Saturday, July 31, 2004

Lift off

Off to Boston in the early morning and I'll be blogging next from the Designing Interactive Systems conference which begins on Monday.

For now, you can visit space and culture to see what's caught our attention lately.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Best horoscope ever

Rob Brezsny's Free Will Astrology
Week of July 29

LEO: From an astrological perspective, it's a perfect time to order a custom-made action figure that looks and talks like you. You'd really benefit from having a miniature version of yourself to play with. You could dress it in superhero costumes, fantasize scenarios in which it pulls off epic feats, and use it to help you escape the imaginary constraints that have been inhibiting you lately. But getting a doll of yourself is expensive, and there are other ways that would probably work just as well to free up your bold, adventurous spirit. Maybe you could write a short story starring you as a daredevil or pioneer. Or how about embarking on a series of strenuous physical activities that will awaken your dormant reserves of willpower? If nothing else, create a sock puppet of yourself.

My, oh my! What should my superpowers be? What about my nemesis? And let's not forget my costume...

Restricting mobility

As part of my research on tensions between mobility and stability, I've become particularly interested in ways we attempt to control the movement of people - especially given the well-established Western (and especially American) tradition of associating mobility with freedom.

For example, all over London I saw anti-climbing paint signs. And I've yet to see a city that doesn't have signs prohibiting skating and cycling in certain areas. Even in places where you are allowed to go, not every type of shoe is acceptable.

When signs aren't enough, more potent deterrents include the military's Mobility Denial System: "once applied, the material will degrade or impair the adversary's ability to move." (via) And if you wanted to go even further in that direction, tasers and rubber bullets are used to stop people (usually) without killing them.

Coming at the question from a different direction, I've been thinking about how photographs stabilise the movement (arguably the essence) of parkour and skateboarding. And even how old daguerreotypes were incapable of capturing movement.

But mostly I've been thinking about how settled people have historically reacted to nomads. For example, under the Israeli state the life of the Bedouin has changed dramatically, and the Irish government has long tried to fix the itinerant problem associated with Irish Traveller culture. Mongolian nomads are increasingly moving to the city, but urban infrastructure and policy - as well as nomadic cultural values - are not adapting well to this shift.

The current global migrant labour force also embodies a range of social, political and economic inequalities. In places like South Africa, migrant labour involves unique interplays between urban and rural life. And women from the developing world provide the majority of domestic labour in the industrialised world. All over the world, migrant labourers continue to struggle for the same human rights extended to more settled peoples.

I don't quite know where I'm going with this yet, except to remind myself that the liberating rhetoric of mobile technologies completely avoids the frictions that exist between mobile and settled ways of life. And that means we're glossing over - even hiding - something that has a significant impact on people everywhere.

Rubrics for user experience design

Alex Wright on Calvino's heuristics:

Calvino's Six Memos for the Next Millenium are:


I doubt that Nielsen, Norman, and a thousand monkeys with typewriters and HCI degrees would ever improve on that.

So interesting I wish he'd explained more about what each entails - especially since ambiguity (one of my favourites) is missing.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004


Just searching through my bookmarks, I was thrilled to rediscover Banubula, a blog that favours quality over quantity.

The front-page contains such beauties as The Battle About Money, the Latin Jungle, excerpts from The Sheltering Sky and gentle personal musings.

And I could get lost for days in the archives.

No rest for the wicked

write two papers
review two papers

super-fast-like 'cuz they're already overdue

then answer email


and take solace in knowing you resisted the urge to procrastinate by writing this list in haiku

Profilo di un amico italiano

A picture of Fabio taking a picture of me

InfoDesign has a profile on Fabio Sergio - lover of Italo Calvino, Achille Castiglioni, Bruno Munari and slow conversations with friends, under the Italian sun, and over espresso.

Ciao amico mio! You are missed.

August is for work, then play

Early Saturday morning, I head off to Boston for DIS (panel paper here) and then immediately afterwards to Banff for Inside/Outside: Responsive Environments and Ubiquitous Presence.

I will be spending a week or so visiting family and friends, and then returning home to take the rest of the month off. I plan to celebrate my 32nd birthday in style and get in some very-much-needed relaxation before the fall term -- and the final push to finish my dissertation -- begins.

After the conferences it will probably get a bit quiet around here, although I am really enjoying blogging at Space and Culture these days, and will likely keep that up.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Clean knickers

The 2004 Industrial Design Excellence Award winners have been announced.

My favourite?

DEVO Underwear & Packaging
The future of packaging is looking both earth-friendly and user-friendly. Packages shaped like tank tops and boxer shorts leave little chance that the shopper will pick up the wrong item. Once home, the entire package goes right in the wash, thanks to a packaging material composed of dissolvable cornstarch and a small amount of detergent.

"You can't do without packaging, but you can do something with the package once it's done its job. This entry shows a clear, intelligent way out of the looming threat of being engulfed by our waste. It provides hope and uses good form while doing so!"

Update - Yes, this is the DEVO we're talking about. And if you haven't seen Mark Mothersbaugh's Beautiful Mutants, they are a sight to behold.

Afghan proverbs

A lame crab walks straight.

If you deal in camels, make the doors high.

Only stretch your foot to the length of your blanket.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Enid is my hero

Ghost WorldGhost World

If you're feeling cranky and tired and your back hurts, then crawling into bed in the late afternoon to watch Ghost World is only made better by following it up with the graphic novel and sleeping into the evening.

Dan Clowes is a genious. And Enid is my hero.

Ein elektronischer musik bau spiel automat

instant city is a music building game table.

One or more players at a table can create architecture using semi-transparent building blocks and in the process make different modular compositions audible. Every performance is unique because the sequence, timing and combination possibilities are completely in the hands of the players! For each game one composition is chosen.

Hmm. City of Sound, anyone?


Ubicomp and Situationism

I keep trying to figure out why Situationism is the social-cultural theory of choice in so many (city-based) ubicomp projects and discussions. I guess I care because critical theories of everyday life are of particular interest to me, and I often enough see designers and technologists appropriating these perspectives in ways that, at best, lack nuance and, at worst, suggest misunderstanding.

Now I'm not trying to be difficult, but I am concerned that some people outside the social sciences and humanities are taking these critiques of everyday life out of context. What I mean is that terms like subjectivity, reflexivity, performativity, sociality, culture, collective action, ethics, practice, difference, city, urban, production, consumption - and even everyday life - come with problematic histories of their own. They are not givens and there are large bodies of literature that are being overlooked.

But I also don't mean to suggest that there isn't good work out there. For example, Rune Huvendick Jensen and Tau Ulv Lenskjold recently presented Designing for social friction: Exploring ubiquitous computing as means of cultural interventions in urban space (pdf), which is quite interesting despite a few obscurities, over-generalisations and limited perspective.

What remains most unclear in the projects and discussions that come to mind is how designers and technologists are dealing with critical theory and notions of strategic or tactical cultural intervention. Is it enough to say that a given ubiquitous computing application allows people to produce their own content or experience the city on their own terms? Who provides this technology in the first place? Who uses it? And for what? The technology itself still seems to be considered neutral, and the vision of social and cultural (inter)action is most often utopian.

I'd be most interested to hear from designers working with Situationist theory or other critiques of everyday life. What are the benefits of such approaches? What are the differences between critical design and critical technologies? What types of social and cultural critique become possible, or desirable?

Friday, July 23, 2004

August is for hacking

Getting ready for our Design for Hackability panel at DIS 2004, I was excited to hear from Jofish Kaye, who pointed at his upcoming panel at the 4S-EASST Conference in Paris:

Hackers and Tinkerers: Amateur Ways of Doing Technology
From computer hackers to ham radio operators, from audio and videophiles to hot rodders, enthusiast cultures have often proved integral to the lives of technologies. Such cultures tend to exist at the fringes of mainstream technological practices, and their members explicitly define their activities in opposition to traditional understandings of productive work, raising a host of questions. What is at stake for amateurs who claim technological expertise outside the norms of a professional identity, and how does this complicate traditional notions of knowledge and work? What role do these amateurs play in the broader technological landscape? The papers in these sessions address these questions from three different directions. The first panel explores the creation of amateur identity, and communities around that identity. The second panel examines the relationship between these amateurs and the larger institutions with which they interact. The third panel describes the ways that enthusiastic amateurs complicate, question and rework the traditional producer-consumer relationship.

Cool. As part of the Hackers and Tinkerers session, Jofish will be presenting his research on William G. Broughton: One Radio Ham (pdf).

This paper presents an account of one radio ham, William G. Broughton. I
present this work in the context of current work on the amateur, and give brief
biographies of both William G. Broughton and his father, Henry P. Broughton. I present the logbook as a historical tool for understanding the life of a ham, and show evidence of use for both technical, ham-related use of the logbook, and use for other aspects of a ham's life. I then track one particular story through the logbook. I look at the role of the entries in the logbook in Broughton's identity creation, and identify "ham identity" as distinct from but related to "technical identity" and "geek identity".

Fascinating stuff for anyone interested in wireless identities and practices. I also recommend taking a look at his paper Hacking: An underrepresented practice in STS (pdf), in which Jofish discusses how computer hackers, early rural automobile users and radio amateurs have opened up technological black boxes to become agents of technological change. He argues that it is precisely their irreverent attitude towards technology that challenges traditional (reverent) relationships between producers, consumers and technologies.

Science, Technology and Society

4S-EASST Conference - Public Proofs : Science, Technology and Democracy
26-28 August 2004, École des Mines, Paris

Spacing, Timing and Organizing
The notions of space and time are concepts that have a long historical status and feature as dominant issue within many aspects of our lives, such as attempts to achieve transportation without deformation. However, this requires an exceptional amount of work and energy. In other words, while the well alignment of intermediaries and circulation of immutable mobiles (e.g. rulers,standards, etc) may provide the image and embodiment of smoothness, constancy, and time and space as existing in distinct and separate forms, the ability to travel without mutability is something which is rare and expensive and can require a great deal of work. Thus, rather than viewing time and space as existing in some a priori or fixed form, the aim of this session is to explore the complex processes of mediation and negotiation with regard to the creation and proliferation of timings, spacings and organising, and effects of isochrony and isotopy (Latour 1999). We need therefore to provide an in-depth examination of this complicated process of proliferation and the complexity of relations that underlie this process, in order to understand, account for, and articulate this process. More specifically, several concerns need to be considered.

The Technological Animal

Science studies has in recent years focused on surprising exchanges and mixtures between machines and humans. Rather than simply celebrating the range of "cyborgs" and "hybrids" that the contemporary world has brought into existence, we wish to analyze the ways in which these new investigations alter existing conceptions of humanity and social organization. In particular we want to look at the ways in which technology serves as an enhancement or extension of existing human capacities-- as an externalization of sensory and motor organs. We are interested in the explicit definition or implicit understanding of the human as the animal which alters its environment by means of technique or technology. And thereby alters itself. As much as the variable meaning of "the human" is in question here, the concept of "technology" may also be subject to different parameters and inflections. In calling this session together, we hope to accumulate materials for comparisons and contrasts between different articulations of "humans as the technological animal", and to examine the consequences of the different technological "adaptations" which give rise to them.

Mobile phones across cultures

It's always interesting to see comparative cross-cultural research on mobile phone use:

In Paris and Madrid users are happy to stand in the street and talk. But Londoners prefer to create a temporary phone zone where several users, unaware of each other, stop to speak in the same place. Both Londoners and Parisians tend to be more reluctant to use their mobile phone if they are in company. But in Madrid, the priority is to be always available and users attempt to include their companions in any mobile phone conversation they have. "The Spanish don't tend to use voice mail," said Dr Lasen. "They feel it is impolite and will answer the phone, even if they are in a meeting, and tell people to call back later," she said. In Paris, mobile users are more concerned about the idea of having a private conversation in a public place than their peers in London and Madrid. Parisians prefer to be private when chatting and while Londoners maintain typical British reserve when someone nearby is having a mobile conversation, Parisians have no such scruples. They will openly complain when phone users are annoying them.

The story also touches on the material or tactile aspects of mobile phones:

"People have a physical relationship with their phone and more and more people are keeping their phones in their hand when they aren't using them. Like a rosary, the mobile has this function of keeping the mind busy. People are cuddling their phones because it promotes well-being from touching a familiar object."

I'm rather curious to know how the researcher came to her conclusions on people's motivations - something that is notoriously difficult to get at - and if these interpretations are the same across the cultures studied.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

I've always wanted to talk with this guy

Ernst Kirchner, The Drinker, 1914-15

If you could talk with anyone in a painting, who would it be?

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Introducing new technologies

Learning from history is good...

The appearance of Eastman's cameras was so sudden and so pervasive that the reaction in some quarters was fear. A figure called the "camera fiend" began to appear at beach resorts, prowling the premises until he could catch female bathers unawares. One resort felt the trend so heavily that it posted a notice: "PEOPLE ARE FORBIDDEN TO USE THEIR KODAKS ON THE BEACH." Other locations were no safer. For a time, Kodak cameras were banned from the Washington Monument. The "Hartford Courant" sounded the alarm as well, declaring that "the sedate citizen can't indulge in any hilariousness without the risk of being caught in the act and having his photograph passed around among his Sunday School children."

But what are the lessons here that can be applied to current concerns about camera phones, online distribution and other potential invasions of privacy?



Spectropolis: Mobile Media, Art and the City

NYC, October 1-3, 2004

A three-day event that highlights the diverse ways artists, technical innovators and activists are using communication technologies to generate new urban experience and public voice. The event explores what is possible when wireless communications (both new and old), mobile devices and media converge in public space. The increasing presence of mobile communication technologies is transforming the ways we live, construct and move through our built environment. The participants of the Spectropolis exhibition make obvious or play with this shift, creating new urban perceptions and social interactions with cell phones, laptops, wireless internet, PDAs and radio. In addition to the projects presented in the park, there will be several hands-on workshops and two panels free to the public.

via the Mobile Digital Commons Network mailing list

Street Talk: Urban Computing - Part IV

Although I've tended to focus on the more academic of Street Talk presentations, I thoroughly enjoyed several others.

Ken Anderson mesmerised me with his ode to Beat poetry: City, act of joy. City, act of power. City, act of energy. City, act of hope. City, desolation. City, gesture of greed. Brilliant.

Margot Jacobs presented on the Play research studio, Tejp and Sonic City - some of my dissertation case studies - and reminded me how much I like the idea of parasiting found objects in the city.

Michele Chang presented on the amazingly fun-looking Digital Street Game currently running online and on the streets of NYC. Advocating that we go beyond "heads-down computing" and working with people's desire for challenge, expression and exploration, the game requires players perform and log street stunts to hang onto turf. Good stuff.

Christina Ray presented on One Block Radius, a fabulous psychogeographic survey of the block where New York's New Museum of Contemporary Art will build a new facility in late 2004.

Engaging a variety of tools and media such as blogs, video documentation, maps, field recordings & interviews, Glowlab creates a multi-layered portrait of the block as it has never been seen before [and will never be seen again].

I'd love to see this happen on all sorts of blocks...

Cassidy Curtis spoke on the Graffiti Archeology Project, which I have blogged before because I really like graffiti, time-lapse photography and the notion of layered cities. When I was in London, I wished that someone was taking photos of the ever-changing billboards in tube stations (including the beautiful phase between adverts where past fragments battled for my attention). And speaking of billboards, Jack Napier gave a fun presentation on the advertising improvement efforts of the Billboard Liberation Front. Those guys rock.

And as if that weren't enough, I had the pleasure of hanging out with Molly and Peter at the after-party. In fact, Peter has made some interesting comments about the "new and cool thing" that is urban computing.

I, for one, have a new appreciation for Intel Research. I didn't believe a bunch of suits would think such an event would be a good idea. And it was. They did a great job. I am particularly grateful for the opportunity to meet and hang out with such brilliant people!

(As for my presentation, well, people seemed to enjoy it. I ranted about our desire to come up with solutions before we've got the questions right. And since I didn't provide any answers, I figured the least I could do for my Urban Computing workshop paper is provide a list of what I think are important concerns. Stay tuned.)

Street Talk: Urban Computing - Part III

Continuing my selective blogging of Intel's Street Talk event, I find myself dwelling on spatial practices.

Anthony Townsend stated that urban-tech-types don't understand cities. I tend to agree and would add that this problem is compounded by a simultaneous lack of understanding what it means to be urban. The difference between cities and being urban is subtle but important: cities comprise relatively stable places and events, whereas being urban involves relatively mobile practices (rhythms) of everyday life. And since ubicomp seeks to embed itself in everyday life, I think it's pretty important to understand what's already going on there.

Anthony Burke gave an excellent presentation on the practice of urbanism - drawing on De Certeau, Lefebvre and Superstudio, as well as The Simple Life 2: Road Trip and rather parasitic RV caravans. But I think my favourite part of his talk was the notion of urban cooling or making perfectly good leisure space into workspace through mobile computing. It's long been a pet peeve of mine that we seem to ignore that being able to work anywhere, anytime often enough means working everywhere, all-the-time. And who the hell wants to do that?!

Paul Dourish also focussed on how people experience the city, or how the city comprises more than three dimensions, including imaginary places and cartographies. And Peter Lunenfeld closed the day by reminding us that cities have always been about migration (think bridges and tunnels) and that we need to think about our personal engagements with complexity. Interested in play as production rather than consumption (back to performativity), he suggested the concept of mobile cosmopolitanism (as opposed to patriotism) - but I would have liked to hear more on Simmel's notion of cosmopolitanism, as cross-cultural interaction is intimately connected to global politics and economics.

Street Talk: Urban Computing - Part II

I've written many times on my preference for performative rather than representative perspectives on questions of culture and technology. Shifting attention away from representation and what things stand for means we can focus on what things and people actually do. Instead of being crushed by monolithic structures and institutions, or determined by biology, the focus on performativity returns agency to social actors; cultural intervention and collective action shape our worlds. Performance is political; we are responsible. Performativity also signals a return to embodied and material perspectives, resisting a world of simulacra and technological disembodiment.

So when Jane McGonigal stood up at Street Talk and advocated a set of performative tools to come to know urban space and massively-scaled urban play, I paid attention.

First of all, I should thank her for teaching me a wonderful new word. Pareidolia is the "erroneous or fanciful perception of a pattern or meaning in something that is actually ambiguous or random." Although it is generally used to refer to things like seeing the face of Jesus in tortillas, I instantly recognised it as a strategic concept in my struggles against reductionist systems thinking. I've often suspected pareidolia is at work in Christopher Alexander's and Gregory Bateson's discussions of patterns, and although it is tantamount to sacrilege in certain design circles, I see the too-often uncritical use of their work to also verge on pareidolia (a.k.a. mass delusion or wishful thinking). But I digress.

Jane brought up public pareidolia because misrecognition can be a powerful actor in urban play. Her second tool was the site-specific superhero - one who can see through predetermined structures to spontaneously generate new playful (adaptive?) structures. She also advocated the notion of a benevolent conspiracy to leverage the possibility that play is everywhere and we are a part of it. Her fourth tool was the transparent spectacle - the opposite of "dark play" - where there is no hiding or lack of clarity. And finally, she suggested the idea of desire spots, which comprise desire paths mixed with hot spots.

(I am a bit unclear on this last one, because she brought up the example of "riding" an escalator for fun rather than utility, and I got distracted by memories of Ecuadorian Natives repeatedly riding the escalators on their first trip to the city, and of people in Ottawa riding the new light rail system for pleasure, or just to see where it went.)

Anyway, I was quite taken by her desire to combine ambiguity and certainty - or, more specifically, ambiguous and certain practices as ways to explore what it means to play in urban places. It reminded me of the surprise and disappointment I felt the first time I realised that not everyone wants to participate in participatory design: it seems we often need freedom and constraints to realise our potential, even if we still want to do it ourselves.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Street Talk: Urban Computing - Part I

Although each presentation at Street Talk was interesting, Ben Hooker was one of the speakers who most caught my attention and imagination.
With Shona Kitchen, Ben worked on the Altavistas project - which includes Edge Town:
After an intensive phase of location-scouting, we decided to specifically design for places we had identified at the edges of the city: places where open countryside starts to rub up against suburbia, and the regulated 'nature' of landscaped motorway embankments, reservoir complexes and allotments coexists with airports, business parks and residential blocks. Transitional landscapes like these feel half-finished, as if waiting for some kind of built intervention which accentuates their unique qualities. We used computer-based illustrations to communicate a series of architectural proposals based on developing 'electronic ecologies' to integrate into these spaces to the effect that the immaterial information flows that run through our cities can be experienced alongside more natural phenomenon.

Edge Town reminds me of spectacular carchitecture and the more mundane Motorway House. An exploration perhaps more of non-places than of third-spaces, the project still focusses on contested space - or those spaces (and identities) that do not easily easily fit into either/or categories.  Hybrid spaces.  Voluptuous spaces.  A non-place is an ambiguous site: the very type of space that would appear in a pattern language (like a place to wait) but that would also challenge or resist the entire premise of stable structure that underlies patterns.  Very interesting.

On a related note, Ben's DATACLIMATES design practice partner is Pedro Sepúlveda Sandoval - who did an amazing PhD project for the RCA:
Digital Shelters

A new landscape is emerging in the urban space, a 'Scanscape' that transgresses the boundaries and protocols of public and private space due to the extensive use of electronic, electromagnetic, surveillance and telecommunication technologies in the urban realm.  How can we define these 'Scanscapes'? How can we create 'Digital Shelters' that will protect us, isolate us or allow us to live with in these 'Scanscapes'?

I really appreciate the focus on resisting surveillance by means other than sousveillance. After all, humans have always sought shelter from oppressive climates and dangerous cultures. In caves, Jews found sanctuary from the Nazis, and while fallout shelters may not have saved people from nuclear devastation, they arguably provided comfort from fear and uncertainty. It should come as no surprise, then, that we will also need safe and quiet reprieves in - and from - our digital landscapes.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

West coast

I've spent the past couple of days in the Portland area with Intel's People and Practices Research group - an absolutely fascinating bunch of social scientists, designers and engineers doing interesting work around the social and cultural aspects of mobile and ubiquitous technologies.

In a couple of hours I am on my way to San Francisco to meet with some more folks at Intel Research Berkeley, and to participate in the Street Talk event I mentioned the other day.

Good good.

(If I haven't responded to your email, please bear with me. I'm slow, but on it.)

Monday, July 12, 2004

Urban Computing @ Intel Research

Early tomorrow morning I'm heading to the US for the week. Amongst other fun things, on Friday I'll be participating in Street Talk: An Urban Computing Happening at Intel Research Berkeley.

There are some interesting folks presenting, and I'm looking forward to hearing the diversity of interests and perspectives. Registration is now closed, but you can attend the after-party and see some projects in action.

Actually, Intel Research is pretty busy on this front these days:

UbiComp in the Urban Frontier is a one day workshop to be held at UbiComp 2004 (position papers are due July 26)

This workshop will be focused on understanding how the rapidly emerging fabric of mobile and wireless computing will influence, disrupt, expand, and be integrated into the social patterns existent within our public urban landscapes.

Fall 2004 Intern Position - Urban Probes Redux

We are expanding the urban research focus at the Intel Research lab in Berkeley. As a result we will continue performing more Urban Probes and have an additional open Intern position here at the Berkeley Lab for Fall 2004. The work will focus more on building and programming actual probes that we will deploy in urban spaces.

Who will be liable if and when real life fails to follow the rose-tinted script?

The Prince of Wales is known for speaking his mind - a quality I greatly admire, even when I do not agree. (For example, his criticisms of modernist architecture pissed off more than one British architect, and I can't say I entirely blame them, but Léon Krier and Nikos Salingaros make some good points in Charles' defense.)

But today the BBC reports that the Prince warns of science risks, and he gets my full support:

"Discovering the secrets of the Universe is one thing; ensuring that those secrets are used wisely and appropriately is quite another."

"What exactly are the risks attached to each of the techniques under discussion, who will bear them, and who will be liable if and when real life fails to follow the rose-tinted script?"

He expressed concern that only an estimated 5% of the EU's nanotechnology research budget is being spent on "examining the environmental, social and ethical dimension."

"That certainly doesn't inspire confidence."

No it doesn't. Actually, it kind of scares me.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Abolition of alienated work

Abolition du travail aliene

Off camera / on film

Bettie Page, waiting to work

Bettie Page waiting to be photographed.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Against the winds of change

I first read - and loved - John Wyndam's novel The Chrysalids when I was thirteen, and I picked it up again this morning only to get stuck thinking on something I read in the introduction:

[Two decades after World War II] it had finally occurred to us that the modern world was neither a found object nor one forced on us by governments. We were responsible for its condition at any given moment; and with the entry into the equation of an element of choice, an admission of complicity, the winds of change, unpredictable, unbiddable, were no longer an apt metaphor.

Originally published in 1955, The Chrysalids is a classic example of exploring contemporary fears through futuristic science fiction - but I think John Harrison's introduction is over-optimistic. What I mean is that I'm not sure we have actually realised what he says we have.

Think about the rhetoric around new technologies: we still talk about them as if they are inevitable and somehow outside of our control. We like to say that people will make of them what they will - a seemingly liberating position for both users and designers, but one that simultaneously lacks accountability. I have yet to hear one person tell me that these brave new technological worlds are their responsibility instead of someone (anyone) else's - a position that I believe teeters dangerously between complicity and duplicity, although few are likely to admit that is how they express their agency.

Summer reading

Phil Gyford has compiled a list of what webloggers are reading these days. You can see my list there, but the others are far more interesting!

And if you prefer pictures to words, K10K recently pointed at some great vintage paperback cover-art. My favourites are in the Lesbiana (did you know that Satan was a Lesbian?!) and Sleaze Drug categories. Oh wow.

Friday, July 9, 2004

You can think a long time about snuvs and their gloves

Oh, the THINKS you can THINK!

Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the THINKS you can think up if only you try!

- Dr. Seuss, Oh, the THINKS you can THINK!

The Ultra-Condensed Version by Samuel Stoddard is also good.

Man of the moment

Phil Gyford, one of my favourite London companions and keeper of Pepys Diary, has been profiled in the Guardian about his super-awesome work on UK political sites like They Work For You and Fax Your MP. Right on.

Thursday, July 8, 2004

Man could he kiss and I don't mean maybe!

In addition to my current reading of anonymous teenage girl diaries from the 1970s-90s, I am utterly fascinated with Julia Heller's Diary - or Boy Friends Book - from 1932.

In it, she catalogues the boys she dates. Each entry includes his nicknames, eye and hair colour, height, the sports he plays, and whether he rides a bicycle or drives a car. The stories tell us that William is real cute lookin but can't dance. We learn that Ralph is a good kisser *and* has an adorable mother. And I giggle when I read that LeRoy kisses like a sailor and that Johnnie is a big devil!


Let's see if this works again

Past experience says that if I put my to-do list here, I actually do the things on it. It's more out-loud or something.

article on playful mobilities
article on wearables culture
presentation on urban computing
bio, extended abstract on mobile/wearables, space & culture
review manuscripts
book reviews
clean out email inbox
meet with Rob
make travel arrangements for next week

and remember that the dissertation will not magically finish itself

(if thinly-veiled procrastination is in order, then

essay on these anonymous teenage girl diaries edited by Beatrice Sparks)

Wednesday, July 7, 2004

More than cities (and technologies)

Inside a big kettle at Warsaw Caves last week.  Kettles are formed by the melting of an ice block buried in glacial drift.  Cool, huh?

I thought, on the train, how utterly we have forsaken the Earth, in the sense of excluding it from our thoughts. There are but few who consider its physical hugeness, its rough enormity. It is still a disparate monstrosity, full of solitudes & barrens & wilds. It still dwarfs & terrifies & crushes. The rivers still roar, the mountains still crash, the winds still shatter. Man is an affair of cities. His gardens & orchards & fields are mere scrapings. Somehow, however, he has managed to shut out the face of the giant from his windows. But the giant is there, nevertheless.

Holly Stevens, cited in The Ocean, The Bird, and The Scholar by Helen Vendler


New technology in/as public space

The Fusedspace competition nominees for 2004 have been announced and these projects look interesting - if not always clear.

Virtue and vituality. We are charged to create environments where people discover 'what could be' in 'what is.' This is our definition of virtue.

Takuro travels to himself. Nagoya/2014/Takuro/13yearsold __At school T has digital trip class: 2 h/wk he extracts himself from local and confronts himself to far limits. His consciousness gets deeper through the unknown. His social identity in public space develops in virtual space.

Ariadne's Thread. The experience of memory aroused by the city, together with the sense of oblivion caused by the network of transportation constitute the new public domain, thus revitalizing the human encounter.

Sense.8 is a strategy aiming to connect virtual public space and physical public space through the use and abuse of mobile devices by using their direct connection features to communicate and gather information.

SocialControl democratizes surveillance. It makes behavior in public space again subject of human interaction, creating a new kind of open-source legislation. Isn't it time to give control of the public domain back to the people?

New Fields: Public game play through visual layers. Game play areas are part of the public realm. Their variety and thier use are limited and are located on fixed places. Can we add a dynamic layer of game play to expand existing area's and to create (temporary) play fields in the public space?

A bird's eyeview experience to the city. Urban eyes is a service combining 2 natural networks, the CCTV and the pigeon population in a city to provide an alternative, living extension for the view on our surroundings.

Tuesday, July 6, 2004


Operation Urban Terrain: a live action wireless gaming urban intervention

OUT is a criticism of the increasing militarization of civilian life which has been implemented in the US and elsewhere since 911 ... OUT is an artistic intervention in the public space of online games and cities. OUT is also happening at a moment when the street has become again a viable mode of expression ... Two women in gear are on the ground. One with a laptop and the other with a projector pointing onto building walls in 3 key locations in the city. They are connected through a mobile wireless bicycle to an online team of five game players located around the world. They intervene on servers in a popular online military simulation game with performance actions carried out by the whole team.The live projections in the city can also be viewed through web cams on the OUT website.

(Thanks Jonah)


In September Rob Shields will be taking up his new position as Henry Marshall Tory Chair and Professor at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. Cross-appointed in Sociology and Art & Design, Rob says he'll continue to focus his research on place, social spatialization and digital and urban cultures, as well as continue to edit the Space and Culture journal.

As much as I will miss having my advisor close, I am so excited for him and can't wait to visit! I enjoyed my undergrad at U of A, and the university is the new home of the Canadian Association of Cultural Studies - whose recent conference CULTUREPOLES: City Spaces, Urban Politics & Metropolitan Theory brought out some really interesting work. Congratulations Rob - have fun!

In the lands of the Ojibwa and Wendat

I've had the best five days! We went hiking in-and-around Warsaw Caves and canoed through Wye Marsh - where we saw frogs and turtles and water lilies and these crazy carnivorous plants and some of the few trumpeter swans in North America. I got to geek out over 2000 year-old Native burial mounds and the history of the Jesuits in New France. We saw fireworks and a harvest moon. And we watched an old Keith Jarrett solo performance. Brilliant.

Thursday, July 1, 2004

The burden of the everyday

I am currently crushed under the weight of unanswered email, paper deadlines, the need to make travel arrangements and about a thousand other things that make me wish I were a superhero. But then I remember that all good superheroes suffer superheavy questions like "Who am I?" and "Who do I answer to?" on a daily basis. And I'm sure that sucks more than being temporarily behind on work.

I was also thinking that, as much as I love cultural theories of everyday life, I'm sure they'd be stronger if they included the voices of, say, people living in Occupied Palestine - where urgency and joy take on new meaning.


Back next week.

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