Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Beware this stumbling block

"It is the eye of ignorance that assigns a fixed and unchangeable colour to every object."

- Paul Gauguin

First count

After yesterday's election Paul Martin remains Canadian Prime Minister but the Liberals only won a minority government - Canada's first in 25 years. The NDP did well and, at last count, the two parties were only one seat short of a majority government. This leaves the Conservatives as the official Opposition. Parliament is rounded out with the Bloc Québécois, who won two-thirds of the Quebec vote, and the Greens, who finally got enough votes to qualify for federal election funding.

But mostly I'm excited because Ed Broadbent is now my MP. Along with Pierre Trudeau and René Lévesque, Ed is one of my favourite Canadian politicians. He gives me hope that public intellectualism is not dead, and that underdogs can change the world. Here's hoping he kicks some ass in Parliament - and does something to ensure the next generation doesn't experience crushing student debt!

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Open-source as an iconic tactic

How Free Became Open and Everything Else Under the Sun
by Biella Coleman and Mako Hill

Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) functions as an iconic tactic for a range of projects, which is not the simple result of the lexical ambiguity of the words free or open. The ability of FOSS to act as an "engine of translation" is one of the most compelling political aspects of FOSS and an important starting point in the assessment of the variable ways in which FOSS has been used as a set of technologies and an icon for openness — one we feel is often overlooked or obscured in popular and scholarly accounts on the broader implications of FOSS.

I recently completed a research contract (for the International Development Research Centre of Canada) on the use of open-source software, and also found that OSS often provides a means for people to engage broader cultural values and practices that have little or nothing to do with the technology itself. Interesting how that works, huh?

Designing Interactive Systems

Early registration for DIS 2004 just ended, but advance registration is open until July 18.

It looks like there will be some really interesting papers, and of course you can join me, Jonah Brucker-Cohen, Lalya Gaye, Elizabeth Goodman and Dan Hill as we chat about Design for Hackability.

Design for hackability encourages designers and non-designers to critically and creatively explore interactivity, technology and media - to reclaim authorship and ownership of technologies and the social and cultural worlds in which we live. Hackability implies more than customization or adaptation - it calls for redefinition. In a world where technologies are increasingly mobile and invisible, designing for hackability means allowing and encouraging people to make technologies be what they want them to be. It cultivates reciprocity between users and designers and supports transparency and graceful responses to unanticipated uses. Before entering into a broader discussion with the audience, panelists will discuss tensions between people and artifacts, technology and play, the creative use of readily available resources, subverting traditional functions and uses of networks, and the everyday realities of corporate design practice. These discussions will be used to generate a design for hackability manifesto to guide further explorations in designing interactive systems.

If that's not enough incentive, you can always go to check out the other interesting things in Boston and Cambridge - like the Stata Center, which Dan recently discussed in terms of adaptive design and I considered as an architecture of power.

Get out the vote!

Today I vote for Ed Broadbent - Canadian social democratic icon and NDP Candidate for Ottawa Centre.

I'm pretty sure the NDP will not win the election - they never have - but they've accomplished great things in the past and if there is not a majority government they will again have the chance to influence politics in important ways. Of course they want to strengthen social welfare, public healthcare, and support diversity, equality and peacekeeping rather than war, but I vote NDP primarily because I support their position on education and student loans.

I believe that an educated population is a crucial aspect of responsible global citizenship, and I support innovative and creative ways of funding people's lifelong learning and helping them repay any debt. In other words, I believe that personal interest and ability - not finances - should decide whether someone gets a post-secondary education.

In the decade I have attended university, tuition fees have risen by five times the national inflation rate, which means that education is increasingly harder to afford, student debt is rising and it's not getting any easier to pay back student loans. The National Student Loan Centre actually recommends that you repay your loan faster by taking out a personal loan, paying off your student loan in one lump sum, and then paying off the personal loan.

Between my MA and PhD, my student loan payments were set at $962 a month (including interest) for ten years. Seriously, that's what my BA and MA cost me - attending public universities in one of the world's wealthiest nations - with no opportunity to reduce that amount no matter how well I do or what I contribute to my country. On the up-side, my academic performance was good enough that my doctorate has been completely supported by federal, provincial and university scholarships. Without that funding, I would never have been able to go back to school (and there is nothing I would rather be doing) but six months after my PhD is done those $962 payments resume.

Now imagine what kind of job you need to make that sort of monthly payment. Imagine knowing that a mortgage - or even a car loan - is out of the question before that debt is paid. I know that no one can take my education away from me, but imagine the lifelong costs for something your government told you was a right and not a privilege. Imagine wondering if you will have to leave the country you love because you cannot afford to live there.

Today I vote NDP because they believe that what I do is valuable and that my education has an important role in Canada's future. After all, that doesn't seem too much to ask of my government.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Rhetoric, Sociology and Science

Cristina Hanganu-Bresch, a PhD student in the Department of Rhetoric, University of Minnesota offers very interesting perspectives on the role of rhetorical analysis in science studies:

How has rhetoric of science emerged, since 1988, as a discipline that is distinct from the sociology of scientific knowledge?

Highlight contributions made to the field of science studies by researchers using a rhetorical approach.

What does stylistic analysis have to offer to rhetoric of science?

(found via)

And on the subject of science & tech, I just ordered Davis Baird's new book, Thing Knowledge: A Philosophy of Scientific Instruments. Looks interesting too.

Free love

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Two's company, three's a crowd

dissertation piles:


crowds are good.

Critical Theory - HCI Style

Proceedings of Reflective HCI: Towards a Critical Technical Practice (PDF 2.10 MB)

Alas, no cultural studies - it's a strangely apolitical collection - but plenty of structural, semiotic and aesthetic (?) approaches. And I smiled when I read about usability as an oppressive practice.


Despite (or maybe because of) the 54 must-be-answered-very-soon email in my inbox, I am finding great pleasure in Jack Mottram's virtual travels through England.

The Drift Table is "a coffee table with a small viewport showing a slowly changing aerial view of the British landscape." It finally arrived at Jack's place a few days ago, and his weblog will track its travels over the next six weeks. (How fortunate the researchers are to have someone so passionately log his experiences with their prototype!)

Here's a glimpse of Jack's travels so far:

I'm in Littleport, near Cambridge, just now. I just hope I make it to The North soon - you might not know this, Anne, but there's nothing in the UK worth seeing South of Birmingham. Or East of Birmingham for that matter. This table certainly brings out the regionalist in me - the book doing the steering has been repositioned to take me homewards (ie anywhere on the West coast, up North).

So, the Table crashed again yesterday, twice. Overnight, though, it has taken me from London to Warwickshire (sadly, I think I've missed Milton Keynes, which probably looks lovely and gridded from above). One thing: the UK needs more vast sprawling mega-conurbations. Or more mountains. I'm sure rolling fields are pretty enough when you're in them; but seen from above rural landscapes are deeply tedious.


Thursday, June 24, 2004


Still thinking about assemblages and layered cities.

And, since I'm sure I can't be the only one fascinated with architectural models, check out the military research facilities and computer rooms modelled by America's Leading Scale Model Builder. Although my favourite project of theirs is the positively creepy-sounding Happy Hill Farm Academy/Home, the less conspiracy-minded may better appreciate their pretty model of Falling Water.

File under misc.

It seems that Superman was smarter than the ENIAC.

(Man of Steel link courtesy)

The vagaries of the universe

I'll never forget the day I learned that I had been looking at the light of dead stars. How could the universe promise so much beauty and then betray me so?!

And today I've learned that for the first 400,000 years of its existence, our universe sounded "like a scream declining to a dull roar ... changing from a major third chord to a minor third." These sound waves are "30,000 light-years wide and 55 octaves below what humans can hear."

At least I can see the stars.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Lichtenstein, self and other

Roy Lichtenstein, Image Duplicator, 1963Roy Lichtenstein, Self Portrait, 1978

Of libraries and layers

"I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library." - Jorge Luis Borges


I was just going through the brilliant CCA library catalogue, in preparation for my upcoming visit. I'm going to research some architectural theory on mobility and the urban imaginary, and am looking forward to checking out some old Archigram collages, audio/visual kits by Cedric Price and Adolfo Natalini, and some of Gordon Matta-Clark's films.

On a related note, Dan recently posted some interesting thoughts on the Smithsons and adaptive architecture. As I unpack what a "digitally layered" city might mean, he mentions the Smithsons' "layers of strength," by which they advocate an architectural "frame of permanence with 'lighter' layers of transience overlaid, shifting in response to functional needs (laboratories become studios etc.) or organisational change (faculties merging and reforming etc.)."

Hmm. In socio-cultural terms, what might "providing a frame of permanence with 'lighter' layers of transience overlaid" imply? I can easily imagine the transient layers, but what would constitute the stable or permanent part(s)?


"To those with ears to hear, libraries are really very noisy places. On their shelves we hear the captured voices of the centuries-old conversation that makes up our civilization." - Timothy Healy

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

The lives of objects (material culture)

The Velveteen Rabbit or How Toys Become Real by Margery Williams

"A fetish is an object masquerading as a story." - Robert Stoller

Thinking about ubiquitous computing and commodity fetishism.


One of my favourite parts of Le Fabuleux destin d'Amelie Poulain (2001) is the voyages of the garden gnome. Inspiring her father to stop mourning the death of his wife and re-engage the world, Amelie kidnaps his garden gnome and sends photos of the gnome in cities around the world. (Everyone needs adventure in life.)

This is not a new idea. The Front de Libération des Nains de Jardins (Garden Gnome Liberation Front) pranked the lawn-obsessed for years. Going underground in 1997 when their leader was arrested, the FLNJ reappeared in 2000 to protest France's first garden gnome exhibition. They are also suspected in the 1998 mass suicide of gnomes, "when 11 of them were found dangling by their necks under a bridge. A letter found nearby said: 'When you read these few words we will no longer be part of your selfish world, where we serve merely as pretty decoration'." Hahahahahaha.

In America, continues the battle to stop oppressive gardening, and in late 2003, popular travel website Travelocity spent $80 million on the Roaming Gnome ad campaign.

There are many types of gnomes in European folklore, and the garden gnome's nature is "on the somber side, and he rather enjoys telling melancholy tales. If he begins to feel too closed in, he simply goes to the woods. But, as he is quite learned, he sometimes feels out of place there." Nonetheless, a garden gnome is "a good luck charm, a symbol that the forces of nature are on your side. According to legend, garden gnomes [also] help with chores around the home."

And so, I assume, this is why people want garden gnomes. And why the gnomes yearn to be free.


Theories of Modernism: The Fetish in Modernity, 1890-1930
Theresa M. Senft

The conventional European view at the time was that fetish makers worshipped their own constructions not simply as conventional human-produced symbols of supernatural power, but as the literal embodiment of that power. "Europeans believed," writes Linda Williams, "that Africans were so blinded by the sensuous materiality of their fetishes, they forgot that it was they themselves who had invested these objects with value."

Commodity fetishism, argued Williams after Marx, is a social delusion with profound political effects. Blinded by products of his own making, bewitched by advertising's "sensuous materiality", modern man stares, savage-like, at objects which are now "stamped" with more social power than his own labor. Consumers, failing to see their connection to other human producers, lose their own humanity; in turn, they endow commodities--inanimate objects--with human attributes.

The question of fetishism is really one of agency. How do objects act? And can we answer this without falling back on use-value (in culture) or affective behaviours (in design)? On a related note, the concept and practice of anthropomorphism is not adequate to the task.


Anything by Chris Tilley on material culture

Material Agency: Towards A Non-Anthropocentric Approach

Material Culture of Technology

Colloquium in Modern European and American History: "The Secret Life of Objects"

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Play as though your life depends on it


Space and cultural geography

Surveillance & Society - Call for Papers

Issue 2(3): People Watching People

Deadline for submissions: July 31st 2004

The Editors are calling for papers on the theme of 'People Watching People.' This theme is intended to bring back to the centre of discussion the specifically human aspects of surveillance, a subject that is too often centred around discussion of technological development. Contributions are therefore welcomed on all aspects of surveillance centred around the 'human'.

We particularly welcome work that reflects on everyday experience, and encourage contributions that move beyond conventional Foucauldian theoretical perspectives. As usual, in addition to top quality academic work, we strongly encourage non-academic forms of submission including fiction, poetry, photography, film and video, and multimedia.

I dig the journal that supports passionate thinking beyond Foucault. To make a gross overstatement: I find most discussions on surveillance and privacy really boring. And lacking critical, cross-cultural and historical perspective. The S&S journal was created as part of the Urban Technology Design and Development research group at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, which is where Steve Graham and journal editor, David Wood are. They presented Permeable Boundaries and the Software-Sorted Society (.doc) at Lancaster's Centre for Mobilities Research Alternative Mobility Futures Conference in January - making an interesting case for the "tendency towards technological lock-in which threatens to divide contemporary societies into high-speed, high-mobility, connected and low-speed, low-mobility, disconnected, classes." I think their ideas can be pushed further, but I'm convinced that Telecommunications and the City and Splintering Urbanisms are way stronger than City of Bits and Me++. And the Cybercities Reader is the best introduction to the topic of cities and technologies I can think of. See also General Cybercity Web Links.

(Actually, more than once I've wondered how MIT's impressive PR efforts have contributed to the seemingly greater familiarity among designers and technologists with the work of certain architects and urban planners than with, say, cultural geographers. Perhaps it also has something to do with historical divisions between the practices of craft and intellectual inquiry. I still struggle to articulate how I understand the popularity of systems-thinking (reductionist and holistic), but I keep pushing its history back: before cybernetics to industrialisation.)

I also think of Rob Kitchin, co-author (with Martin Dodge) of Mapping Cyberspace and The Atlas of Cyberspace. If you're more interested in spatial cognition, then The Cognition of Geographic Space and Cognitive Mapping: Past, Present and Future are good ones. And I really enjoyed some of the papers in Lost in Space: Geographies of Science Fiction.

(Every once in awhile I realise how much I have read in eleven years of university. It's absurd really.)

Reminder to self: post annotated bibliographies on mobilities research (ontological mobility, mobile ontologies, cultural mobilities, object mobilities)

All over the place

In October of 1966, in Oakland California, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale founded the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense / History of the Black Panther Party / The FBI's Black Panther Coloring Book

Freemasonry / More Freemasonry / The Philosophy of Masonry / A Farmer's Almanac: Character of a Freemason / Jazz and Freemasonry / The Social Side of the Craft / Freemasons Meet-Up

Wikipedia: Genocide vs. Democide vs. Collateral Damage


On days spent writing my dissertation I've noticed that I blog a lot and don't speak to people.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Politics of hybridity

Which politics for which artifacts?
Bruno Latour

That designers use detours through material objects to enforce types of behaviour, everyone who has been made to slow down near a school because of the silent presence of a speed trap (also called a 'sleeping policeman') would readily agree. Yes, we are made to do things we would not have done otherwise every time we enter into contact with an artifact... This doesn't mean however that only oppression and discrimination are expressed through those humble and devious techniques. We are also, thanks to them, 'allowed', 'permitted', 'enabled', 'authorised' to do things.

When you begin to read artifacts not as neutral objects indifferent to goals and values, but as the central node of a power struggle, it's true that you enter into politics, but the question then becomes which sort of politics? But if artifacts do more than 'objectifying' some earlier political scheme, if their design is full of unexpected consequences, if their durability means that all the original ideas their designers entertained about them will have drifted in a few decades, if, in addition, they do much more than carrying out power and domination and are also offering permissions, possibilities, affordances, it means that they are doing politics in a way not anticipated by Langdon Winner's seminal article. In other words they have to be represented. They are a material assemblage in dire need of an assembly.

The problem is that if we sort of know how to describe a bridge or a building in its material composition, we are yet unable to draw together all the stake holders which have to be assembled for this bridge or this building to have a political representation.

Mmm. Mapping assemblages. Slippery. See also: mobile speed bump

Rules to live by, Pt. I

Barbara Kruger, Untitled (No), 1985

Social Networks / Issue Networks Part 2

Noortje Marres responds to my recent post and is kind enough to allow me to post it here as well:

[T]here are two points I think might need some clarification from my side.

First, the analogy you draw between issue-networks and What is distinctive about the issue-network to me, is that it brings together actors whose commitments are irreconcilable (at least for the moment). An example is a network which implicates US farmers and European vegetarians into the controversy around GM Food : their interests are virtually opposed, and for this reason they are implicated in precisely, an affair. An issue-network is thus different from a shared interest network.

Second, there is the question of what exactly is meant when we refer to the formal aspects of politics. You sum this up by the terms centralization and institutionalization, and there is certainly a point to that. But formalities are also far more slippery and free-floating than that: formalities can be mobilized (i.e. a key sentence from a report), and the same goes for information format (i.e. "the leak").

Formalities are in that sense a resource for politics, for institutional as well as extra-institutional actors.

But reading your comments, I am especially happy to find that you take up what is to me that main point of my short text: that only if we explore how information technologies allow us to relate to, and bring out, the substance of issues, can we really begin appreciate their pertinence to politics.

Cool. Interesting point about issue-networks as different from shared-interest-networks. I really like the idea of being *implicated* in an affair, a sort of tense intimacy I have written about before. And the second point is fascinating. I had been thinking only of politics as practice - not as (informational) objects or events. Thanks Noortje!

Playing with the World

The New Game of Human Life, 1790

The New Game of Human Life encouraged young players to develop proper moral character, learning the exigencies of the seven stages of life ... while navigating the paths of vice and virtue.

Pank-a-Squith, 1910

The goal of this board game is to reach the Houses of Parliament, the pinnacle of achievement for the campaign for Woman’s Suffrage. Although designed to be humorous, the images evoke the darker side of the campaign, making reference to police violence against women protesters and the force-feeding of imprisoned hunger strikers.

The Church at Play, a Manual for Directors of Social and Recreational Life, 1922

The Puritans of early America extolled the benefits of industry and the inherent evils of idleness. These values became ingrained in mainstream American culture and are communicated in this 1922 church handbook. It describes games and activities designed to educate church members and to attract new members. The book warns of the dangers of idleness, but praises controlled leisure activities as a means of "advancing civilization."

Home Play in Wartime, 1943 and Playing Mahjong, 1943

The Relocation Program: A Guidebook (for Japanese internment camps) states that pastimes such as Mahjong, including non odori, shibai, go, and flower arranging - which have no political implications - were freely permitted.


And in case you think we don't still do this, check out Hasbro's Careers Game, The Game of Life or even Chutes and Ladders (the, um, non-pagan version of Snakes and Ladders). And let's not forget games like Old Maid or Mystery Date old and new.

Of bodies and crowds

Good to see Christian Nold's BioMapping project making the rounds - and I'm looking forward to seeing it in action next week. I met Chris at Mobile Connections in Manchester last month, and think I may have frightened him because we only spoke once. Anyway, the thing I remember most about his brief presentation was when he described how the biomapping sensors showed him exactly how stressed out he gets while on the tube - and how that served to stress him out even further. Sometimes, less information is better. (Reminds me of Liz Goodman's Sensing Beds project and how it also challenges our assumptions about how much information is enough.)

But you know, I think I still like Chris' work on crowds the best - Mobile Vulgus: an attempt to reclaim the mobility of the crowd as a physical force for change, and Crowd Compiler: software which produces images of the temporal crowd. (Always reminds me of Canetti's Crowds and Power.)

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Obscenity :

I've been watching an obscene amount of the even more obscene MuchMoreRetro recently.

In the realm of obscene as pervish: Did you ever notice what a perv Rick Springfield is? In Jesse's Girl he obsessively covets his best friend's girlfriend, and seems more than a bit distracted by the fact that she's "lovin' him with that body". But then again, after seeing Annie Lennox in the video for Love is a Stranger, I was definitely loving her. Sigh.

In the realm of obscene as repulsive: Guns and Roses totally suck ass and their ballads are entirely unbearable. Oh, and their videos bite too.

Mobilities and computing: a few research questions

I've recently had to articulate what I think are interesting research possibilities in the realm of ubiquitous computing and people's experience of space and culture - and thought I'd share my thoughts here.

Given my recent travels, the first thing that comes to mind is Irish Traveller culture. I had assumed they were Galician gypsies, but it appears that Irish Travellers are culturally distinct. Regardless, their nomadic way of life remains poorly understood, and they continue to be marginalised and discriminated against by the relatively homogenous Irish "settled" culture. Since 1963, the Irish government has taken official steps to "fix the Traveller problem," and although many Travellers now live in settled communities, the government's assimilationist policies have failed at least to the extent that they are still considered socially- and ethically-suspect outsiders.

In a world that continues to position technologically-enabled mobility in terms of its liberating potential, I think we have ignored our less-than-accepting historical responses to mobile cultures and their relations to settled peoples. I would love to do research in Ireland in order to better understand Traveller culture and the issues they face. The cultural tensions between nomadism and settlements would no doubt offer unique perspectives on what is at stake in a world of mobility - and I would like to explore the possibilities of mobile computing to help bridge these differences, discontinuities and inequalities. (Conversely, I am also interested in what happens to non-mobile people in contexts where mobility is more highly valued.)


Ever-skeptical, I am still not convinced that mobile computing will fundamentally alter the political agency of individuals and groups. Watching Six Feet Under the other day, I laughed out loud when one character said something along the lines of "He assumed he was a revolutionary just because he'd participated in a flash mob." Don't get me wrong, I can still feel the sting of when Howard Rheingold asked me why academics were so against people having fun! It's not that I'm against fun - I have pretty much organised my life around principles of play - but I can't bring myself to believe that technology equals freedom. Oh, I know it's not that simple; no one is going to say that and mean it. And it's not that I don't have hope (or is it faith?) But I feel compelled to counter the argument that mobile computing will necessarily enhance human agency. I believe the very best we can say is that it will change what is at play when we act, and I agree with Latour:

[A]n increasingly large number of humans are mixed with an increasingly large number of nonhumans, to the point that, today, the whole planet is engaged in the making of politics, law, and soon, I suspect, morality … The nasty problem we now have to deal with is that, unfortunately, we do not have a definition of politics that can answer the specifications of this nonmodern history.

This suggests that mobile computing is, and will continue to be, embroiled in the lives of different people, places and objects. These embroilments / mangles / intertwinglings / assemblages both desire and produce particular relations and values. They build worlds big and small. And given the modern tendency to view the world in terms of functioning and discrete entities, instead of hybrids and broken messes, I believe that we do not currently have adequate means to evaluate and engage these worlds around us. And if we can't engage and evaluate them, then we have little agency.

Despite a long and torrid history, we lack a certain experience in our love affair with technology. Sometimes I suspect we are just selfish lovers with shallow intimacies.


I think that the playful and creative possibilities of mobile technologies are only just beginning to be understood. Artists have been exploring these potentials for awhile, but there has been little systematic research done by anthropologists and sociologists on playful computing practices and how they relate to our everyday experiences of place. I would like to better understand what is at play in our technological experiences. And I would like to better understand how we play with mobile technologies.

Here, my interest really lies in exploring how people and playful technologies can build public spaces.

What is the role of play in world-building? What constitutes a ubiquitously-technologised public space? What public (political and ethical) challenges arise in our engagements with architecture, open space and each other? How do our practices slide between the virtual and the concrete, the abstract and the probable? What is our experience of the urban? How can playful technologies act to question our assumptions about the responsibilities of government and the rights of citizens? How might playful technologies encourage greater transparency and accountability? How can playful technologies create meaningful places for people to engage each other? What can playful technologies teach us about relations between designers, architects, technologists and the rest of us?


Despite a substantial and growing body of knowledge around the use of mobile technologies by particular groups of people - such as Finnish and Japanese teenagers, mobile office workers, or third-world politicos - our understanding of place-based (rather than identity-based) uses of mobile tech remains rather limited. Research on the "wireless city" has tended to concentrate on urban planning and infrastructure and/or telecom policy, which is very useful, but does not really get at our everyday lives and experiences of place.

I particularly want to investigate places like social/public housing complexes or other ghettos and impoverished neighbourhoods, and look at how mobile technologies could (and do) impact our social and cultural relationships in (and with) these spaces. I believe that our too-often utopian (white, male, and upper-middle class) discourses on mobile technologies would greatly benefit from a better understanding of how mobility and mobile tech contribute to the creation of "us" and "other" - or "good" and "bad" places. If we stand any chance at diminishing the ill-effects of the digital divide getting past such limiting dichotomies, then we need to understand how these divisions differences continue to act in a world supposedly without boundaries. And as I suggested above, I am interested in how playful mobile technologies might bridge negotiate these differences and create new places and ways for people to be together.

Travel gazette

Since my last post I have crossed the Atlantic twice, and all the bridges in Dublin.

Unlike my last trip, time spent in Dublin was way less than time spent in transit. Thanks to US Airways and inclement weather, four flights were delayed, two were cancelled and I spent the night in Philadelphia airport. All I can say is that a shopping mall and food court most definitely do not make up for the tyrannical design behind the airport's seating options. Rocking chairs and benches with individual armrests only work in the imaginary universe of on-time travel. It took me 31 hours to get home from Dublin and I don't remember the last time I was so happy to see my bed.

I arrived in the morning and Kaki, Jonah and I enjoyed brunch in the Temple Bar food market. Then K and I wandered through the art and fashion market before I headed off for my interview. Despite brutal jetlag and lack of sleep, I seemed to impress them and was certainly impressed by them. Everything was good.

I had really hoped to go with K & J to the Outside In conference on public space - which wrapped up yesterday - but couldn't find an affordable flight to Goteborg with such short notice. Shame. Participants included Iain Borden, Pedro Sepulveda, Usman Haque, The Institute for Applied Autonomy and Space Hijackers. Kaki and Jonah also led a workshop called Hacking the Street, in which people had to find objects in the streets of Goteborg, technologically augment them in some way, and put them back.

And despite not getting to see some people in Dublin, I really enjoyed taking in the redeveloped architecture in Temple Bar again: "Although continuous, the city is more blunt than seamless, more startling than predictable. The disconcerted continuity of this urban moment recalls the disparity between adjoining yet dissimilar images in narrative cinema--alien spatial fragments somehow unite into a cohesive (albeit abrupt) web. The turn of a corner, like the flick of a film frame, can redefine the nature of a disjunctive, heterogeneous spatial continuum."

Friday, June 11, 2004

On the move

receiver #10 - The Information Society on the move

My article - Mobility as world-building/technologies at play - is in very good company!

And I'll be back on Tuesday.

A few updates to the article:

FIASCO has been renamed Digital Street Game and there's an alpha version up and running in NYC. Congrats to Liz, Michele and Paul!

And Ricardo says that he'll be taking The Public Broadcast Cart for a spin from Exit Art to Bryant Square Park as part of the Public Execution exhibition at Exit Art, on June 16th, 26th and July 14th. The online broadcast will be available via THE THING's Office Radio.

If you're in New York on July 10th, you can also check out his new installation - In From Darkness to Daylight - a sculptural work that "reflects different histories of the Bowery. Each animation is based upon a real resident of the Bowery and features recorded interviews by each with the artist. The separate animations combine to make distinct stories spanning the past 150 years and imagining the future of the Bowery neighborhood." Cool.

16 June Update - Mobile Entertainment: The Power of Play. Justin Hall in TheFeature takes a different sort of look at playful technologies.

Social Networks / Issue Networks

Given the upcoming elections, and the continuing hype around "social software" and "e-democracy," it seems useful to take a closer look at what may be at stake when we create and use technological means to help us change the world.

Net-work is Format Work: The Issue-Network as a Site of Politics and the Challenge of Making Info-Technology Part of Civil Society by Noortje Marres

This draft memo shifts our attention from social and information networks - finding friends and sharing knowledge - to issue networks, and the role they play in civil society. The author argues that "making acquaintances and spreading the word" may not be the best way to understand and engage the politics of civil society - and the role of technology in these networks.

[T]he issue network has many good things to offer for an account of the politics of civil society: it draws attention to the work of issue formation, and more specifically, the work of formatting issues, as the crucial dimension of the politics that civil society networks engage in.

In other words, the framing - defining, labeling and translating - of issues is central to political action. In issue-networks, people are connected by virtue of the issues at hand. (This is not unlike the principle behind - that strangers will come together because of shared interests.) Furthermore, in issue-networks, the stakes are framed collectively. But issue-networks also, of course, modulate people's political positions and practices.

[I]n policy studies the issue-network is defined as a relatively open network of antagonistic actors, configured around a controversial issue. The issue-network is then opposed to the policy network, which is defined as closed, standing in the service of the de-politicization of issues, and prone to achieve consensus (and as heavily institutionalized) ... To say issue-network, is then to ask: how do civil society groups insert themselves, or get inserted by others, into formations of opponents and allies (as well as actors between these two extremes), which have configured around a common issue?

Sounds good so far, but what does this have to do with information technologies? The author states that social networks (and their associated knowledge networks) are seen to be the arena in which global civil society and information technologies come together. However, the author argues that the informality and amorphousness of these networks makes it difficult to account for, and engage with, the formal (centralised and institutional) aspects of politics. In other words, people may be playing on different - and sometimes incompatible - fields. (Clay Shirky began to hint at this when he questioned the role of social software in the Dean campaign.)

However, this is not to say that politics do not require social and information networking; clearly there is much interconnection. The author simply argues that issue-networks provide a broader perspective on the politics of civil society - as well as a useful means for understanding the role of information technologies in these politics.

[T]echnologies appear as a key element in the practices of information politics of civil society actors, in as far as they enable the format-work these actors pursue, in their attempts to intervene in extended issue-networks, or precisely seek to disengage their practices from these larger configurations around issues ... In approaching information technology in this way, as enabling and constraining format-work of civil society actors, in their (dis)engagement with/from broader issue-networks, we deviate from accounts that understand the connections between global civil society and information-technologies in terms of social and info-networking ... But our account also deviates from social- and info-networking arguments in that it approaches info-technological practices as substantially integrated in civil society politics.

Again, the difference at hand is that social- and information- networks are seen to act in alignment with, or parallel to, information technologies. Issue-networks, on the other hand, involve more of a mangle, or an intertwining with info-tech.

The strength of this approach is that it allows us to re-evaluate the role of technology in politics. How do particular technologies enable or disable the framing of issues? How are people allowed to intervene in these discussions? In these ways, technology cannot be considered either utopian or distopian - and, perhaps more importantly, it can never be understood as neutral or separate from political action. In my opinion, until we answer these questions - and design around them - we don't stand much of a chance of making the world a better place with communication technologies.


The Foundation in Amsterdam is conceived as a project to map debates on the Web on important social issues.

The Issue Crawler software locates 'Issue Networks' on the Web. An Issue Network is a set of inter-linked organizations dealing with the same issue. An Issue Network is located through 'co-link analysis' of issue-oriented web pages, one method used in network analysis, applied here to the Web. | Describing the types of networks we seek and analyse | The Web Issue Index of Civil Society


Why Map? The Techno-epistemological outlook by Richard Rogers

The essay concerns what kind of commitments researchers and designers take on when they map social networks. More specifically, it takes up what may happen when social network researchers slope towards intelligence work.


Preferred placement: Knowledge politics on the web edited by Richard Rogers

Instead of celebrating the web and all its prospects for creative artistry, democracy and e-commerce, the volume authors calmly go backstage. How are search engines, portals, default settings and collaborative filtering formatting the surfer and offering passage to the media?

Preferred Placement: The Hit Economy, Hyperlink Diplomacy and Web Symposium

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Wired and unwired

BT is planning to rebuild its phone network in the UK, slowly shifting from the Public Switched Telephone network (PSTN) to an Internet Protocol (IP) network:

It could change the way people use their phones and allow most people with a BT phone line to plug into broadband using computers, mobiles or other devices. It could also mean that mobiles and fixed lines become interchangeable, with the same number and bill ... Matt Beal, the man charged with heading up the conversion to the 21st century network, admits that this could create a new digital divide. "There is that risk but complete conversion is not possible," he said.

The State of Wireless London by Julian Priest (via)

Abstract. This study looks at how wireless networking (WLAN) in London has developed over the last three years from hacktivist pastime to mainstream pursuit. Comparing networks built by freenetwork groups, commercial hotspot providers, and public sector initiatives the study also examines the sales and uptake of WLAN equipment and makes some direct measurements of wireless activity in the Greater London area. Finally the study looks at the development of WLAN in the home and makes a recommendation for a Wireless Festival for London in 2004/2005.


Industry Canada -- Spectrum Management and Telecommunications

Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission


Jackson Pollock at work

To the question "How do you know when you're finished?," Jackson Pollock replied "How do you know when you're finished making love?"

Sometimes reading is much better than writing

Snarkout and Rodcorp. I've said it before and will say it again: I love these blogs!

Wednesday, June 9, 2004

Mobile thesis

As I currently wrestle with the exact combination of essay/collage/html my dissertation will take, Ken distracts me with Daria Loi's interesting and fun PhD Thesis at RMIT University, Australia.

A suitcase as a PhD…? Exploring the potential of travelling containers to articulate the multiple facets of a research thesis

What happens if a PhD Thesis cannot be articulated in a conventional format? What if some notions require other senses to be fully accessed, appreciated, and expressed? What if words alone tell only one portion of the story? Can a suitcase and its complex content be a research thesis?

This paper examines these questions via a recent experience where a PhD thesis was designed and developed by the author as a series of travelling containers that include written text and a range of interactive artefacts. More than supporting material, these artefacts are embodied conceptual arguments that transfer ideas and sensations when physically handled.

The author argues that in some circumstances ideas should be expressed and accessed in multiple ways and that anomalous formats can enable researchers to convey concepts on sensorial, emotional, and intellectual levels that traditional formats cannot always reach... [T]he thesis/artefact is not only a platform for expressing ideas and reflections, but also a place where content can be experienced in the act of unfolding.

Cool. I really like the idea of a mobile and tangible thesis. Mine would be soft and voluptuous, I think. And move with the consistency of evaporated milk in strong coffee.


Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Adaptive spaces

Time's Up - Sensory Circus

Sensory Circus is embodied in an interactive installation comprising an active, responsive and auto-generative audiovisual and architectonic system. The audience is central, and is principally responsible for their substantial contribution to the nature and dynamics of the whole environment.

Through the different types of interaction with the components present inside Sensory Circus as well as their physical presence, every visitor mutates from a passive viewer to an active protagonist.

(Thanks Karmen!)

Maps! You have taught me the fear of becoming lost

Jane England in ROAM - a Reader on the Aesthetics of Mobility

To roam is to be mobile - able to move freely from one place or position in the environment to another. The essential companion to mobility is orientation, the knowledge of distance and direction in relation to your surroundings, together with the ability to keep track of spatial relationships as they change while you move about. Maps provide the orientation that accompanies mobility so that you can reach where you want to go, or know exactly where it is that you have ended up: "You have taught me the fear of becoming lost... In strange cities I memorise streets and always know exactly where I am. Amid scenes of splendour, I review the route back to the hotel."

There it is again. That tension between security and insecurity...

Literate lad culture

Chuck out those wrinkled copies of FHM. Apparently, women prefer men who read books.

Penguin UK's Beautiful Women Want Good Booking Men: if you get spotted reading the book-of-the-month by their Stunning Good Booking Girl (scroll down) you get the prize.

Into guys? No problem.

Um, wow.

Sunday, June 6, 2004

Already very fast

Piet Mondrian, Composition with Yellow Blue and Red, 1939-42

I suggested to Mondrian that perhaps it would be fun to make these rectangles oscillate and he, with a very serious countenance, said: 'No, it is not necessary, my painting is already very fast'.

- Alexander Calder

Saturday, June 5, 2004

So what are laboratories and research, anyway?

Of course I have been following the all-too-real story of Steve Kurtz - member of the awesome Critical Art Ensemble (CAE) and Associate Professor in the Department of Art at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

On one hand, I am deeply saddened and concerned about the implications for artistic and academic freedom. On the other hand, I am completely fascinated by the challenge taken on by the American government: to define exactly what constitutes a laboratory and acceptable research.

The FBI is seeking charges [against Kurtz and others ] under Section 175 of the US Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989, which has been expanded by the USA PATRIOT Act. As expanded, this law prohibits the possession of "any biological agent, toxin, or delivery system" without the justification of "prophylactic, protective, bona fide research, or other peaceful purpose."

For their work in the CAE, the Kurtzes operated a home biotech lab with several strains of bacteria, chemicals and enzymes, a centrifuge and a PCR machine, the device scientists use to amplify genetic markers for visualization. Scientists in biotech labs every day operate centrifuges and PCR machines in their attempts to create new, genetically modified and transgenic organisms for the global food supply, and genetic therapies for treating devastating diseases.

The FBI agents asked Adele Henderson [chair of the art department at the University at Buffalo] why the Kurtzes were operating a lab in their home, and not at the university. "(The FBI agents) didn't seem to get it," said Henderson. "They're used to the science model, with scientists working in a lab with government funds. In an art department that's rarely the case."

So what's a lab then? Or research, for that matter? Is the only model a government-sponsored scientific one? And what kind of science is that anyway? Is there any way to critique that practice?

We know there are cultural expectations about how, where and by whom science is practiced - so what are the differences between Nexia Biotechnologies, extracting your own DNA at home and Steve Kurtz's research for the CAE? Is it really just a matter of location? Or is it intention? Who decides? And using what criteria?


Georges Braque: "Art upsets and science reassures."


Washington Post June 2, 2004: The FBI's Art Attack

Wired News June 10, 2004: Food Makers Changing Genes, an article about BIO 2004. The Biojudiciary Project hosted a DNA isolation demo that you can do at home: "Demonstration attendees will have a chance to take home a DNA isolation recipe, perfect for fostering scientific interest in children." They forgot to mention that it may also foster bioterrorist desires in kids. Sigh.


I was 16 years old and just finishing my final year of high school when the Tiananmen Square massacre took place. I wept. That was 15 years ago today.

"Our hearts still tremble and bleed."

State terrorism continues to kill people around the world every day, and we do precious little to stop it.

Friday, June 4, 2004

The kitchen (of the future)

The Honeywell Kitchen Computer (1969) "If she can only cook as well as Honeywell can compute." It cost $10 000, took two weeks to learn how to use, and would balance your chequebook as well as plan the meals. Sweet!


The Dutch Kitchen of the Future

MIT Media Lab's Kitchen of the Future

Microsoft's Kitchen of the Future

Salton's Kitchen of the Future

Philips Design Kitchen of the Future


The Kitchen of the Future "The people of the kitchen began to believe that the kitchen was so good that the whole house should be one big kitchen" by Joe Thompson


The Practice of Everyday Life Volume 2: Living and Cooking by Michel de Certeau, Luce Giard, and Pierre Mayol


Designing technology for domestic spaces: A Kitchen Manifesto (pdf) by Genevieve Bell and Joseph Kaye

Glass Bottom Boat is one of those Hollywood movies: ditzy blonde disrupts the orderly life of rational scientist. Bruce Templeton, a NASA physicist played by Rod Taylor, has designed himself the perfect home, equipped with laborsaving devices. His kitchen is a showpiece of streamlined functionality. Cooking becomes just another task, one that can be controlled and contained. The kitchen—automated with appliances popping out of counter tops and selfcleaning dishes and floors—confounds Doris Day’s character and renders her "feminine" skills obsolete; she is compelled to declare that there is no place for her in this kitchen of the future. Her declaration that "this kitchen doesn’t need a woman" captures a central theme of this paper. In creating technology for the home, in particular for the kitchen, technologists have forgotten that these domestic spaces are inhabited and used by people. These spaces function not as sites for technologists’ or technological in(ter)vention, but as sites where meaning is produced, as well as meals. These spaces are the places where we dwell.

(Thanks Simon!)

Another update

From the ever-awesome Prelinger Archives:

Design for Dreaming - Set at the 1956 General Motors Motorama, this is one of the key Populuxe films of the 1950s, showing futuristic dream cars and Frigidaire's "Kitchen of the Future."

(Thanks Peter!)

See also:

Practical Dreamer - A fantasy of kitchen planning and modernization, 1957.

Step-Saving Kitchen - Demonstrating a U-shaped kitchen developed by the housing staff of the Bureau of Human Nutrition and Home Economics, 1949.

The Corporate Anthropologist (and ethics)

Christian Science Monitor - Anthropologists on the job

Katie Hafner - Coming Of Age In Palo Alto

CNN - Corporate anthropology: Dirt-free research


Anthropology as ‘Brand’: Reflections on corporate anthropology (pdf) by Lucy Suchman

Our work as anthropologists sits uncomfortably inside the close-knit interweaving of consumer experience understood as something prior, discovered through anthropological investigation and then addressed by design and marketing, and consumer experience understood as constituted through activities of design and marketing, in their contributions to the creation of desire and the crafting of cultural imaginaries. I don’t believe that we can resolve this tension.

[Daniel Miller] cautions against the danger that, in taking up the cultural analysis of consumable things, we find ourselves contributing to, rather than refiguring, dominant forms of commodity fetishism. As antidote he proposes that we attend to the "mundane sensual and material qualities" of the object, and through those qualities find the connections to lives and the cultural imaginaries that animate them.

Along with the increasing virtuality of consumer capitalism, in other words, are the persistent threads of materiality and desire that comprise our everyday lives, as consumers and as participants in a multiplicity of other life projects. Image and substance, marketing and design are inextricably interwoven in these places and in the things they offer us, which is part of what makes them both insidious, and powerfully seductive. Unless our stories of consumption can come to grips with these specific materialities we’ll have missed something substantial about the place of stuff and its power to enroll us, however unwittingly, in the increasingly asymmetrical and inequitable flows of labor, goods and capital around the globe. As anthropologists and as consumers, our problem is to find the spaces that allow us to refigure the projects of those who purchase our services and from whom we buy, rather than merely to be incorporated passively into them.

Now that's something to think about.


Society for Applied Anthropology - Ethical and Professional Responsibilities

American Anthropological Association Ethics

Association of Social Anthropologists - Ethical guidelines

American Sociological Association Code of Ethics

Supercool knitting

I am still loving knitting, but I'm still not as good as this guy.

I think it's supercool to knit superhero costumes!

Nice combination of the (traditionally) masculine and feminine.


More on the shape of things

It seems that drawing the continents - keep scrolling down - is not unlike drawing haircuts.

(first link via)

Cities through the eyes and minds of scientists

NASA's Cities Collection - Outstanding Astronaut Photography of Cities Taken During Spaceflight (via)

The Optimal Shape of a City - if you're a theoretical physicist (via)

Thursday, June 3, 2004

Changing technologies

Fashion Victims by Davide Agnelli, Dario Buzzini and Tal Drori
- bags that permanently stain red when they're exposed to cell phone radiation

Mass Distraction by Davide Agnelli and Tal Drori
- a set of three jackets, each of which require the wearer to do a specific thing in order to carry on a mobile phone call

Hybridization by Tal Drori
- a hat that changes according to whether the person is listening to music or ready for conversation


Haptic Chameleon by Sony
- a video control knob that a user can switch to round, rectangular and semicircle shapes that have different functions and different force feedback effects

Wednesday, June 2, 2004

Jump. We dare you!

On the way to the Tate Modern


Tori Orr is, amongst other things, a Master's student interested in the "potential of social software for dead people." Cool. In March I posted on this student project because I was all excited about social software for the dead too.

This is a lightly-edited bit of recent email conversation we had:

Tori: I've done research all over the board trying to use social network analysis as a way of linking the living with the dead (our personal present with our communal past). I am interested in representing the type of subject matter (say, in literature, oral histories and other associated digital resources) that helps users find relevant links to the past, to tradition and the deep (buried!) interconnectedness of communities. I've used keywords like phylogeny, ontogeny, story-telling, personal histories, interpersonal awareness, memoirs, memory, (auto)biography, and interaction histories.

Anne: Sounds great. And don't forget kinship charts. I can't really recommend them as visuals, but their terminology is probably the most comprehensive ever created. Kinship terms reflect both biological and cultural relations.

Tori: I'm trying to find new ways of representing and expanding traditional family tree relationships.

Anne: Now there's a fun challenge! Alternate ways of representing family relations might connect people according to interests or characteristics, rather than biology. Even biologically-related families can be ordered differently.

Tori: Yes! Like families of dressmakers and families of writers, as well as families with similar surnames...

Anne: Or you could represent people according to the rights and responsibilities we have to each other. I quite like the idea of charting obligations. Not like they're oppressive (although they may very well be) but as a way of rendering tangible something that is increasingly difficult to locate: accountability. I imagine snazzy posters for the upcoming elections that outline the relationships between governments and citizens, and what is at stake.

Tori: Hmm. Rights and responsibilities. Sort of like a covenant? That almost makes it sound spiritual. And so back to the dead!

Anne: Right. I sort of went off on a tangent there, didn't I? Sorry.

Tori: That's okay, but I wonder if the dynamic nature of relationships ceases when a person dies? Not only does their body become stiff with rigor mortis, but their relationships settle and solidify as well...

Anne: Fascinating! My first thought is that our relationships never "settle and solidify". If you believe that 'who we are' means 'who we are with other people' then the dead continue to have relationships with the living and vice versa. The key - whether people are living or dead - is to find ways to represent the many and shifting kinds of relationships we have. To avoid being reductive or rigid (and that means no universal ontologies ;)).

What do you think?

Tuesday, June 1, 2004

Words are looking good


One step closer to the promise of technogically augmented spaces:

By waving the Nokia 3220 camera phone from side to side, the LED lights of the Nokia Xpress-on FunShell light up to "write" a message that appears to float in mid-air.

In March 2003, the WSJ reported from CeBIT about a phone called Kurv, made by Kyocera Wireless Corp which featured airtexting: "The company believes airtexting will be one of it's most popular features, especialy in night clubs. To airtext, you type in a text like 'call me' then wave it back and forth in the air. As the phone moves, a row of blinking red lights along the top of the phone leaves the phrase trailing behind it."

[Another] article described a form of mobile graffiti, using a cell phone as a paint spraycan, "by waving it into the air to form a word, the text would appear onto the screen of a person passing by".

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