I’m looking forward to FutureEverything, Manchester’s annual foray into everything digital. It kicks of a week on Saturday (May 14) at the Victoria Baths (where I once went to an infamous acid house party) which examines the intersection between contemporary craft and digital hacking. The events last for three days, exploring the overlap between art, digital and music. Steve Reich, Rob Da Bank and Beach House feature on the programme. There’s a full talkothon to go with it. Thursday’s my choice. Paul Bradshaw of Online Journalism Blog and City University will give a talk about how journalists can use open data; Dr Chris Speed’s lecture on the internet of things is luckily on the same day, but Michael Smyth and Ingi Helgason workshop, Interfacing With The City, looks good too.
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Thought it might be nice to mention the launch of Council, spearheaded by my sometime collaborator (and all round top man) Rob Van Kranenberg. He describes as a “thinktank for the Internet of Things”. Rob’s been building a formidable network for this for ages and will officially launch in Brussels on December. According to Rob:
“The Internet of Things (IOT) is a vision. Yet it is being built today. The stakeholders are known, the debate has yet to start. The European Commission published its action plan for IOT in June of this year. In hundreds of years our real needs have not changed. We want to be loved, feel safe, have fun, be relevant in work and friendship, be able to support our families and somehow play a role – however small – in the larger scheme of things.
So what will really happen when things, homes and cities become smart? The result will probably be an avalanche of what at first looks like very small steps, small changes.
Currently IOT applications, demos and infrastructure are rolled out from negative arguments only. For logistics, it is anti-theft. For ehealth it is the lack of human personnel that requires the building of smart houses. From a policy view it is the ensuring of safety, control and surveillance at item level and in public space. For retail it is shelf space management.
Council thinktank aims to grow into a positively critical counterpart to these negativities in focusing on the quality of interaction and potentialities of IOT for social, communicative and economic (personal fabrication, participatory budgeting, alternative currencies) connectivity between humans and other humans, human and things and human and their surroundings.
The wrestling with ambient technologies – the noise – is rapidly going out of corporate memory. A new young generation growing up at ease with ‘total’ connectivity, will enter IOT territory as simply another layer, another iteration of something they are comfortable in.
Therefore the launch of Council will highlight a personal history of locative media & hybrid spaces, by professionals of the i3 (Intelligent Information Interfaces) days, as well as the latest tools and applications, workshops on key issues short keynotes and time for debate and discussion.
Where: Imal, Brussels
When: December 4 2009 0930:2200 (public evening from 20:00)
Workshop 185 (including lunch and dinner)
Desert cities, for a generation raised on dreams of Tatooine anyway, are far from a new idea, George Lucas’s sand planet drifted in on a dust clouds left behind by Frank Herbert’s Dune. Before that, authors such as Ray Bradbury and Kim Stanley Robinson mined the sands of Mars to create early environmental allegories that predicted Earth’s demise.
Lately, moreover, the fears of science fiction writers have given way to massive commercial enterprises on a scale that retains the capacity to dazzle. Desert cities from Dubai to Nevada continue to capture the imagination, perhaps because they appeal to both the something-out-of-nothing pioneer spirit and those with a desire to build eco-oasis for after the flood. Only today China announces its China-Vegas a 100 sq km “New World Resort City” in Inner Mongolia, although one presupposes that it will be the former model that will be constructed.
The picture above (via bldg) is from an exhibition entitled Out of Water | innovative technologies in arid climates at the University of Toronto and designed by Matsys, a design studio in San Francisco. Its founder, Andrew Kudless, regards the desert city as a new urban prototype. Here’s why:
“Although this science fiction novel sounded alien in 1965, the concept of a water-poor world is quickly becoming a reality, especially in the American Southwest. Lured by cheap land and the promise of endless water via the powerful Colorado River, millions have made this area their home. However, the Colorado River has been desiccated by both heavy agricultural use and global warming to the point that it now ends in an intermittent trickle in Baja California. Towns that once relied on the river for water have increasingly begun to create underground water banks for use in emergency drought conditions. However, as droughts are becoming more frequent and severe, these water banks will become more than simply emergency precautions.”
Sietch Nevada projects waterbanking as the fundamental factor in future urban infrastructure in the American Southwest. Sietch Nevada is an urban prototype that makes the storage, use, and collection of water essential to the form and performance of urban life. Inverting the stereotypical Southwest urban patterns of dispersed programs open to the sky, the Sietch is a dense, underground community. A network of storage canals is covered with undulating residential and commercial structures. These canals connect the city with vast aquifers deep underground and provide transportation as well as agricultural irrigation. The caverns brim with dense, urban life: an underground Venice. Cellular in form, these structures constitute a new neighborhood typology that mediates between the subterranean urban network and the surface level activities of water harvesting, energy generation, and urban agriculture and aquaculture. However, the Sietch is also a bunker-like fortress preparing for the inevitable wars over water in the region.
George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four may or may not be the most important novel of the 20th, as claimed on the front page of the Times earlier this week, although it is a very important one. The novel celebrates the 60th anniversary of its first publication on June 08. Naturally all the papers have been full of it. Here’s a rundown of the best bits:
The Torygraph offers a handy A-Z of Orwell, which includes the delightful vignette about the Queen Mother sending a Royal Messenger to Secker & Warburg to buy a copy of Animal Farm. They’d sold out. So off he goes in his bowler hat to the Freedom Bookshop, the anarchist bookshop in Whitechapel.
Over at the New Statesman, which once spiked Orwell’s eyewitness account of the Spanish Civil War, Keith Gesson praises Orwell’s “eternal vigilance”, while DJ Taylor claims that his novels of the 1930s were even more frightening.
Robert Harris in the Times offers this more general piece which suggests, erroneously in my opinion, that 1984 would have lost some of its “unassailable posthumous integrity” if Orwell hadn’t have suffered an early death. Really?
The LA Times takes the tourist route: you too can go on a Orwell holiday.
While I might go and see Orwell: A Celebration at the Trafalgar Studios in Whitehall.
JG Ballard, who died on Sunday, will be remembered mostly for his fiction As noted in today’s Guardian he left a legacy right across the spectum of the arts, but he also left behind some of the most apt aphorisms and witty one-liners of the last century. Here is a sample of the most memorable:
On the legacy of science fiction:
“Everything is becoming science fiction. From the margins of an almost invisible literature has sprung the intact reality of the 20th century.”
On fear of the future:
“I would sum up my fear about the future in one word: boring. And that’s my one fear: that everything has happened; nothing exciting or new or interesting is ever going to happen again… the future is just going to be a vast, conforming suburb of the soul.”
On the internet:
“Twenty years ago no one could have imagined the effects the Internet would have: entire relationships flourish, friendships prosper…there’s a vast new intimacy and accidental poetry, not to mention the weirdest porn. The entire human experience seems to unveil itself like the surface of a new planet.”
“Rockets “belong to the age of the 19th century, along with the huge steam engines. It’s brute-force ballistic technology that has nothing to do with what people recognise as the characteristic technology of this century: microprocessors, microwave data links – everything that goes in the world at the speed of an electron.”
On space travel:
“The suspicion dawned that Outer Space might be – dare one say it – boring. Having expended all these billions of dollars on getting to the Moon, we found on our arrival that there wasn’t very much to do there.”
On the American dream:
“The American Dream has run out of gas. The car has stopped. It no longer supplies the world with its images, its dreams, its fantasies. No more. It’s over. It supplies the world with its nightmares now: the Kennedy assassination, Watergate, Vietnam.”
On the American people:
“Americans are highly moralistic, and any kind of moral ambiguity irritates them. As a result they completely fail to understand themselves, which is one of their strengths.”
On American politics:
“The president of the United States bears about as much relationship to the real business of running America as does Colonel Sanders to the business of frying chicken.”
On his night at the Oscars:
“A wonderful night for any novelist, and a reminder of the limits of the printed word. Sitting with the sober British contingent, surrounded by everyone from Dolly Parton to Sean Connery, I thought Spielberg’s film would be drowned by the shimmer of mink and the diamond glitter. But once the curtains parted the audience was gripped. Chevy Chase, sitting next to me, seemed to think he was watching a newsreel, crying: `Oh, oh . . . !’ and leaping out of his seat as if ready to rush the screen in defense of young [Christian] Bale.”
On the 20th century:
“The marriage of reason and nightmare which has dominated the 20th century has given birth to an ever more ambiguous world. Across the communications landscape move the specters of sinister technologies and the dreams that money can buy.”
On novel writing:
“Any fool can write a novel but it takes real genius to sell it. “
“If you can smell garlic, everything is all right.”
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Work has just begun on the winning design, by Heatherwick Studio. The brushes in the picture (above) are actually pixels and can be pre-programmed to display several different designs. The symbolism seems wholly appropriate, mind, as if to say to the world that, honestly, we can clean up our mountains of debt.
Some quite shocking video footage of police aggression at the Climate Camp, held in Bishopgate in London last week. Admittedly this is taken from the partisan Indymedia network, but, even so, the most telling thing about it is that none of the protesters appear to be throwing punches or stones at the police – even though they are being charged with shields and beaten with batons. Seen from this angle, the attack appears unprovoked.
+ Richard MacManus of the New York Times looks at the latest attempt to map a city using mobile phones. Mentions MIT’s WikiCity ambitious open source mapping project. Nice visualisations of urban data.
+ Music streaming: enjoy it while you can, says the Guardian’s Chris Salmon.
+ Michal Migursk: the end of online monoculture. Excellent critique of “recommender” systems (LastFM, Amazon et al) that help us chart the web.
+ Why Amsterdam is becoming both a greener and a smarter city.
+ Cathy Curtis: How the web made me a better copywriter
Bruce McCall might not own a mobile phone and paint of paper with paint. But he’s always been obsessed with the future. I’ve enjoyed his recent talk at Ted Conference where he pontificates about the notion of “faux nostalgia” a yearning, he says, for imaginary futures that never happened.
Just thought you might like to read these two important essays, published in the last few days, on the future of news:
1) Clay Shirky: why newspapers are doomed:
“Round and round this goes, with the people committed to saving newspapers demanding to know “If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?” To which the answer is: Nothing. Nothing will work. There is no general model for newspapers to replace the one the internet just broke.”
2) Steven Berlin Johnson: the future means more news, lot less:
“There is going to be more content, not less; more information, more analysis, more precision, a wider range of niches covered. You can see the process happening already in most of the major sections of the paper: tech, politics, finance, sports.”
Shenzhen, located north of Hong Kong, both fascinates and frightens me in equal measure. I’ve been writing about how the city is being used as a social laboratory to test the world’s most sophisticated city-wide surveillance system in the latest issue of Icon.
But it’s the recent competition to re-design its central business district that I’m linking to today. Steven Holl Architects actually won the competition, but it is the four towers (two of which are above) proposed by Rotterdam’s MVRDV that caught my eye. The towers, stacked precariously almost like a pile of books, provide shelter for large public spaces below. It’s an original and bold urban vision designed to encourage street life in Shenzhen: the soon-to-be surviellance capital of the world (via SpaceInvading).
Originally uploaded by opexxx
It’s been a bad week for ID cards. The UK government admitted on Thursday that neither its police nor its border guards had any current capacity to read or store the biometric data that is held on the damned things. Responding to a Freedom of Information request by the tech site silicon.com, the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) revealed that “no police stations, border entry points or job centres have readers for the card’s biometric chip”, that despite the fact that ID cards have been issued to foreign nationals in November last year, with the IPS expecting to issue 50,000 ID cards by April.
Elsewhere, hackers in the US said that they had built a mobile platform that can clone large numbers of the unique electronic identifiers used in US passport cards – using off-the-shelf equipment costing just $250. UK hackers have already done something similar.
Quite apart from the many moral objections to the ID card – and the astronomical cost of issuing them, – it seems that, according to a growing body of evidence, the cards are not even fit for purpose: recording and storing our biometric data.
“After 1989 we enjoyed a strange interregnum where “history ended.” Everyone ran up a credit-card bill at the global supermarket. The adventure ended badly, in crisis. Still, let us be of good heart. In cold fact, a financial crisis is one of the kindest and mildest sorts of crisis a civilization can have. Compared to typical … catastrophes like wars, epidemics, earthquakes, volcanoes, endemic political collapse — a financial crisis is a problem for schoolchildren.”
+ Lord Foster to be stripped of his peerage.
Starchitect to lose out after moving to Switzerland. Maybe he’s the first victim of the new 21st century.
+ Padraig Reidy: the Wikipedia editing debate highlights a retreat from web utopia.
+ More from the London at Night series.
The Boston Globe continues its wonderful pictures of nocturnal London
Here’s a bright idea. A lazer-powered light that projects a cycle lane on to the road behind the bike. Light Lane (left), by designers Alex Tee and Evan Gant, turns every street into a temporary cycle lane- and helps with visability too. It’s currently under development, not even at the prototype stage – so don’t expect it to see it in Halfords anytime soon.
David Rowan is back in the Times (of London) warning of the rise of face recognition technology. He says that “FRT” will have many life-enhancing applications but equally offer many oppportunities to increase our surveillance.
“So let’s understand this: governments and police are planning to implement increasingly accurate surveillance technologies that are unnoticeable, cheap, pervasive, ubiquitous, and searchable in real time. And private businesses, from bars to workplaces, will also operate such systems, whose data trail may well be sold on or leaked to third parties – let’s say, insurance companies that have an interest in knowing about your unhealthy lifestyle, or your ex-spouse who wants evidence that you can afford higher maintenance payments.
Rather than jump up and down with rage – you never know who is watching through the window – you have a duty now, as a citizen, to question this stealthy rush towards permanent individual surveillance. A Government already obsessed with pursuing an unworkable and unnecessary identity-card database must be held to account.”
I’m bound for Nottingham later this week for the Raditor Festival and Symposium, which will explore notions of the “wireless city” while looking at how the future of public space might be shaped. I’m chairing a panel on the “internet of things” with my friend and collegue Rob Van Kranenburg; as well at the architects Usman Haque and Holger Schnädelbach. It’s on at the Broadway Media Centre, January 15 at 10.15.
Here’s the offical blurb:
“Future visions on part of the technology developers are predicting a world where everything from fridge to toothbrush will be computerised, in which not only users are linked to data, but where also the world of physical objects will be networked in a complex system of information exchange. Based on technologies such as RFID (radio frequency identification tags), our environment would turn into a space of “ambient intelligence”, interlinking the physical world with that of data space.
Exploring this controversial development, the speakers will illustrate the alarming consequences this might have concerning issues of surveillance and privacy. At the same time, alternative concepts of empowerment from the artistic community will be presented.”