Arks of the Apocalypse - The New York Times
The seed vault is perhaps the best-known project in a growing global campaign to cache endangered phenomena for safekeeping. Fortunately — the leak snafu notwithstanding — scientists, governments and even private companies have become quite good over the last decade at these efforts to bank nature. The San Diego Zoo’s Frozen Zoo cryogenically preserves living cell cultures, sperm, eggs and embryos for some 1,000 species in liquid nitrogen. Inside the National Ice Core Laboratory, in Lakewood, Colo., a massive freezer contains roughly 62,000 feet’s worth of rods of ice from rapidly melting glaciers and ice sheets in Antarctica, Greenland and North America. The Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington maintains the world’s largest collection of frozen exotic-animal milk, from mammals large (orcas) and small (critically endangered fruit bats), in order to help researchers figure out how to nourish the most vulnerable members of any species: babies. An international project called Amphibian Ark engages in ex situ conservation by relocating amphibians, the most endangered class of animal, indoors for safekeeping and sperm collection.

It seems to be a human impulse to collect things just as they’re vanishing. During the Renaissance, wealthy merchants and aristocrats exhibited their personal compendiums of mastodon bones, fossils and all manner of dried, pickled and stuffed creatures in what were called cabinets of curiosity. Some anthropologists believe their discipline emerged when Europeans began to experience a sort of nostalgia for the native populations they had wiped out with their diseases and guns. That feeling sent them scurrying off to gather up ethnographies, dying languages and sometimes even living subjects. Zisis Kozlakidis, the president of the International Society for Biological and Environmental Repositories, an organization that represents some 1,300 biobanks containing specimens like viruses and the reproductive cells of clouded leopards, told me a collecting rush is underway...

In certain ways, our environmental banks are cabinets of curiosity for the Anthropocene age, tributes to the fantastical magnificence of the world in this geologic moment just as that moment is passing....

We build banks to better understand, but also perhaps to save, our disappearing world. The plan is to study these specimens now but also to deliver them to the future, when scientists will presumably be more advanced than we are, technologically — and hopefully smarter. Geneticists can already clone animals; breed genetic diversity back into species at the brink of extinction via in vitro fertilization; rewrite genomes; and fabricate synthetic DNA. Glaciologists reconstruct ancient climate and atmospheric patterns (and predict future ones) by studying molecules trapped in ice. Marine biologists grow threatened corals in underwater nurseries. Botanists recently sprouted a delicate, white-flowered plant from genetic material inside seeds buried by squirrels in the Siberian permafrost 32,000 years ago. ...

The banks themselves are vulnerable to that change. All manner of things can go wrong: power outages, faulty backup generators, fires, floods, earthquakes, contamination, liquid-nitrogen shortages, war, theft, neglect. In early April, a freezer failure at a University of Alberta cold-storage facility allowed some 590 feet of ice cores to melt, turning tens of thousands of years of frozen clues about the earth’s climate into puddles that one glaciologist, surveying the sad aftermath, likened to a swimming-pool changing room. The associated data that indicates what’s in these vaults — the genomes, the origin stories — could be hacked, corrupted, lost or just formatted in such a way as to be inscrutable to those who might try to decipher it later.
archives  anthropocene  cabinets  preservation 
2 days ago
Chicago's WindyGrid Puts Open Data to Work - The New Stack
With its WindyGrid project, the city of Chicago is using open data from multiple sources, both internal and external, to offer an unprecedented view of everything happening within the city, as Tom Schenk, Chicago’s chief data officer demonstrated at the recent MongoDB World 2017.

WindyGrid combines data collected in more than three dozen of systems within city departments — such as 911 calls, non-emergency 311 calls, building permits, health inspections — and combines it with data from other sources, such as weather data and tweets, to produce a comprehensive view of the city. It can show where police, fire and ambulance vehicles are in real time. It can plot reported potholes and the status of each complaint.
smart_cities  dashboards 
4 days ago
Fact of Fiction? The Legend of the QWERTY Keyboard | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian
In the 1860s, a politician, printer, newspaper man, and amateur inventor in Milwaukee by the name of Christopher Latham Sholes spent his free time developing various machines to make his businesses more efficient. One such invention was an early typewriter, which he developed with Samuel W. Soulé, James Densmore, and Carlos Glidden, and first patented in 1868. The earliest typewriter keyboard resembled a piano and was built with an alphabetical arrangement of 28 keys. The team surely assumed it would be the most efficient arrangement. After all, anyone who used the keyboard would know immediately where to find each letter; hunting would be reduced, pecking would be increased. Why change things? This is where the origin of QWERTY gets a little foggy.

The popular theory states that Sholes had to redesign the keyboard in response to the mechanical failings of early typewriters, which were slightly different from the models most often seen in thrift stores and flea markets. The type bars connecting the key and the letter plate hung in a cycle beneath the paper. If a user quickly typed a succession of letters whose type bars were near each other, the delicate machinery would get jammed. So, it is said, Sholes redesigned the arrangement to separate the most common sequences of letters like “th” or “he”. In theory then, the QWERTY system should maximize the separation of common letter pairings. This theory could be easily debunked for the simple reason that “er” is the fourth most common letter pairing in the English language....

By 1873, the typewriter had 43 keys and a decidedly counter-intuitive arrangement of letters that supposedly helped ensure the expensive machines wouldn’t break down. Form follows function and the keyboard trains the typist. That same year, Sholes and his cohorts entered into a manufacturing agreement with gun-maker Remington, a well-equipped company familiar with producing precision machinery and, in the wake of the Cilvil War, no doubt looking to turn their swords into plowshares. However, right before their machine, dubbed the Sholes & Glidden, went into production, Sholes filed another patent, which included a new keyboard arrangement. Issued in 1878, U.S. Patent No. 207,559 (top image) marked the first documented appearance of the QWERTY layout...

The fate of the keyboard was decided in 1893 when the five largest typewriter manufacturers –Remington, Caligraph, Yost, Densmore, and Smith-Premier– merged to form the Union Typewriter Company and agreed to adopt QWERTY as the de facto standard that we know and love today....

There’s a somewhat related theory that credits Remington’s pre-merger business tactics with the popularization of QWERTY. Remington didn’t just produce typewriters, they also provided training courses – for a small fee, of course. Typists who learned on their proprietary system would have to stay loyal to the brand, so companies that wanted to hire trained typists had to stock their desks with Remington typewriters. It’s a system that’s still works today, as illustrated by the devout following Apple built through the ecosystem created by iTunes, the iTunes store, and the iPod....

They conclude that the mechanics of the typewriter did not influence the keyboard design. Rather, the QWERTY system emerged as a result of how the first typewriters were being used. Early adopters and beta-testers included telegraph operators who needed to quickly transcribe messages. However, the operators found the alphabetical arrangement to be confusing and inefficient for translating morse code. The Kyoto paper suggests that the typewriter keyboard evolved over several years as a direct result of input provided by these telegraph operators....

More recent research has debunked any claims that Dvorak is more efficient, but it hardly matters. Even in 1930 it was already too late for a new system to gain a foothold. While Dvorak certainly has its champions, it never gained enough of a following to overthrow King QWERTY. After all, the world learned to type using Remington’s keyboard.... Not only that, but way back in 1910, the system had been adopted by Teletype, a company that would go on to produce electronic typewriters and computer terminals widely used around the world, thereby ensuring QWERTY’s place as the new technological standard.
typewriter  media_archaeology 
6 days ago
Standard practice: Libraries as structuring machines | | Parameters
Libraries are highly organized spaces, defined and produced by standards that determine everything from where a book sits on a shelf to the thickness of the paper in those books; from the placement of the reference desk to the organization of digital lab equipment. As much as they are about “stuff,” libraries are about processes. Collection development policies govern the selection and acquisition of materials, as well as their de-acquisition. Libraries have rules that tell us what is unruly; even our waste is organized. If libraries are fundamentally ordering machines, it is worth looking more closely at the instruction manuals that construct library systems, structures, and processes.

The “first cut” of library ordering systems is cataloging and classification. These two functions of the library turn a pile or heap of books into ordered shelves where books are grouped together by subject (classification) and described using a uniform language (cataloging). ...

Other library standards attempt to order something much messier: the ways librarians interact with patrons and students when they enter the library. The American Library Association’s Reference and User Services Association has developed a set of Guidelines for Behavioral Performance of Reference and Information Service Providers that governs the provision and evaluation of public services in libraries. The guidelines define everything from how to be approachable (“poised and ready to engage patrons,” “using a friendly greeting”) to ways to listen (“rephrases the question,” “avoids jargon”). People, of course, are less easily controlled than books. Reference transactions in libraries are not uniformly approachable, cordial, informative, and useful, as any user of a library can attest. But the RUSA Guidelines seek to produce in the world a certain kind of reality, one of smiling and attentive friendliness on the part of the library worker. The document also reflects an ideology that sees social relations between worker and patron in a library as determined by the individual librarian, rather than as a product of socioeconomic forces that might determine whether or not a librarian feels like smiling. Smiling, after all, can be affected by things like institutional racism or a lack of pay equity. Under the RUSA guidelines, social factors like these are simply not relevant to the interaction of a patron and a librarian....

In the case of privatized corporate information organization systems like the Google search engine, what orders what we can know is impossible to discover. The fantasy that digital spaces mean freedom from the constraints of standardized structures is just that: a fantasy. Instead, the structures that govern what we can know and not know are effaced and erased. We don’t feel ourselves to be governed at all.
libraries  classification  standards  infrastructure  knowledge_structures 
6 days ago
The e-waste meme : home cooked theory
Unpacking the camera last night, and feeling the usual sense of awkwardness about what to do with the packaging, cords and instructions that came with it, I decided to confront myself about this notion that I don’t buy very much technology. I set out to discover how much e-waste is in my house already.
I gathered together everything I could find, in cupboards, drawers and unpacked boxes, that relates to media or communication. The only criteria was that it wasn’t being used anymore....

Lots of these things are kept for emotional reasons: as back-ups just in case the current laptop breaks, or I can’t find a file that I mayneed, one day. Often they stay because I’m too busy (?? lazy) to transfer and save things “properly”: as if there will ever be one way to save everything without it also becoming obsolete.

Other things (the Walkman! the cass-single!) I keep as historical artefacts; as material objects as well as the fact that they remind me of the times and places I’ve used them. I don’t want the idea of them and what they represent to disappear from my life. Like books, they contain experiences I tell myself I will revisit....

What do I do with this? Where can I take all of this stuff so that it can be re-used or disposed of responsibly? What do the companies say? What does the government and local council say?
I wonder: can we start a movement to have more of these answers common sense, consistent across states, and easy to find? Can we begin to demand optional extras with our devices (USB cords, for instance), compulsory recycling of packaging and materials, and dedicated facilities and organisations to implement our demands? What can all of us do to make sure we realise the amount of toxic waste in our homes?
e-waste  obsolescence  closets 
6 days ago
CABINET // A Minor History Of / Miniature Writing
Pliny relates that Cicero once saw the 15,693-verse Iliad of Homer written “in so small a compass as to be wholly enclosed in a nutshell.” ...

895: Developed as a way of skirting the Jewish prohibition on illustrating scripture, Hebrew micrographia, or art created entirely out of miniature letters, was also a way of enlivening the dull marginal biblical notes known as masoreh. The tradition spread from Israel to Egypt and Yemen, and grew from marginalia to complete micrographic works of art created entirely with written words. It is still common to find micrographic art on the walls of many observant Jewish homes. ...

1590: Peter Bales, the most dexterous penman of the day and inventor of one of the earliest forms of shorthand, produces an edition of the “whole Bible contained in a large English walnut no bigger than a hen’s egg...

1665: Robert Hooke titles his revolutionary book on the microscope Micrographia, literally, “small writing.” The second set of objects he looks at under his microscope, after first examining the points of sharp needles, is “certain pieces of exceeding curious writing,” including the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, and a dozen verses of the Bible hand-written in an area smaller than a two-pence piece. ...

1870: With the Prussian army besieging Paris and all other means of communication with the outside world cut off, passenger pigeons become the primary means of transporting mail into the city. However, weighted down by even the thinnest paper, the pigeons are easy shots for German gunners and their specially trained hawks. René Dagron, a Parisian photographer, proposes a solution: to print news and letters in large sheets, which can then be shrunk using the new technology of microphotography....

1877: French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot first recognizes micrographia, or increasingly miniaturized handwriting, as a clinical symptom of Parkinson’s disease. ...

1884: The Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris becomes the first library in the world to use microfilm to condense texts. ...

1941: Robert Hooke’s three-hundred-year-old vision of conveying secret information through micrography is realized. The first microdot, disguised as a common sentence-ending period, is discovered on a typed envelope carried by a German agent. Using a process developed by Emanuel Goldberg in the 1920s, the Germans employ a reverse microscope to shrink information down to a one-millimeter dot, which is then punched out with a syringe and glued over a printed period or under a stamp. British mail censors dub the microdots “duff” because they are scattered throughout letters like raisins in the stiff flour pudding known as plum duff. ...

1989: IBM researchers Don Eigler and Erhard Schweizer arrange thirty-five xenon atoms on a nickel crystal to spell out the IBM logo.

1990: Microprinting is first introduced into US currency as an anti-counterfeiting deterrent.
writing  textual_form  miniature  encryption  code  secrecy 
6 days ago
Manifold Scholarship: Cut/Copy/Paste: Echoes of Little Gidding
In 1625, Nicholas Ferrar and his mother Mary left London to found the Anglican community of Little Gidding. There, nestled in the drained fenlands of Huntingdonshire, the extended Ferrar family practiced a rigorous schedule of communal devotion. The women of the community spent their afternoons in an early modern makerspace, the Concordance Room, hacking religious books. Surrounded by scissors, thread, paste, loose metal type, ink, and a rolling press, Mary Collett Ferrar and her relatives chopped apart printed Bibles and engravings, then pasted these paper fragments back together into elaborate collages of text and image that remix, or “harmonize,” the four gospels. Together, these thirteen cut-and-paste volumes—comprising the largest early modern archive of English women’s bookwork—are collectively known as the Little Gidding Harmonies, and they are the subject of Cut/Copy/Paste: Echoes of Little Gidding, which argues that the women of Little Gidding invented their cut-up method of composition—their “new kind of printing”—as a proto-feminist hack of contemporaneous printing technologies.
book_art  books  material_texts 
6 days ago
The Way We Judge Humanities Professors Is Broken—This Initiative Could Fix It
Currently the metrics that impact an academic’s institutional standing—and yes, a professor’s standing on the tenure track—are blunt. Long points to a reliance on citations as one example of what’s broken. Since the more citations an article gets, the “better” it is, an academic might produce a piece of work that’s extremely provocative. That doesn’t mean the scholarship is valuable—it just might mean that the work made people upset. “That is a rudimentary way for measuring the impact of scholarship,” says Long.

HuMetricsHSS wants to develop a metrics framework from values. Currently, there are five listed on the initiative’s website: equity, openness, collegiality, quality, and community. Those are just broad starting points and are subject to changes and additions as the initiative develops further.

Still, one can already imagine how they might apply to the “publish or perish” dictum, which, as Long notes, really means publish in a select number of academic journals treated as being influential. “Part of what we want to do as an initiative is open up the range of recognized opportunities through which ideas can inform and transform the public,” said Long.

Using the Mellon grant, the HuMetricsHSS team will develop two pilots over the course of the next 18 months, one focused on annotations and the other on syllabi. In a blog post on the latter, HuMetricsHSS team member Nicky Agate cited Rebecca Kennison, also working on the project, as saying, “we want to argue that there’s much more to scholarship than publishing regularly in high-impact journals.” Developing metrics around syllabi can help boost practices that everyone in the arts generally claims to value. Syllabi, for instance, can be evaluated for questions of equity and openness—criteria which could benefit those those traditionally marginalized from the humanities canon.
evaluation  tenure  academia  metrics 
6 days ago
Archives, repositories and data stores | Future of the Bunker
The last two decades have seen increasing public interest in, and engagements with, the abandoned remains of Second World War and Cold War era military and civil defence bunkers. Academics have been busy analysing the motives and forms of this engagement (Bennett 2011; Maus 2017) and also charting the origins and affective-material impacts of those 20th century waves of bunker-building mania (Bartolini 2015; Klinke 2015; Berger Ziauddin 2016). Such engagements and studies have tended to figure the bunker as a now-deactivated form – as a form of contemporary ruin – and as a phenomenon of the (albeit recent) past. This Call for Papers seeks to supplement this scholarship by examining the bunkers’ futurity: through considering the bunker as an immanent contemporary and still-yet-to-come form of place. As John Armitage (2015) has recently put it (writing of Paul Virilio’s seminal first-encounter with a bunker of the Nazi Atlantic Wall in 1958): “when we face the bunker, we need to periodize our feelings of lurking danger – to insert them into historical time and to identify the periods of relative serenity, when not only the fixed content of the military bunker but also the relation between oblique architecture and the sudden appearance of this object on the beach remain relatively tranquil”.
archives  repositories  bunkers  nuclear_history 
7 days ago
The Quick and the Dead: Life, Latency, and the Limits of the Biological - American Academy
In this lecture, historian of science Sophia Roosth asks: At what pace must life proceed in order to count as life? How do qualities such as speed, slowness, time, and temperature actually shape the ways in which we think about life as form, pattern, or process? What is the place of latency in the life sciences and allied disciplines? Roosth interrogates these questions historically and anthropologically by attending to a variety of scientific communities, among them geobiologists and micropaleontologists seeking ancient microbial life-forms fossilized in stone; polar scientists excavating organic substances frozen in Antarctic riverbeds; resurrection scientists seeking to insert ancient proteins into living cells; and researchers at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which stores samples of the world’s seeds for post-apocalyptic renewal.
archives  life  ice  temperature  apocalypse 
7 days ago
Understand Urban Change Through Artificial Intelligence - CityLab
In a study of neighborhoods’ physical changes and perceived safety, the researchers ran nearly 3,000 images through an algorithm to determine the predictors of neighborhood improvement. While some of the conclusions may not be bombshells for urban experts who study neighborhood change, the researchers say the study, published last week in the journal Proceeding of the National Academies of Sciences, highlights the potential of artificial intelligence to give policymakers and urban scientists a more robust way of testing longstanding theories.

For one thing, the researchers concluded that population density and residents’ education level are two particularly strong predictors of neighborhood improvement, more so than median income levels, housing prices, and rental costs.

The study found that attractive neighborhoods, defined here as appearing safer, are more likely to see improvements. But neighborhoods that appear less safe tend not to fall into further decline, showing mixed support for the theory that when neighborhoods hit a “tipping” point, they will head sharply in one direction. And finally, the results show support for the spillover effect, the idea that neighborhood transformation is positively linked to its proximity to central business districts and other physically attractive neighborhoods....

his team has fed them into a machine-learning algorithm that can calculate the perceived safety, or “Streetscore,” of any neighborhood street based on its physical attributes.

In this latest study, the researchers ran nearly 3,000 images from those five cities, taken in 2007 and then again in 2014, through the algorithm. Then they calculated the difference in the areas’ Streetscores while accounting for unrelated elements like natural lighting, weather conditions, and the presence of parked vehicles. A positive “Streetchange” score indicates street improvement, while a negative one signals decline.
mapping  machine_vision  machine_learning  artificial_intelligence 
8 days ago
Lights, camera, CRISPR: Biologists use gene editing to store movies in DNA : Nature News & Comment
Internet users have a variety of format options in which to store their movies, and biologists have now joined the party. Researchers have used the microbial immune system CRISPR–Cas to encode a movie into the genome of the bacterium Escherichia coli.

The technical achievement, reported on 12 July in Nature1, is a step towards creating cellular recording systems that are capable of encoding a series of events, says Seth Shipman, a synthetic biologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. While studying brain development, Shipman became frustrated by the lack of a technique to capture how cells in the brain take on distinct identities. This inspired him to explore the possibility of making cellular recorders.

“Cells have this privileged access to all sorts of information,” he says. “I would like to have these molecular recordings functioning in the developing nervous system and recording information.”
archives  DNA  CRISPR 
8 days ago
Urban Omnibus » What Do You Avoid? Where Do You Belong?
Native-born and new arrivals alike, New Yorkers sure love to talk about neighborhood change. But many conversations skirt the complex questions these changes bring to the fore. Gentrification is a tale of zoning regulations, real estate markets, and demographics. It is also a tale of guilt, anger, apprehension, embarrassment, nostalgia, despair… everything but indifference.
Based in the Lower East Side, where dramatic change is both a permanent and accelerating condition, the members of the Perfect City working group are developing a dialogue that feels less familiar. The project’s instigator is a playwright who has previously plumbed the depths of local government and participatory democracy through performance. The working group members, many from the neighborhood, most under the age of 21, are not the kind of experts whose testimony is usually called on in these situations, but they are experimenting with the possibilities for a project that starts as art to make real change. To that end, the Perfect City working group is inserting its perspectives into a heated and heartfelt territory through discussion, performance, and this fall, a two-week festival at Abrons Art Center.

We invited the group to host a roundtable at the Architectural League. Joined by some guests, including architects who work in the Lower East Side and on participatory design, the group led us through an exercise in what they call avoidance mapping. It turns out mapping what we avoid also shows us where we feel we belong. The exercise opened into a broader conversation on belonging, the sense of home, the things we avoid, the things we can and can’t avoid, and the distance from or possibility of living in a “perfect city.”

In retrospect, the exercise recalls a series of maps produced when the Los Angeles Department of City Planning (advised by Kevin Lynch) asked residents of different neighborhoods to sketch their image of the city. The results are the images of many cities, and strikingly, the very different worlds inhabited by residents of upper middle class white, African American, and Mexican American neighborhoods. The former are expansive, the latter tightly circumscribed....

we all try to steer clear of certain places and people, whether we’re aware of it or not. As an exercise designed to lead to conversations about gentrification and displacement, safety and perception, it’s a lens through which to look at bias, belonging, and other subjects. It’s useful (seeing how knowledge of and belonging to a place lead you to be able to successfully navigate it), provocative (what and whom you avoid says as much about you as the avoidances themselves), and creative (allowing us to foreground new, perhaps competing narratives of the city).

At the workshop we asked people what, whom, or where they avoided, whether it was real or imaginary, and what the consequences might be of successfully avoiding that person, place, or thing — or not. How did time factor into their maps? How did their gender, race, class, and geographic backgrounds inform their informal cartography? There was a sense from most participants that this deceptively simple charting of a day or a block or a building led them to understand who they were in the city — what they felt they belonged to here — in a new way. The combination of maps and the stories that animate them are what make exercises like these potent and valuable. While some of these responses and points of view might seem purely emotional or fear-based, having the geography on which to imprint those experiences makes them harder to dismiss or ignore.
urban_design  affect  mapping  cognitive_mapping 
8 days ago
Who Needs Hard Drives? Scientists Store Film Clip in DNA - The New York Times
It was one of the very first motion pictures ever made: a galloping mare filmed in 1878 by the British photographer Eadweard Muybridge, who was trying to learn whether horses in motion ever become truly airborne.

More than a century later, that clip has rejoined the cutting edge. It is now the first movie ever to be encoded in the DNA of a living cell, where it can be retrieved at will and multiplied indefinitely as the host divides and grows.

The advance, reported on Wednesday in the journal Nature by researchers at Harvard Medical School, is the latest and perhaps most astonishing example of the genome’s potential as a vast storage device.

Scientists already have managed to translate all of Shakespeare’s sonnets into DNA. George Church, a geneticist at Harvard and one of the authors of the new study, recently encoded his own book, “Regenesis,” into bacterial DNA and made 90 billion copies of it...

With the new research, he and other scientists have begun to wonder if it may be possible one day to do something even stranger: to program bacteria to snuggle up to cells in the human body and to record what they are doing, in essence making a “movie” of each cell’s life.

When something goes wrong, when a person gets ill, doctors might extract the bacteria and play back the record. It would be, said Dr. Church, analogous to the black boxes carried by airplanes whose data is used in the event of a crash.
archives  DNA  CRISPR  biology  self_tracking 
8 days ago
Will Automated Vehicles Lead to a Boom for Landscape Architects? - CityLab
In Siegel’s near-distant future, 90 percent or more of the privately owned and organically operated cars currently on the roads will no longer be necessary, and society will reap a windfall of real estate that it has never before had the luxury to reconsider. Landscape architects—the design professionals responsible for planting grassed swales that convey stormwater runoff, siting benches that line pedestrian thoroughfares, and meeting the demand for shade with tree canopies—will be the front line in re-thinking the built environment.

“It is with relatively high confidence that I predict you’re going to see a boom in landscape architecture,” Siegel says. “You will see innovation and invention that has never been possible, because suddenly, everyone’s going to have all this excess space.”
landscape_architecture  drones  automated_vehicles 
10 days ago
Michigan’s New Motor City: Ann Arbor as a Driverless-Car Hub - The New York Times
As the world looks ahead to a future of interconnected, self-driving cars, this college town 40 miles west of Detroit has emerged as a one-of-a-kind, living laboratory for the technologies that will pave the way.

Here, it is not uncommon to see self-driving Ford Fusions or Lexus sedans winding their way through downtown streets and busy intersections, occupied by engineers with eyes focused more on laptops and test equipment than the roadway.

Soon students and staff members at the University of Michigan will be able to get around the engineering campus on fully automated, driverless shuttle buses provided by a French company drawn to Ann Arbor by the university’s autonomous-car test track, known as MCity.

And at any time of the day, some 1,500 cars — owned by university employees, businesses and local residents, and wired up by university researchers — radio their speed and direction to one another and to equipment like traffic lights and crosswalk signals. It is all part of a vast pilot project run by the university to develop connected-car technologies that someday should ease congestion and make self-driving cars safe.

“This combination of research and testing in a controlled facility like MCity, and testing on the street in the real world, on this scale, doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world,” said James R. Sayer, director of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute....

One of the strongest draws to Ann Arbor is MCity, a 32-acre testing ground that opened in 2015. It features simulated city streets, intersections and storefronts where carmakers and others can test self-driving vehicles in a confined but realistic setting. Dozens of companies, including General Motors, Toyota, Honda, BMW and Intel, are conducting research there in collaboration with the university.

Last winter they were joined by Navya, a French start-up that has developed a small, autonomous shuttle bus. Two will go into service at the university in September in one of the first trials of a driverless transit vehicle open to the public. By the end of the year, Navya plans to begin building its buses near Ann Arbor...

The least visible of the university’s research efforts is its largest: the on-road test of vehicle-to-vehicle, or V2V, communications involving 1,500 cars, trucks and buses. Auto industry executives said they knew of no other live test of this scale anywhere in the world.

The vehicles in the project have been equipped with small radio transmitters that broadcast their speed and direction 10 times per second. At more than two dozen intersections, traffic lights and crosswalks have similar transmitters, allowing them to communicate with the vehicles.

The aim is to develop V2V technologies that will help improve traffic flow, Dr. Sayer said. “If a car is stopped 200 feet from a traffic light, you know there’s a long line of cars there,” he said. “So you could lengthen the green light dynamically to reduce congestion.”
automation  automated_vehicles  model_city  models 
10 days ago
USC Libraries initiative aims at producing new research | USC News
A new USC Libraries initiative will create a group of researchers, artists and library curators to deepen the convergence of collections with scholars.

Through the initiative, library curators, scholars and creative practitioners will come together in more direct working relationships to advance research — particularly with primary sources — and develop strategic collections....

“We’re always working to align the development and use of primary-source collections with the needs and practices of USC faculty, students, researchers and artists as effectively and productively as we can,” Quinlan said. “This initiative is a new way of organizing library activities that puts library curators in direct, in-depth working relationships with the communities of scholarship that use the collections to produce new research, and in turn, help shape the collections’ development.”
libraries  research  library_art 
10 days ago
Death and Taxonomies
Museums of natural history are dedicated to display; but the field itself has a more fundamental purpose — it is rooted in nothing less than the human desire to order, to taxonomize, the natural world in all its complexity. Not only do taxidermy and taxonomy share the same etymological roots: taxon, from the Greek, means “to order”; either skin, dermis, in the case of taxidermy, or knowledge, gnomos, in the case of taxonomy. Both are also born of the same impulse: to categorize and classify all living things, to submit the plants and animals of the earth to the rigors of a logical arrangement....

Thoreau saw that once a specimen is brought into a museum, arrested for study and catalogued for posterity, it has already lost its substance. And in fact, for all its benefits to knowledge, taxonomy has always harbored and even condoned acts of violence, of domination. ...

Our obsession with taxonomy has long had its darker side. Linnaean classification has been used to bolster the pseudo-scientific theories of 19th- and early 20th-century racial biology — to justify pre-existing beliefs that Africans could be differentiated from Europeans, that if you measured enough noses, brows, and jawlines, you could rationalize racist politics and colonial pursuits. The era that saw the advancements of science, in which Carl Linnaeus sought to understand the natural world by organizing it into kingdoms, phyla, and families, was at the same time an era of imperial conquest in which millions were subjugated, enslaved, and colonized. In this view no naturalist’s work — nor museum’s display — can be understood as truly disinterested....

Gradually I recognized I had been suppressing an unwelcome thought: that the New York Public Library, with its chilly marble and wide staircases and vaulted corridors, can feel at times like a mausoleum. Or at least like a monument — a monument to books, to learning and memory. In his 1957 documentary on the Bibliothèque Nationale, in Paris, Toute la Mémoire du Monde, Alain Resnais captures the grandeur of the state library, and also the very madness of the enterprise. Resnais films the librarians as they receive, document, and catalogue the incoming books and periodicals, toiling joylessly as they work to organize the never-ending supply of new information. “Because he has a short memory, man amasses countless memory aids,” the narrator intones. “Faced with these bulging responsibilities, man fears being engulfed by this mass of words. To safeguard his freedom, he builds fortresses.”...

The habit of humanity has long been to fix the variegated natural world on the end of a pin, to arrange all flora and fauna into a museum of death and order. Yet it is the lowliest of creatures that are constantly thwarting this overweening pursuit and allowing the slow work of decomposition to proceed — and so enabling the great reanimation of all things.
classification  taxonomy  museums  organization 
10 days ago
Fine Arts Library — Artist’s Book: Breathe for Those Who Cannot “On...
“On March 5, 2007, a bomb went off in the centuries old Al Mutanabbi Street book sellers district in Baghdad. The explosion took the lives of thirty people and destroyed a large portion of the neighborhood. Al-Mutanabbi Street is named after the famous classical Arab poet Abu at-Tayyib al-Mutanabbi (915–965 CE), and it has been a thriving center of Baghdad’s bookselling and publishing for many years.

The book sellers, who survived, rebuilt their stores and are once again in business. They sell works by Sunnis, Shiites, Christians, and Jews, children’s books, and progressive publications from around the world.
A coalition of poets, artists, writers, printers, booksellers, and readers was created within a short time of the bombing; broadsides of their writings and artwork about this tragic event were printed, and recitations were made in many cities.
The 2007 bombing and the destruction of Al-Mutanabbi Street resulted Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts here – book arts and festivals to commemorate the bombing of Baghdad’s historic bookselling street and celebrate freedom of expression.”
books  bookstores  Iraq  media_city 
11 days ago
Data Reinvents Libraries for the 21st Century
Nate Hill is among this band of progressives. As a data zealot who believes in data’s inclination for innovation, the former deputy director for Tennessee’s Chattanooga Public Library, led a charge to transform the library into a data centric community hub. The library boasts an open data portal that it manages for the city, a civic hacker lab, a makerspace for community projects, and expanded access to in-person and online tutorials for coding and other digital skill sets. It’s a goal he accomplished with the help of the city, the civic tech group Open Chattanooga, and philanthropies like the Benwood and the John S. and James L. Knight foundations.

The draw in data sharing and creating, Hill said, comes from the realization that today’s data channels are no longer one-way systems.

“I push people to the idea that now it’s about being a producer rather than just a consumer," Hill said, "because really that whole idea of a read-write Web comes from the notion that you and I, for example, are just as capable at editing Wikipedia articles on the fly and changing information as anybody else."

For libraries, Hill sees this as an opportunity and asks what institution can better pioneer the new frontier of information exchange. He posits the idea that, as the original public content curator, adding open data to libraries is only natural. In fact, he says it’s a logical next step when considering that traditional media like books, research journals and other sources infuse data points with rich context — something most city and state open data portals typically don’t do.

“The dream here is to treat the library as a different kind of community infrastructure,” Hill said. “You can conceivably be feeding live data about a city into an open data portal, and at the same time, turning the library into a real live information source — rather than something just static.”

In Chattanooga, an ongoing effort is in the works to do just that. The library seeks to integrate open data into its library catalog searches. Visitors researching Chattanooga’s waterfront could do a quick search and pull up local books, articles and mapping documents, but also a collection of latest data sets on water pollution and land use, for example.

Eyeing the library data movement at scale, Hill said he could easily envision a network of public libraries that act as local data hubs, retrieving and funneling data into larger state and national data portals. On May 4, Hill became the executive director for the Metropolitan New York Library Council, a nonprofit advocacy group serving New York City and Westchester County. While he’s still investigating possibilities, the hope is to implement something of a similar nature for New York libraries.
open_data  libraries 
11 days ago
Tactile Atlas of Switzerland | Maps We Love
The Tactile Atlas of Switzerland gives people with visual impairment access to quality cartography. We love this approach to understanding geography. The tactile maps are made to be touched rather than seen. Raised symbols provide tangible differentiation for each feature. The atlas shares the sense of place in a new way for those unable to read traditional maps. Its methodology paves the way for the development of more tactile maps that represent other areas and various themes around the globe.
maps  mapping  cartography  tactility 
12 days ago
Thingclash is a framework for considering cross-impacts and implications of colliding technologies, systems, cultures and values around the Internet of Things. 
internet_of_things  tech_critique  smart_cities 
12 days ago
Langlands & Bell: the artists storming Silicon Valley's fortresses | Art and design | The Guardian
These bleached bodies are the headquarters buildings of the world’s biggest technology companies, as seen through the detached, deadpan eyes of artist duo Langlands & Bell.

“Our obsession started when we came across Norman Foster’s plan for the new Apple campus in Cupertino,” says Ben Langlands, gesturing towards an image of a pristine white doughnut bristling with a regimented stubble of tiny columns. The first of the $5bn building’s 12,000 employees will move into the mothership this month, welcomed into a mile-long closed loop of offices, lined with brushed aluminium and clad with the largest panes of curved glass the world has ever seen, every element fitted with the precision of an iPhone...

Now in their late 50s and early 60s, the provocative pair have been probing the darker side of what they call “strategic architecture” for the past three decades, constructing immaculate white models of buildings that speak of networks of wider global influence beyond their four walls. Since the late 1980s, they have trained their laser-sharp gaze on everything from the big banks of Frankfurt, to the geometric headquarters of Nato and Unesco, to the sprawling panopticon penitentiaries of the US and international courts of justice – as well as Osama bin Laden’s house in Afghanistan.

Bringing a clinical precision to their subjects, they lay their victims on the operating table and conduct a cool-headed autopsy, peeling back facades and lifting off rooftops to lay bare the bones of power for all to see. “We’re providing a kind of privileged access,” says Bell, “stripping away the envelope and revealing the innards.”...

The artists rarely visit the sites in question nor speak to the architects, but undertake desktop research and download drawings from municipal planning authority websites to build up the required information. The plans are often unavailable for security reasons, so they frequently rely on the promotional perspective views, which give their images an eerie familiarity. These are PR shots lifted from the blogs and billboards, but bleached of the surface gloss of the original image, stripped back to reveal the lifeless skeletons beneath.

This ghostly white aesthetic has become more familiar since the rise of 3D printing, but Langlands & Bell’s process is refreshingly luddite – they trained in the 1970s, so prefer scalpels to B-splines. They still construct each model by hand, layering up card and foam-board to form a “two-and-a-half dimensional” relief, before photographing and digitally manipulating the images, adding the shadows and eye-searing background colours, which gives this series the appropriately corporate gloss of a series of Pantone swatches. Some are shown as models, others as editioned prints.
media_architecture  silicon_valley  institutional_critique 
12 days ago
Go Figure! Geometric Forms and Printed Book Illustrations | The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The advent of the printing press in 1450 helped usher in a new age of learning and culture by increasing the dissemination of knowledge. During the Renaissance, printing played a major role in the revival of classical languages, art, science, and math. Illustrating geometric forms in mathematical and architectural treatises became necessary, and as new technologies in printing evolved, so too did the complexity and style of the illustrations.

Highlighted here are seven books with geometric illustrations from Watson Library, each from a different century and arranged chronologically, representing five different illustration techniques: woodcut, etching, copperplate engraving, lithography, and polymer plates.
printing  illustration  woodcut  etching  engraving  lithography 
12 days ago
Plant Bible Revival: The Conservation of a 15th-Century Herbal, Then and Now | The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Books can easily be damaged, sometimes by natural phenomena (such as damp environments or insects), and sometimes through human error (whether it be deliberate or accidental). In some cases, the damage may have been caused by the work of a previous conservator who worked to the best of their ability, knowledge, and materials, but unwittingly sowed the seed for future damage. Johann Grüninger's herbal suffered from all three causes and presented challenging conservation issues. When I encountered this book silently resting in a clamshell box, it had been damaged by water, which caused the pages at the head of the spine to disintegrate; by insects, which ate holes in the paper and wooden boards; and by human hands, which broke one of the clasps, doodled on the back cover, tore pages, and made a makeshift repair that set the stage for later injuries....

To treat the book I first removed the cover, after which I was able to loosen the fabric lining by moistening the adhesive with a poultice of wheat starch paste. The paste poultice, the fabric lining, and the original adhesive could then be cleaned off together.
books  material_texts  conservation  repair 
12 days ago
165 Years of Hardware Store History and Counting - Bloomberg
Hammacher Schlemmer CEO Richard Tinberg discusses the evolution of his company and the re-opening of their flagship store in New York City. He speaks with Pimm Fox on Bloomberg Television's "Taking Stock." (Source: Bloomberg)
12 days ago
BuildingOnline eUpdate News: HISTORY OF THE HARDWARE STORE | construction industry news
The History Channel, available on cable or satellite television, recently aired a one-hour special on the history of the hardware store. The episode featured several industry professionals giving their perspective on the evolution of today's hardware stores and big boxes. Included was Roelif Loveland, the CEO/President of Maze Nails, who gave an excellent talk on history of the nail, one of the oldest pieces of hardware known to man.
12 days ago
Disturbances #15: The Flavour of Los Angeles
Los Angeles has a smog problem for both human and topological reasons. Even today, the city is not just the home of Hollywood and dubious lifestyle ‘influencers’ but the biggest manufacturing centre in the US, the country’s largest port, and its second largest auto manufacturing location. Each steel factory, chemical plant and oil refinery produces hydrocarbon and/or nitrous oxide emissions, providing the chemical ingredients for smog to form.

But its geography also makes the city a natural pollution trap. Hemmed in by mountains, smoke & exhaust from is trapped in the city lowlands. Cool sea breezes are drawn on-shore but cannot circulate, as this denser air finds itself trapped by an inversion layer of warmer air above, which operates as a kind of atmospheric lid. The pollution cannot go anywhere, and so stagnates, cooking gently in the sunshine.

Los Angeles has always been a military town, home of Lockheed & the Kaiser Steel Co, aircraft manufacture and shipbuilding. During World War II it boomed, and real estate developers started buying up and bulldozing the orange groves to build suburbs. By the 1970s, there wasn’t enough citrus left to keep the name, and so the developers renamed the region to market the next phase in its evolution: it was to be now the Inland Empire...

It’s a deeply functional landscape. The Amtrak out to New Mexico chugs slowly through this landscape at thirty or forty miles an hour, speed limited by the freight trains that are the main traffic on this line. You depart out east from Los Angeles Union Station as the sun sets, and come back into the city a little after dawn. Each time I sit at the window and look at the low-rise business units along the route, shipping containers and freight lots next to mobile home parks of much the same geometries, and try to think about how it all works. About what’s going on inside. The function of much of it is a little hard to read – anonymous, no brand names, just initials. YRC Frieght. So & so’s Trucking. Such & Such Logistics Group. Units selling building materials, concrete, piles of sand and gravel. Small, tightly packed single family homes. Long white unnamed buildings with twenty or thirty or more loading bays, a truck in each, repeating for miles. Low-cost big-box architecture, built to last not much longer than the things it’s storing inside.

The region was first known as the Orange Empire, as navel oranges were planted in the 1870s. For seventy years (a lifetime, but no more), citrus groves covered the valley floor in a patchwork of glossy green, towns located in the centre of citrus groves and citrus groves extending right into town centres. It was by accounts a pleasant landscape - if you ignored the million smudge pots in the groves, billowing sooty smoke to keep the frost off the fruit in winter.

The planned World Logistics Center will, at 41 million square feet, be one hundred times that size. If built, it would be larger than all the other warehouses in Redlands put together. The environmental impact report says the center will generate 68,720 vehicle trips per day, 14,006 of which would be trucks.
“The World Logistics Center, which is now known locally by the acronym “WLC,” has turned Moreno Valley politics into a bloodsport”, reports Emma Foehringer Merchant for “In a struggling region [....] the lure of jobs has proven difficult to overcome, despite the public health and quality of life concerns.”...

Los Angeles does not only exert a hold on the cinematic imagination - it’s done a number on geographers.

I studied at LSE then UCL in the mid-2000s and my reading lists were thick with urban scholarship both from and about the city. Mike Davis (who called it the ‘City of Quartz’); Ed Soja (that wonderful subtitle, ‘Journeys To Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places’); and Frederic Jameson on the ‘Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism’ as epitomised in the Westin Bonaventure hotel.
los_angeles  ambience  smell  taste  flavor  smog  atmosphere  logistics  urban_form 
13 days ago
What the 21st-Century Library Looks Like - The Chronicle of Higher Education
most of the books have been moved off this floor. Instead, a spacious room swims in warm light and hums with activity. Soft chairs are clustered in pods across the floor, and a buzz of conversation fills the air.

There’s a Genius Squad counter, where students can get technical help, and a Scholar’s Lab, equipped with 42-inch monitors and scanners. In another corner, a job-preparation night is underway in the Learning Commons, a community room for campus groups.

Some students are tapping away at laptops; others are scrolling through phones or chatting with neighbors. This part of the library is a place for people, not books...

A survey published in April by Ithaka S+R, a research-and-consulting service, found that library directors feel increasingly less valued by senior academic leadership and less involved with decisions on their campuses. Only one-fifth of respondents said their institution’s budget demonstrated a recognition of the library’s value. And while librarians reported being deeply committed to student success, they struggled to articulate what exactly their contributions are....

Campus libraries pay for many of the resources that students and faculty members access through online portals. But that leaves a different impression on users than walking into the library does. The loss of face time, librarians fear, can translate into a loss of funding.

Exacerbating this problem of visibility is the fact that libraries have an unusual brand, says Mr. O’Donnell, who was hired to transform Arizona State’s libraries for a digital age. Nobody dislikes them. But without alumni or students, and with staff members who are sometimes not considered faculty members, libraries don’t have a natural constituency to advocate for them....

Irene M.H. Herold, a recent president of the Association of College & Research Libraries, says a downside to removing books is that patrons won’t be able to stumble on interesting material just by perusing library shelves.

But libraries that have moved materials into storage, or even gotten rid of them, insist it’s a process undertaken with care. Many, including DePaul, have formed partnerships with other institutions to share resources, including digital ones.

Mike Furlough is executive director of HathiTrust, a repository that aggregates digitized materials. He says efforts like these are not just about saving space; they can also fulfill libraries’ historic duty to preserve information.

HathiTrust, for example, is working to ensure that at least one of its member libraries holds onto a physical copy of each resource hosted online.
libraries  academic_libraries  reference  books 
17 days ago
Notes of a Library Worker | Viewpoint Magazine
To write of the “library work­er” runs the risk of col­laps­ing the extreme vari­ety of labor per­formed in these insti­tu­tions. First, there are a vari­ety of types of libraries – typ­i­cal­ly sub­di­vid­ed as pub­lic, school, aca­d­e­m­ic, or “spe­cial” libraries – that serve dif­fer­ent pop­u­la­tions and have vast­ly dif­fer­ent types of hold­ings. Sec­ond, each library itself has a divi­sion of labor, often com­plex and high­ly var­ie­gat­ed. The gap between a page in an under­fund­ed urban pub­lic library and an archivist at an elite research library may be such that their expe­ri­ences are mutu­al­ly unin­tel­li­gi­ble. Despite this het­ero­gene­ity, I believe that the cat­e­go­ry of the library work­er, as opposed to, say, the library page, cat­a­loguer, or children’s librar­i­an, is use­ful. It empha­sizes the shared work­ing iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with the library, insti­tu­tions which, despite their vari­ety, have coher­ence in the social imag­i­na­tion. Addi­tion­al­ly, despite the many dif­fer­ing ways we may work with it (lit­er­al­ly han­dling it, describ­ing it in meta­da­ta, inter­pret­ing and trans­mit­ting it to users, etc.), infor­ma­tion is the com­mon mate­r­i­al library work­ers meet at the work site, how­ev­er oblique­ly. To illus­trate this vari­ety and com­mon­al­i­ty, I’ll describe two very dif­fer­ent libraries I’ve worked in....

The introduction of new technologies into libraries continually scrambles the division of activity. Nevertheless, a general typology of labor can be outlined. Least visible to the average library user is a stratum of specialized professional and technical activities, performed by workers often tethered to computers in cubicles and offices. Acquiring and classifying materials, assisting administrative planning, maintaining catalogues and library systems, digitizing print material, and maintaining special collections all fall into this category. More visible are reference and instructional workers, usually but not always librarians, who assist users in finding and interpreting information, frequently now in the form of navigating the internet. Those who perform public service, clerical, and manual labor are far less likely to have the status of librarian. These workers handle and circulate the physical resources not yet rendered obsolete by digitization. As the “front line” of the library, they often must perform “extra-library” responsibilities librarians are rarely called upon to face. Finally, labor in auxiliary sites and functions connected to the library but not “of” it: security guards, baristas in library coffee shops, gift store clerks, janitors, etc. These types of activity are discrete neither in theory nor practice; a single worker may traverse several areas, and different units of workers, perhaps separated by continents, may contribute to the same process....

A third labor/spatial division in addition to public and private in libraries is that of commercialized space and service work. It has become a common practice for new and renovated libraries to include cafes and gift shops in prominent locations. Not only do these spatial conversions bring commercial transactions into what are typically non-commercial institutions, they also literally bring food service and retail workers into the library, side by side with traditional library workers. These newcomers should be, but are most often not, considered library workers proper....

The differentiated labor and rewards of librarians, paraprofessionals, and auxiliary workers are not stable. Deskilling and outsourcing touch each area, conforming to at-large trends: aside from some highly specialized functions, library workers find their activity more and more interchangeable, potentially and actually, with masses of other workers, or replaced outright by machines. Computer automation, beginning in the 1970s, and digitization of print and video resources beginning in the 1990s have weakened the library’s monopoly on information provision and brought many library tasks into conformity with practices common across sectors. Book circulation articulated through computer terminals, barcodes, and databases varies little from the labor of a grocery store cashier. Pages replicate the rote manual labor of retail stockers or Amazon warehouse order pullers. Cataloging and reference work finds resonance in IT and call center work, respectively.
libraries  labor  automation 
17 days ago
First glimpse of lost library of Elizabethan polymath John Dee | New Scientist
Dee was interested in cryptography and has been linked with the mysterious Voynich manuscript. The volumes on display include evidence of an Elizabethan form of cryptography: this rotating paper volvelle, which was used as a cipher disc. It is found in Johannes Trithemius’s cryptographic book Polygraphiae, this copy of which dates to 1561.

This is a wonderful pop-up book of mathematics. Dee wrote a preface to this book, the first English edition of Euclid’s Elements of Geometry, published London, 1570.
book_history  textual_form  volvelle 
17 days ago
It wasn't just Greece: Archaeologists find early democratic societies in the Americas | Science | AAAS
Now, thanks in part to work led by Fargher's mentor Richard Blanton, an anthropologist at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, Tlaxcallan is one of several premodern societies around the world that archaeologists believe were organized collectively, where rulers shared power and commoners had a say in the government that presided over their lives.

These societies were not necessarily full democracies in which citizens cast votes, but they were radically different from the autocratic, inherited rule found—or assumed—in most early societies. Building on Blanton's originally theoretical ideas, archaeologists now say these "collective societies" left telltale traces in their material culture, such as repetitive architecture, an emphasis on public space over palaces, reliance on local production over exotic trade goods, and a narrowing of wealth gaps between elites and commoners.

"Blanton and his colleagues opened up a new way of examining our data," says Rita Wright, an archaeologist at New York University in New York City who studies the 5000-year-old Indus civilization in today's India and Pakistan, which also shows signs of collective rule. "A whole new set of scholarship has emerged about complex societies."...

Back in the 1960s, Blanton's teachers and peers didn't think collective societies existed in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. Premodern republics such as classical Athens and medieval Venice were thought to be a purely European phenomenon. Conventional wisdom held that in premodern, non-Western societies, despots simply extracted labor and wealth from their subjects.

Some Mesoamerican cultures do seem to fit the despotic model. More than 2000 years ago in the Olmec capitals of San Lorenzo and La Venta along the Mexican gulf coast, for example, kings had their portraits carved into gargantuan stone heads and lived in palaces dripping with exotic luxury goods like greenstone and iron mirrors. Centuries later, Classic period Mayan kings in southern Mexico and Guatemala recorded their conquests, marriages, and dynasties in glyphs carved into stone. Meanwhile, commoners lived humbly in settlements dispersed around the city's core of pyramids and monuments.

But as Blanton logged year after year of surveys and excavations in Mexico, he noticed an increasingly long list of sites that didn't conform to these expectations. For example, Monte Albán, the capital of the Zapotec people in Oaxaca between 500 B.C.E. and 800 C.E., lacked the ostentatious representations of individual rulers so common in Olmec and classical Maya art. It also seemed to be devoid of palaces and royal tombs stocked with precious goods. Instead, signs of authority were more anonymous, linked to cosmological symbols and enduring deities rather than specific individuals.

Intrigued by such outliers, Blanton and three co-authors worked up a new theory, published in 1996 in Current Anthropology. Based largely on Mesoamerican examples, they laid out two forms that governments could take, which Blanton now terms autocratic and collective. Autocratic governments were based on the authority of an individual ruler and often supported by wealth acquired by monopolizing natural resources or controlling trade. Think of the Olmec, who controlled key gulf coast trade routes, or even present-day Saudi Arabia, Blanton says, "where the royal family controls the oil industry and uses that to fund the state's activity. They don't have to be accountable to the people."
democracy  archaeology  urban_form  media_city 
17 days ago
The Unsolvable Mysteries of the Voynich Manuscript | The New Yorker
The Voynich Manuscript is a special kind of original. We know, thanks to carbon dating, that it was put together in the early fifteenth century. But no living person has ever, as far as we know, understood it. Nobody can decode the language the book is written in. It has no title and no author. A new facsimile, edited by Raymond Clemens and published by Yale University Press, draws attention to the way that we think about truth now: the book invites guesses, conspiracy theory, spiritualism, cryptography. The Voynich Manuscript has charisma, and charisma has lately held a monopoly on our attentions....

Turn the covers—as Umberto Eco once did; it was the only book in the Beinecke’s famous collection that he cared to see—and you are greeted by writing in brown ink accompanied by strange diagrams and paintings of plants. The writing will not be decipherable to you. The book was made in the ordinary medieval way, but the script—the form of its letters, the language itself—was apparently invented by whoever made it. Some call the language and its script “Voynichese.” The letters loop prettily, and the text runs from left to right, top to bottom....

The first half of the book is filled with drawings of plants; scholars call this the “herbal” section. None of the plants appear to be real, although they are made from the usual stuff (green leaves, roots, and so on; search a word like “botanical” in the British Library’s illuminated-manuscript catalogue and you’ll find several texts that are similar to this part). The next section contains circular diagrams of the kind often found in medieval zodiacal texts; scholars call this part “astrological,” which is generous. Next, the so-called “balneological” section shows “nude ladies,” in Clemens’s words, in pools of liquid, which are connected to one another via a strange system of tubular plumbing that often snakes around whole pages of text. These scenes resemble drawings in the alchemical tradition... Then we get what appear to be instructions in the practical use of those plants from the beginning of the book, followed by pages that look roughly like recipes....

“When the time comes,” he told the Times, “I will prove to the world that the black magic of the Middle Ages consisted in discoveries far in advance of twentieth-century science.”...

In “Cryptographic Attempts,” another essay that accompanies the Yale facsimile, William Sherman notes that “some of the greatest code breakers in history” attempted to unlock the manuscript’s mysteries; the impenetrability of Voynichese became a professional problem for those in the code game....

Whether code breaker or spiritualist or amateur historian, the Voynich speculators are linked by their common interest in the past, quasi-occult mystery, and insoluble problems of authenticity.
manuscripts  book_history  textual_form  code  occult  encryption 
19 days ago
IASC: The Hedgehog Review - Volume 19, No. 2 (Summer 2017) - Saving the Soul of the Smart City -
But the smart city as it is actually coming into being raises a darker question: What would we be willing to trade for a cleaner, safer, more efficient, more sustainable, and even more pleasurable urban existence? For cities across the world, this is the overwhelming challenge of daily governance. Closer to home, we confront this question in our worries over the loss of autonomy and privacy amid the technological web of surveillance and interconnectedness we are spinning for ourselves. We confront it in the ways such smart technologies are already optimizing the quality of life for some while only intensifying inequality for others. At the deepest cultural level, we confront the question of autonomy versus convenience in the ways such technologies generate new forms of social control that are accepted because they appear to be backed by the authority of science and have been proven effective at improving our aggregate well-being. Taking a hard look at the smart city requires that we ask not only where it might fail to live up to the promises of its boosters, but also where it is successful and how it might nonetheless still fail us as citizens and as human beings....

But Bloomberg is not alone in his obsession with bringing data and measurement into the study and management of cities. Once again, long-standing intellectual aspirations are finding renewed vigor in the new science of cities. Quantitative urbanism, as it has come to be known, is focused on discovering the deep, universal laws of urban life and reducing what once seemed irreducible—the buzzing chaos of cities—to mathematical formulas by which to better manage its key functions....

“The ballet of the good city sidewalk,” Jacobs famously wrote, “never repeats itself from place to place, and in any one place is always replete with new improvisations.”28 Such emergence, as Hannah Arendt reminds us, can come only “against the overwhelming odds of statistical laws and their probability, which for all practical, everyday purposes amounts to certainty; the new therefore always appears in the guise of a miracle.”29

Some, Jacobs and Arendt would agree, can come only through the civic friction that physical proximity and cultural particularity generate, and which can lead to genuine dialogue with our neighbors. But some, the philosopher Charles Taylor would remind us, come ultimately through the cultivation of the skills and virtues that power our commitments to working for the good of one another, even possibly at the expense of our own convenience and comforts. If the smart city is to contribute to a thriving human ecology oriented toward truth, justice, and goodness as well as prosperity, beauty, and sustainability, we stand in urgent need of a deep ethical and political turn that will help us cultivate the unoptimizable things for the purposes of making the city not just smart, but wise.
smart_cities  my_work  urban_planning  big_data  urban_intelligence 
19 days ago
Geospatial information and the 2018 Federal budget | Stanford Libraries
President Trump released the proposed 2018 Federal budget, A New Foundation for American Greatness, on May 23, 2017.  The budget request for the Department of Interior is $11.7 billion, 12 percent ($1.6 billion) below the Continuting Resolution baseline level.  The proposed cuts to the United States Geological Survey (USGS) are 13% or $137.8 million below the 2017 Continuing Resolution baseline level.  As noted in the Bureau Highlights, 

"The request emphasizes energy and mineral development, sustaining hazards monitoring, and providing scientific information to support decision making by resource managers and policy makers. The budget maintains support for nationwide networks of more than 8,000 streamgages and nearly 3,000 earthquake sensors. It provides for nationwide efforts to counter invasive species and wildlife diseases such as white-nose syndrome and highly pathogenic avian influenza, and it maintains 40 cooperative research units that support State-specific needs, particularly related to fish and game species. It continues acquisition of modern elevation data for Alaska and the three-year cycle of topographic map updates for the contiguous United States. It also funds the development of the Landsat 9 ground systems, supporting a launch date in early fiscal year 2021 to replace the Landsat 7 satellite, which is reaching the end of its usable life."

Most programs will sustain cuts with the notable exception of an increase in the budget for the development of the Landsat 9 ground systems program.  Of particular interest to the geospatial community are the $18.4 million cuts to the Core Science Systems Programs.  This program "provides the Nation with access to high quality topographic, geologic, hydrographic, and biogeographic data."  Deep cuts are proposed for the Federal Geographic Data Committee, the 3-D Elevation Program (3DEP), the National Geospatial Program operations, and the Cooperative Geologic Mapping program and operations.  

While the Landsat 9 program receives more funding, this would be paid for by eliminating support for the National Civil Applications Center, reducing satellite operations (including a reduction in support for requirements and capabilities analysis for a land observationi satellite that may follow Landsat 9), an end to the USGS remote sensing research being conducted across the United States, and a reduction in land imaging operations.

The budget also proposes to cut $3 million for the USGS libraries eliminating 20 positions and shutting down public access to the USGS library locations.  All collections would be placed in a dark archive, journal subscriptions would be cut by at least 50 percent, and possibly all of the libraries would be closed.  
mapping  geospatial_data  funding 
19 days ago
Volvo admits its self-driving cars are confused by kangaroos | Technology | The Guardian
Volvo’s self-driving car is unable to detect kangaroos because hopping confounds its systems, the Swedish carmaker says.

The company’s “Large Animal Detection system” can identify and avoid deer, elk and caribou, but early testing in Australia shows it cannot adjust to the kangaroo’s unique method of movement.

The managing director of Volvo Australia, Kevin McCann, said the discovery was part of the development and testing of driverless technology, and wouldn’t pose problems by the time Volvo’s driverless cars would be available in 2020....

Earlier this month, Volvo’s Australian technical manager, David Pickett, told the ABC the troubles had arisen because their cars’ object detection systems used the ground as a reference point.

This meant a kangaroo’s hopping was making it difficult to judge how close they were.
animals  automation  self_driving 
20 days ago
Global warming: Extreme heat in California, Arizona, and Nevada has meteorologists running out of colors for their weather maps — Quartz
Torregrossa explains that weather maps typically use shades of warm, yellow-based colors (oranges, reds, earthy browns) to denote warm weather, but with near-record temperatures in California, Nevada, and Arizona this week have blown through their “color box.” Australian meteorologists faced a similar problem during a punishing heatwave in 2013, when the Australian Bureau of Meteorology decided to add bright purple and hot pink to their spectrum to indicate areas cooking in 125°–129°F (52°–54°C) temperatures.
cartography  weather  environment  climate_change  color  mapping  epistemology  data_visualization 
20 days ago
digitization: just because you can, doesn’t mean you should – tara robertson
I’ve heard similar concerns with lack of care by universities when digitizing traditional Indigenous knowledge without adequate consultation, policies or understanding of cultural protocols. I want to learn more about Indigenous intellectual property, especially in Canada. It’s been a few years since I’ve looked at Mukurtu, a digital collection platform that was built in collaboration with Indigenous groups to reflect and support cultural protocols. Perhaps queers and other marginalized groups can learn from Indigenous communities about how to create culturally appropriate digital collections.

Photographers and models in the 80s were not warning or warned about having a potentially infinite audience in perpetuity. We were not warning or warned about facial recognition software becoming more able daily to correlate faces with names. We were not warning or warned about parasitic industries whose income would derive solely from making those correlations in very public forums. These issues did not exist then, but are now very real parts of informed consent with regard to making or appearing in explicit sexual representations.
archives  digitization  ethics  open_access 
20 days ago
Animated Subway Map GIFs Compared to Actual Geography
Have you ever wondered just how true-to-life the world's many metro maps actually are? If so, you're in luck! Recently, Reddit users have started to create animations that compare stylized subway maps with accurate geographical representations. Now, this transit-inspired trend has taken off, with several cities starring as its subjects.
mapping  cartography  topology  transportation  subways  geography 
20 days ago
San people of Africa draft code of ethics for researchers | Science | AAAS
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA—Scientists have studied the San people of Southern Africa for decades, intrigued by their age-old rituals and ancient genetic fingerprints. Now, after more than a century of being scrutinized by science, the San are demanding something back. Earlier this month the group unveiled a code of ethics for researchers wishing to study their culture, genes, or heritage.
The code, published here on 3 March, asks researchers to treat the San respectfully and refrain from publishing information that could be viewed as insulting. Because such sensitivities may not be clear to researchers, the code asks that scientists let communities read and comment on findings before they are published. It also asks that researchers keep their promises and give something back to the community in return for its cooperation.

The San created the code because of past transgressions, including use of insulting language such as the term “Bushmen,” using jargon when communicating with the San, failing to consult study communities about findings before publication, and approaching individuals before asking community leaders for permission. Snyders cited a 2010 study in Nature that she says committed several of these mistakes and raised awareness in the community about the issues. Approval by university research ethics committees is not sufficient to comply with the code, Snyders adds. The San community needs to be involved in reviewing research proposals and have a say in the design and conclusions, she says....

The San are not the first indigenous population group to impose such codes on research. The Aboriginal Australians and Canada’s First Nations and Inuit have drawn up similar codes, which standardize consultation, the benefits due to participating communities, and data storage and access....

Reuse of data is another potential stumbling block. The San refuse to grant broad consent for other researchers to reuse data for purposes not specified in the original agreement. This restriction is not spelled out in the code, but is the position of the South African San Council, Snyders says. “Should any other research institution want to use the data, they need to acquire informed consent from the council.”
But good scientific practice allows other scientists to try to replicate analyses, ... “Other researchers need to be free to reanalyze the data to come to their own conclusions. … If this is not possible, then science cannot be done,” he says.
ethics  methodology  research  indigenous 
20 days ago
City Planning Launches New Civic Tech Project
NYC Planning Labs, a new unit in the Department of City Planning introduced on Monday, is a next step in both civic technology and city planning. Planning Labs will use open platforms that will engage people outside of city government, but largely work to provide tools to others at City Planning, so they can find solutions to the city’s planning challenges as New York continues to grow and the de Blasio administration moves ahead with its affordable housing, community development, and other initiatives.

The new effort intends to “bring civic data to life through interactive maps and visualizations, create tools to help New Yorkers better understand the built environment, and build simple web-based tools to streamline internal workflows,” according to the NYC Planning Labs website....

One of the systems created during this time was the NYC Facilities Explorer, which can show exactly how many education centers, libraries, parks, public safety facilities, and health and human services are available in any given area of the five boroughs.

Equipped with a color-coded legend, this interactive map makes massive amounts of data  far easier to digest than a spreadsheet and can clearly show which communities have more or fewer resources....

to implement and promote the use of agile methods, human-centered design, and open technology to support the above, maximizing the benefits of community-driven product development.”...

Web map explorers can have flaws. Missing records or inaccurate data can sometimes skew the visual information, and while this is not the only type of technology NYC Planning Labs will be working with, it is an example of how even modern systems have weaknesses....

Whong also said, “We will be taking on small builds to maximize reach around the agency. These projects must have a well-defined problem and may include new interfaces for the agency's map and data products, or lightweight web tools...We are not limited just to web-based projects, and may also have hardware, IoT [Internet of Things], or design-oriented engagements with our customers.”
urban_planning  urban_tech  smart_cities  civic_tech  civic_engagement 
20 days ago
A Neighborhood Plan Created Through Text Messages - CityLab
This isn’t necessarily a radical or new platform—community board meetings, for instance, have been around a long time, serving as spaces for residents to come out and get involved in their own neighborhoods. But the crowdsourcing efforts behind the Brownsville Plan carved out a new kind of space for neighborhood engagement.
In a collaboration with the online platform coUrbanize, the department put up signs all over the neighborhood—in vacant lots and subway stations, in front of storefronts and restaurants—that asked residents to text thoughts about what they would like to see more of, or what needed improvement. The prompts were open-ended: “This space could use some love. What would you put here?” or “It’s kinda dark down here… How can we make Livonia a safer, friendlier street?”

Community input began last July and included dozens of advocacy organizations, the collaboration with coUrbanize, and the help of around 500 residents. Once a resident texted a response, they received a reply that would allow them to get updates on the planning process and keep them in the loop with details on future activities and meetings. The call for texts was kept open for six months, and the comments submitted (either via text or online) were mapped and categorized in a manner that made clear what residents thought Brownsville needed more of, and what the neighborhood should hold on to (the community garden, for example, needs to remain, according to one resident)....

Engaging the neighborhood in city planning isn’t a new concept, but it’s not always easy to do. “It’s a great idea to have an option of gathering information via text—it makes it accessible, especially for those who might not be able to attend community events because they’re homebound or working overtime,” says Giovania Tiarachristine, neighborhood planner at HPD. However, this platform is only complementary to the more personal crowdsourcing happening on the ground—“we can’t build a plan solely on online engagement,” Tiarachristine says. ...

How did the idea of using text messages to create a plan for one of New York’s poorest neighborhoods come about? According to Kawitzky, there has been a growing collaboration between municipalities and online platforms. Neighborland, mySidewalk, and Textizen were a few platforms they considered before landing on coUrbanize.“It’s becoming more routine for cities to integrate tech and data in their planning process,” he says. This has led to more and more startups getting involved in urban planning and design, points out Karin Brandt, cofounder and CEO of coUrbanize. “Cities and towns have a lot of interest in handling data now,” she says. “Technology can strongly support new kinds of crowdsourcing.”...

coUrbanize’s texting and mapping strategy has been used in similar capacities by the city of Boston as well as in suburban New Jersey. Brandt has noticed that, in any neighborhood, the first step is asking residents questions they can answer without industry jargon. “In planning meetings, they might talk about something like zoning, which requires a degree of specific knowledge,” she says. But by simply asking residents to share ideas about their neighborhood, the barrier to participation is lowered—and it takes about five seconds. “If you make the first step easy, you’ve increased your odds,” she adds.
smart_cities  urban_planning  civic_engagement  public_process  texting 
20 days ago
Invisible Defaults and Perceived Limitations: Processing the Juan Gelman Files – On Archivy – Medium
I want to begin my talk by framing it around a quote that has stuck with me ever since I read it. The quote comes from Chris Bourg’s talk titled “Never neutral: Libraries, technology, and inclusion” that she gave at the Ontario Library Association Conference in 2015. During her talk Bourg states that “despite the democratizing promise of technology… the digital tools we build and provide are likely to reflect and perpetuate stereotypes, biases, and inequalities.”
She specifically talks about search retrieval and catalog specific technologies, but the same can be said about the technologies archivists use to process born-digital materials. Further in her talk, Bourg makes the sobering point that “without active intervention we end up… classifying and arranging our content in ways that further marginalizes works by and about people of color, queer people, indigenous peoples, and others who don’t fit neatly into a classification system that sets the default as western, white, straight, and male.”
In the case study I am about to present, I argue that it takes critical awareness, consciousness, and ethical responsibility to uphold the cultural and political integrity of archival collections that are located outside of the (in)visible default of “western, white, straight, and male” — and, I add here, collections written in languages that are not English.
Without this critical awareness archivists run the risk of projecting the (in)visible default onto these collections, which, in turn, influence the outcomes of our processes, and the way we provide access to, and (mis)represent, information....

The biggest challenge that we encountered was an “invalid encoding” issue due to the Spanish-language diacritics present in the file and folder names.

Because of this issue I was unable to open files that had diacritics. I was also unable to open any file, with or without diacritics in its name, that was nested in a folder that did. Initially I was concerned, but continued along the workflow because I noticed I could copy files in my Windows desktop and was able to view and access them there. I proceeded, with caution, knowing that a). the files were not corrupted and b). the file names actually displayed correctly, with their diacritics, using another OS.
It wasn’t until Jarrett and I were attempting to bag the disk images and their corresponding metadata files for deposit into our preservation storage environment that we were stopped in our tracks. Bagger was unable to create the bag due to the invalid encoding errors....

1). Why did folks perceive that the diacritics of a file or folder name have to be “scrubbed” or “cleaned” in order to be “validated” by the tools and systems that we use to process born-digital archives?
2). Why do we have names like “detox” for tools to remove, essentially, markers of a language’s non-Englishness before we consider them “sanitized” enough for our preservation environments?
language  archives  metadata 
20 days ago
Fierce Urgencies 2017 event (Yale): When the Unbearable Becomes Inevitable « Eira Tansey
On April 2, curators of an archive in Canada walked into their repository to find a massive disaster unfolding. Water was pooling at the bottom of the storage area floors, and the curators realized with horror that some of the records in their care were lost beyond all hope. How could this be?

Predictably, it was an HVAC issue. The repository in question was the ice core archives at University of Alberta in Edmonton.[i] Scientists drill ice cores from glaciers in order to obtain historical climate records, and then the cores are split up into segments and stored in repositories that are so cold they require some serious protective clothing to enter. Ice cores are important, because they contain vital information about our planet over hundreds of thousands of years, including how levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have changed over time. This enables climate scientists to establish that not only are we experiencing increasing presence of greenhouse gas emissions compared to what we would expect based on past records, but that it has anthropogenic causes, that is, caused by human activity....

I find the story of the melting ice cores poignant and sad because not only did some of these ice cores come from glaciers which are rapidly melting and may not be around long enough to obtain replacement samples from, but because it also illustrates the astonishing gap between the way different fields conceive of the very concept of the record. Because of the information embedded in natural objects like ice cores and tree rings, scientists refer to them as proxy data or proxy records,[ii] and they are a vital part of climate science, since reliable written records on the weather and climate only go back a few hundred years.

However, if we look at how the American archival profession defines data, records, and archives, it becomes clear that we archivists think of records as something created by, for, and about humans. For example, the SAA glossary of archival terminology barely creates intellectual space for the idea that a record could be created by any process except human activity, or that archives would exist for any capacity beyond how they reflect our relationships with human institutions.[iii] Anything from the natural world may be considered data, and historically we have tended to leave data to other professions....

Environmental metaphors permeate an incredible amount of archival literature, but the reality is that archivists have constructed “archives” as an almost entirely human enterprise.[iv][v][vi] And you will notice that when we do use environmental metaphors in our literature, it is frequently in a negative light. For example, in the 1987 English translation of German archivist Hans Booms’ work, one finds phrases common to the archival literature, like

● “archivists have made unsuccessful attempts to staunch this flood of information” or,

● “The mountain of data competing for storage also begins to grow at a more rapid pace”

When we use environmental metaphors in this way, it is almost as if we are replaying frontier narratives that imagine that environments are inherently wild and out of control, and that humans must subjugate them to serve our needs....

What are some of the risks in a changing climate we might face? It depends on where you are:

● Some may face immediate collection evacuation risks, prompted by wildfires, floods, and hurricanes

● Some may face long-term relocation decisions due to sea-level rise and coastal erosion, or if a weather event is so devastating, rebuilding is inadvisable or impossible

● Some may face increasing infrastructure and preservation costs when current HVAC systems can’t keep up with future increases in temperature and humidity...

I suspect some archivists will find themselves being asked difficult questions one day from institutional risk managers who know nothing about archives or libraries. The insurance industry is already taking a cold hard actuarial look at the reality of underwriting certain areas. When our institutions and repositories can no longer have insurance, or afford insurance premiums for areas increasingly vulnerable, what difficult decisions will we have to make about how, when, and where to steward our collections?

What about problems that are likely to be so big that they cannot be resolved at the local institutional level? Will we be ready to meet these challenges profession-wide? These questions are becoming painfully relevant for many. Australian archivist Matthew Gordon-Clark has written about the legal and cultural struggles that will almost certainly arise with determining how the larger archival community should aid in the question of national archives from Pacific Island nations....

Across the globe, frontline communities – poor folks, people of color, and indigenous people – will face the most severe effects of climate change, despite generally contributing the least emissions. You will note that historically, these are also communities that are underrepresented among archivists, and with whom we do not have a historically good relationship with across the board, and in many circumstances, have even aided in their oppression through description, acquisition, or access practices....

Many of these communities either face barriers in accessing the types of records needed to substantiate their claims of environmental injustices, or have difficulty getting those in power to take seriously the evidence and documentation their communities have gathered together in the absence of official records....

I don’t think simply collecting about the environment is the answer. We need to completely rethink how to integrate climate change adaptation into our existing work, from appraisal to processing to preservation, because collection and documentation alone does not produce justice.
archives  preservation  environment  climate_change 
20 days ago
From Ptolemy to GPS, the Brief History of Maps | Innovation | Smithsonian
many of us have stopped paying attention to the world around us because we are too intent on following directions. Some observers worry that this represents a new and dangerous shift in our style of navigation. Scientists since the 1940s have argued we normally possess an internal compass, “a map-like representation within the ‘black box’ of the nervous system,” as geographer Rob Kitchin puts it. It’s how we know where we are in our neighborhoods, our cities, the world.

Is it possible that today’s global positioning systems and smartphones are affecting our basic ability to navigate? Will technology alter forever how we get around?...

One of the oldest surviving maps is, ironically, about the size and shape of an early iPhone: the Babylonian Map of the World. A clay tablet created around 700 to 500 B.C. in Mesopotamia, it depicts a circular Babylon at the center, bisected by the Euphrates River and surrounded by the ocean. It doesn’t have much detail—a few regions are named, including Assyria—but it wasn’t really for navigation. It was more primordial: to help the map-holder grasp the idea of the whole world, with himself at the center.

“There was something almost talismanic, I think, about having the world in your hand,” says Jerry Brotton, a professor of Renaissance studies at Queen Mary University of London who specializes in cartography. Indeed, accuracy wasn’t a great concern of early map-drawers. Maps were more a form of artistic expression, or a way of declaring one’s fiefdom. Centuries later, the Romans drew an extensive map of their empire on a long scroll, but since the map was barely a foot high and dozens of feet wide, it couldn’t be realistic. It was more of a statement, an attempt to make Rome’s sprawl feel cohesive.

The first great attempt to make mapping realistic came in the second century A.D. with Claudius Ptolemy. He was an astronomer and astrologer obsessed with making accurate horoscopes, which required precisely placing someone’s birth town on a world map. “He invented geography, but it was just because he wanted to do better horoscopes,” notes Matthew Edney, a professor of cartography at the University of Southern Maine.

Ptolemy gathered documents detailing the locations of towns, and he augmented that information with the tales of travelers. By the time he was done, he had devised a system of lines of latitude and longitude, and plotted some 10,000 locations—from Britain to Europe, Asia and North Africa. Ptolemy even invented ways to flatten the planet (like most Greeks and Romans, he knew the Earth was round) onto a two-dimensional map. What did he call his new technique? “Geography.”

After the Roman Empire fell, Ptolemy’s realistic geography was lost to the West for almost a thousand years. Once again, maps were concerned more with story­telling: A famous 12th-century map made by the Islamic scholar al-Sharif al-Idrisi—commissioned by his protector and patron, King Roger II of Sicily, a Christian—neatly blended Islamic and Christian cities together, while centering the world on (of course) Roger’s landholdings.

Other Christian maps cared even less about accuracy: They were mappaemundi, designed to show how the story of Christ penetrated the world. The most famous of these was made in Hereford, England—a massive 5- by 4-foot creation drawn on a single animal skin. Almost none of Europe, Asia or North Africa is recognizable, and strange wonders run amok... The map wasn’t intended to get you from town to town. It was designed to guide you to heaven....

As the Renaissance dawned, maps began to improve. Commerce demanded it—ships were crossing oceans, and kings engaged in empire-building needed to chart their lands. Technology drove maps to greater accuracy: The advent of reliable compasses helped create “portolan” maps, which had lines crisscrossing the sea from port to port, helping guide sailors. Ptolemy’s ancient work was rediscovered, and new maps were drawn based on his thousand-year-old calculations....

Indeed, Christopher Columbus’ discovery of America was partly due to Ptolemy—and errors in his cartography. Columbus carried a map influenced by the ancient Roman’s work. But Ptolemy thought the world was 30 percent smaller than it actually is; worse, the mapmaker was using Arabian miles, which were longer than Italian ones. Together these mistakes led Columbus to believe the voyage to Asia would be much shorter. It was an early example of a GPS-like near disaster.

As sea trade increased, maps of the New World became better, at least the seacoasts and major rivers, places the beaver trade depended on. The inland of America was mostly a mystery; mapmakers often draw it as a big blank space labeled “terra incognita.”...

Sea voyages became easier after 1569, when Gerardus Mercator unveiled the single greatest innovation in mapping after Ptolemy: the Mercator Projection. A polymath who was equally skilled in engraving and mathematics, Mercator figured out the best trick yet to represent the surface of a globe on a map—by gradually widening the landmasses and oceans the farther north and south they appear on the map. This was a great aid to navigation, but it also subtly distorted how we see the world: Countries close to the poles—like Canada and Russia—were artificially enlarged, while regions at the Equator, like Africa, shrank.

This was becoming the cardinal rule of maps: “No map entirely tells the truth,” notes Mark Monmonier...

Maps weren’t just symbols of power: They conferred power. With a good map, a military had an advantage in battle, a king knew how much land could be taxed. Western maps showing Africa’s interior as empty—the mapmakers had little to go on—gave empires dreamy visions of claiming Africa for themselves: All that empty space seemed, to them, ripe for the taking. Maps helped propel the depredations of colonialism, as Simon Garfield argues in On the Map....

By the late 19th century, the surge in mathematic reasoning and measurement technology made mapmaking explode. In France, the Cassini family crisscrossed the country to calculate its dimensions with precision never before seen. Their trick? Using “triangulation”—a bit of trigonometry—to let them stitch together thousands of measurements taken by peering through the new, high-tech “theodolite.” Breakthroughs in binocular lenses allowed surveyors to measure scores of miles at a glance. World maps became increasingly accurate.

Local mapping became deeply granular. The British Ordnance Survey began mapping the U.K. down to the square yard, and the German entrepreneur Karl Baedeker produced similarly nuanced maps of European cities....

Being prominent on a local map was valuable to merchants, so mapmakers in the U.S. sold the rights. “If you paid more, you’d get your building cited,” Short notes. “It was like advertising.”

Maps could change the way people understood the world around them. In the 1880s, the social reformer Charles Booth produced a moral map of London, with houses color-coded by income and—in Booth’s shaky calculations—criminal tendencies... Booth wanted to help aid the poor by showing geography was tied to destiny, but his techniques wound up reinforcing it: in the U.S., banks began to “redline” poor neighborhoods, refusing to loan money to anyone in their precincts...

Milner worries, though, that GPS is weakening something fundamental in ourselves, corroding not just our orientation skills, but how well we remember the details of the world around us. A 2008 study in Japan found that people who used a GPS to navigate a city developed a shakier grasp of the terrain than those who consulted a paper map or those who learned the route via direct experience. Similarly, a 2008 Cornell study found that “GPS eliminates much of the need to pay attention.”
mapping  cartography  history_of_cartography 
20 days ago
Cindi Katz- "Refusing Mastery: The Detroit Geographical Expedition and Institute as Minor Theory" - YouTube
She will discuss the Detroit Geographical Expedition and Institute--a project of radical geography in the late 1960s--as an example of minor theory and practice, probing its accomplishments, failures, and fables to see what they might have to say about present field imaginaries and possibilities for radical practice.
mapping  participation  geography  cartography 
22 days ago
Paul Ramírez Jonas: Half-Truths - Announcements - e-flux
Fake ID invites visitors to empty their pockets of materials containing information that determines currency, credit, access, membership, and citizenship status. Through a process of exchange and inquiry with each participant, a facilitator deconstructs photocopies of their documents—school IDs, transportation passes, credit cards, and licenses—to create a new identification card. Through human exchange, Ramírez Jonas aims to enunciate the possibilities of self-determined constructions of identity within the datafication of state, corporate, and social systems.
Alternative Facts turns lies and fantasies into ostensibly truthful public documents. The first untruth designates the facilitator, often the artist himself, as a notary. Each subsequent certification process yields two documents, one for the viewer to keep and another to be collected in the installation. The cost of this legal transformation requires payment of a gold coin, which the facilitator will assist in creating by chemically altering visitors’ spare change.
infrastructure  paperwork  passports  documentation  documents 
23 days ago
Silicon Valley pollution: there are more Superfund sites in Santa Clara than any other US county — Quartz
Before the sleek tech campuses, Silicon Valley was a thoroughly industrial landscape, producing the world’s computer chips and other high-tech components. From the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s, when the manufacturing industry moved to East Asia, that meant the toxic chemicals used to make computer chips, semiconductors, and the like were being handled and dumped (sometimes literally) in California tech companies’ backyards. And that manufacturing legacy lives on in a huge amount of highly contaminated soil.
California’s Santa Clara County, the seat of Silicon Valley, has more federal Superfund sites than anywhere else in the US.

The county is home to 23 sites in the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund program, meaning the federal government recognizes them as highly contaminated areas and have earmarked them for cleanup. ...

In many cases, cleanup was completed, though completely eradicating the toxins is often impossible. At the site of a former Intel plant, for example, contamination was brought down to safe levels. But the EPA still prohibits groundwater-well drilling and certain types of property development in the area of the plume, and acknowledges low levels of groundwater contamination may remain. ...

According to an NBC Bay Area investigation from 2014, Santa Clara county is also home to hundreds more unofficial toxic waste sites; The NBC team counted 518 chemical spill sites in total....

“There was just no knowledge of these things, and we were pouring stuff down into the city sewer system,” Gordon Moore, a founder of Intel, said in an interview with the Chemical Heritage Foundation. In some cases, chemicals were just dumped on the soil.
silicon_valley  media_space  manufacturing  pollution 
23 days ago
Everything in Its Place – The New Inquiry
For me, Kondo’s advice about photographs made her novel into a parable or fantasy about a digitally driven post-possession lifestyle. “Photographs exist only to show a specific event or time,” she claims. “Unexciting photos of scenery that you can’t even place belong in the garbage. The meaning of a photo lies in the excitement and joy you feel when taking it.” This corresponds to the idea that we take pictures not to document a moment for later but to ritualize it as significant in that very moment we are experiencing it. (Nathan Jurgenson has called this “nostalgia for the present.”) Kondo wants her entire life to unfold that way, with things “sparking joy” in a moment and then disappearing, having become redundant.

There is something of this sentiment, too, in this passage from Ilan Stavens’s I Love My Selfie: the idea that we aspire to enshrine spontaneity and vitality through a superfluous act of documentation that brings the present we’re immersed in into focus, giving it a tangible reality and significance:

We don’t use the camera to capture what we see; we invent what we see in order to take a picture. Except that the smartphone camera is, supposedly, a lens through which we capture life as is, unadulterated, in the spur of the moment — life uncontrolled by the eye....

It is becoming common sense to regard images shared online as the products of elaborate manipulation, more like language in their malleability. They must be read not as “showing what really happened” but as having been manipulated to convey as clearly as possible the messages they carry with increasingly explicitness — even and especially if that message is “I’m authentic,” or “I really did this.”...

If objects are seen only as evidence of something, a souvenir of a feeling, they become unnecessary when any evidence can be manufactured on demand to express the sort of present you wish to be experiencing, that you want people to think you are experiencing. just have objects, real or imagined, that only speak of you, and not of any social entanglements or interpersonal responsibilities. They spark the joy of self-importance.
organization  photographs  nostalgia  authenticity  documentation 
23 days ago
There's A Fight Brewing Between The NYPD And Silicon Valley's Palantir
A showdown over law enforcement information — and who controls it — is taking place between the New York Police Department and Palantir Technologies, the $20 billion Silicon Valley startup that for years has analyzed data for New York City's cops, BuzzFeed News has learned.

The NYPD is canceling its Palantir contract and intends to stop using the software by the end of this week, according to three people familiar with the matter who weren't authorized to speak publicly. The department has created a new system to replace Palantir, and it wants to transfer the analysis generated by Palantir’s software to the new system. But Palantir, the NYPD claims, has not produced the full analysis in a standardized format — one that would work with the new software — despite multiple requests from the police department in recent months...

The NYPD has been a Palantir customer since at least 2012, and Palantir has touted the relationship to help it drum up other business. The software ingests arrest records, license-plate reads, parking tickets, and more, and then graphs this data in a way that can reveal connections among crimes and people. ...

The NYPD quietly began work last summer on its replacement data system, and in February it announced internally that it would cancel its Palantir contract and switch to the new system by the beginning of July, according to three people familiar with the matter. The new system, named Cobalt, is a group of IBM products tied together with NYPD-created software. The police department believes Cobalt is cheaper and more intuitive than Palantir, and prizes the greater degree of control it has over this system.

The NYPD was paying Palantir $3.5 million a year as of 2015, according to an internal Palantir email that describes a contract to be signed in late 2014. Other Palantir customers — including Home Depot, which canceled late last year — have also raised concerns about Palantir’s prices....

The NYPD asked Palantir in February for a copy of this analysis, and for a translation key so that it could put the analysis into its Cobalt system, the people familiar with the matter said. But when Palantir delivered a file in May, it declined to provide a way to translate it, arguing that doing so would require exposing its intellectual property, the people said.

The NYPD then asked Palantir for the information in a translated format — asking Palantir to do the translation itself — according to the people. Palantir responded this month, providing a file that was indeed readable. But according to the NYPD’s examination of the file, it contained only the original data the NYPD had fed into the system, the people said. The analysis appeared to be missing....

The standoff highlights a thorny issue for companies and governments that outsource their data-mining tasks to outside contractors. Technology experts say software companies have little incentive to smooth a customer’s transition to a rival’s product. In some situations, a software company would genuinely risk devaluing its intellectual property if it shared information with a customer, since that could show the customer how the information was created....

"This notion of how portable your data is when you engage in a contract with a platform is really, really complex, and hasn’t really been tested," Klein told BuzzFeed News. "Nobody really wants to talk about it, especially not in the Valley. We always want to believe that the web and the cloud make everything portable."

Palantir was founded in 2004 by a group that included Peter Thiel, the billionaire venture capitalist who supported President Donald Trump's campaign and is now the president’s closest link to Silicon Valley. Palantir does significant business in Washington, working for the CIA, the FBI, the Marine Corps, and the military's Special Operations Command. It successfully sued the Army last year in an effort to be considered for a battlefield intelligence contract. In the corporate sphere, it counts companies such as BP and Walmart among its customers.
big_data  surveillance  palantir  law_enforcement  methodology  algorithms 
23 days ago
Shhh, Look, It’s a Lesser-Spotted Refrigerated Maersk Container! - WSJ
A small group of connoisseurs has taken up “container spotting,” hanging around shipping yards to identify the globe-trotting metal boxes by color, size, vintage, origin country and other details....

Finding an unusual box “is analogous to the satisfaction that bird watchers get from spotting a very rare breed of bird,” said Matt Hannes, who maintains the Intermodal Container Web Page, where he catalogs photos from container spotters around the world, including Mr. Fox.

Rare containers are often a product of the continuing consolidation in the global shipping industry. Names and logos disappear off the boxes as companies get bought or go bankrupt, but a few oldies manage to sneak by. Savvy spotters may get excited by an old Polish Ocean Lines logo or a rust-colored container labeled UES....

Mr. Hwang said the book appeals to “two types of infrastructure nerds.” For some it is visceral—they are awe-struck by the massive scale of seaports and container shipping. For others, it is scientific. “They get really into the data element of it—mapping and tracking containers in and out of Oakland port terminals, for example.”

To Joe Romano, the Container Guide is a way to make sense of the constant hum of activity at the Port of Tacoma, Wash., near his home. When he is out for a run or a bike ride and sees a container he isn’t familiar with, he goes home and gets out the guide to look it up.
containers  infrastructural_tourism 
23 days ago
Model Lab
When cities tackle transportation problems, they create simulation models in which travelers move about cities: going to work, dropping children off at school, running errands. Typically these simulations are based on survey data that is expensive, coarse, and infrequently collected. As the pace of transportation innovation accelerates, cities need more accurate, real-time data to effectively inform planning decisions.

By relying on high fidelity data, new approaches to modeling can lead to faster policies and greater consensus. Location-based data can be anonymized to protect consumer privacy and then made useful to urban planners, leading to models that are informed with fresher, cheaper, and more precise data than ever before. If cities can improve data quality, reduce planning time, and extract good ideas from the community, we can create a future in which governments are more nimble, responsive, and effective.
sidewalk_labs  modeling  urban_planning  smart_cities  urban_data 
29 days ago
The Alternative Science of Computation - e-flux Architecture - e-flux
Think of the typical environment of many of today’s computational design studios: the idiotic stupor and ecstatic speechlessness of many students confronted with the unmanageable epiphanies of agent-based systems, for example, may be priceless formative experiences when seen as steps in a path of individual discovery, but become questionable when dumbness itself is artfully cultivated as a pedagogical tool. Yet plenty of training in digitally empowered architectural studios today extols the magical virtue of computational trial and error. Making is a matter of feeling, not thinking: just do it. Does it break? Try again… and again… and again. Or even better, let the computer try them all (optimize). But the technological hocus-pocus that too often pervades many of today’s computational experiments reflects the incantatory appeal of the whole process: whether something works, or not, no one can or cares to tell why....

why waste time on theories (or on facts, observation, verification, demonstration, proof, experts, expertise, experience, competence, science, scholarship, mediation, argument, political representation, and so on—in no particular order)? Why argue? Using today’s technology, every complex query can be crowdsourced: just ask the crowds. Or even better, just try that out, and see if it works....

Computers don’t need theories to crunch numbers, but we need theories to use computers. Let’s keep post-human science for AI, and all other sciences for us.
big_data  algorithms  computational_fabrication  parametrics  epistemology 
29 days ago
[Letter from Havana] | The Weekly Package, by Kim Wall | Harper's Magazine
Cisneros’s building had no internet connection—in Cuba, only apparatchiks and hackers could get online at home. But when she plugged the drive into her laptop, another world revealed itself, in folders within folders—containing MP3, AVI, JPEG, and PDF files—arranged in alphabetical order from “Antivirus” to “Trailers.” El Paquete Semanal (“The Weekly Package”), as the compilation is called, is part newsstand, part mixtape, part offline streaming service—a drive curated with magazine articles, Hollywood films, ­YouTube videos, phone apps, classified ads, and more. It has become the country’s largest private industry, reaching about half the population and generating at least $1.5 million a week. Underground hustlers keep the operation running with some 45,000 foot soldiers. Almost any media can be downloaded, though not quite everything; El Paquete producers scrub out politics, religion, and pornography, knowing what is likely to upset government censors—who, of course, receive drives of their own. 

For years, the Castro regime held the nation at a technological standstill: The internet was banned, satellite television was illegal, and, largely because of the U.S. embargo, most computer software and hardware was prohibited. In 2009, the Obama Administration began allowing American telecommunications companies to conduct business in Cuba, and in 2013, Venezuela activated a fiber-optic cable between the countries. The government started to introduce Wi-Fi in public hot spots, but it has been a slow process. According to Freedom House, an internet-watchdog group, just 2 percent of Cuba’s 11 million people get online on a daily basis. Last December, ETECSA announced a pilot program to connect Cubans at home, though it has reached only a few hundred. The arrival of Net­flix on the island, announced in 2015, has seemed as much a cruel joke as a P.R. stunt—in a place where the average monthly salary is $25 and online banking and international money transfers are blocked, who could supply the $7.99 monthly fee? People still depend on El Paquete. Gutiérrez believes that as the final step in its elaborate distribution chain, he brings enlightenment to Havana. “I am like Robin Hood,” he told me. “I take from the rich and give to the poor information.” 
infrastructure  internet  informal_infrastructure  access  cuba 
29 days ago
About Tomorrow - e-flux Architecture - e-flux
When Western oil companies moved into the oil-rich Middle East, they built roads overnight which linked towns and communities that had lived in proximate isolation for millennia, added extreme amounts of wealth for small numbers of people, and through the likes of radio, television, and film, brought mass communication, and along with it exposure to Western music, mores and popular culture. New forms of relations between men and women that Western societies had gradually developed and painfully adjusted to over more than a century of bourgeois society, the lives and work of artists, and women’s political organization, for example, were simply depicted as fact. The oil industry’s transformation of the physical and cultural environment at a rate without historical precedent consequently did not allow for the gradual accommodation of belief systems or co-evolution of regulatory processes. As the chief of police in a seaside town in the United Arab Emerates once explained, “Western influence has eroded family values and weakened parental authority. Our police will step up efforts to maintain social values in keeping with Islamic and Arabic traditions.” The social instability, violent opposition to the West and Western culture, and mass migrations that now characterize the region were probably generated in part by the introduction of change at such a rapid rate. ... But are these examples relevant to understanding threats that may be associated with rapid changes in robotics and information technology Some aspects of the rapidly developing information technologies circumvent existing formal and informal regulation. ...

But what about machines that are smarter than people in some ways? What about the monitoring of our online behavior—where we spend more and more of our time? What about machines and algorithms that watch what we do online, that individually shape our environmental stimulation, and therefore our minds and brains? What about groups that send out fake news that spreads faster than checks and rebuttals? These are indeed alarming. But people have always had limited and wrong information about many things...

...culturally induced variability depends upon differences in important aspects of the rearing environments that shape our brains, ranging from ways of attending to the world to religious, moral and political beliefs, exposure to music, painting and literature, and attitudes toward change, difference, novelty and risk-taking. Variability has, to a certain extent, depended upon the geographic separation of communities. For most of human history, mountains, rivers, desserts and oceans kept communities separated enough to develop 6,000 different languages (not counting dialects), different belief systems, laws, ways of eating and dressing, and ways of thinking. Within each of geographically separated societies (tribes or countries), cultural variability has come from differences among families, local communities, adolescent interest groups, etc. Writers, painters, musicians and scientists have increasingly exposed adults and children to new ways of seeing, listening, understanding and thinking. Mass media and technology have facilitated access to these human-made contributions to our environment, effectively magnifying the resulting variability in minds and brains. But now, the electronic environment has become the primary environment that shapes the brains of our children. It is an environment that crosses geographic barriers and one that is increasingly shaped by machinic algorithms and artificial intelligence. Technology no longer only facilitates access to human-made programming, but rather programs us as well. What differences will it make if our rearing environments are shaped by machines that lack the variability of the human hand and mind? How much will human variability be reduced as the shaping of the rearing environment becomes more and more centralized and mechanical?...

It is possible to imagine, and even be alarmed, that human variability and innovation will be decreased. Perhaps the 12,000-year epic of rapid human innovation since the advent of farming will give way to a much longer period of increasing stability and uniformity. This might constitute a qualitative change in the dynamic between the brain and the world. But to what reference posts or standards do we turn to decide if this would be good or bad? Darwinian theory posits that variability allows populations to survive in the face of significant environmental changes. As human military and industrial technology increasingly alter the environment in ways that threaten the survival and livelihoods of large numbers of people, the mechanical shaping of our rearing environments may at the same time reduce the variability of thought necessary to deal with these threats. Could such processes in tandem threaten human life all together? Or will we as a society limit the power of the centralized and machinic algorithms to shape our minds and the minds of our children, and act to ensure the variability of brains and minds shaped by the human hand?
cognitive_science  epistemology  evolution  environment 
4 weeks ago
GoogleUrbanism: Working With the System — Volume
GoogleUrbanism (GU) is a city management strategy making use of Google’s insatiable hunger for capitalization of ‘attention’ and quality data. Proposed by strategic urban designers/architects Nicolay Boyadjiev, Harshavardhan Bhat, Kirill Rostovsky and Andréa Savard-Beaudoin, GU intends to create a mutually beneficial relation between the commercial interests of tech companies and the city as political and social entity. Cities more often than not have serious trouble to provide and maintain the public services they’re supposed to deliver and companies like Google are developing new business models in exploiting the overlap between physical and digital space. But those tech platforms are already profiting from the digital data and attention of users in the physical world. The GU team proposes to set new terms to this currently one-sided relationship by adding ‘public space’ in the equation between Google, users and data, framing it as the formal physical ‘site of extraction’ of this digital value.

Next to the analogue adspace (think of the screens and billboards in Times Square, NYC) and more recent digital ads, popping up on your phone while moving through shopping streets, GU explores and captures digital activity of people in a (public) space, in order to redirect it to the space itself. By introducing a digital license for value extraction from public space, the city benefits from it economically. Google Urbanism argues for taking reality as point of departure for further architectonic interventions rather than starting from an idealized scenario of what public spaces and cities should be.
smart_cities  big_data  data_privacy  data_ownership 
4 weeks ago
The Music, Sounds & Images Carl Sagan Sent Into Space So that Aliens Could Understand Human Civilization (1977) | Open Culture
In 1977, upon the launching of Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, a committee working under Carl Sagan produced the so-called “Golden Records,” actual phonographic LPs made of copper containing “a collection of sounds and images,” writes Joss Fong at Vox, “that will probably outlast all human artifacts on Earth.” While they weren’t preparing for a visitation on Earth, they did—relying not on wishful thinking but on the controversial Drake Equation—fully expect that other technological civilizations might well exist in the cosmos, and assumed a likelihood we might encounter one, at least via remote.....

Sagan tasked himself with compiling what he called a “bottle” in “the cosmic ocean,” and something of a time capsule of humanity. Over a year’s time, Sagan and his team collected 116 images and diagrams, natural sounds, spoken greetings in 55 languages, printed messages, and musical selections from around the world--things that would communicate to aliens what our human civilization is essentially all about. The images were encoded onto the records in black and white (you can see them all in the Vox video above in color). The audio, which you can play in its entirety below, was etched into the surface of the record. On the cover were etched a series of pictographic instructions for how to play and decode its contents. (Scroll over the interactive image at the top to see each symbol explained.)...

We only have a few years left to find out whether either Voyager will encounter other beings. “Incredibly,” writes Fong, the probes “are still communicating with Earth—they aren’t expected to lose power until the 2020s.” It seems even more incredible, forty years later, when we consider their primitive technology: “an 8-track memory system and onboard computers that are thousands of times weaker than the phone in your pocket.”

The Voyagers were not the first probes sent to interstellar space. Pioneer 10 and 11 were launched in 1972 and 1973, each containing a Sagan-designed aluminum plaque with a few simple messages and depictions of a nude man and woman, an addition that scandalized some puritanical critics. NASA has since lost touch with both Pioneers, but you may recall that in 2006, the agency launched the New Horizons probe, which passed by Pluto in 2015 and should reach interstellar space in another thirty years.
archives  preservation  future  SETI 
4 weeks ago
Strelka Institute - TX / RX: Spectrum and the City
The electromagnetic goes largely unseen. That’s why there is sore lack of study into the central role radio plays in our use of cities and the shape of them. From the microwave networks implementing high-frequency global trading, to the GSM base stations across so many cell towers and WiFi access points in our homes and offices — radio technology has become integral to the metabolisms within the modern city. The flow of capital now knitted into networked surveillance apparatuses; people with devices hunger for wireless Internet gateways; mapping services whose localisations use beacons from access points; carbon, as the energetic cost of so many data packets flowing across land and sea to watch a video of a 'Pangolin riding a Roomba' uploaded by the kid next door. This lecture by Julian re-imagines both city and citizenship through a history of 'spectrum politics', asking what shape they might take if radio infrastructure were publicly deployed and owned.
media_city  radio  wireless 
4 weeks ago
Geetha Iyer - Least Concern — Territory
At the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, in the sterile, standardized confines of a two-armed maze experiment, green and black poison frogs used visual cues to figure out the correct exit to shelter. When the exit was reversed, the frogs modified their behavior to solve the maze again. In a study led by researchers Yuxiang Liu and Sabrina Burmeister, the maze exit was reversed five times—the frogs needed fewer trials to figure out the correct exit after each reversal, the sort of learned flexibility previously only associated with mammals and birds.

This may be the first time such “advanced cognitive ability” has been experimentally documented in amphibians. I wonder, if we’d known sooner, would we have cared more about their fates? You cannot watch a poison frog in the wild for any length of time without beginning to suspect that its headspace is somewhere several hops ahead of its current physical location. It pauses to think. It detours to investigate. It remembers and learns. I might have gone my entire life unaware of the rich inner lives of these animals had it not been for the fact that my world, at this moment, coincidentally overlaps with theirs.
cognitive_mapping  nonhuman  animals 
4 weeks ago
The Mystery of the Phantom Page Turner | Collectors Weekly
It all started with a visit several years ago to London’s Portobello Road, known internationally for its enormous concentration of antiques shops and stalls. “Among the many treasures on offer,” Spellerberg writes in the Preface to Reading & Writing Accessories, “were some odd-looking hand-held ‘blades.’ They were between 11 and 14 inches long. The blades (although not sharp) were made of various materials, including tortoiseshell, ivory, and brass. I was told that they were ‘Victorian page turners’ for turning the pages of books, magazines, or newspapers.” On that day, Spellerberg purchased what was advertised as a tortoiseshell page turner with a silver handle, although, he writes, “it should in fact be called ‘turtle shell’ because the material comes from the carapace of the marine hawksbill turtle (not a land-based tortoise).”

Given Spellerberg’s natural-sciences background, that error was easy for him to catch, but the object’s misidentification as “tortoiseshell” was not its chief falsehood. “I had never heard of page turners before,” Spellerberg told me when we Skyped recently. “The thought of using a hand-held blade for turning pages seemed rather romantic.”...

paper-knife, whose thin, wide blade and dull edges were designed to follow the creases of a book’s uncut pages and expertly, gently, tear them apart....

Uncut pages were common to Victorian Era and earlier books, artifacts of the bookbinding practices of the day. As Spellerberg explains in Reading & Writing Accessories, long sheets of paper were folded numerous times to form a “signature” of pages or “leaves,” which would be printed on both sides. Signatures would be printed, collated, and then bound (which usually meant “sewn”) to create a book. “Most of the leaves were cut during the binding process,” he writes. “However, since all books were bound by hand at that time, leaves were sometimes left uncut and could not be opened unless they were cut.” Paper-knives made such books readable.

It wasn’t just books that required paper-knives to be read, which is why the tools came in all sizes. There were long ones for newspapers and magazines, as well as shorter ones for diminutive books made to fit in the palm of the hand....

At the height of the paper-knife era, or so Spellerberg likes to unscientifically surmise, people found great pleasure in sitting down in their favorite chair with a new book in one hand and their best paper-knife in the other to cut open the pages and begin to read. “People loved their books,” he says. “They took pride in their libraries and in being well-read. The preparation prior to reading was a part of that.”

By the end of the 19th century, though, most publishers had equipment that trimmed the uncut pages of their products, obviating the need for paper-knives and the ritual of opening the uncut leaves of a new book.
reading  equipment  intellectual_furnishings  books  material_texts 
4 weeks ago
Furniture of the Future: Victorian New York’s Most Visionary Designer Loved His Machines | Collectors Weekly
Yet from Hunzinger’s vantage point as a successful immigrant in New York City, possibly the most forward-thinking place on Earth, he imagined a future where humans lived among machines, and even the most humble pieces of furniture would be mechanically enhanced....

“It’s really in the 1870s when our modern world starts to take shape, and we start to recognize the United States that we are today,” explains Barry R. Harwood, a curator of decorative arts at the Brooklyn Museum. “It’s a very pivotal, interesting moment, and Hunzinger is the foremost practitioner of this proto-modern design.” Harwood organized the exhibition and authored the catalog for the museum’s 1997 show The Furniture of George Hunzinger: Invention and Innovation in 19th-Century America, which helped ignite scholarly interest in a designer who already had a strong following among dealers and collectors...

Most of Hunzinger’s pieces fell squarely into the emerging field of “patent furniture,” which adopted mechanical improvements to make adjustable, multi-purpose furniture for saving space and improving comfort. “By 1861, he started patenting folding chairs, which became a sort of obsession,” Harwood says. Much like today, convertible furniture—including folding chairs, sofa beds, and card tables—was very appealing to urban residents with limited space....

In addition to his technical virtuosity, Hunzinger employed clever marketing tactics, which included providing a variety of finishes and upholsteries for each item, thus allowing shoppers to customize their purchases. “In the 1870s, this notion of consumer choice was just beginning to take shape,” Harwood says. “Hunzinger would offer the same chair with different stains, ranging from a very light blonde to ebonized wood, and different styles of upholstery, from simple cotton reps—a kind of corduroy—to fancy silk velvets. He even started to gild some of the chairs in the mid-1870s, which indicates his shop was pretty successful because that required a trained gilder and a dust-free space in the factory.” ...

To speed production and cut costs, Hunzinger also utilized modular parts that could be applied to several different items of furniture. For example, in the mid-1870s, Hunzinger designed a settee, an armchair, and a side chair with identical motifs on each. “The same legs were used for all of them,” ...

“Hunzinger was one of the first furniture makers in the United States for whom the machine, the means of production, provided the aesthetic inspiration for design,” Harwood wrote in his catalog for The Furniture of George Hunzinger. “The regularized, crisply turned members of Hunzinger’s spare furniture resemble the very machines that produced them.”

Almost half a century before the design movement known as Modernism, Hunzinger applied similar tenets to his furniture—focusing on function rather than ornamentation and utilizing geometric forms inspired by the simple lines of machinery. To be sure, other furniture companies relied on current technology to produce their pieces, but they typically did so in the service of extraneous ornamentation demanded by popular Victorian styles like Eastlake or Rococo Revival....

In contrast, Hunzinger allowed the assets of existing machinery to inform his designs, rather than adapting tools to imitate popular styles. “Hunzinger’s favorite tool was the lathe,” Harwood continues, “which he used to make furniture with interesting turnings. He responded to the precision of its sharp indentations to create a certain rhythm on a piece furniture. Hunzinger let the lathe do what it does best, and that’s the beginning of the machine aesthetic—not fighting against the machine, but working with it.”...

Most of Hunzinger’s furniture had absolutely no naturalistic decoration on it at all, just relying on geometry and what the machine could produce, which gives it a very hard-edged, crisp aspect.”...

Hunzinger had a factory and showroom in New York City, but most of his products were sold through wholesalers in other cities. For consumers, the idea that these products were patented—implying innovation and novelty—was typically more important than a brand or designer, so they were generally advertised without the maker’s name.
furniture  intellectual_furnishings  manufacturing  labor  automation  machine_aesthetic 
4 weeks ago
Facebotlish: Understanding an AI's Non-Human Language - The Atlantic
Something unexpected happened recently at the Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research lab. Researchers who had been training bots to negotiate with one another realized that the bots, left to their own devices, started communicating in a non-human language....

One way to think about all this is to consider cryptophasia, the name for the phenomenon when twins make up their own secret language, understandable only to them.

In order to actually follow what the bots were saying, the researchers had to tweak their model, limiting the machines to a conversation humans could understand. (They want bots to stick to human languages because eventually they want those bots to be able to converse with human Facebook users.) When I wrote about all this last week, lots of people reacted with some degree of trepidatious wonder. Machines making up their own language is really cool, sure, but isn’t it actually terrifying?...

There’s some debate over whether this sort of twin speak is actually language or merely a joyful, babbling imitation of language. The YouTube babies are socializing, but probably not saying anything with specific meaning, many linguists say.

In the case of Facebook’s bots, however, there seems to be something more language-like occurring, Facebook’s researchers say. Other AI researchers, too, say they’ve observed machines that can develop their own languages, including languages with a coherent structure, and defined vocabulary and syntax—though not always actual meaningful, by human standards.
artificial_intelligence  language 
4 weeks ago
Beyond the Five Senses - The Atlantic
Technology has long been used to help people who have lost, or were born without, one of the five primary senses. More recently, researchers in the emerging field of “sensory enhancement” have begun developing tools to give people additional senses—ones that imitate those of other animals, or that add capabilities nature never imagined. Here’s how such devices could work, and how they might change what it means to be human.

1 | Hearing Pictures

For decades, some deaf people have worn cochlear implants, which use electrode arrays to stimulate the auditory nerve inside the ear. Researchers are working on other technologies that could restore sight or touch to those who lack it. For the blind, cameras could trigger electrodes on the retina, on the optic nerve, or in the brain. For the paralyzed or people with prosthetic limbs, pressure pads on real or robotic hands could send touch feedback to the brain or to nerves in the arm....

2 | Borrowing From Nature

Scientists are also exploring ways to add senses found elsewhere in the animal kingdom. For instance, a handheld device called the Bottlenose, built by amateur biohackers, uses ultrasound to detect the distance of objects, then vibrates the user’s finger at different frequencies, giving him or her echolocation. Other devices provide the navigational sense of migratory birds: A company called feelSpace sells the naviBelt, a belt that points you in your desired direction by vibrating on your waist.
sensation  cyborgs 
4 weeks ago
President Trump wants a ‘sweeping transformation’ of government tech, he says at a White House meeting with execs - Recode
After a day of meetings at the White House with those and other tech leaders -- some of whom have been his fiercest corporate critics in the past— Trump admitted that the feds had to “catch up” with the private sector. He said federal agencies had to deliver “dramatically better services to citizens,” for example, while buying cheaper, more efficient technology and adopting “stronger protections from cyber attacks.”

The comments officially concluded the inaugural meeting of the White House’s American Technology Council, a new effort chartered by Trump in May to bring the lumbering federal bureaucracy into the digital age. The group has a broad mandate — converting paper-based forms into easy-to-use websites, for example, while helping the government buy better technology and take advantage of new tools like artificial intelligence.

As the council begins its task, though, Trump sought the tech industry’s help, convening a day of private brainstorming sessions with top executives on Monday afternoon — and several of those leaders, flanking Trump at a table later in the evening, responded with a few asks of their own.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos called on the U.S. government to take advantage of commercial technology — the sort of tools his own company sells. Palantir CEO Alex Karp said he had offered his support in private sessions, earlier in the day, about ways to tap big data in order to spot fraudulent federal spending. And Apple CEO Tim Cook — who also acknowledged that the U.S. had much work to do to modernize — said Washington should make coding a requirement in schools....

The executives in attendance then broke up into smaller groups, some focused on areas like big data and others on workforce development, as the White House explores new ways to convince tech employees to serve tours of duty in the U.S. government. Still a third group focused on high-skilled immigration, a major flashpoint for Trump and the tech sector.


Following the meeting Monday, the White House plans to continue its so-called “tech week” push. For one thing, it will convene another round of companies and investors to discuss “emerging” technologies on Thursday.

At that session, top officials at the FAA will huddle with drone companies about the regulatory and safety challenges facing their industry, according to a source familiar with the White House’s plans. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai also will be on hand, as the Trump administration looks to solicit the tech industry's thoughts about 5G wireless technologies and the "internet of things," the source told Recode. And other senior White House aides will discuss how to finance those devices and services alongside Silicon Valley's top investors.
big_data  smart_cities  e_government 
4 weeks ago
Envisioning the Car of the Future as a Living Room on Wheels - The New York Times
When cars are fully autonomous, how we sit, inform and entertain ourselves will be up for grabs. If steering wheels are no longer needed, how do we best configure seating positions? What should be done with the space now occupied by a dashboard, once a vehicle handles all driving tasks and even decides when it needs to be serviced?...

At ArtCenter College of Design in Los Angeles — one of the world’s premier automotive design schools — 14 students recently worked on creating new concepts for a future vehicle interior whose occupants would no longer be shackled by the need to drive.

Participants were picked from multiple disciplines, including product design, transportation and graphics. To fuel their discussions, specialists in the fields of sound composition, olfactory reaction and even animal behavior were brought in. Visual strategists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory paid a visit as well.

The proposals, which were reviewed by executives from the carmaker BMW, the electronics firm Nvidia and IBM’s Watson artificial intelligence division, varied wildly....

In one concept, social media feeds were displayed on the windows and an all-glass roof, creating what is known as an augmented reality projection, providing contextual information on passing landmarks and approaching sights. As the vehicle drove by a restaurant, reviews of the eatery would be displayed and an online reservation form would appear on the building.

Video games would be integrated into the passing environment. Players could fire “weapons” at buildings, and then, via a projection on the glass, see the structure go up in digital flames.

Another group envisioned a vehicle’s interior as a constantly changing environment, using variable lighting and temperatures to fit the evolving moods and desires of each occupant, as determined through a sensor analysis of physiological and emotional states.

A third proposal contemplated the use of virtual reality and motion-sensing seats to give occupants the feeling of driving a sports car, even when they were simply riding in a tame autonomous vehicle....

When the vehicle is in fully autonomous mode, the windshield could be turned into a wide-screen display, allowing passengers to watch a movie; theater-like seats would vibrate in sync with sound effects.

Speakers embedded in each seat would also include noise-cancellation technology to ensure that only the person watching could hear the soundtrack, music or phone call in progress. When the driver has to take control of the vehicle, rear-seat passengers could be entertained using a large screen lowered from the roof.

In an autonomous vehicle, “we can push technology into the background and only make it present when it’s needed,” said Holger Hampf, BMW’s head for user experience.

One thing the carmaker does not envision: swiveling, rear-facing seats. “When you reverse the seats you can induce motion sickness,” Mr. Hampf said....

Similarly, Bosch, a major German automotive supplier, believes cars will eventually be shared rather than individually owned, and so the company is working on systems that will allow vehicles to automatically personalize themselves. An eye scan, fingerprint or smartphone connection will signal who is getting into the vehicle, so that it can adjust its climate, seating position, favored radio stations and other attributes automatically.
interfaces  interaction_design  self_driving_car 
4 weeks ago
NYC Planning Department launches 'Labs' unit to boost innovation - Brooklyn
A new unit from the NYC Planning Department will aim to make the work of planning the systems of this enormously complicated city easier, more efficient and more open. (The group’s full charter was posted to GitHub, for example.)

The NYC Planning Labs announced itself to the world Monday morning, with a promise to incorporate state-of-the-art technology and best practices to the Planning Department. Mapping guru Chris Whong will head the unit.

“We are focusing on small projects that can go from concept to shipped in 4 to 6 weeks, with our customers being the internal divisions of the agency,” a message from the NYC Planning Department reads. “These can be web map explorers similar to the NYC Facilities Explorer, interactive data visualizations and animations, or simple purpose-built data tools that replace or complement our Planners’ routine workflows.”
big_data  mapping  data_visualization  urban_planning 
4 weeks ago
Computer Science: Reprogramming Bias | Princeton Alumni Weekly
One goal of artificial intelligence (AI) is to make computers better able to imitate human reasoning and tasks — but there are downsides to teaching machines to mimic humans too closely, according to a paper published in Science in April by Princeton researchers Aylin Caliskan, Joanna Bryson, and Arvind Narayanan. The team of computer scientists drew from billions of sentences taken from sources across the internet to analyze how human biases about gender, race, and other characteristics might appear when these sentences are used to train a machine. They found that many of the biases observed in humans could be transferred to AI technologies and algorithms that learn from these bodies of text. The findings have implications for a machine’s ability to objectively perform language-based tasks such as web searches, translations, and automated résumé scanning.
artificial_intelligence  bias 
4 weeks ago
From Heaven to Hell: Exploring the Odd Vertical Limits of Land Ownership - 99% Invisible
As far back as the 13th century, a powerful principle has informed the legal notion of property ownership — in Latin, cuius est solum, eius est usque ad coelum et ad inferos, or in English: “whoever’s is the soil, it is theirs all the way to Heaven and all the way to Hell.” The idea is intuitive but potent: a property owner is entitled to an infinite vertical column of space defined by the horizontal boundaries of their estate. On this principle, one owns land as well as everything above and below.

The strict formulation of ad coelum was solidified in English common law in the case of Bury v. Pope in 1587, when one property owner was held to have the right to build up against the window of his neighbor: “And lastly, the earth hath in law a great extent upwards, not only of water as hath been said, but of aire, and all other things even up to heaven, for cujus est solum ejus est usque ad coelum, as it is holden.”

Still, England has evolved exceptions over time. Now, “Ancient Lights” can be preserved — Right to Light laws prohibit the obstruction of windows with a 20-year history of light access.....

The rise of new technologies and cities, including the advent of air travel and subway systems, have continued to reshape and erode this idea over time. ...

Then, in 1946, United States v. Causby put a definitive end to the idea of infinite aerial ownership. For Lee Causby, a farmer whose chickens were literally being scared to death by low-flying military planes, it was a victory — he was compensated for flights that had passed over his property below public airspace altitudes (365 feet). The Supreme Court concluded that the government can’t own all airspace (down to the ground). But their ruling also stated clearly that ad coelum “has no place in the modern world.”

Zoning laws and “air rights” regulations vary from place to place but also limit the heights of buildings, especially in cities (stay tuned for a more in-depth look — air rights will be covered in a subsequent article)....

In 1931, for instance, US court rules that a sewer located 150 feet deep was not on land belonging to the home owner above. Still, approaching the surface from those more distant depths, things can get tricky.

There are mineral rights, for instance, which can apply to fuel sources (coal, gas and oil), precious and industrial metals (gold, silver, copper, iron) and other resources (salt, limestone, gravel, etc.). In many places, these can be bought and sold independently of surface rights.

Then there are littoral rights that can extend outward for properties adjacent to bodies of water, like an ocean, bay, delta, sea or lake. In most places, there are allowances for usage and enjoyment tied to low or high water lines (beyond which the waters are public).

Meanwhile, riparian rights deal with water that flows through properties, like rivers. Small bodies generally limited to “reasonable use” but with various potential restrictions (to protect watersheds, for instance). Larger ones are usually treated like public highways.
verticality  ownership  property  geography 
4 weeks ago
GM’s Cruise Automation Wades Into HD Mapping to Aid Autonomous-Car Efforts - WSJ
A small autonomous-cars company owned by General Motors Co. GM +0.31% is getting into the high-definition mapping business, a move that could help the Detroit auto giant compete with Google and others in the race to develop self-driving vehicles....

Google’s car project, now called Waymo, is expected to be a beneficiary of the tech giant’s solid position in high-definition maps. The mapping advantage has given Alphabet’s various business units an advantage over Apple Inc. and other companies competing in other business sectors.

GM isn’t the only auto maker playing catch-up in HD maps. BMW AG , Mercedes-Benz-parent Daimler AG and Volkswagen AG’s Audi recently grouped together to buy Nokia Corp.’s mapping service in 2015 for more than $3 billion.

Intel Corp. , eager to catch up with competitor Nvidia in the autonomous-car market, announced a deal earlier this year to acquire a 15% stake in the map company as well. Intel is in the process of closing its $15 billion purchase of Mobileye NV, an Israeli supplier of cameras and software for autonomous driving functions.

Keeping pace with Google has proven difficult....

GM ultimately may have an advantage that Google didn’t have when its map program began years ago: a fleet of cars on the road. Last year, GM announced it would explore with Mobileye the use of real-time data taken from the auto maker’s OnStar system to create the kinds of maps required for self-driving cars.

GM sells about 10 million cars annually all over the globe, many of which are connected to OnStar.
automation  mapping  google  self_driving_cars 
4 weeks ago
Getting Beyond Digital Hyperbole & Tools for Looking Forward – Trevor Owens
A repository is not a piece of software. Software cannot preserve anything. Software cannot be a repository in itself. A repository is the sum of financial resources, hardware, staff time, and ongoing implementation of policies and planning to ensure long-term access to content. Any software system you use to enable you preserving and providing access to digital content is by necessity temporary. You need to be able to get your stuff out of it because it likely will not last forever. Similarly, there is no software that “does” digital preservation.
Institutions make preservation possible. Each of us will die. Without care and management, the things that mattered to us will persist for some period of time related to the durability of their mediums. With that noted, the primary enablers of preservation for the long term are our institutions (libraries, archives, museums, families, religious organizations, governments, etc.) As such, the possibility of preservation is enabled through the design and function of those institutions. Their org charts, hiring practices, funding, credibility, etc. are all key parts of the cultural machinery that makes preservation possible.
archives  digital_preservation  preservation  labor 
4 weeks ago
Why Libraries Should Maintain the Open Data of Their Communities – Librarian of Things
Hosting hackathons may prove daunting for many libraries because, as Carruthers and Zvyagintseva put succinctly, “Libraries need participants as much as participants need libraries to support this type of event.” It is probably too soon to make such claims, but I would like to suggest that, slowly, libraries are starting to involve public participation in the building and the understanding of their collections. The experiences of the New York Public Library Lab’s “Map Warper” project, which invites users to help align digitized paper maps so they can match modern maps, and their “What’s On The Menu” Project, which invites the public to help transcribe one of the 45,000 menus in their digitized collection, have led to a such a re-thinking of their work:...

Open Data, by its very definition of being open, is resistant to enclosure while allowing for commercial use. This is because while a license is open, copies of the data are allowed to be made which can remain under open license even if the original dataset is updated with more restrictive licensing (Munro 2014). While many municipal governments and federal and provincial government departments make Open Data available, there is no promise or obligation to maintain or perpetually host those datasets, unless those governments are otherwise directed by an internal policy. This suggests that libraries may have a role in the collection and preservation of Open Data in their community, if just to be a source of dataset redundancy in case the original datasets are removed without sufficient notice.
libraries  open_data 
4 weeks ago
The Pattern Language of the Library – Librarian of Things
But there’s another reason why such a separation existed which is suggested by the fact you can find an electrical outlet in every single study carrel on the second floor at even though the building came to be decades before laptops were available.

The answer is typewriters. Noisy, clattering typewriters.

I didn’t make this connection myself. That insight came from this Twitter conversation from 2014.

While there is a rich conversation to be had about how some of the information literacy practices that separate research and writing as separate processes may have resulted from vestigial practice based on avoiding typewriter noise, I’m more interested in exploring what the affordance of laptops might mean to the shape of the spaces of and within the library today.

The book did not kill the building.

The laptop will change our chairs....

When I read about their turnstone Campfire suite of products it reminded me of a book I read sometime ago called make space: How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration....

I think we fundamentally underestimate how much a difference a variety of chairs can make in the experience of a place....

A community bench is what I would consider an example of tactical urbanism – a phrase that I like to think I first heard from People from Public Spaces. I am looking forward to reading Karen Munro’s Tactical Urbanism for Librarians: Quick, Low-Cost Ways to Make Big Changes.

I should also say that I’m not the first librarian to try to bring in Pattern Language thinking to how we design our spaces. In 2009 William Denton and Stacey Allison-Cassin explained their “vision of the One Big Library and how Christopher Alexander’s pattern language idea will help us build it.”
intellectual_furnishings  furniture  libraries  habitus  library  architecture  pattern_language 
4 weeks ago
Remix, Slang and Memes: A New Collection Documents Web Culture | Library of Congress Blog
The Library of Congress just announced the release of the Web Cultures Web Archive Collection, a representative sampling of websites documenting the creation and sharing of emergent cultural traditions on the web.

Why is this important? Increasingly, people take to their smart phones, tablets and laptops to enact much of their lives through creative communication, making the web a predominant place to share folklore. It is where a significant portion of the historical record is now being written.

Archived from the web starting in 2014, the new—and growing—collection of collaborative cultural creation includes reaction GIFs (animated images, often bodies in motion, used online as responses or reactions to previous posts in a communication thread); image macros (photographic images on which a funny caption is superimposed); and memes (in this context, internet phenomena)....

The project is a contemporary manifestation of the AFC’s mission to document traditional cultural forms and practices, and results from the collaborative work between the AFC and those steeped in digital culture, both scholars and enthusiasts.

“First and most basically, what’s happening on the internet—all the situated vernacular, all the creative expression, all the remix, all the slang; every in-joke and hashtag and portmanteau—is folklore,” commented internet scholars Whitney Phillips and Ryan M. Milner in a recent interview. “It’s exactly the sort of traditional expression (that is to say, expression that communicates traditional cultural elements, i.e. passes traditions along) that folklorists have focused on for over a century.”
memes  archives  vernacular  web_archiving 
4 weeks ago
How Google Street View became fertile ground for artists
But Google Street View has also provided ample fodder for artists of all stripes, inspiring a range of creative works that include photographic curation, music videos and impromptu performances.

What, exactly, is it about Google Street View that makes it so appealing to creative types? Perhaps it allows us to experience the fantasy of what scholar Donna Haraway called “the God’s trick” – the impossible desire to see everything....

The sheer magnitude of Google Street View’s all-seeing power is a subject for some artists. Michael Wolf’s project “A Series of Unfortunate Events” curates arresting images from Google Street View, ranging from bike accidents to fires. Taken as a whole, Wolf’s collection from Google’s vast archive gestures toward the vastness of the world itself. Taken individually, his images are both haunting and familiar...

Jon Rafman’s ongoing project “The Nine Eyes of Google Street View” reflects the unsettling relationship between humans and surveillance. (The “nine eyes” in the title refers to the number of cameras on the pole attached to the top of a Google Street View car, although the number has since increased to 15.)...

Other artists have taken a different approach. Doug Rickard, in an exhibition called “A New American Picture,” documented the “forgotten streets” of America by curating images of the disenfranchised in their downtrodden neighborhoods. Halley Docherty has used Google Street View to superimpose famous paintings and album covers on their modern settings (for example, the Beatles crossing the street on today’s Abbey Road). And Justin Blinder’s “Vacated” project turns Google Street View images into GIFs that alternate between before-and-after photos of gentrified street corners in New York City....

Street View art has its detractors. Mishka Henner, for his show “No Man’s Land,” cruised Street View for known “John” sites in Italy and Spain and culled images of women who may be sex workers. Although the show was shortlisted for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize, it was also subject to mixed reviews. Some thought it was sexist to assume that the women depicted were, in fact, prostitutes, though they praised the way the images communicated the everyday vulnerability (and boredom) involved with sex work.

Perhaps most of all, the show inspired questions about the authorship of photographers who merely curate images taken by Google’s cameras. Nonetheless, as one critic pointed out, Google Street View has forced us to reconsider what street photography as a genre now means in light of Google’s roving cameras.
street_view  map_art  photography  appropriation  surveillance 
4 weeks ago
An Artificial Intelligence Developed Its Own Non-Human Language - The Atlantic
A buried line in a new Facebook report about chatbots’ conversations with one another offers a remarkable glimpse at the future of language.

In the report, researchers at the Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research lab describe using machine learning to train their “dialog agents” to negotiate. (And it turns out bots are actually quite good at dealmaking.) At one point, the researchers write, they had to tweak one of their models because otherwise the bot-to-bot conversation “led to divergence from human language as the agents developed their own language for negotiating.” They had to use what’s called a fixed supervised model instead.

In other words, the model that allowed two bots to have a conversation—and use machine learning to constantly iterate strategies for that conversation along the way—led to those bots communicating in their own non-human language. If this doesn’t fill you with a sense of wonder and awe about the future of machines and humanity then, I don’t know, go watch Blade Runner or something.
language  artificial_intelligence 
4 weeks ago
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