems reasonable, international standards bodies notwithstanding. Receding back into the recent past of incompatible networks would be an outcome of the collapsed world Sterling depicts in Distraction, where global networks may be seen as creating exploitable linkages between teetering giant centers. For instance, the interconnectedness of financial institutions that allowed them to become too tightly connected in strategic terms — able to trade amongst each other too easily so that the game of hot potato that led us to today’s crisis finally caught everyone with bad potatos in the end — could be something that is regulated and controlled. In other words, if an outcome is that institutions must insulate themselves in some fashion, or they become categorized as to who they can do business with, a result could be different kinds of network protocols optimized for that specific business. Regulated banks use the Regulator network; Moderate banks use the Moderator network. p.335

But this was not the strange part. The strange part was that brand-new nomad manufacturers were vigorously infiltrating this jungle of ancient junk. They were creating new, functional objects that were not commercial detritus — they were sinister mimics of commercial detritus, created through new, noncommercial methods. Where there had once been expensive, glossy petrochemicals, there was now chopped straw and paper. Where there had once been employees, there were jobless fanatics with cheap equipment, complex networks, and all the time in the world. Devices once expensive and now commercially worthless were being slowly and creepily replaced by near-identical devices that were similarly noncommercial, and yet brand-new.

When “DIY” attains to its logical zenith, fake becomes the new real. I actually can’t wait for this to happen. The pinnacle of knowledge circulation in the networked age. How-to, tutorials, maker culture, sharing of knowledge (or maybe just descriptions and step-by-step procedures) all coming together so that people make their own stuff, from new materials that do not have to be tuned for epic scale levels of manufacturing. You need something, make one or two rather than having 100,000 of them made offshore someplace and shipped at great expense and with enormous carbon footprint. Natural experimentation with alternative materials, features, etc. p.329

Motility Network

Kevin bought four sets of earclips from a blanket vendor. “Here, put these on.”

“Why?” Greta said.

“Trust me, I know my way around a place like this.”

Oscar pinched the clamp onto his left ear. The device emitted a little wordless burbling hum, the sound a contented three-year-old might make. As long as he moved with the crowd, the little murmur simply sat there at his ear, an oddly reassuring presence, like a child’s make-believe friend. However, if he interfered with the crowd flow — if he somehow failed to take a cue — the earcuff grew querulous. Stand in the way long enough, and it would bawl.

Somewhere a system was mapping out the flow of people, and controlling them with these gentle hints. After a few moments Oscar simply forgot about the little murmurs; he was still aware of them, but not consciously. The nonverbal nagging was so childishly insistent that accomodating it became second nature. Soon the four of them were moving to avoid the crowds, well before any approaching crowds could actually appear. Everyone was wearing the earcuffs, so computation was arranging human beings like a breeze blowing butterflies.

The fairground was densely packed with people, but the crowd was unnaturally fluid. All the snack-food stands had short, brisk lines. The toilets were never crowded. Children never got lost.

Just a fascinating extrapolation into the near future of a number of ideas, such as a kind of flash mob concept, where a crowd is optimized to itself, allowing for smooth flows and transfers — a meta surveillance and control system that does not have the nasty baggage that such things normally. Ground traffic control system that helps you get from “A” to “B” in an optimal way, whatever “A” or “B” might be. This is a concept expressed here that is quite intriguing to me, such as strategies for exploring especially urban space, like the analog Near Future Laboratory project, “Drift Deck” and other psychogeography and cartography explorations. p.326-327

There was a long uneasy silence. Then Griego burtst out in a fury. “Don’t get all high-and-mighty with me, Mr. Third-in-His-Class. You think it’s easy running corporate R&D? It was just fine, as long as the guy didn’t have anything. Jesus, nobody ever thought a goddamn sugar engine would work. The goddamn thing is a giant germ in a box! We build cars up here, we don’t build giant germs! Then they pull this crazy stunt and..well, it just makes our life impossible! We’re a classic, metal-bending industry! We have interlocking directorates all throughout the structure, raw materials, fuel, spare parts, the dealerships…We can’t get into the face of our fuel suppliers telling them that we’re replacing them with sugar water! We own our fuel suppliers! It’d be like sawing off our own foot!”

“I understand about interlocking directorates and mutual stock ownership, Ron. I was sitting right next to you in business school, remember? Cut to the chase — what about the battery?”

“Batteries have the highest profit margin of any automobile component. We were making money there. You can’t make real money anywhere else in our business. The Koreans are building auto bodies out of straw and paper! We can’t support an industry when cars are cheaper than grocery carts! What are we gonna tell our unions? This is a great American tradition at stake here! The car defines America: the assembly line, suburbs, drive-ins, hot rods, teenage sex, everything that makes America great! We can’t turn ourselves inside out because some big-brained creep has bult an engine out of bug guts! There wouldn’t be anything left of us! The guy is a menace to society! He had to be stopped.”

“Thank you for that, Ron. Now we’re getting somewhere. So tell me this — why didn’t you just pull his damn funding?”

“If only it were that simple! We’re required by federal fiat to invest in basic R&D. It was part of our federal bailout deal. We’re supposed to have trade protection, and we’re supposed to catch our breath, and jump a generation ahead of our foreign competitors. But if we jump a generation of the damn Koreans, our industry will vanish entirely. People will make cars the way they make pop-up toast. Proles will build cars out of bio-scrap, and compost them in the backyard. We’ll all be doomed.”

So you’re telling me that you’ve achieved a tremendous scientific R&D success, but as a collateral effect, it will eliminate your industry.”

“Yeah. That’s it. Exactly. And I’m sorry, but we just can’t face that. We have stockholders to worry about, we have a labor force. We don’t want to end up like the computer people did. Jesus, there’s no sense to that. It’s total madness, it’s demented. We’d be cutting our own throats.”

Well, this is very much like the collapse of the automotive industry in the US, clearly. I also like this dig at corporate R&D. This idea that things discovered that could turn into something that is to the larger good would be hidden away if it would overturn the existing order. R&D in this way is ultimately conservative. I’m not sure I believe in R&D, for these reasons and others, but that’s a longer post. p.295-297


“But the economy’s out-of-control. Money just doesn’t need human beings anymore. Most of us only get in the way.”

“Well, money isn’t everything, but just try living without it.”

Kevin shrugged. “People lived before money was invented. Money’s not a law of nature. Money’s a medium. You can live without money, if you replace it with the right kind of computation. The proles know that. They’ve tried a million weird stunts to get by, roadblocks, shakedowns, smuggling, scrap metal, road shows…Heaven knows they never had much to work with. But the proles are almost there now. You know how reputation servers work, right?”

“Of course I know about them, but I also know they dont really work.”

“I used to live off reputation servers. Let’s say you’re in the Regulators — they’re a mob that’s very big around here. You show up at a Regulator camp with a trust rep in the high nineties, people will make it their business to look after you. Because they know for a fact that you’re a good guy to have around. You’re polite, you dont rob stuff, they can trust you with their kids, their cars, whatever they got. You’re a certifiable good neighbor. You always pitch in. You always do people favors. You never sell out the gang. It’s a network gift economy.”

“It’s gangster socialism. It’s a nutty scheme, it’s unrealistic. And its fragile. You can always bribe people to boost your ratings, and then money breaks into your little pie-in-the-sky setup. Then you’re right back where you started.
“It can work all right. The problems is that the organized-crime feds are on to the proles, so they netwar their systems and deliberately break them down. They prefer the proles chaotic, because they’re a threat to the status quo. Living without money is just not the American way. But most of Africa lives outside the money economy now — they’re all eating leaf protein out of Dutch machines. Polynesia is like that now. In Europe they’ve got guaranteed annual incomes, they’ve got zero-work people in their Parliaments. Gift networks have always been big in Japan. Russians still think property is theft — those poor guys could never make a money economy work..”

I love this idea of reputation servers — a possible near future for today’s social networks, friend followers, etc. Somehow participation in today’s networks yields a new index of sorts — your trust ranking or something like this. A nice substitute for today’s “credit rating” systems, which are ridiculously opaque, operating on algorithms we who are rated can only guess about. Besides, in the near future, when the role of banks will have possibly whithered to a collapsed prune of their former selves, we may in fact circulate and leverage financial activities within networks of trust that are more peer-to-peer, like this Susu financial practices that is a cornerstone of various expat communities. p.256-257 (See also http://www.theworld.org/node/24945

Continue reading Dog Eared "Distraction"

Maslow's Hierarchy of Magazine Browsing

Sunday March 29, 15.28.43

15 Minute browsing limits for the tacky beauty, fashion and narrowcast hobby/sport magazines.

Sunday March 29, 15.28.20

5 minutes for muscles, guns, motorcycles and dirtbikes! Yeah!

Sunday March 29, 15.28.12

3 minutes for the DVD-pinchers prone to the back of the store’s rough-shod top-shelf collection.

Urban Scout Nicolas Nova (whose insights and conclusions on this same curious circumstance are here) and I spied this curious indentation in the cultural fabric of a local Santa Monica magazine stand, which, based on years of experience, is not known for its indulgent overlord. There is this peculiar hierarchy of browsing tolerances embodied in some raggedy, eye-level warning signage. These have a clear correlation to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs expressed in the limits one may have as to time spent perusing the thick, advertising-soaked magazines.

There is less time allowed for the physiological needs as expressed in the three minute limits for the filth, err..sex magazines; five minutes to quickly learn how to bulk-up with steroidal muscle so as to secure the safety of one’s person or find the proper riding technique for shooting from the hip while escaping riotous, foreclosed neighbors on a dirt bike; fifteen minutes for leisured indulgences in bolstering one’s self-regard by learning how to deliver an arrow-straight chip shot or dignify oneself with this season’s hippest trousers.

Why do I blog this? Intriguing rules and enforcement structures that embody social rituals. Even these simple rules about what you can read for specific amounts of time are curious to observe and ponder. The embodiment of the social rituals are erected through constraints on browsing time, the threat of enforcement from the Main Street Newsstand overlord, cautions against ripping him off, etc. Together, the browsing limits ultimately create observable meanings and opportunities for insights as to the specific nature of these corners of our interests, activities, hobbies, dispositions and so on.

Some questions that arise: What are the ways that culture is established and maintained through limits and threats, whether implicit or explicit? How do our needs and aspirations reflect themselves in everyday, quotidian rules, even the ones that are not necessarily stated as explicitly as these ones? How do rules, such as these, and admonishments, such as this one not to steal, which should be obvious, tell larger stories about the conditions of everyday life, as well as the mundane experiences of these simple facilities, like newsstands? How might these sorts of rules and limits be actualized in this context? Would the threat of transgressing the limits be enough, or must an enforcer dispense admonishments directly? How does this scenario play out in the near future of eInk magazines and Kindle 3.0? Would pages fade away after the browsing limit expires? In this case, would the rituals of browsing change directly if the limit is instrumented as a kind of security/enticement mechanism?

Continue reading Maslow's Hierarchy of Magazine Browsing

Mobile Phone Usage Idiom — No. 1

Francois is just freshly back from a trip to India to kick it with that sub-continents introduction of the Aspen Institute — I guess they’re franchising or something.

He recounted (and performed, as evidenced in the photo above!) a parenthetical story that just won’t stop knocking around in my head. In areas where owning a cell phone is not routine — for economic reasons, predominantly — it is not uncommon for a stranger to ask another stranger to borrow their handset to make a call. This happened to Francois on a trip somewhere and he, being a nice guy, agreed and handed over his phone. Only he thought this stranger was going to just go ahead and make a call. Instead the stranger dismantled Francois’ phone — removed the back, spilled the battery out and popped out the SIM card and then popped his own SIM card in there, reassembled the phone and made a bunch of calls in rapid succession, hanging up on each one after the first ring or two.


Two things are going on here.

First, this whole practice of doing a kind of semaphore call to get someone to call you back. That’s interesting — I’m not sure precisely what’s going on here. Maybe the code is to get the (mobile) person to call you back on a predetermined fixed line. Otherwise, it seems a burden to the person who loaned the phone out — what? they’re going to wait while you receive a bunch of calls and chit chat?

Second, while we know well that SIM cards are like personal data bases — names, symbols, numbers, etc — this practice in which the dynamic of SIM card behaving like selfish gene (find me a phone..find me a phone..) is really neat. Not only the idea of carrying around a SIM card so you can make calls without having to own a phone, but it is also neat from the perspective of an interesting design challenge. How do you design a phone that accommodates this kind of behavior? And, would the mobile phone ecosystem support such a usage idiom? I mean, Nokia and Motorola want to sell phones and carriers want to sell minutes. If Nokia and Motorola design a phone that makes it possible for more people to easily swap in a SIM card without the risk of damaging the device (by continually stressing plastic bits and getting dirt and dust inside), they may in fact sell less of them. Maybe.

Let’s say they knuckle under and design a phone for a market that has this specific need. What would it look like? Would it have a SIM in it that has a reserve of space to handle it being temporarily written with additional information so that the person borrowing the phone uses some sort of near-field device to temporarily write their SIM information? Is it a mechanical fix — a sliding drawer or an adapter that is more exoskeletal?

Why do I blog this? I just thought this little story was too cool not to recount. I’m sure more travelled folks than I have plenty of such stories. But thinking about how to design for these kinds of usage contexts is fun, anyway!

Cell Death 2010

Local chum and Protohaus boss Eduardo Sciammarella has a piece in Always On called Cell Death 2010: Good-bye, mobile phones; hello, mobile web! captures the general aspirational tenor as well as the “sigh..groan..” ruefulness of many of we who see a great future for mobile and pervasive media but are genuinely puzzled at the oafish way the current mobile media ecology operates. A great quote captures this:

Think about it: Doesn’t your iPod nano look a bit like a phone already? That’s because it’s transitional technology: The memory chips inside don’t need to get bigger; they just need to be Wi-Fi connected to UB. When they are, a mobile music player will become a phone, bypassing the cellphone/MP3 player completely. Don’t ask why your ROKR can’t download songs into iTunes over the ponderous cellular connection; ask why you can’t make a (free) call yet with a nano

Why do I blog this? It points to the future of mobile and pervasive media, content — experiences, really, in a prescient way. Couple this forward thinking with The Internet of Things and you have a map of what the really adventurous Web 2.0 looks like.

I am particularly drawn to the way mobility, motility and proximity-based scenarios might look like, diagrammatically and the new kinds of representational schemas that will arise to support context-smart experience design.

I am also interested in the usage scenarios themselves, of course. The netmagnet project I developed while doing an R&D residency at Eyebeam is a project currently being revived to investigate one operational model for The Internet of Things.

[wikilike_img src=http://static.flickr.com/30/56445433_963bd35026_d.jpg|width=450|align=thumb tcenter|caption=Proximity and Motility Usage Scenarios|url=http://research.techkwondo.com/wiki/WiFi_ArtCache]

[wikilike_img src=http://static.flickr.com/34/69126717_df4bb009c3_d.jpg|width=450|align=thumb tcenter|caption=Motility Network|url=http://www.flickr.com/photos/julianbleecker/69126717/in/photostream/]

[wikilike_img src=http://static.flickr.com/35/69126609_c9830f1cc8_d.jpg|width=313|align=thumb tcenter|caption=Motility Network|url=http://www.flickr.com/photos/julianbleecker/69126609/in/photostream//]

[wikilike_img src=http://static.flickr.com/9/69126658_6702f0e368.jpg|width=450|align=thumb tcenter|caption=Motility Network|url=http://www.flickr.com/photos/julianbleecker/69126658/in/photostream]

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Institute for Creative Technologies

I arrived a couple of hours late for a day-long series of presentations on what the ICT is doing these days.

Flatworld is an environment for training and simulation that uses stage “flats” as projection and display surfaces.

Their stated motivation is to create an environment motivated by the science-fictional Holodeck from Star Trek: TNG. In addition they use 4D sensory effects — blowing wind, vibrating floors, to add an additional degree of sensory effect.

These digital flats are very much like those used in theatrical contexts — they’re plywood structures with rear-projection screens and the like — and they can project human-scale characters and environments. So, the idea is that you might be a soldier who’s training for room incursions or sniping and you’d actually be moving around a “set” with projections and other sensor effects to enhance the sense of immersion.

All of the videos for the project show the distinctive military character of the research, which isn’t surprising. It’s a mixed reality world that includes props and such all in the built environments.

Sgt Blackwell is having trouble hearing. Some loose cables?

I met Sgt. Blackwell, a character that’s being used in these Flatworld environments. Here’s a video of him introducing himself (“..whu-uh”) and one of him explaining the relationship between himself, the military and the entertainment enterprise.


Future Directions
* New Mixed Reality Displays — paint the real world with digital light (like Naimark’s project?) so that any surface can be rendered upon.

* Localized audio (Holosonic) projection “Audio Spotlight”

External Collaboration

*Newseum, Washington, came to them to develop two highly interactive exhibits to put people onsite as if they were photojournalists.

From Training to Toy to Treatment: Design and Develoopment of a PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) VR Exposure Therapy Application for Iraq War Military PersonnelHow to use VR to decompress Iraq War veterans? Clinical aplication to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.

Photo of Sigmund Freud with an early VR headmount.

There were a bunch of projects working on tragic scenarios supposedly for rehabilitation and such. These included a bus bombing, the World Trade Center, Vietnam. I was surprised there were so many.

ELECT Project: Educational game for Bi-lateral Background

  • support the ‘strategic corporal’
  • accelerate the development of agile leaders
  • enhance cultural awareness
  • rapidly transfer lessons learned from Contemporary Operating Environment (code name for what’s going on in Iraq and Afghanistan and other places.)

Leadership in the US Army is a key component of success but over the last 15 years (cold war to situations all over the world) high level decision makers are migrating downwards toward the Corporal from the General/Statesman.

Learning Objectives

  • conduct a bi-lateral engagement
  • prepare for and conduct a bi-lateral meeting
  • analyze the results of the meeting
  • use negotiation techniques

[You’re in meetings with locals, how to prepare, conduct, analyze, employ good negotiation strategies in a cultural context, where you are somewhat savvy about the way the local cultural context works so you can conduct yourself appropriately.]


  • Game-like social simulation [SimCity, Sims]
  • social simulator – macro & micro
  • Interactions with virtual humans
  • automated director – right experiences
  • Intelligent tutor – learning from feedback
  • After Action Review – learning through reflection

* Play-centric design
** Focus is on the player experience
** Everyone on the team participates in the design process, but the designer must be the ‘advocate for the player.’
** In the best case scenario, production is the thoughtful implementation of design

A new approach to Game AIImmersive approach to AI (as opposed to Functional or Cognitive) entities that appear smart or intelligent that support a sense of immersion in the game world

Postcard From SGS 2005: Inside The Institute for Creative Technologies

Why do I blog this? It seems that the military industrial light and magic complex theme is riding high in my life as of late. This is another of those meme swells. I have to say that the work isn’t all that fascinating creatively, but that’s to be expected I suppose. It is more of an attempt to integrate the entertainment world’s genetic code into military simulation projects. Actually, that sounds way too one-way. It’s a shared knowledge tangle. A “collective” of knowledge sharing, formally (e.g. money, talent, consultantancy back-and-forth) and informally (e.g. off-handed associations with a game someone’s kid plays). It’s one of [w:Bruno Latour]’s “Things”, for certain, and a collective as a complex knot of messy entanglements and hybrid associations. (cf From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik — How To Make Things Public

Elements from the entertainment world that were mentioned here:

  • Saving Private Ryan (audio immersion was overheard during one of the breaks as a profound element that was so strong that it caused that individual to have trouble sleeping after seeing the movie)
  • [w:Age of Empires]
  • [w:Electronic Arts]’ game AI competition
  • [w:Halo]
  • [w:SimCity]
  • “[w:Steven Spielberg]”
  • [w:Deep Blue] (IBM’s champion chess playing computer); The Truman Show
  • “the world of animation” (use of key framing applied to designed experiences so that a designer provides a few plot points and an AI negotiates a seamless path through those plot points)
  • “Wizard of Oz”, as a display metaphor — hiding behind the curtain to control a simulation

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Michael Liebhold Talk

Service Ecologies and The Geospatial Web

Mike Liebhold is here today to talk on the topic of the Geospatial web.

What does the IFTF do?

Brainstorm through possible, plausible, probable and preferred futures. Present a context for understanding the future. Up to clients to develop insights based on the foresights. Foresight to insight actions is the operating principle of the company.

Research areas are sociological impacts of technology.

Some IFTF clients: AMA, Johnson Johnson, Alstate, Intel, Pepsico, Lego, Kraft, Kodak, Honda, McDonalds.

Methodologies: Mapping, Ethnographic, Expert workshops interview; Scenario development analysis; Surveys quantitative analysis (sort of..); content facilitation; prototyping/artifacts (building objects from the future.)

Internet Platforms: Root Fragmentation?
* US / ICANN vs ITU / UN
* The Chinese future of IPv6
* Economies of scale drive specifications
* The Golden Shield

What happens if the US holds onto ICANN and others want to split off the root server infrastructure?

What is the lesson here? Chinese are buying lots and lots of Nextel, etc., so they can influence technology design by virtue of their force in the economics of design they can say what they’ll buy and when they’re buying lots of something, they can shape design and thereby create protocols or variations of protocols independent of task forces.

Platforms: P2P Networks
* Mesh Networks
* Automotive Nets
* Sensor Nets
* Self-configuring Nets

What is interesting here? http://www.caida.org creates great traceroute maps of the Internet.

Security: Biometric Authentication

Usage: Immersive Entertainment 

Trend in the future for web-like experiences out in the world. Leads to the Geospatial Web.

What is interesting here? Imaginary world draped over physical world. Long standing area of interest for Mike. Profound new kind of world wide web, hypermedia objects are not just identified by URI or URL but by spatial coordinates – lat/lon/elevation. What are these? Text objects; sounds; images. Enormous amount of cartographic data that should be viewed in situ. Invisible attributes become visible. Sentient landscapes. Context-aware computing.

Geoweb Geospatial Ecosystem
* Geolocation Techniques
** location-aware software (triangulation)
** location-aware devices (e.g. GPS)
** location-sensing networks (e.g. E911)

What is interesting here? General concern with privacy, partially because there aren’t open systems for these.
Placelab.org is an alternative, because it’s open. Telco carriers have the location info, but they won’t make it available because they want to charge you or worse. So the economics of that proposition are not compelling to end users who don’t want to feel like they’re getting nickel-and-dimed.

* devices for augmented perception
** smart phones PDAs
** automobile computers
** body extensions (pens, cameras, earphone rigs, pens)

What is interesting here? Not at all clear how the device ecology will evolve.

* location-aware services
** walled gardens (sadly..)
** carrier services
** enterprise servcies
** Google Earth
** MS Virtual Earth
** Sony XYZ;head-mounted video, dashboard graphics.

What is interesting here? You may want to hold up a device to see things as you move around, rather than on a downward facing screen.

Geoweb Software Industry Ecology

What is interesting here?Open mapping services allow you to import standard maps into Google Maps — detailed in new book called Google Map Hacks by O’Reilly.

an open software ecology

What is interesting here? There’s a software ecology and an industry ecology and a bit of confusion amongst them. Or maybe it’s that the two “ecologies” don’t overlap in that the industry ecology does not open up their platforms to the software ecology. Walled garden problem.

geospatial policies

* contextual privacy
* freely accessible geolocation APIs
* public geodata services

What is interesting here? Interesting practices for creating geodata; individuals, local groups, creating their own maps through grassroot means, and spunky, hacky techniques such as walking/riding with GPSs. Same sort of way that NAVTEQ does, only open. Also, Institute for Applied Autonomy’s iSee.

Geodata Search

* clearinghouses
* gateways
* repositories
* namespaces
* geoweb servers

Integrated GIS Web Hypermedia / Realtime Cubit Cartography

Usage: Computational Grids

* health mapping
** epidemiological + environmental maps
** health resources
** risky places
** people at risk
* security
* Geo Demographics
** microzone advertising
* at-risk ecologies
** eco-tourism
** green mapping
** indigenous mapping
* path-making (capturing folkloric knowledge of a place)
* pixel views: fragmenting places and spaces (micro views into a farm field)
* ground truth: empowering people in place (creating your own community information and stories in place)

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Candidate ISEA2006 Interactive City Projects

Marc got me thinking about possibly inserting a project into the ISEA2006 Interactive City event. This came up during responses to the talk I gave at the Art Center Nabi Workshop on Urban Play and Locative Media, which I blogged about herein.

Possible projects I thought about are mostly revivals of previous work that didn’t get played out as fully as I would’ve liked. For instance:

WiFiKu which I did for the psy.geo.conflux even in New York City in May of 2004. Perhaps do that and really make a printable beautiful gorgeous map.


The WiFiKu project was a bit of a “war walk” gathering the names of WiFi nodes and turning those into Americanized Haiku. The idea was that neighborhoods would be represented by the WiFiKu formed by the names of their local nodes. Whacky idea, but it was fun for the kinesthetic and “workshop” aspect — I took tours of people around and talked about WiFi usage, about Psychogeographic mapping and so on. It was less about really making a fool-proof map showing where nodes were and whether they were open or not. Instead, I intended to transform the invisible semantic layer hovering in the ether into a representation of the ‘hood.


Ephemera Cache, which is an application for the WiFiBedouin which I also did then, but which I think could be more effective if it were distributed on a large scale during a large event in which there will undoubtedly be lots of WiFi-laptop-toting alpha geeks.

Why do I blog this? I’m trying to think of a way to add to some of the projects I felt I started but maybe thought I had finished while back in New York City. And Marc reminding me about Ephemera Cache, which I often forget about, got me going through the catalog to see what could be remastered, perhaps in a context that would be thick with participants, as I suspect ISEA2006 will be.

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