Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Early Ubicomp

Bill Buxton's 1993 Absorbing and Squeezing Out: On Sponges and Ubiquitous Computing

"Input/output transducers (and their physical form) have a large impact on end users' mental models of computation. As we move towards ubiquitous and "intimate" computing, this will become even more the case. One of the key properties of systems will be their ability to provide a seamless interface between the objects and information in physical space and those in electronic space.

Since there are many types of such objects and information, there will be many different types of input/output transducers in the UbiComp repertoire. Devices will be tailored to have transducers appropriate to the types of activities and artifacts encountered in the context in which they are found or located. UbiComp will be characterized by many devices of different sizes. It will also be distinguished by the ability to "absorb" information and artifacts of the physical world into the electronic domain, and to "squeeze out" into the physical domain that which originated in the electronic domain.

One implication of this view is an incentive to place greater emphasis on exploring alternate input/output transducers on the UbiComp devices that we are building, prototyping, or even thinking about.

... [P]erceptions of technologies are dominated by what we see and touch: primarily, the devices used for entering things into the system and getting things out. Current design is hampered by at least two problems. First, the limited repertoire of input/output devices restricts our ability to provide a seamless bridge between the objects and artifacts in the everyday physical world, and those in the electronic domain of information systems. Second, by their "one size fits all" general approach, current systems are inherently weak.

This second point brings up the law of the inverse relationship between strength and generality. Existing systems are weak and general. Individually, UbiComp devices are strong but specific, and are tailored for specific classes of task, object or context. What is significant about UbiComp is that generality is achieved through these elements working in concert as an ensemble. Consequently, what one achieves is a system which is strong and general."

Biomimicry, nanotech & robotics

Wait a second - when they talk about mimicking nature, are they talking about nerves or penises?

These folks bypass the design of humanoid robots, going straight for the insect world. Smart.

And New Scientist interviews Eric Drexler:

"It doesn't make sense to call for a ban on nano-particle research, because nano-particles are ancient and ubiquitous. These days nanotechnology is more a marketing term than a field and you can't do regulation based on marketing terms."

When I was twenty ...

... this would have seemed a desirable and perfectly plausible way to spend my summer:

"MMW is currently accepting resumes for an unpaid internship which will run through the summer of 2003. All applicants must live in the NYC area. Resume submission deadline is May 1st, 2003."

I want my imagination back!

And a Tuesday morning baker's dozen:

Buffalo Daughter - Earth Punk Rockers
Cibo Matto - Know Your Chicken
Bran Van 3000 - Afrodiziak
Medeski Martin & Wood - Whatever Happened to Gus (Guru Remix)
Aphex Twins - Outside Kick Ass Violin Solo
Buffalo Daughter - A Completely Identical Dream
Medeski Martin & Wood - Nocturne (Automator Remix)
Bran Van 3000 - Forest
Medeski Martin & Wood - Sugar Craft (Yuka Honda Remix)
Buffalo Daughter - Nuts
Cibo Matto - Apple
Medeski Martin & Wood - Start-Stop (DJ Logic Remix)
Bran Van 3000 - Rainshine

Tuesday, April 29, 2003


Kindly passed along by Edel is the INCITE blog. "INCITE is an Incubator for Critical Inquiry into Technology and Ethnography. It is based in the Sociology Department at the University of Surrey. Here, INCITE's bevy of researchers report on matters methodological and theoretical, and discuss their various research projects as they progress."

Directed by Nina Wakeford, INCITE is, of course, up to some interesting things. Check out the AESOP Project (Applied Ethnographic Studies of Practice) funded by Sapient, and The Making of Mobility, The Making of the Self is a particularly interesting report.

Also: the Intel-funded Urban Mobilities Project

Technological develpoments appear to be leading to a decline in the importance of place. Many future visions about technology suggest that information will be 'any time', any place' hence making location irrelevant. However, the use of mobile devices in specific urban spaces and the heavy use of cybercafes by those who might log on elsewhere suggests that the experience of location is central in the consumption of digital content. The research is also motivated by Intel's interest in 'other geographies' outside the United States.

The research will be conducted via a qualitative study of spaces in London in which people consume information, including digital content. The urban sites chosen will be selected via public transport routes to enable the tracking of individuals and groups as they are mobile around the city. The Research Fellow (in association with the Project Director) will conduct ethnographic observation and interviews with people in these spaces, including those who work on the routes which link them together (such as bus conductors). The data to be collected will include socio-demographic information about each London space (e.g. the communities around particular bus or train stops) and also indicators of technological infrastructure (e.g. number of local public access points to the internet).


On failing systems

A conversation involving Elizabeth Lawley et al. performs the, um, social bits of social computing, and Tom's comments/questions offer an interesting point to explore:

As the discussion about social software has, in one place at least, been derailed by what some might call certain anti-social behaviors, it might be worth raising, vis a vis SS as a means and end, whether the software is imagined by designers and theorists as neutral to (or transcendent of) personality and socially obtuse gestures or acts? If so, is it still “social” software?

It seems to me that current explorations of social software still fit within more general notions of cybernetic and evolutionary systems, which have always been understood as neutral in the same sense that the natural is neutral. Is Tom suggesting that (social) "deviance" can infiltrate the "system" (of social software) and render it (non/dis)functional? ... Social cybernetics is basically structural-functionalism, which is concerned with the smooth running of the social programme. Of course, this raises issues around the order of things and notions of agency, or our ability to act in, and change, the world in which we live.

Now, a structural-functionalist might interpret Liz's account in terms of a breakdown in the proper functioning of the mailing list, or perhaps as a necessary deviance that maintains larger group cohesion. Both explanations mirror the binary nature of code by articulating the debate in terms of internal/external or public/private dichotomies. If social software uses structural-functional models of social interaction, then this could be seen as an example of a failed system, and people could discuss how the irrational behaviour of humans broke the programme. It could also be seen as a boundary transgression that demanded dominant boundaries rearticulate themselves, and people could argue about who has power and who doesn't. In either case, the system can only fail or prevail - there is little room for changing the system itself.

To be honest, that sort of explanation really leaves me wanting, and I find myself hoping that social computing is not actually being modelled on these understandings of social interaction.

Saturday, April 26, 2003

Tech Lessons from Russia

Tonight Yuri Malenchenko (Russia) and Edward Lu (USA) are heading to the international space station in the Russian Soyuz TMA-2 capsule.

I was listening to Bob McDonald the other day, and he was talking about the Russian space program's philosophy of simple "if it ain't broke don't fix it" technology, and since NASA's shuttles aren't running, this rocket technology from the 60s is the only way to get to space right now. The space station needs more energy to keep it up there, and the astronauts want to come home before they go wiggy. And since it's a tried-and-true method of travel - (sadly) safer than the shuttles - they're going up!

This is cool. And it makes me remember the story about NASA spending a ton of money and labour developing a pen that could write while in space, whereas the Russians decided to use pencils.

There are lessons here...

Social Studies of Information & Technology

Your feedback is requested, please.

I am currently developing this course - third year soc/anthro - and welcome comments or questions about the content and structure. Does it make sense? How could it be improved? Would you want to take a class like this? (Even if I weren't the teacher? ;)


Friday, April 25, 2003


Dr. Joshua Ellis and Mr. Adam Greenfield recently introduced Marginwalker, described by Josh as "an online community for open-source futurism" and Adam calls it "a staging area for developing ideas about how best to live in this chaotic century." Read about it and check it out.

(UPDATE 02/05/03: Joshua Ellis' essay in Las Vegas City Life, All Tomorrow's Parties: Walking the margins.)

Conference Updates

Joe McCarthy sends a reminder that workshop and panel proposals for Ubicomp 2003 can still be submitted. They're interested in expanding the field of ubicomp research and engaging as many different perspectives and backgrounds as possible - so don't rule yourself out. Ubicomp is diverse and interesting, and I hope to get there too.

Participants and presentation abstracts for next month's Digital Genres Conference at the University of Chicago are now posted. Yours truly will be presenting this paper. If you're in Chicago May 30-31, the line-up looks great (see Molly, Steve, Trevor & AKMA) and it's free to attend.

(Update) I've also been watching for good commentary on the happening-right-now O'Reilly Emerging Technologies Conference... my personal fave so far is Matt Jones - alone (?) representing the social sciences and humanities - and Cory Doctorow's and Jason Kottke's notes are interesting, if a bit too, um, enthusiastic for me. And then there's this little article that made me giggle.

And I got word that my paper on blogs and auto-ethnography was accepted for the AoIR Conference in Toronto in the fall, which is cool (and I might get to meet Lisbeth).

Top 10 Domains

PLSJ Traffic: Canada, UK, USA, Belgium, Denmark, Japan, Switzerland, Italy, Australia, Estonia.

Thursday, April 24, 2003

Social Engineering

Wednesday, April 23, 2003


As Steve so nicely puts:

My mind is offline today, on topics that make all their sense in the flesh when they make any sense at all.

And it's just one of those mornings when rather bleak hacker humour makes me laugh out loud.

Song of the Day: City of Angels by The Distillers. I so badly wanna hear Brody Armstrong yell at me today...

Sunday, April 20, 2003

Of action and reaction

Via Chris Waltrip's ever-brilliant dublog comes:

A story to shatter the archaeologist's heart,

The Legacy of Genghis Khan
"At the time of his death in 1227, Genghis Khan had unified the Mongol people, organized a nearly invincible army of fearless nomadic warriors, and set into motion the first stage in the conquest of an enormous territory that would be completed by his sons and grandsons. With extraordinary speed and devastating ruthlessness the Mongols created the world’s largest empire, stretching at its greatest extent from Korea to Hungary. But the legacy of Genghis Khan extends well beyond the battlefield. The Mongols’ promotion of pan-Asian trade, their avid taste for luxury goods, and their practice of relocating artists combined to produce an unprecedented cross-fertilization of artistic ideas throughout Eurasia. This exhibition examines the important artistic and cultural achievements that occurred in the Iranian world in the aftermath of the Mongol invasions."

(I have a peculiar obsession with Mongol cultural history ... something about its sense of perpetual movement ... )

... and Octofungi, which, as if the name isn't cool enough, is "an intelligent sculpture which interacts with people and its environment and utilizes unusual materials and technologies ... Octofungi is a reactive piece. It is sensitive to changes in light and reacts upon these changes. To interact with the sculpture, a person only needs to move his hands above the eight light sensors placed around the brain frame. Depending on the 'aggressiveness' or 'gentleness' of the participant, Octofungi will manifest different behaviors."

Saturday, April 19, 2003

Chained together

One of my favourite things about blogging is finding other grad students and being completely taken by what they research and write! And then smiling when you recognise other grad students in their blogroll, and finding still others again. Rhizomatic.

Enter Ms. Jean Hyung Yul Chu - a PhD candidate in English at Berkeley (she writes to tell me) - and her blog hiving. She's interested in Asian culture, literature, design, architecture ... in (my greatest intellectual love) the experience of space.

Chien-Chi Chang The Chain 1998Witness her link to Taiwanese photographer Chien-Chi Chang's The Chain, "a collection of portraits made of inmates in a mental asylum in Taiwan. The subjects are people who have had their bonds to the rest of society--family, community--severed. And yet, as part of their treatment, they are chained to one another, physically linked in pairs throughout their days and only unlocked to sleep." The intimacy of these pictures is unsettling, and yet very beautiful.

She also links to these Paintings from North Korea, 1948-1998, and conjures the poetics of space with a personal story: My mom grew up on an apple farm in Sariwon, North Korea (a place once renowned for its hospitality + kimchi that's now known for its farm cooperatives and weapons facilities). Her connection to what Koreans call go-hyang ("hometown"—a translation that like most translations invariably misses the feeling concentrated in that word) is a land deed, and two siblings who are probably now dead due to old age and famine. And yet her imaginative connection to this place has been so strong, that I sometimes dream of going there for her. So although for some, the propaganda and dated impressionist techniques that inform these North Korean paintings may seem hopelessly backwards, for me, they merge in a strange seamlessness with a memory of this place that is as unmarked by time and change.

But it was this post on text messaging and poetry that really did it for me:

I like thinking about the ways that changing technological and material environments push the boundaries of creative endeavors such as poetry. Second, because technology is often driven by user-centered design, we are increasingly encouraged to see human behavior and social interaction as task-oriented. Text message poetry turns this model on its head, asking us not to just achieve some goal, but to create. It does what humans do and should continue doing—find ways to exceed technology’s original intention. (My emphasis and agreement.)

(That also reminds me of the less radical, but sometimes very nice, stories at

Friday, April 18, 2003

If I went to Stanford...

... I would have gone to Bruno Latour's lecture last week. For those of you who, after reading last night's post, feel my radical feminist convictions, let me gently (if somewhat sadly) remind you that most of my intellectual heroes are men (and no, not all of them are French!) But Latour is definitely one of them: "For twenty years or so, my friends and I have been studying these strange situations that the intellectual culture in which we live does not know how to categorize." Right on! Now if only it weren't just you and your buddies working against the world - it makes it too easy to become martyrs and pariahs...

Reason #23 to really like my PhD supervisor, or what designers can learn from skaters

Skater Hannes Schmidt (Freiburg, Germany) describes his work as 'manipulated skatepics'. The other day, Rob introduced me to Iain Borden's excellent-so-far book, Skateboarding, Space and the City: Architecture and the Body, which "looks at skateboarding history from the surf-beaches of California in the 1950s, through the purpose-built skateparks of the 1970s, to the street-skating of the present day and shows how skateboarders experience and understand the city through their sport. Dismissive of authority and convention, skateboarders suggest that the city is not just a place for working and shopping but a true pleasure-ground, a place where the human body, emotions and energy can be expressed to the full. As the author demonstrates, street-style skateboarding, especially characteristic of recent decades, conducts a performative critique of architecture, the city and capitalism." Or - as one review states, "Skateboarders make an extraordinary contribution to the life of cities, creating new architectures, movements and social critiques through their actions." How cool is that?!

If you don't want to read the book, you can find a decent summary in Borden's article A Performative Critique of the American City: the Urban Practice of Skateboarding, 1958-1998. But the book brings together several of my long-time loves: architecture, social space, resistance and play - and should be of interest to anyone working in the design of user experiences, especially for large-scale (urban) mobile or ubiquitous projects. I love skaters for lots of reasons, but mostly because they effectively hack the city and perform it into new shapes - practices I believe need to be encouraged in the design and use of new technologies. If we really want to develop social computing applications, I think we need to be looking to spaces and cultures like these for inspiration... For more along these lines, check out Cate Trotter's article, Can the Design of Objects, Cities and Spaces Restore the City as Oeuvre?. She argues that rather than creating spaces/objects to be used, we should design spaces/objects for the user to create through movement, through practice, through everyday life.

And related to all of this is the 2001 ZONE exhibition: "a project involving the interrelation between skate culture, art and architecture." I was particularly taken by the photographs of Jocko Weyland - "All over the world, skaters have designed and built objects of their own accord. Weyland has photographed these ramps, bowls, grindboxes and drop-ins in an almost clinical way, deserted and devoid of all activity. He forces the spectator to scrutinise structures by leaving the skater out of the photographs and emphasising the curves and windings, the geometry, the materials and the wear and tear." - and Hannes Schmidt - "By retouching parts of the 'slam sequences' (sequences of skaters taking a bad fall) in skate videos, Schmidt creates fascinating and at the same time comic works of bodies floating around in extreme positions or lying down on the ground. Whereas Weyland erases the body from the image, Schmidt pictures the skater in full action yet without his skateboard, creating the impression of a meaningless activity in an urban landscape."

There are lessons to be learned here as well...

Other skateboard photography books: Thrasher: Insane Terrain and Dogtown: Legends of the Z-Boys, which accompanies the sweet documentary film on the legendary Zephyr skate team, and briefly touches on their appropriation of urban space and architecture. Definitely worth a look-see ;) And hardcore fans love Fuck You Heroes: Glen E. Friedman Photographs, 1976-1991.

UPDATE 18/04/03: And because I'm afraid gems like this might get lost in the comments, John adds The Poetics of Security: Skateboarding, Urban Design, and the New Public Space by Ocean Howell. In it there is some interesting discussion of how urban architecture attempts to (re)claim as private what might otherwise be public space, by rendering buildings and objects difficult to experience in particular ways - like installing features that prevent the smooth movement of wheels, or sleeping, on a surface. And that's just plain cruel design in my books. Thanks John!

Thursday, April 17, 2003

I wanna be a "deconstruction slut" like Avital Ronell

I was searching through ctheory and came across an interesting article - When Bad Girls Do French Theory by Joan Hawkins - about an argument that erupted in class while discussing an article by Avital Ronell. A male student had dismissed Ronell as a "deconstruction slut" and other male and female classmates argued that it was a sexist and anti-intellectual comment to make, when controversial male authors had not been so dismissed. The professor, and author of the paper, asks "Who exactly gets to do theory in a patriarchal society? What kind of women can perform theory in a libidinally charged academic space? And what kind of theory can they perform?" (I think these are important questions, and ones whose answers impact me as a woman and as an academic - but more on that some other time.)

The part that interested me the most was the discussion on deconstruction:

"In terms of theoretical performance and performativity, there's always been something sexually transgressive and feminine -- sluttish, if you will -- about deconstruction. Emphasizing the technologies of meaning -- meaning as a process rather than as a fixed, immutable entity -- deconstruction configures its analysis around the playful slippages between words, allusions, multiplicities and proliferations (or promiscuities) of nuance. It legitimates "loose connections." In that sense, it's linked to what Baudrillard terms "seduction," and what Ronell -- following Baudrillard -- calls "deviant forms of knowledge" (...'the Other to so-called 'science') that have been historically associated with women; it perpetrates "uncanny technologies...which break up classical taxonomies of knowledge and suspend what we think we know."

This is exactly what I love about deconstructionist philosophies - and partly why I do not object to the characterisation of Ronell and would also gleefully apply it to Derrida, for example, in a small attempt at gender-fucking. A related post-structuralist (i.e. rhizomatic) approach is taken by Patricia Lather when she articulates what might constitute a voluptuous validity.

I really enjoy the politics and ethics of these types of ontologies and epistemologies, and I consider Avital Ronell to be a truly remarkable scholar. My favourite of her books has been Telephone Book: Technology, Schizophrenia, Electric Speech - which IMHO should be required reading for anyone who has a serious interest in technology and people. But I haven't read her last book - Stupidity - and it does sound promising as "the foremost thinker of the repressed conditions of knowledge, with the Nietzschean audacity characteristic of her thought, probes the philosophical no-man's land of stupidity."

[UPDATE 17/04/03: Jason informs me that comments like that are precisely why people can't stand deconstructionists. I'm the first to admit that I've always assumed that it would kind of suck to hang out with people like Avital Ronell, Julia Kristeva, Luce Irigaray or Hélène Cixous - in part because they are so brilliant and serious. But I'm also convinced that such women are especially threatening to the more oppressive canons of Western history and culture - and that earns one few friends (even if it makes one a hero in the Books of Anne).]

But here is how Salon describes her and the book: "Avital Ronell, the post-structuralist theorist perhaps best known for the naked photos of herself in the Re:Search "Angry Women" collection, had a book out last year called, simply, "Stupidity." (It wasn't clear whether she was for or against it.)"

Clearly, there is something about Ronell's writing that unsettles and disarranges some people. And I suspect it's not outrageous to suggest it has something to do with advocating types of voluptuous knowledge, in and for a world of bodies that refuse to be contained. (The reviewer doesn't appear to have known what to make of her lack of *exact position*.) Sure, she was a hero of mine when I read about her in one of my (oft-cited) teenage holy books, Angry Women, but it has only been in the past five years or so that I have come to understand the political and ethical implications of her thinking. Now she supports me academically, as well as intellectually.

Interesting interviews with Ronell include Confessions of an Anacoluthon: Avital Ronell on Writing, Technology, Pedagogy, Politics and can i... (a 3-minute video edited by aras ozgun from an interview with avital ronell by arno bohler and susanne granzer).

(And as a parting thought, I remember the saying that "a whore sleeps with everyone, whereas a slut sleeps with everyone but you." ;)

Inspiring comments

Via Fabio, The Dullest Blog in the World. And yes, there is something going on there: the triumph of the mundane. I love it.

Walking past the ironing board: "I left the room and walked past the ironing board which I had left up in order to do some ironing. When I came back into the room I walked past the ironing board once again. " 129 comments

Operating a light switch: "I entered the living room and pressed the light switch, thus turning the light on so that I could see what I was doing. A while later I left the room and pressed the light switch again. The light turned itself off." 79 comments

Going to bed late: "I looked at the clock and saw that it was getting very late, so I went to bed." 51 comments

Turning my head to the right: "I thought I saw something happening out of the corner of my eye. I turned my head to the right but didn't see anything out of the ordinary, so I turned it back again and continued with what I was doing." 30 comments

Dear God - is she still going on about digital cities?

digitally annotated cities and the movement of crowds

I really like this image. It fits right in with my recent research on digitally annotated cities and the movement of crowds. (I have no idea where I found it - it's been on my hard drive for a few years - so if you know where credit is due, please let me know.)

Ottawa - current conditions

freezing rain "Light ice pellet showers." I filched the little graphic from the WeatherNetwork although I'm not sure if it adequately conveys how bloody sharp and pointy and painful those "ice pellets" are. I hate this weather.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

PLAY Interactive Institute

"The PLAY research studio investigates and invents the future of human-computer interaction. We believe that in the future, computation will become just another material for design, and take a natural place in human existence alongside other basic technologies such as writing and electricity. The research in PLAY will prepare us for that future."

Public Play Spaces: "We take the opportunity to reflect on, question and reexamine places, relationships and qualities for the design of technology in the public sphere. This requires that we ask different questions, apply new methods and try alternative means of prototyping possibilities. Operating on the fringes, our projects will be provocative and personal, challenging people to reflect, participate, and evolve. Public Play Spaces is a platform for creative work exploring the playful, emotional and appropriate incorporation of technology into everyday public life."

Textiles and Computational Technology: "We aim to join two different areas of design and technology development: information technology and textiles. On the one hand, we are looking for new applications and areas for textiles; on the other, we want to give information technology new clothes and expand the design space of everyday computational things."

Slow Technology: "We are experimenting with time as a variable in interface design, beyond the point of trying to minimize the time taken to perform a certain task. Instead, we want to design technology that encourages moments of reflection and mental rest by being slow, i.e, to provide food rather than fast-food for thought."


For the record

I got a message last week that I've included below, but have taken out any reference to its sender because I have nothing against this particular person. I do, however, find the request vaguely offensive.

Hi Anne. I'm a brand consultant currently engaged in a positioning project for a major wireless carrier. Our process includes so-called "expert interviews" to help us understand cultural as well as user-specific issues around the client's offering, to test some hypotheses, to generate some smart provocations. I've enjoyed (and learned a lot from) PLSJ over the past year or so, and I think your perspective would be a great addition to the project. Your time (prob 1-hour phone conversation) would be compensated.

First, the simple fact that there is such a job as "brand consultant" is appalling to me. That someone is tasked with figuring out how to buy and sell aspects of my identity is just... gross. Second, I don't know about other sociologists and anthropologists, but I feel an obligation to produce research that is committed to the social good. (Never trust a researcher who says their work isn't political.) And since I do not consider rampant consumerism, and its conflation with social and personal identity and value, to be a social good, I want nothing to do with enabling or supporting this endeavour.

OK. I really am more flexible in my thinking and behaviour, but you may still consider me naive or overly-idealistic in some respects. I understand, for example, that there is always the possibility of being able to positively influence the content and direction of marketing. I mean, I'm also a consumer of new technology and I have an interest in what sorts of products and services become available. Still, something about being asked to produce knowledge specifically for the purposes of marketing leaves a really bad taste in my mouth. But, you may also consider me a hypocrite because I would produce research with and for people developing these new technologies. It's the intervention of marketing, and its co-option of social and cultural knowledge, that offends me.

From my perspective, anyone can take what I have published here and elsewhere and figure out how to apply it to whatever problem they are trying to solve. So, maybe in the end, what I really value is academic autonomy? I dunno. I struggle with such things...

Writing the Digital City: from the virtual to everyday life

"The goal of the Digital Genres Initiative is to spur debate and thinking about the way that digital technology allows us to think and communicate with one another... Digital genres are not merely art, nor are they merely spectacularly efficient ways to move information between bodies. Digital genres do more than extend the human ability to communicate across space and time. They have the potential to create a world which we can inhabit... What could this mean, and where are we going? These are the questions the Digital Genres Initiative seeks to engage... We invite you to engage them with us [at] Digital Genres: Semiotic Technologies this Side of the Millennium, May 30-31 at the University of Chicago."

Yours truly will be presenting this paper at the conference:

In City of Bits, William Mitchell wrote that ubiquitous computation would reconfigure our notions of the city and allow us to reinvent our experiences of place. Recent installations of mobile and ubiquitous technologies in urban contexts offer the opportunity to explore if and how the city may actually be reconfigured, and places reinvented. Practices of "writing the city" now include real-time maps of people moving through the city, electronically-guided city walking tours, and public sites for digital graffiti and storytelling. Drawing on the works of Bergson, Deleuze, Calvino, Benjamin and de Certeau, my paper critically evaluates the virtual city in terms of materiality and memory, stability and movement, space and time. Of particular interest is how the digitally virtual city relates to social and spatial practices of everyday urban life, actual and concrete. Specific technological examples will be used to open up critical debate on the shelters and perils of technologically "augmented" city spaces, including issues of access and consumption, as well as poetics and potentialities.

See you there?

Tuesday, April 15, 2003


Thanks to Alexandre Castonguay for reminding me about artengine: an Ottawa-based artist-run internet site for visual and media artists, devoted to the propagation of art on the internet and the artistic exploration of new technologies.

Laura Marks - Carleton professor and member of my PhD committee - takes a look at Immanence Online. "Let us try to understand online space not as virtual, transcendent, and discrete, but as material, immanent, and interconnected. To demonstrate how online media live in material space, I've chosen a number of low-tech and parodic artists' web sites that assert their own materiality and the economic and social relationships in which they are embedded."

Nichola Feldman-Kiss - interdisciplinary artist and curator of ITAC's IT and Art site - performs Project Molly, using "a Xybernaut wearable computer with a head-mounted audio video acquisition and display system to stream a live video feed to the internet via wireless connection" and The Reliquarium, "a digital story board and email performance."

Also very cool is Hart Snider's Scratch Video, a mutant hybrid of scratch DJ music and guerrilla TV. "Scratch video is assembling music using video editing software ... performed live, a jam session between a DJ and a VJ (video jockey) using MIDI technology and a video mixer to synch image and sound on the fly."

Monday, April 14, 2003

The pleasures of everyday life

1. Spending time with my friend John. Going for brunch at the Château Laurier, and walking around the locks (pictures here). John rocks. You can read about his secret life as a hacker and other essays on media, technology and culture. But mostly I like him because he's smart and funny and he makes me feel good. (Plus, it makes me smirk that he never tells me I look beautiful, but always tells me my haircut is good ;)

2. Watching not one, but two good movies: Brotherhood of the Wolf (Le Pacte des Loups) and I concur with this review: "If you see one French costume drama martial arts werewolf secret society romance this year, make sure this is it." And Pumpkin. Dismissed by critics, I thought it was pretty funny, and that it had a great sense of music. But then again, I've had a crush on Christina Ricci for, like, forever.

3. Being updated by Jason every half hour on the improvements to the php database he built me for my dissertation bibliography.

Thursday, April 10, 2003

Weaving New Technologies

Techno Fashion Bradley Quinn.

"Tomorrow's garments will do more than just look good and feel great; they will have an intelligence of their own," Quinn writes. He contends that a new generation of designers-cum-scientists are pushing the limits of couture with radically developing technology, in the process redefining what, how, and why we wear clothes. Through detailed studies of catwalk collections and interviews with designers... Quinn assesses the impact of this new wave on fashion. Charting the disappearance of the traditional woman of fashion... he explores the boundaries between clothing, body and machine, and reevaluates the ethics and lifestyles designated by codes of dress. His closing chapter on sportswear, from NASA to Nike, hones in on elements and ideas of style and function, utility and motion." [via boingboing]

See also: Techno Textiles: Revolutionary Fabrics for Fashion & Design Sarah E. Braddock et al.

And if you find yourself in Montreal Friday thru Sunday, you can catch the awesome Joey Berzowska give a presentation on "Electronic fashion: body as interface" and Ingrid Bachmann on "Textiles as an inspiration for a virtual women's art" at Electra and Magneticus: A Symposium on Art and Electromagnetism. Currently, both are working at the Interactive Textiles and Wearable Computers Axis of Hexagram in Montreal. Very cool. (Can we weave the human body into a wearable device?)

UPDATE 10/04/03: E-broidery: Design and fabrication of textile-based computing. A lovely twist on this quote from 1968: "girls sometimes make better programmers than boys because they have more patience and are more meticulous. An intelligent girl who has the patience to do embroidery has just the right mentality to do the job".

On Education

Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world. -- Paulo Freire

Wednesday, April 9, 2003

Nietzsche says: We should call every truth false which was not accompanied by at least one laugh

I betcha Steve understands.

Design and control

Via peterme, Marc Rettig's excellent presentation on interaction design history. (Molly - why didn't I meet him at SXSW?)

Not to gloss over a comprehensive and really well-illustrated history, but I was most interested in his characterisation of the shifting relationship between humans and machines. Early machines needed to be controlled: they were designed "against misuse... and abuse." Then there was a "shift in focus from controlling the computer to using applications and tools, trying to make it so people [had] to adapt less to use the machines’ capability." This, in turn, "eventually led to a professional emphasis on people doing a task rather than 'a tool with good controls'." And now, "after twenty years of trying to help people perform tasks, we realized success depended on expanding the scope of view. Most good work now includes context of use, characteristics of individuals, patterns of life."

It reminded me of something that Marc Weiser and John Seely Brown wrote about calm technology:

"First, by placing things in the periphery we are able to attune to many more things than we could if everything had to be at the center. Things in the periphery are attuned to by the large portion of our brains devoted to peripheral (sensory) processing. Thus the periphery is informing without overburdening. Second, by recentering something formerly in the periphery we take control of it… Technologies encalm [sic] as they empower our periphery… The result of calm technology is to put us at home, in a familiar place."

As I've written elsewhere, their definition of ubiquitous computing (and I think equally applicable to this sense of interaction design) seeks to bring computers to "our world" (domesticating them), rather than us having to adapt to the "computer world" (domesticating us). But such simple dichotomies incorrectly assume there is an easy distinction to be made between the virtual and the actual, human and machine.

If a goal for the modern interaction designer is to provide for a pleasant, or possibly seamless, user-centred experience, we are still seeking to control the machine, to design against misuse and abuse, to make it more amenable to our desires. In designing for users, we tend to privilege them and demote the computer. We actively create the subjects and objects of design, and we don't allow them to switch or blend.

So actually, I'm not sure design has really changed all that much. Most days, I suspect we actually have some deep-rooted cultural fear of being overtaken, or consumed, by our machines, and that this fear moves design in strange ways. Code has always been about control, and when we design code, we always design particular types of control.

If we didn't distinguish so clearly between humans and computers, we might see how we also control people in our attempts to control the machine. librarynth

Cheers to kick-ass-fellow-grad-student-in-another-discipline Chad Thornton for telling a good story that used the brilliant term intertwingled.

According to Ted Nelson, "intertwingularity is not generally acknowledged, people keep pretending they can make things deeply hierarchical, categorizable and sequential when they can't. Everything is deeply intertwingled."

Oh yeah!

Anyway, the links above are from the FoAM Librarynth: "the Libarynth is a parafictional, semifunctional (deeply InterTwingled) collection of documents, notes and RandomNess in the smouldering rubble of babel. it exists simultaneously as the online tangent vortex for FoAM. The CategoryIndex is a good place to start for a more organised perspective on the battle between order and chaos."

I've raved many times about FoAM, and one of my dissertation case studies deals with their lovely approach to art and technology, but I'd forgotten about the content of the Librarynth wiki. It's a great resource.

Tuesday, April 8, 2003

Gender and Computing

On 29 February 1968, New Scientist Magazine reported:

SO FAR as grey matter is concerned, both males and females start out with equal chances. When the educationalists apply their IQ tests, no distinct difference between the sexes emerges. A look at any class in a mixed grammar school makes this obvious. All have passed their 11-plus, and are therefore supposed to be in the upper intelligence bracket. Half the class will be male; half female. Were it overloaded with males, there might be some justification for industry to operate a system of male supremacy. An individual with Applied Systems and Personnel told me "girls sometimes make better programmers than boys because they have more patience and are more meticulous. An intelligent girl who has the patience to do embroidery has just the right mentality to do the job".


News from our friendly-neighbourhood materials scientists

Really. We Can (Could) Barcode DNA: "Corning researchers have found a way to form tiny, barcoded beads that are small enough to be embedded in ink and attached to DNA molecules. The beads measure 100 by 20 by 20 microns, which is just at the edge of invisible. A micron is one thousandth of a millimeter. The researchers made the coded beads by fusing together glass mixed with lanthanide metal oxide ions, drawing the mixture into a fiber, etching the fiber with a laser, than breaking the beads along the cuts by putting them in an ultrasonic water bath. The metal oxides glow at certain wavelengths under ultraviolet light; stripes of oxide that glow different colors can be used to make more than 100 billion unique barcodes."

What a pretty process they describe... but then again we might consider Measuring the Risks of Nanotechnology:

Technology Review: Questions about the safety of nanotechnology suddenly seem to be everywhere ... What are the chief concerns?

Vicki Colvin: Nanomaterials are different. Because of their small size, we are able to get them into parts of the body where typical inorganic materials can’t go because they’re too big. There is an enormous advantage to using nanoparticles if you’re engineering, for example, drug delivery systems or cancer therapeutics. This would suggest that nanomaterials that are unintentionally introduced into the body may also undergo similar processes. The concern—or the hypothesis would be a better way to say it—is that nanomaterials differ in their reactivity and biological availability. You can’t help but ask, Well, if they are powerful biological actors, then what about unintentional consequences?

(Have I ever mentioned that materials scientists and theoretical physicists are my favourite kinds of scientists? And roboticists. I really like roboticists, especially the SRL kind ;)

Monday, April 7, 2003

Ambient Interludes from the Dublin Cityscape

A collaborative project of the Media Lab Europe Story Networks group, Texting Glances was designed with the NTRG in Trinity College. This ambient "waiting" game establishes a symbiotic relationship between a transient audience, a waiting place, and a story engine that matches SMS inputs to image output. By incorporating culturally current messaging norms, the audience becomes an active collaborating author in a layered exploration of social familiarity and public space.

Texting Glances has a network of sites in the City Zone. The moving audience interacts with the sites as they go about their daily lives. Audience can become author by adding to the image content of the system. Images 'live' in the system and are triggered into making an appearance, at any time and at any place by other users. An image can go undiscovered for months unless exposed by the audience. Audience can also become collector and download passing images. The city becomes a hiding place for images to be uncovered and collected. Texting Glances effects change behaviour as people move to different city spaces to find new images and stories. This ambient "waiting" game establishes a symbiotic relationship between a transient audience, a waiting place, and a story engine that matches SMS inputs to image output. By incorporating culturally current messaging norms, the audience becomes an active collaborating author in a layered exploration of social familiarity and public space.

ambient interludes on a bus / media lab europe ambient interludes on a parking meter / media lab europe ambient interludes on the side of a building / media lab europe

Wow. Between developing a new course and reading Benjamin's Arcades Project, I've become rather smitten lately with the idea of annotated city spaces. This project is very much along the lines of what I envisioned for Amsterdam RealTime, and together with other projects I have recently noted, one of the more appealing shapes of emerging social computing applications.

But the pictures got me thinking that none of these spaces are entirely public. What I mean is that the public (masse) are not entirely free to interact with buses or parking meters that belong to municipal government, or buildings that belong to private citizens - there are existing restrictions for such social spaces. I'm curious how we might negotiate the actual use of this type of technology, short of as public art projects. I also immediately cringed when I thought about this technology being used for advertising and other propaganda - because even though I imagined being able to talk back, it takes far less effort to delete digital grafitti than it does to whitewash a wall, and I don't imagine a great deal of dissent marking the landscape. Still, the potential is incredible.


Media Lab Europe Human Connectedness Research Group

Reflexion: a responsive virtual mirror for interpersonal communication
Reflexion is an interpersonal video communication system that operates like a "magic mirror" in which you see a reflection of yourself together with the reflections of other participants in remote locations. The system responds to visual and auditory cues to appropriately compose the scene and emphasize the center of attention.

Palimpsest: a layered video manuscript of social interaction
A palimpsest is a manuscript consisting of a later writing superimposed upon an original writing. This word has been borrowed for the title of this project that aims to superimpose layers of recorded social interaction and present them as a single image. In contrast to conferencing tools and portals that enable chance encounters between distant locations, the Palimpsest facilitates chance encounters between different points in time.

iCom: a multipoint awareness and communication portal for connecting remote social spaces
iCom is a media installation that forms a bridge between different locations. It operates in a continuous and background mode, integrated with the surrounding space. The portal enables awareness of remote activity and promotes a sense of connection among those generating it -- be they colleagues, family members, or friends in distant lands.

Wanderful Alcove: an interactive play space in which participants wield magic wands and practice wizardry
Magic wands have a presence in the history and legends of human cultures from thousands of years ago all the way to the present day. They have an ultra-simple design, they respond to natural human gesture, speech, emotion, and even thought, and thanks to books and movies, they are widely understood from an early age as objects symbolic of great empowerment. As such, the magic wand presents an interesting design opportunity as a form for a tangible computer interface. In addition to exploring the technology needed to build a magic wand interface, The Wanderful Alcove focuses on role-immersion scenarios in which these interfaces can have a socially tranforming effect on their users, serving as a catalyst for ad-hoc interaction and collaboration in a story experience.

Sunday, April 6, 2003

Research reminder : find out more about these CHI sessions

Thea Turner, Motorola, USA

The Mad Hatter's Cocktail Party: A Social Mobile Audio Space Supporting Multiple Simultaneous Conversations
Paul Aoki, PARC; Matthew Romaine, PARC; Margaret Szymanski, PARC; James Thornton, PARC; Daniel Wilson, CMU; Allison Woodruff, PARC

Mobile Phones for the Next Generation: Device Designs for Teenagers
Alex Taylor, Digital World Research Centre/DWRC/University of Surrey; Sara Berg, Ume University; Richard Harper, Appliance Studio

Wan2tlk?: Everyday Text Messaging
Rebecca Grinter, PARC; Margery Eldridge, Image Semantics Ltd

Leysia Palen, University of Colorado, Boulder, USA

Hardware Companions? - What Online AIBO Discussion Forums Reveal about the Human-Robotic Relationship
Batya Friedman, University of Washington/UW, USA; Peter H. Kahn, Jr, University of Washington/UW, USA; Jennifer Hagman, University of Washington/UW, USA

Media Inequality in Conversation: How People Behave Differently When Interacting with Computers and People
Nicole Shechtman, SRI International/Stanford University, USA; Leonard Horowitz, Stanford University, USA

Designing Social Presence of Social Actors in Human Computer Interaction
Kwan Lee, Annenberg School for Communication/University of Southern California, USA; Clifford Nass, Department of Communication/Stanford University, USA

Love and freezing rain

My sweetheart left for CHI at 6:00 this morning, and I just got a phone call saying that his flight had been cancelled because of this morning's freezing rain on top of last night's snow but that he had just cleared US Customs and was now on his way to Miami. Poor guy, but I'm not so envious now.

But here's the best part: Before he left he gave me an online database to create an annotated dissertation bibliography. It has a lovely Flash interface and I am completely seduced by the code he wrote for me. It's pretty much perfect and suits me well. For Valentine's Day a few years ago, he presented me a box full of computer parts and told me we were going to build me a new computer "because smart girls should know how to build their own machines." Man, I really dig him!

Saturday, April 5, 2003

People die in wars

Passed along by Jason is CBC News Online - Casualties in the Iraq war

Last Updated April 3, 2003

U.S. and British soldiers killed: 92
Iraqi troops killed: unknown
Civilians killed: at least 425

The tables holding soldiers' names and the details of their deaths read like a menu. I'm stunned.
I think of the people who love all those who have died and my heart breaks.

The Practice of Everyday Life

Via v-2: "As I get more involved in anthropology and ethnography for my own reasons, mostly having to do with attempting to understand the 'user experience' of everyday life, in all its complexity, sources like this seem ever more poignant and valuable to me... I can't recall ever having found anything else online that so vividly immersed me in the quotidian details of another time and place, in such rich and unforgettable detail. The language, the tools, dress, mores and accoutrements of this age all come tumbling forth..."

The Proceedings of the Old Bailey London 1674 to 1834: A fully searchable online edition of the largest body of texts detailing the lives of non-elite people ever published, containing accounts of over 100,000 criminal trials held at London's central criminal court.

Everything's turning up social

Yesterday was the last day of classes and I spent a large part of the day wandering around campus. I love teaching, but I got really excited again about my own research. I now have almost five full months to revel in ignored articles and to hack my way through the forest. I need to remind myself that my direction of studies shifted course this past year, although my concentration remains on paradigms for social computing, particularly in the contexts of mobile and ubiquitous computing. And that I hope to defend my dissertation at the end of next summer (2004). Now let's just see if saying it here inspires accountability in me ;)

Along these lines:

Early last week I posted on Stewart Butterfield's criteria for social computing applications and have very much enjoyed our recent email exchanges (Thanks Stewart!). But I might also mention that a great part of my attraction to Stewart's ideas and The Game Neverending comes from compatible understandings of what it means to be social, the importance of play, and how very difficult it can be to model social interaction. In other words, I tend not to get as excited about some other perspectives on social computing or social software because I object to the foundational characterisations of sociability and how they are modelled.

Matt Webb also cited Stewart's posts, along with Ross Mayfield's, Marc Canter's, and Seb Paquet's thoughts on social networking models. (Although Matt writes that "putting networking and social software in a bucket makes me uneasy." Me too!) He also points at the interesting, if narrow, Meatball Wiki social software discussion.

I very much respect Matt Webb, and I love following his "ramblings" - even though his background and interests are in evolutionary psychology and "human nature," ways of understanding which are quite often antithetical to my understandings of sociality and culture.

He recently suggested that we "Look at philosophy, human behaviour, psychology, biology: extract commonalities of human nature. Look at how people work in cities: those are the best examples of things-for-a-purpose with massive, group feedback loops. And how people sit round tables in pubs. "You're looking to reconstruct the whole social world. That's a big job," was the response from the other night. Well yes and no. A cut down version -- but for that we have to know which are the important bits. We need a social rhetoric: a cut down way of acting socially, a way of democratising groups so that anybody (and not just people/software built that way) can be successful and happy. I want a Fitt's Law for social software. Like: When there are twelve people who mostly haven't met talking in text, the chance of a groupwide flame war is 50%, so the button to respond person-to-person (over IM) needs to be a maximum of twice the cognitive distance as the button to respond to the group."

And he reiterates the notion that "Social software acknowledges that in the real world people like to work in groups of more than two... And therefore triads must be treated differently... but only as the first possible manifestation of few-to-few, which bleeds into other forms/axioms with larger groups."

Somewhat ironically, this is all too, um, artificial for me.

Of interest to me right now are the increasingly stabilised theoretical paradigms for social computing, and the (scientific) systems-oriented paradigm broadly characteristic of Matt's writing can be seen dominating discussions online and in settings like the upcoming O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference and Clay Shirky's Social Software Summit (if you want to look at something social, the first Google link is to photographs of the event and there are discussions like these).

There appears to be little or no difference or conflict between paradigmatic approaches, which suggests that the emerging paradigm for social computing is rather homogenous. This sense of taken-for-grantedness - of having been always already decided - makes a critical evaluation of its theoretical and practical value in multiple contexts difficult, but perhaps all the more important.

A few days ago, Elizabeth Lane Lawley blogged about graduate studies in social software, and she also added gaming and CSCW to the conversation by citing Andrew Phelp's interesting comments:

"I am amazed every night when I log on, that we can organize eighty people to operate in an operation of orchestrated combat timed down to the fraction of a second. Really. And then I try to teleconference with faculty at other universities, and it takes a team of techs and generally comes off no better than 'ok'. What this says to me is that there is an entire medium of communication that exists within massively multi-user games that is not being exploited by the larger community. I don't mean 'hey look I can chat with people'. The script kiddies that play these games take the programmable interface (and more and more are XML based) and write their own tools and extensions to the game. They crack open the packet structure and understand how it works. I've seen folks embed their own tools into the games, linking out to Winamp and AIM, and skin the world into basically whatever look & feel they want. Customizability is king... The final piece, and the reason that I think there is overlap with games and less structured 'social software' is the study of status and meaning in virtual communities."

And so we come full-circle to notions of play. I'll stop here for now.

Update 4:30pm - It strikes me that this is connected to recent information architecture-related discussions on spatial vs. semantic approaches to information. Matt Jones recently discussed this, and suggested a compromise based on semantic readings of urban space. I like this idea, but still prefer to look at social space as performative (or even experiential) rather than as representative (of something outside our interactions). And so it seems that whether we are discussing information space and semantics, or social computing, there is little effort to look beyond more-or-less structured, systematic approaches.

Update 7/4/03 - Liz Lawley recently posted an annotated list of people who are interested in social software and I added myself in the comments section ;)

Friday, April 4, 2003

Cities and the Sky

From Italo Calvino's wondrous book, Invisible Cities:

Those who arrive at Thekla can see little of the city, beyond the plank fences, the sackcloth screens, the scaffoldings, the metal armatures, the wooden catwalks hanging from ropes or supported by sawhorses, the ladders, the trestles. If you ask "Why is Thekla's construction taking such a long time?" the inhabitants continue hoisting sacks, lowering leaded strings, moving long bruses up and down, as they answer "So that its destruction cannot begin." And if asked whether they fear that, once the scaffoldings are removed, the city may begin to crumble and fall to pieces, they add hastily, in a whisper, "Not only the city."

If, dissatisfied with the answers, someone puts his eye to a crack in a fence, he sees cranes pulling up other cranes, scaffoldings that embrace other scaffoldings, beams that prop up other beams. "What meaning does your construction have?" he asks. "What is the aim of a city under construction unless it is a city? Where is the plan you are following, the blueprint?"

"We will show it to you as soon as the working day is over; we cannot interrupt our work now," they answer. Work stops at sunset. Darkness falls over the building site. The sky is filled with stars. "There is the blueprint," they say.

[Brought to mind by Fabio who recently leaned on a quote from Invisible Cities.]

Thursday, April 3, 2003

Thinking about the October Crisis

It really bothered me when I learned that none of my current students knew about the October Crisis of 1970. (It happened before I was born, but I was still taught about it.) Given present world politics, it seems to me all the more important to remember our histories, our conflicts and the perils of force.

I filtched this text from the National Film Board and added a bunch of links:

"Through the late 1960s and early 1970s, the federal government attempted to resolve some of the grievances of French-speaking Canadians in general, and Quebecers in particular. A Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism (the Laurendeau-Dunton Commission, which began its work in 1963) had studied the relationship between French- and English-speaking Canadians, and the Official Languages Act was passed in 1969 — acknowledging French and English as Canada's two official languages.

For some in Quebec this was too little, too late. One group that held this opinion was the Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ), a terrorist organization dedicated to bringing about an independent, socialist Quebec. While the FLQ didn't become a household word for most Canadians until October of 1970, the group had been active for some time. Between 1963 and 1970, the FLQ had been responsible for over 200 bombings, hitting such targets as McGill University, the Montreal Stock Exchange and the home of Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau.

The activities of the FLQ became front-page news across the country in October of 1970, when members of the group kidnapped British trade commissioner James Cross and then Quebec's Liberal Labour and Immigration minister, Pierre Laporte.

The terrorists demanded publicity for their manifesto, the release of 23 of their comrades, $500,000 in gold bullion, and free passage to Cuba or Algeria. On the invitation of Quebec premier Robert Bourassa, the federal government intervened. Prime Minister Trudeau took the unprecedented step of invoking the War Measures Act during peacetime — an act that temporarily suspended the civil rights of all Canadians and allowed the police to arrest and detain 465 people. Most of these people had committed no greater crime than appearing to be sympathetic to Quebec independence movements.

The night after the War Measures Act was proclaimed, Laporte's body was found in the trunk of an abandoned car. Eventually, Cross was freed by his captors, who were given free passage to Cuba in exchange for his life."

There are powerful photos (Images from October) in the CBC archives, as well as video and audio.

And I highly recommend the NFB documentary, Action: The October Crisis of 1970, as well as Octobre, Pierre Falardeau's controversial film portrayal of the events from the perspective of the kidnappers.


It's after noon and I haven't accomplished anything I intended to do. I've had a little too much coffee and am absent-mindedly switching between musiqueplus and muchmusic, showing on the little TV in the corner of my screen, thinking about the relationship between multiculturalism and biculturalism in Canada.

I really should try to focus.

Update 3pm: Just saw System of a Down's Boom! video. How little such things change.

Ice photographs

I despise the cold, but it creates ice, one of the most beautiful substances I have ever seen.

Just take D. Hirmes' gorgeous ice photographs: "Between February and March of 2003, I took about 1,500 photographs of ice forms. The forms were made by pouring water into household objects like bowls, vases, and balloons, and then freezing or partially freezing them in the fridge. For lighting, I generally kept the room pitch black and used only a flashlight to illuminate the ice."

The close-ups are really cool as well.

[via boingboing]

Wednesday, April 2, 2003

Building Materials

Architects Vinayak Bharne & Iku Shimomura discuss Japanese architecture, wood and transience.

"... in Japan where the forest was as ubiquitous as the breeze, it was natural that wood rather than stone or earth was the secular and sacred building material. The abundance of trees on the seismic archipelago coupled with the philosophical and religious notions of the culture engendered a unique receptivity towards timber ... Almost every building type, be it a house, shrine, temple or castle used wood as its major structural material bearing the extremes of a humid summer to a dry winter, and of typhoons and fires and earthquakes. It was amidst these arduous and sensitive rhythms that evolved Japan's culture of wood ... The contrast between Japan's culture of wood and the timber traditions of the West could be summed up in the Japanese notion of Setsuna, meaning transience. It imparted to wood the same materiality of life and death as at the heart of human consciousness, translating in the Japanese resistance to nails, thereby not hurting wood or wooden components. On another plane the notion manifested the inevitable tolerance at the wooden susceptibility to fire, moisture and harsh weather. It was this philosophical and pragmatic resultant that brought forth a distinctly Japanese attitude to wood and its use."

[via plep]

Being gentle with time

From New Scientist: "Fifteen antique turret clocks have been fitted with radio receivers and automatic regulators to move their delicate mechanisms forward an hour without any pushing and shoving from clumsy human hands. There is a growing shortage of people who are familiar with the workings of the large mechanical clocks on churches and public buildings, as routine maintenance tasks such as winding the clocks become automated. Yet they still need to be put forward an hour in spring and moved back again in the autumn without damaging their fragile mechanisms, some of which are 250 years old. So Rob Youngs has invented a discreet box of tricks to do the job. The device has infrared sensors to monitor the clock's pendulum swing and a microprocessor to compare this with the time signal generated by the National Physical Laboratory's atomic clock."

This makes me think of the Clock of the Long Now - such a clock, if sufficiently impressive and well engineered, would embody deep time for people - and the broader history of time measurement.

Digital Cities, Part 2

I'm still looking, but here's some more on digitally annotated city spaces.

Equator City Project (UK)
"The City project treats the city and information in a way that deliberately blurs the boundaries between old and new media. What makes a city meaningful to us is not just its bricks and mortar, but also our understanding and use of it. Our use of maps, texts and images of a city influence our activity in it and our interpretation of it... We are exploring ways that people can interact and maintain awareness of each other, even though they may be spatially separated and using a variety of interactive media." Thanks Ben!

And Brandon (thank you!) pointed me towards a couple of articles that gave up the following:

34 North 118 West (USA)
"Imagine walking through the city and triggering moments in time. Imagine wandering through a space inhabited with the sonic ghosts of another era. Like ether, the air around you pulses with spirits, voices, and sounds. Streets, buildings, and hidden fragments tell a story... 34 NORTH 118 WEST plays through a Tablet PC with Global Positioning System device and headphones provided onsite. GPS tracks your location and determine how the story is delivered. The landscape becomes the interface. Every version is rendered in real-time, according to your pattern of movement."

Annotate Space (USA)
" a project to develop experiential forms of journalism and nonfiction storytelling for use at specific locations. Stories are presented through text, images and audio files that participants can download from the Web to their handheld computers and take with them to the place of interest. The prototype experience is Annotate Space DUMBO, an interactive, anytime walking tour of the Brooklyn waterfront neighborhood of DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass)."

Geonotes: Digital Graffitti in Public Places (Sweden)
"Do you enjoy observing and participating in toilet graffiti? GeoNotes allows you to do this - digitally and for free! GeoNotes introduces a way of attaching virtual Post-It™ notes that can be read by other GeoNotes users passing by the physical location where you “placed” the note. GeoNotes operates wherever you are connected to Internet and a Lucent base station, for instance at your workplace or in publically available W-LANs."

WorldBoard (IBM)
"WorldBoard is a powerful new information and communication technology being developed and promoted by the WorldBoard Forum. At its most basic level, WorldBoard enables people to associate Web objects with a PLACE–Proximity and Location to Access Contextual Enlightenment. This enhancement of the Web enables anyone to virtually attach information, tools and serrvices to any location on the planet or, using an identification tag, to objects or people in the environment. These specific physical objects (i.e., a specific car or a box of cereal) or each instance of a class of objects (i.e., any oak tree or any 1999 Honda Accord LX Coupe with black exterior) may carry information with them as they move about the physical world."

Tuesday, April 1, 2003


Still at work on my Social Studies of Information, Technology and Knowledge syllabus, I went looking for when Naqoyqatsi was due to be released on DVD (in June, it seems, which is good). I haven't decided if there should just be discussion, or if students should have to write a critical review - but either way, the film offers much to think about and debate.

From director Godfrey Reggio's statement on the film:

By any measure, we live in an extraordinary and extreme time. Language can no longer describe the world in which we live. With antique ideas and old formulas, we continue to describe a world that is no longer present. In this loss of language, the word gives way to the image as the 'language' of exchange, in which critical thought disappears to a diabolic regime of conformity - the hyper-real, the omnipresent image. Language, real place gives way to numerical code, the real virtual; metaphor to metamorphosis; body to disembodiment; natural to supernatural; many to one. Mystery disappears, replaced by the illusion of certainty in technological perfection.

You can watch the trailer here, and the Web site has a lovely interactive feature where you can combine still images from the film into a narrative, comment on them, and post them.

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