Social Technologies Summit – Day 3 Part 2

May 17th, 2009

The 3rd day of the conference started with a keynote from Adam Greenfield. Adam comes from a user experience background, having worked with Razorfish before moving into areas of ubiquitous computing and is now the Head of Design Direction at Nokia. His keynote was focused on describing the concept of networked urbanism. What is networked urbanism? It is a term used to describe the increasing generation of data through networked devices and infrastructure in urban areas. What’s is driving this? Two factors according to Greenfield:

1. We are becoming an urban species, as by the end of 2008, more than half of the world’s population will live in cities (source: United Nations)
2. By the end of 2012, network sensors will account for 20% of non-video internet traffic (source: Gartner)

Where is this data coming from?
— networked devices (e.g. mobile phones)
— networked buildings (for new buildings)
— networked vehicles (e.g. embedded GPS)
— networked infrastructure (e.g oyster card, RFID cards)
— networked institutions (e.g. government data like census information )
— networked people

Being able to harness this vast amount of data offers massive potential to the inhabitants of the city. What could access to these data mean? Potentially it could offer:

— More awareness (for e.g. using Google maps to find out local services and shops)
— More control (for e.g. finding the least polluted route to work)
— More choice (for e.g. using Camvit to plot alternate routes around the urban landscape)
— More convivial (knowing who your neighbours are through localised networks)
— Richer experiences (for e.g Chritian Nold’s work on emotional maps which asked participants to record their feelings of a place onto maps, anchoring subjectivity to places so that it could experienced by someone else)
— New creative possibilities of urban spaces (for e.g. Tom Armitage’s work on making the Tower Bridge in London, ‘Twitter’)
— Visualising every single potential of a space

An open networked urban environment will offer a local, on-demand and actionable information for individuals. How can this be achieved? Greenfield suggests embedding networks in all public objects that will have an open API (Application Platform Interface) to enable open access and allow the data to be used in anyway imaginable.

An open access networked environment has inevitably a downside too. Greenfield was careful to present these negative aspects in order to highlight what he considers to be design challenges must be addressed. He warned against:
— Seduction of data visualisation. Visualisation is only as good as the quality of the data. Data should be not be used to deceived and manipulated.
— ‘The big sort’ where technologies can intensify the divide between the poor and the networked.
— Attack surface possibility. How much potential vulnerability does a system have? There will be a need for a greater better sense of security awareness.
— Emergent behaviour (behaviours that wasn’t designed into the system). A glitch in the system, especially in a network is difficult to trace.

Whatever the challenge, Greenfield hopes that it will be tackled with knowingness, awareness and most importantly, with compassion.

Social Technologies Summit – Day 3 (Part 1)

May 15th, 2009

Its day 3 of the conference and I’m already starting to feel conference fatigue. I’m also not sure to this blogging aspect, which requires me to record much more detailed notes during the event and as a result, I seem to be spending lots of time on my laptop rather than trying to meet people face to face. Its ironic in a conference that is about social technologies, we are not making actual physical connections (I’m not the only person in the conference with my head buried in my laptop) but actually interacting with our virtual social network.

By the way, Sarah Hartley who is a journalist is also blogging at this event so you might like to check out what she thought of the conference.

The morning session was divided up into a keynote speaker and shorter presentations in the Mobile discussion stream. The keynote was by Adam Greenfield (who is head of Design Direction at Nokia) discussing the issues surrounding networked urbanism. A detailed review of this keynote will be in Part 2.

Mobile Stream
A majority of the talks are around the idea of geo-locations applications and art projects. The rise of GPS enabled mobile devices. Tristan Thielmann asked how locative media might be able solve the climate debate. Alfie Dennen presented art related projects that dealt with issues of geo-located media which is a result of combining mobile devices with location geo-marking photography. Selene Kolmen works for Bliin, which is a location aware platform for GPS mobile devices. It allows users to geo-tag their sms message, photographs and enabling users to make public their locations and vice versa to find their friends who might be close by.

Christian Licoppe is interested in studying the phenomenon of Japanese MOGI game, a mobile multiplayer gameplay. Its a game ‘on the move’ where you pick up ‘virtual’ items and trade them with other players. It was quite interesting talk in the sense of highlighting how patterns of social interactions changes. Some of the more interesting conclusions that came out of his study were the reshaping of mobility patterns, the emergent of hybrid territories comprised from the real and the virtual environment, between web and mobile and a new zoology of new types of social encounters in these hybrid environment.

The panel discussion at the end discussed issues around possible emergent behaviours that might arise from the rise of using GPS enabled mobile devices. Features that enable a user to toggle their location on/off and provide different levels of location granularity (pinpoint to city, rather than a street) should be an important consideration for future developers.

Semantic Web Stream
The after lunch session was the Semantic Web: Cultural Algorithms stream. It featured 2 speakers, Tom Ilube who had the keynote and Roland Harwood who was from NESTA. Tom Illube spoke mostly about how the semantic web is different from the current WWW. The semantic web is a web of linked data rather web of documents, it is a web of links and relationship. He talked about RDF (Resource Description Framework) and SPARQL (an RDF query language). I’m showing my ignorance here and actually had to look up what RDF stood for and thought that SPARQL was spelt ‘Sparkle’! So what is the difference between the current web and a semantic web? He gave the examples of the Friends of a Friend project, which creates a Web of machine-readable pages describing people, the links between them and the things they create and do. In theory, it means that a user won’t be penalised for choosing a different tools or service (like Facebook) and not be able to share with friends who have made different choices. I can’t wait!

Roland Harwood from NESTA gave a rather disjointed talk, but its probably due to that fact that he decided alter his talk from being about deciphering trust in networked innovation to discussions around behaviours in the different types of social structures. These structures are formal hierarchies, informal networks, heterachies (multiple hierarchies bumping into each other). Formal structures are fragile and can be disrupted by informal structures which could lead to interesting and new emergent behaviours.

Social Technolgies Summit – Day 2

May 14th, 2009

Oh no. I’ve turned into one of those people who are on their laptops all the time in conferences. I’m gonna look like such a twat! And the worst thing is…I might succumb to being a twitter nerd, feeling peer pressured to start following people’s tweets!

I started the day trying to decipher the rather complicated programme. After staring at it for about 5 minutes, I realised why – the programme is really badly designed! There are parallel sessions happening throughout the day including workshops but I was unable to decipher is due to the design of the timetable layout. Can you guess why?

I’ve decided to attend presentations in the first half of the day and then to commit myself to a workshop in the afternoon. I have summarised the day in a sentence or two for each event that I attended to give you a flavour of the day. I have written a fuller description of Stowe Boyd’s talk because it was one of the more interesting talks and was well delivered (plus I had the most notes on it).

Keynote Presentation:
Stowe Boyd: Social Tools – The Shape of Future Culture (full review below)

He predicts the rise of the Edglings – a movement away from the centre to the edge of current social location and of mass organisation to one of a rich network of connections. He says, ‘I am made greater by the sum of my connections, and so are my connections’.

James Marriot: Museum of the Corporation
This talk was a call to arms to depower, de-legitimise and de-centralised corporations who should take responsibility and acknowledge their contribution to our current environmental crisis. We need to de-legitimise the power and position of corporations in our imagination. Corporations should only be allowed to exist in museums, where they can do no harm.

Usman Haque: Real-time Data Environment
His current work on real-time data environment is founded on 3 principles of environment (not the physical but space generated by our existence), platform and relations (relating my environment to your environment). He introduces a sensor network platform Pachube which is ‘a service that enables you to connect, tag and share real time sensor data from objects, devices, buildings and environments around the world. The key aim is to facilitate interaction between remote environments, both physical and virtual’. I should also mention an ongoing project that is on display at the Cube gallery – called Natural Fuse.

Tapio Makela: Ecolocatedness
He introduces the concept of ecolocatedness which is how to act quickly in multiple, affective and effective ways through localised actions yet still take time to consider and gather evidence through a considered knowledge-based process. An illustration of this concept is the MARIN (Media Art Research Interdisciplinary Network) project which is a mobile residency program located on a sailing boat sailing to different research sites. It is a networked residency and research initiative, integrating artistic and scientific research on marin ecology and sustainability of mobility.

Dave Griffths: FoAM Lab and Groworld
Guerilla gardening meets open source gaming software. He is part of the FoAM collective of artist, programmers and designers with the motto of ‘grow you own world.’ Groworld is FoAM’s interstice between ecology, culture and technology. It brings together three ‘forces’ capable of transforming the world on human and ecological scale: design, permaculture and technology.

Aaron Koblin: Data visualisation – interpreting complexity
Data tells stories of our lives but he also paints a very pretty picture with it. Some examples of work includes visualising flight patterns, visualising number of SMS messages sent during new year’s eve and visualising location of emails sent to geographically. His latest works looks at other ways to translate the data into more intuitive manner and one of his experiments includes representing the access patterns of internet channels into audio rhythmic feedback.

Christian Nold: Bijlmer Euro
Christian is an artist who works with local communities to develop the idea of a ‘transition town’. A transition town is an organisation that tries to encourage local food production, local economy and through what he calls local currency. Local currency is the local equivalent of versions of the legal currency and in some cases be the only currencies accepted by local stores. The idea is to spend your money locally and be mindful at where you spend it. It can also become a political choice if only local stores accept it and not larger chain shops like Macdonald for example. It’s ultimately about trust. Trust can be based on local identity. Local trust can exist parasitically on top of big institutional structures like the Bijlmer Euro currency developed for the town of Bijlmer in Amsterdam. Basically is sticking an RFID tag onto an existing currency. The tag will contain information of its monetary value and will provide extra benefits when used in local shops.

———————————————-
Which talks did I enjoy the most?

Stowed Boyd for his insights into the affects, and ultimately beneficial nature of social tools.

Usman Haque because his projects are really cool!

Aaron Koblin because he is doing visual and audio wonders with data.

Christian Nold for introducing me to the idea of a parasitic money network.

Detail Review
Stowe Boyd Social Tools: The Shape of Future Culture
The morning keynote started with a presentation by Stowe Boyd talking about social tools. This was the guy who coined the term ‘Social tools’ in 1999 and describes himself to be a ‘presentist’ rather than a futurist. He is generally concerned about the ‘impact of social tools on us as individuals’ based on the hypothesis that the cultural impact of these tools is difficult to examined.

What are social tools? It’s a new category of software intended to augment social systems, software intended to shape culture. These tools are primary designed to support social connectedness amongst people. He illustrates how our social interactions are changing by comparing email, chat and microblogging( like twitter). He talks about these shifts from 3 aspects of tempo, access and contacts.

Tempo
(Email) Asynchronous–> (Chat) Synchronous–>(Microblogging) Synchronous

Access
(Email) Secret–> (Chat) Private–>(Microblogging) Public

Context
(Email) Inbox–> (Chat) Room–>(Microblogging) Stream

He observers a dramatic shift in microblogging and for future generation, the use of email as a social tool will be in decline the same way as postal communication has now been restricted to communication with corporations.

His talk also discusses the rise of the ‘Edgelings’, a movement away from the edge, mass organisation and results in creating a rich network of connections. It is characterise by these characteristics: bottom up, egalitarian, subjective, partial, networks, glocalism, participative, restoring, sustainable, decentralised and enigmatic. The core issue is a move towards a re-humanism of ourselves, a movement from idealogy that divides us. He ends with a quote by Claude Levi-Strauss:

‘A well-ordered humanism does not begin with itself, but puts things back in their place. It puts the world before life, life before man, and the respect of other before self.’

———-
A quick postscript, I did attend the Nokia Forum Workshop in the afternoon. It was supposed to last a few hours but I ended up leaving earlier. I didn’t really know to expect as the programme description was quite vague. It turns out that it was a workshop to learn how to code in Python language to develop mobile applications for Nokia. Unfortunately, this platform is only currently available on Nokia and only on certain models (so it won’t work on Android or on the Iphone). So, while it was interesting to try it out (we got to code and run the script on the phones), it was just not well set up as a workshop. Most of the participants did not know what to expect and should have been asked to bring a laptop, as coding more than a few lines on the phone is really time consuming. Python is a really powerful programming language, but in the context of a mobile phone apps, its very limited if its only available on Nokia platforms.

Social Technologies Summit 2009 – Day 1

May 13th, 2009

I’m attending the Social Technologies Summit conference which is part of the FutureSonic Festival happening in Manchester starting today till the 16th of May. This is the first time that I’m attending, so I have no preconceived notion on what to expect. The timetable and the range of speakers should make it a very interesting and hopefully stimulating experience for me.

The opening gala event was tonight and we were treated to 2 very different presentations. Firstly, though I would like to comment on the venue. The festival events are being held all over Manchester, but the summit is located at the Contact Theater. Its such a weird looking building and I have no clue as to the history behind the design of it. Anyway, I digress. The first presentation was by Mike Pilkington and Tim O’Brien. Its an audio and visual collaboration between Mike who is a digital artist and Tim who is an astro physicist. They reinterpret the sounds of the cosmos to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landings. From what I understood of their explanation of their work, Mike wrote algorithms to translate signals received from a telescope into audio feedback which he manipulated for his piece. It was musically interesting (similar to many electro minimal pieces I have heard), though I thought they could have done a bit more with the visual, rather than just let Tim move some data windows around the screen.

The second presentation was by environmental futurist, Jamais Cascio who co-founded worldchanging.com and now blogs on openthefuture.com. The title of his presentation was ’Hacking the Earth’ and the premise was to present an argument that environmental catastrophe is unavoidable and if we don’t find some way to overturn the current political and social inertia, we will all die very soon. A very upbeat way to start a presentation! In order to give us a bit more time to enjoy the finer things in life…he proposes that one of the possible way to counteract this is to employ geo-engineering. Geo-engineering is deliberately manipulating the earth’s climate to counteract effects of global warming — basically playing god. One of the examples that he used to illustrate how this might work is using stratospheric sulfur aerosols to manage solar radiation of the earth or enhancing cloud reflectivity. He acknowledges the moral and ethical issue relating to this approach but concludes that if we accept that we as a civilization has had a negative impact on the environment, we must do all we can to rectify this. This approach is not without risk and he urges the need for the creation of modelling software to test out these ideas, in order to anticipate positive or negative consequences. The challenge in the creation of these software are related to granularity (scale) and complexity (how many different factors to include in the computation).

For me personally, his presentation was too focused on presenting the doomsday scenario. I felt that he was preaching to the converted (though there was at least one very drunk person in the audience who beg to differ), and should have instead focused more on discussing issues and challenges arising from the use of geo-engineering approaches. Interestingly one of the audience member brought up Ray Kurzeil and his believe in that technology will ultimate be the answer to the reduction of carbon emission. Cascio acknowledges that this will happen but might still be too far ahead to make enough of a difference. He wants us as the human race to take action now.

Its going to be a pack couple of days as the summit gets into full swing tomorrow. I’ll probably have to do a ’top’ picks as I probably won’t have time to reflect on each of them in detail.

Rothko Exhibition

January 25th, 2009

Rothko saying

I finally made it to the Rothko exhibition at the Tate Modern last week. Its in its final week and closes on the 1st of Feb. Being a huge Rothko fan, I couldn’t give up this opportunity to see more of his work in the flesh. The exhibition at the Tate is focused on his later works, which stemmed from his Seagram Murals series. This series was initially commissioned to be hung in a dining room at the iconic modernist building, Seagrams Building, built by Mies Van der Rohe in New York. Rothko famously withdrew from the commission after working on the paintings citing the unsuitability of the site for his paintings, allowing a much wider audience to discover his works.

The exhibition consisted of 9 rooms, with the largest room housing the Seagram Murals, bringing together Tate’s own collection, with Kawamura Memorial Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art in Washington. The other significant collection was the Black collection and his later works Brown and Gray works on paper.

I made it a point on not reading any reviews or researching about Rothko before going to the exhibition. I wanted to experience it ’pure’ as it were. And it did not disappoint! It was visceral, absolutely absorbing and undeniably primal. What was really paradoxical, was that his large paintings were very, very intimate rather than distant. The subtlety of his strokes, mastery of colour and layers is amazing. Sitting and staring intently at his creations reveals so many different imagery. I was also happy to discover his Black series, which as the name suggest, was painted using the black pallet. Of course its not as dull as pure black, its a Rothko, meaning that even using a single hue, he can create depth and visual interest in them. They are extremely powerful as a series and probably my second favourite Rothko series after the Seagrams Murals.

As a whole, the exhibition was extraordinary. I only wished there were less people, the crowds did make it difficult to truly enjoy his works. That’s why i love sitting in the Rothko room at the Tate, usually its empty and fill with regulars rather than passing visitors. You’re generally find me there, having a quiet sit.

Happy New Year – A new look for 2009

December 31st, 2008

Fire-juggler in Krakow
This is one of my favorite pictures of 2008 taken in Krakow.

2009 haven’t even began and I’m already on target with my new year resolutions! The promised new look of the website has arrived. Its completely driven by WordPress now, rather than just the blog section. Hopefully this will make updating the site a whole lot easier and quicker. The site is divided into sections (research, design, type, photography). The right column contains sub-pages of each section as well as links that are relevant to the section.

I’ve added new content which are mostly in the Design and Photography sections, and taken some Teaching materials away. I will update this section after the new year. I’ve also decided not to move any post older than a couple of years old, I feel like a fresh start. Although, being sentimental, I’ve decided to keep posts that marked turning points of my life in the last couple of years. My 2nd new year resolution is to make sure that the post gets updated and content renewed every few months or so.

Thank you for your visit. Enjoy.

Favourite TED Videos

November 18th, 2008

Recently, I’ve been using TED’s videos as a resource for my Contemporary Issues class that I teach to the MA students. The selection is eclectic, but usually linked to areas of Social, Economic, Technological, Environmental and Political issues. Instead of putting them all here, I’ve listed the ones which are my favourite in terms of most inspirational, informational and convincing.

1. Hans Rosling: Making Stats Sexy
2. Isabel Allende: Tales of passion
3. Cameron Sinclair Open-source architecture
4. Edward Burtnsky – manufactured landscape
5. Jonathan Harris: The art of collecting stories

Revamp Resolution

November 18th, 2008

I’ve decided that the site needs a revamp…and also to make it easier for me to update the content – not just the blog. So an early new year’s resolution…I will try to get a new site up and running early next year. Hopefully by making this public, I will actually get down to doing this. Can you believe my WordPress version 1.2?

Facebook

May 16th, 2007

I’ve just started getting into Facebook – and I’m getting hooked! Its strange when you try to search for long lost friends from social network of the past. I also think its much better designed site from MySpace. Although my design suggestion would be to differentiate between other people’s site …