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The End of Cyberspace

Last week I gave an impromptu talk at the Royal College of Art, outlining the end of cyberspace argument and its implication for interaction design. Chris Hand and Andy Broomfield, two recent graduates of the interaction design program, both blogged about the talk.

The whole thing was kind of hurried and off-the-cuff— one of the recent grads and now current faculty invited me right before I got on the plane, and the night I was giving the talk, I dashed from Paddington Station down to the RCA, on the other side of Hyde Park, managing to wander around for a few minutes before finding the right entrance. But it was a large crowd, basically supportive about the overarching idea but also highly skeptical of the particulars— in other words, the sort that’s at once satisfying without being too much of an ego boost.

I’ve been ending most of my presentations on the subject with a slide that shows various overlays of digital images atop a normal street scene.

Turns out the students didn’t quite hate it, but they thought it didn’t work. And upon reflection, I’m inclined to agree with them, for a couple reasons.

First, and most important, instinct says that we’re quickly going to find that when it comes to overlaying information on top of our everyday views of the physical world, less will be more. To some degree, we’ve assumed that users would go for My Own Private Shibuya (hereafter, MOPS):


Colodio, «do androids dream of Tokyo


Stéfan, «Karaoke in Shibuya«

But after some reflection, I’m now questioning that assumption.

Part of the pleasure of these streetscapes is precisely that they’re collectively experienced, rather than individual visions: for even a brief period, we share with other postmodern, globe-hopping flaneurs and expatriates and temporary natives the light of the ABC-Mart sign and storefront.

If I had a pair of glasses that fed me annotations of the city around me, what would I really want? Would I want dinosaur heads peering around buildings? In England, where I worry constantly about looking the wrong way when I cross the street, absolutely not: I’d be killed instantly. Indeed, in any big city, MOPS would be at worst a hazard to life and private property (how long would it take thieves to learn to target people who are walking down the street watching YouTube?), and at least an intrusion on my experience of the place.

Instead, most of the time I’d want a safety reminder or two, maybe directions if I’m headed somewhere, and then some occasional «look here for more information» icon that popped up whenever, say, I passed a building designed by a particular school of architects. At other times, I’d want other information: when I travel with my kids I want to know where clean, publicly accessible bathrooms are. But would I want MOPS? Almost never.

As is so often the case, the real value won’t come in providing a constant stream of semi-processed data, but in useful abstraction and restrained but enlightening presentation.

So now I’ve got to find another slide to end with….

Technorati Tags: end of cyberspace, England, future, London, Royal College of Art

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In William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition, a burglar looks up a porn site during a break-in. Apparently an Italian burglar remembered this, but forgot that it was how the main character knew her apartment had been broken into….

Burglar arrested after logging onto Facebook during break-in

A burglar was caught by Italian police after logging on to Facebook while carrying out a break-in.

The 26 year old, who has not been named, was traced by detectives after the owner of the house reported the crime.

Officers noticed the computer was still on and when the 52 year old owner touched the keyboard, the social network site’s homepage flashed up.

The man, from Albano Laziale near Rome told police he was not a member, and they quickly realised the last person to use the computer had been the burglar.

He had written several messages on his wall — but not revealed he was carrying out a crime — and police were quickly able to trace him and recover cash and jewellery that had been taken.

Major Ivo Di Blasio, of the carabinieri paramilitary police, said:»He was tempted to log on during the break in and it led to his arrest — it was a silly mistake to make and we were onto him very quickly.

Good grief…

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The End of Cyberspace

  • Normally, we expect society to progress, amassing deeper scientific understanding and basic facts every year. Knowledge only increases, right? [Stanford historian of science] Robert Proctor… points out that when it comes to many contentious subjects, our usual relationship to information is reversed: Ignorance increases. He has developed a word inspired by this trend: agnotology. Derived from the Greek root agnosis, it is «the study of culturally constructed ignorance.»
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« September 2009 | Main | November 2009 »

19 posts from October 2009

  • In the late fifteenth century, clocks acquired minute hands. A century later, second hands appeared. But it wasn’t until the 1850s that instruments could recognize a tenth of a second, and, once they did, the impact on modern science and society was profound. Revealing the history behind this infinitesimal interval, A Tenth of a Second sheds new light on modernity and illuminates the work of important thinkers of the last two centuries.
  • «Mindstorm brings everyday surfaces and spaces to life with its range of innovative interactive solutions. From restaurant tables and shop displays to exhibition stands and meeting room walls, our technology enables companies to create compelling collaborative experiences.»
  • «Visionpool er et stærkt procesværktøj, som er designet til at skabe maksimal involvering i forandringsprocesser. Med Visionpool kan du indrage alle i din virksomhed i at skabe resultater — hurtigt.»
  • «It is the academic’s job in a free society to serve the public culture by asking questions the public doesn’t want to ask, investigating subjects it cannot or will not investigate, and accommodating voices it fails or refuses to accommodate. Academics need to look to the world to see what kind of teaching and research needs to be done, and how they might better train and organize themselves to do it. But they need to ignore the world’s demand that they reproduce its self-image.»
  • «Imagine the cityscape of the future. Forget skyscrapers studded with undimmed lights. Instead, think of crystal whites and luminous blues forging the city’s silhouette. Picture a city that sucks in carbon and uses bacteria harvested from dead fish to light the darkness. The city as a living character will no longer be a literary conceit, but a reality. From metaphor to concrete in one generation.»
  • «Saffo has spent the past two decades staring into his crystal ball and seeing just these sorts of contrasts. Once director of the Institute for the Future think tank, he now teaches at Stanford University, alma mater to the founders of Google and many of the technology world’s hottest stars.»
  • «As our surroundings have evolved over the centuries, so too have our navigational strategies and conceptions, shaped most recently by urbanization and the advent of high-speed travel.

    «We’re now on the cusp of an even more dramatic change, as we enter the age of the global positioning system, which is well on its way to being a standard feature in every car and on every cellphone. At the same time, neuroscientists are starting to uncover a two-way street: our brains determine how we navigate, but our navigational efforts also shape our brains. The experts are picking up some worrying signs about the changes that will occur as we grow accustomed to the brain-free navigation of the gps era.»

  • The brains of London cabbies have outsized rear hippocampuses, because they are required to painstakingly learn the byzantine lanes and byways of the Old World city. Not true for most of us — and especially not in the age of the GPS, writes Alex Hutchinson in the Canadian magazine The Walrus.

    Hutchinson says that with the digital navigational tool well on its way to becoming standard in every car and on every cellphone, “experts are picking up some worrying signs” about brain atrophy “once we lose the habit of forming cognitive maps.” Research is showing people, their heads in abstract spatial realms, flummoxed finding their way around in the real world.

  • «Not long ago, I started an experiment in self-binding: intentionally creating an obstacle to behavior I was helpless to control, much the way Ulysses lashed himself to his ship’s mast to avoid succumbing to the Sirens’ song. In my case, though, the irresistible temptation was the Internet.»

  • For years critics have railed against these cultural complexes as pointlessly grandiose expressions of vanity — a poisonous brew of architectural egotism and excessive wealth that was destroying America’s urban centers. Why all the fancy forms, they argued? Wouldn’t the money be better spent on something more valuable, like schoolbooks?

    Yet as the dust settles on the last of these projects, what begins to emerge is a more complex image of America’s cultural values at the birth of a new century. The formal dazzle masks a deeper struggle by cities and architects to create accessible public space in an age of shrinking government revenue and privatization. At their most ambitious, they are an effort to rethink the two great urban planning movements that gave shape to the civic and cultural identity of the American city.

  • «Nearly everyone reads. Soon, nearly everyone will publish. Before 1455, books were handwritten, and it took a scribe a year to produce a Bible. Today, it takes only a minute to send a tweet or update a blog. Rates of authorship are increasing by historic orders of magnitude. Nearly universal authorship, like universal literacy before it, stands to reshape society by hastening the flow of information and making individuals more influential.»
  • «The trend [in adoption law]… is toward openness, a growing “right” to know. I am not against this trend. I simply want to give not-knowing its due. I like mysteries. I like the sense of uniqueness that comes from having unknown origins (however false that sense may be).»
  • Her great 2003 essay on computer versus human memory. «[E]ach new computer has enough disk space to hold everything you’ve ever stored on all the computers you’ve ever owned in your life. The equivalent would be a new house that, every time you moved, would be so much larger than all your past houses that all the furniture you’ve ever purchased would follow you, indefinitely…. everything—the rug you picked up at a garage sale after a tipsy brunch, that secondhand dining table bought hurriedly after the divorce—all of it, no escaping it, the joy or humiliation of every decorating decision you’ve ever made, the occasion that brought each object into your life perpetually, unflinchingly present: the brutality of the everlasting.»

Just found an online reprint of Ellen Ullman’s wonderful 2003 essay «Memory and Megabytes,» originally published in American Scholar. It’s one of my favorite short pieces ever, and started me thinking about the differences between human and machine memory.

Though her recent New York Times op-ed on adoption and knowing your family history is great, too:

I am not against … the trend… toward openness, a growing “right” to know. I simply want to give not-knowing its due.

I like mysteries. I like the sense of uniqueness that comes from having unknown origins (however false that sense may be).

[To the tune of Dead Man’s Bones, «My Body’s a Zombie for You,» from the album Anti Sampler Fall 2009 (I give it 1 stars).]

About a year ago I wrote about Web 2.0 as a time machine for my generation, and my suspicion that «mine may be the last generation that has the experience of losing touch with friends.» This concerned me because

when it comes to shaping identity, the ability to forget can be as important as the ability to remember. It’s easy to implore people not to forget who they are; but sometimes, in order to become someone better, you need to forget a little bit.

Likewise,

Forgetting insults and painful events, we all recognize, is a pretty healthy thing for individuals: a well-adjusted person just doesn’t feel the same shock over a breakup after ten years (if they can even remember the name of Whoever They Were), nor do they regard a fight from their childhood with anything but clinical detachment. Collectively, societies can also be said to make decisions about what they choose to remember, and how to act toward the past. Sometimes this happens informally, but has practical reasons: think of national decisions of avoid deep reflection on wars or civil strife, in the interests of promoting national unity and moving forward.

The idea that digital and human memory work differently, and that we fail to recognize the difference between the two at our peril, is something I’ve been writing about for a while. So I was very interested to see a review by Henry Farrell in Times Higher Education of Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger’s new book Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age. It sounds like a book I need to read… or at least footnote!

At its heart, his case against digital memory is humanist. He worries that it will not only change the way we organise society, but it will damage our identities. Identity and memory interact in complicated ways. Our ability to forget may be as important to our social relationships as our ability to remember. To forgive may be to forget; when we forgive someone for serious transgressions we in effect forget how angry we once were at them.

Delete argues that digital memory has the capacity both to trap us in the past and to damage our trust in our own memories. When I read an old email describing how angry I once was at someone, I am likely to find myself becoming angry again, even if I have since forgiven the person. I may trust digital records over my own memory, even when these records are partial or positively misleading. Forgetting, in contrast, not only serves as a valuable social lubricant, but also as a bulwark of good judgment, allowing us to give appropriate weight to past events that are important, and to discard things that are not. Digital memory — which traps us in the past — may weaken our ability to judge by distorting what we remember.

[To the tune of Sukhwinder Singh, «Marjaani Marjaani,» from the album Saavn Celebrates Bollywood (I give it 3 stars).]

  • «We’ve rounded up eight of the latest in office designs from around the world, showing how architects are attempting to turn the mundane into the marvellous, creating commuter-friendly communes that don’t destroy the spirit.»
  • Philips shares the fruits of a project that imagines the future of food, 20 years from now.
  • «Objectified is a feature-length documentary about our complex relationship with manufactured objects and, by extension, the people who design them. It’s a look at the creativity at work behind everything from toothbrushes to tech gadgets. It’s about the designers who re-examine, re-evaluate and re-invent our manufactured environment on a daily basis. It’s about personal expression, identity, consumerism, and sustainability.»
  • Writing and reading — from newspapers to novels, academic reports to gossip magazines — are migrating ever faster to digital screens, like laptops, Kindles and cellphones. Traditional book publishers are putting out “vooks,” which place videos in electronic text that can be read online or on an iPhone. Others are republishing old books in electronic form. And libraries, responding to demand, are offering more e-books for download.

    Is there a difference in the way the brain takes in or absorbs information when it is presented electronically versus on paper? Does the reading experience change, from retention to comprehension, depending on the medium?

  • It’s an experiment that has made back-to-school a little easier on the back: Amazon.com gave more than 200 college students its Kindle e-reading device this fall, loaded with digital versions of their textbooks.

  • Kott and others like him are social networking refuseniks: people in their 20s or early 30s who have gone off the grid, eschewing the ecology of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and the like. In Washington, refuseniks are not exactly operating in isolated, Luddite worlds: One is in a dance company, another is a rapper/hip-hop singer, another is a Georgetown undergraduate.

  • The report, previewed in a speech by Thomas Fingar, the U.S. intelligence community’s top analyst, also concludes that the one key area of continued U.S. superiority — military power — will “be the least significant” asset in the increasingly competitive world of the future, because “nobody is going to attack us with massive conventional force.”

From Newsweek:

For those of us who carry iPhones, this shift to a persistent Internet has already happened, and it’s really profound. The Internet is no longer a destination, someplace you «go to.» You don’t «get on the Internet.» You’re always on it. It’s just there, like the air you breathe.

[To the tune of Future Sound of London, «Room 208,» from the album Lifeforms (I give it 2 stars).]

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The End of Cyberspace

» If it has a shape, you can map it. from J. LeRoy’s Evolving Web
I’ve created several posts over the last six months about ways we might map conversation, thought, and information. I have been focusing on the use of information. How we use it to tell a story. Alex Pang, in the meantime, [Read More]

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« November 2009 | Main | January 2010 »

17 posts from December 2009

  • «As a futurist, I have respected the fact that the future is not only not what it used to be, but that specific predictions as to dates and market size can certainly come back to bite you.»
  • «George Soros, the fund manager, has pledged $50m to back a new think-tank with the mission of reconceiving the field of economics, which he describes as “a dogma whose time has passed”. The group, to be called the Institute of New Economic Thinking, will gather luminaries in the field of economics to reflect on the ideas that allowed the latest economic crisis to transpire and to bring new ideas to a profession that some argue has become too deeply entrenched in free-market ideology.»
  • In brief a sensemaking system is one that, in contrast to a data warehousing solution, does something active with each piece of data as it is acquired, rather than only storing the data for later re-use. Identity disambiguation is a problem that these class of systems have been applied to in the past, however the new technique will be more generally applicable.
  • The IC has responded to current challenges by trying to improve standard best practices; improving information-sharing; and promoting alternative analytical techniques. «A solution that fuses all three initiatives together into a single whole and that resolves the problem posed by the pressure for analytical timeliness would be ideal. We propose that one solution is, ironically, both widely known and little practiced by the IC, simulations.»
  • «The opportunity now exists to tap into a vastly larger amount of expertise than was previously available to US intelligence. However, this will require working from a very different paradigm from that which characterized much of our Cold War history. The key features of that traditional paradigm were: secrets; classified channels of information flows; a focus on a few hard targets… very limited contact with outside experts who were almost always US citizens; and focus on key facts and finished intelligence products. The new paradigm, in contrast, will focus on “open source” information and reach out to a wide variety of experts who are non-intelligence professionals drawn from different sectors and often non-Americans. As the 21st century is expected to be far less predictable and dynamic, the objective is to scan the horizon for emergent issues and so-called weak signals that are harbingers of futures for which few governments have begun preparing.»
  • “Why did economists not do a better job anticipating the crisis?” was the question everyone seemed to be asking as the global economy began to unravel last fall. The consensus seems to be that most economists not only failed to see the crisis coming but also were downright hostile to the few who argued that The Great Moderation—the era of economic stability brought about by modern banking system controls—wasn’t so great after all…. Anyone who has looked at his brokerage accounts or her retirement portfolio lately already “gets it” at the macro level. But what exactly happened on the cellular level to get us to where we ended up? And what can we, as intelligence professionals, learn from those events?
  • «Recently, I attended a small conference about using social tools for information sharing hosted at Johns Hopkins University and sponsored by the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC). Our hosts for three days were the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) World Intelligence Review (WIRe) and the Director of National Intelligence’s (DNI) Intelligence Community Enterprise Services (ICES). They were able to bring together the people who build social tools, those who evangelize about them, and influential end users to have candid and open discussions about them.»

Jessica Grose on what’s wrong with Foursquare:

The major limit to Foursquare’s widespread appeal is what differentiates it from the other location-based apps—game mechanics, which have limited appeal to older users (it should be noted that competitor Loopt has recently acquired similar gaming technology). With Foursquare, you get badges based on participation, and you can compete for badges with your friends. If you “check in” to a particular location often enough on Foursquare, you become “mayor” of that location. If you check in four nights in a row, you get a “bender” badge, and so on. Though hyper-social twentysomethings in cities with endless options may enjoy competing with their friends for the “player please” or “douchebag” badges, the reward system does not hold much for anyone older. “I don’t get any real thrill from the gaming aspect,” one thirtysomething, New York-based Foursquare user told me. “All the badges seemed aimed to a young, single dude,” said another.

Another limitation of Foursquare’s appeal is that users are rewarded—“given pieces of digital candy,” in the words of co-founder Dennis Crowley—for seeking out new venues and experiences as much as possible. This is only valuable in enormous markets like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, where there are constantly new restaurants, events, and bars to patronize.

  • «Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded Dulles, Va.-based Orbital Sciences Corp. a $75 million contract to develop the final design for a radically new space architecture in which traditional, large spacecraft are replaced by clusters of wirelessly connected orbiting modules…. dubbed System F6, short for Future, Fast, Flexible, Fractionated, Free-Flying spacecraft…. [T]he new space architecture has the potential to transform space systems in much the same way that the Internet changed many aspects of daily life. “System F6 is not just an incremental improvement in technology, but rather a fundamental transformation of the entire space community,” Burgess stated in the news release. “Fractionated and networked architectures could be the answer to recurring problems that debilitate the space sector, including significant cost increases, late deliveries, launch mishaps and on-orbit failures.” «
  • «While the scientific process is typically seen as a lonely pursuit — researchers solve problems by themselves — Dunbar found that most new scientific ideas emerged from lab meetings, those weekly sessions in which people publicly present their data. Interestingly, the most important element of the lab meeting wasn’t the presentation — it was the debate that followed. Dunbar observed that the skeptical (and sometimes heated) questions asked during a group session frequently triggered breakthroughs, as the scientists were forced to reconsider data they’d previously ignored. The new theory was a product of spontaneous conversation, not solitude; a single bracing query was enough to turn scientists into temporary outsiders, able to look anew at their own work.»
  • «My laboratory (The Laboratory For Complex Thinking & Reasoning: Genes, Brains, Cognition) conducts research that spans the domains of Cognitive Psychology, Cognitive Science, Educational Neuroscience, and Cognitive Neuroscience. The overall focus of our research is to discover and foster the psychologically and educationally important mental processes underlying Thinking, Reasoning, Problem Solving, and Creativity. Our recent research using fMRI has been on analogical reasoning, causal reasoning, and conceptual representations of scientific concepts. The goal of our work is to harness these findings in ways that facilitate the learning of concepts in both science and the arts and facilitate their transfer into the real world.»
  • «Evaluating scholars simply by tallying their citations is «like saying Britney Spears is the most important artist who ever existed because she’s sold 50 million records,» said Johan Bollen, an associate professor of informatics and computing at Indiana University at Bloomington, as he introduced a daylong workshop on academic metrics here on Wednesday. «That’s not how we do things in the real world,» Mr. Bollen continued. «And I don’t think we should do things like that in scholarly assessments either. … We need to find ways to take trust, prestige, and influence into account.»»
  • Challenge Networks’ scenarios for 2030, published in 2006.
  • ‘Scenarios: An Explorer’s Guide’ is written for people who would like to build and use scenarios, and also for those who want to enhance their scenario thinking skills. We visualise our audience as people who are curious by nature, who want to make a difference, and who are highly motivated to acquire a deeper understanding of themselves and the world around them.
  • «[F]ew contemporary challenges can be confined to one policy area anymore and governments have realized that a single-issue focus is in many instances insufficient. Consequently, they have started to experiment with foresight that cuts across the traditional boundaries of policy areas. This article will concentrate on three countries that have been at the forefront of this trend, the United Kingdom (UK), Singapore, and the Netherlands. To this end, the paper first discusses the concept of foresight and explains how it may contribute to public policy-making. It will then pursue a review of foresight activities in the UK, Singapore, and the Netherlands that cut across the conventional issue- and departmental boundaries. Finally, it will draw some lessons with regard to the key requirements and success factors if foresight ought to make an effective contribution to the development and implementation of public policies.»
  • «Vital primary sources underpinning the foreign policy debate.» Pretty huge.
  • «Strategic Trends provides a measure of context and coherence in an uncertain predictive area characterised by risk, ambiguity and change…. The DCDC approach goes beyond identifying the potential future military threats, to which our Armed Forces will have to respond, and looks at the developments in areas that will shape the wider strategic context within which Defence will have to interact.»
  • «The DCDC Global Strategic Trends Programme 3rd Edition is the latest iteration of work commenced by the Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC), as the Joint Doctrine and Concepts Centre (JDCC), in 2001 and is published here as a Adobe Acrobat PDF file. Strategic Trends explores a range of potential outcomes over the next 30 years. As with previous editions, the document has been placed in the public domain in order to generate debate and discussion.»
  • «The RAX will measure the energy flow in the ionosphere, the highest part of Earth’s atmosphere where solar radiation turns regular atoms into charged particles. Disturbances in the ionosphere can affect earth-to-space communications such as GPS signals, digital satellite television and voice and data transmission systems including Iridium and Globalstar.

    «This project will help us better understand space weather processes, how the Earth and Sun interact, and how this weather produces noise in space communication signals—noise that translates to lower quality telecommunications capabilities and error in GPS signals,» Cutler said.

    The RAX satellite will act as a receiver that will pick up signals from a ground radar transmitter. These radar pulses will reflect off disturbances, or space weather phenomena, in the ionosphere.»

  • Profile of Clyde Space, involved in commercial CubeSat work.

  • Naval Academy project. «The DOD interest in this RAFT project is its requirement to TRACK all space objects and the difficulty it will have in tracking these 4″ cubesat clusters due to their large numbers and small size which is below the NSSS routine tracking ability. RAFT was approved by the DOD Space Experiments Review Board in the fall of 2002. Since DOD cannot pay for our project to fly on the typical Cubesat Russian (low cost) launcher, DOD developed their own 5» cubesat launcher.

    RAFT OBJECTIVES: The RAFT Mission is to provide a cubesat in the cubesat cluster which has an on-board transponder capable of identifying itself via the NSS satellite Radar Tracking system to help locate the Cubesats. Without this transponder, the Cubesats are too small to be detected by normal non-queued tracking systems, and so there is no easy way to find these individual cubesats once they have begun to spread from the original launch tracking elements.»

  • «Researchers in fields ranging from biochemistry to cosmology are recruiting armies of volunteers to help solve some of science’s thorniest problems.»

  • «It is the first spacecraft dedicated to studying atmospheric carbon dioxide, the most significant human-produced greenhouse gas and the principal human-produced driver of climate change. This experimental NASA Earth System Science Pathfinder Program mission will measure atmospheric carbon dioxide from space, mapping the globe once every 16 days for at least two years. It will do so with the accuracy, resolution and coverage needed to provide the first complete picture of the regional-scale geographic distribution and seasonal variations of both human and natural sources of carbon dioxide emissions and their sinks-the reservoirs that pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and store it. Mission data will be used by the atmospheric and carbon cycle science communities to improve global carbon cycle models, reduce uncertainties in forecasts of how much carbon dioxide is in the atmosphere, and make more accurate predictions of global climate change.» (Crashed in 2009)

  • You’ve definitely heard of the… 1 kg satellites called Cubesats, so named due to their physical dimensions being that of a 10 cm cube. They are extremely popular as an educational tool at universities, but is it truly feasible to create a functioning satellite within so small a package? Additionally, do Cubesats have any practical use, or are they merely just a toy?

  • «The controversial idea that earthquakes can be predicted by monitoring tiny fluctuations in Earth’s magnetic field is to be tested by two new satellites. Although many seismologists see little merit in the idea, NASA and the US Air Force are together contributing about $1 million to provide data analysis and ground instrumentation to support experiments with the first satellite, the privately funded QuakeSat. Built by QuakeFinder of Palo Alto, California, the craft is now returning data from orbit after its 30 June launch. A second more expensive and ambitious satellite, funded by the CNES, France’s national space agency, will follow next April.»

  • A California company is planning to launch a satellite that will monitor, and hopefully one day predict, the state’s shakiest feature — earthquakes. Dubbed QuakeSat by its Palo Alto-based creators, the microsatellite is tasked with watching the world for extremely low frequency (ELF) signals in the Earth’s magnetic field — signals that could be a precursor to an oncoming temblor. But first, it has to show that the signals have value as an earthquake indicator in the first place. «We’re obviously very optimistic, but we won’t know until we try it,» said QuakeFinder president and CEO Jeannie Seelbach in a telephone interview. QuakeFinder is developing the satellite as well as a ground-based earthquake detection network. «However, we think that this is something that has enough promise to be explored.»

  • On 2006 solar flare that disrupted GPS.

  • «The CloudSat is a CubeSat program being developed by Vanderlei Martins of the University of Maryland — Baltimore County (UMBC) Physics Department in collaboration with the NASA GSFC Climate and Radiation Branch. The CloudSat will take photographs of the vertical profile of clouds, in order to study cloud microphysics and thermodynamic properties.»
  • Short release on GeneSat-1.
  • «[Y]oung people’s forms of participation with new media are incredibly diverse, and that risks, opportunities, and competencies are spread unevenly across the social and cultural landscape. Young people have differential access to online experiences, practices, and tools and this has a consequence in their developing sense of their own identities and their place in the world. In some cases, different forms of participation and access correspond with familiar cultural and social divides. In other cases, however, new media have introduced novel and unexpected kinds of social differences, subcultures, and identities. It is far too simple to talk about this in terms of binaries such as «information haves and have nots» or «digital divides». There are many different kinds of obstacles to full participation, many different degrees of access to information, technologies, and online communities, and many different ways of processing those experiences….»
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The End of Cyberspace

Last week I gave an impromptu talk at the Royal College of Art, outlining the end of cyberspace argument and its implication for interaction design. Chris Hand and Andy Broomfield, two recent graduates of the interaction design program, both blogged about the talk.

The whole thing was kind of hurried and off-the-cuff— one of the recent grads and now current faculty invited me right before I got on the plane, and the night I was giving the talk, I dashed from Paddington Station down to the RCA, on the other side of Hyde Park, managing to wander around for a few minutes before finding the right entrance. But it was a large crowd, basically supportive about the overarching idea but also highly skeptical of the particulars— in other words, the sort that’s at once satisfying without being too much of an ego boost.

I’ve been ending most of my presentations on the subject with a slide that shows various overlays of digital images atop a normal street scene.

Turns out the students didn’t quite hate it, but they thought it didn’t work. And upon reflection, I’m inclined to agree with them, for a couple reasons.

First, and most important, instinct says that we’re quickly going to find that when it comes to overlaying information on top of our everyday views of the physical world, less will be more. To some degree, we’ve assumed that users would go for My Own Private Shibuya (hereafter, MOPS):


Colodio, «do androids dream of Tokyo


Stéfan, «Karaoke in Shibuya«

But after some reflection, I’m now questioning that assumption.

Part of the pleasure of these streetscapes is precisely that they’re collectively experienced, rather than individual visions: for even a brief period, we share with other postmodern, globe-hopping flaneurs and expatriates and temporary natives the light of the ABC-Mart sign and storefront.

If I had a pair of glasses that fed me annotations of the city around me, what would I really want? Would I want dinosaur heads peering around buildings? In England, where I worry constantly about looking the wrong way when I cross the street, absolutely not: I’d be killed instantly. Indeed, in any big city, MOPS would be at worst a hazard to life and private property (how long would it take thieves to learn to target people who are walking down the street watching YouTube?), and at least an intrusion on my experience of the place.

Instead, most of the time I’d want a safety reminder or two, maybe directions if I’m headed somewhere, and then some occasional «look here for more information» icon that popped up whenever, say, I passed a building designed by a particular school of architects. At other times, I’d want other information: when I travel with my kids I want to know where clean, publicly accessible bathrooms are. But would I want MOPS? Almost never.

As is so often the case, the real value won’t come in providing a constant stream of semi-processed data, but in useful abstraction and restrained but enlightening presentation.

So now I’ve got to find another slide to end with….

Technorati Tags: end of cyberspace, England, future, London, Royal College of Art

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The End of Cyberspace

Music writer and candy fanatic Steve Almond (one of my wife’s college classmates, interestingly) has a nice piece in the Boston Globe about music, materiality, and memory:

I start browsing the discs, and inevitably find one I haven’t heard in years and slip it onto the crappy boom-box I keep down there and pretty soon the record has transported me back to the exact time and place where I first fell in love with it. The physical object, in other words, becomes a time machine. And who in their right mind would throw away a time machine?

The younger generation has no romantic attachments to records as physical objects. To them, music exists as a kind of omnipresent atmospheric resource.

And it’s not that I begrudge them their online treasure troves or bite-size iPods. But I still miss the way it used to be, in the old days, when fans had to invest serious time and money to track down the album or song they wanted.

What I’m getting at here is a deeper irony: technology has made the pursuit of our pleasures much easier. But in so doing, I often wonder if it has made them less sacred. My children will grow up in a world that makes every song they might desire instantly available to them. And yet I sort of pity them that they will never know the kind of yearning I did.

As a young kid, before I could even afford records, I listened to the radio. I waited, sometimes hours, for the DJ to play one of the idiotic pop songs with which I’d (idiotically) fallen in love. And yet I can still remember the irrational glee I felt when the DJ finally did play «Undercover Angel» or «The Things We Do for Love.»

Almond and I are the same age, and I completely get where he’s coming from: I can still remember the pleasure of my favorite song finally coming on the radio, and rediscovering old music can sometimes be a Proustian experience.

But I don’t feel like something is really lost by moving from one playback medium to another. Or rather, I understand why Almond feels that way, but it’s not a universal for our generation.

Why do I think this? Maybe it’s because, despite the audiophile’s fetishization of the LP, I grew up in a pretty technologically heterogeneous musical environment: I had LPs, 45s, cassette tapes, a few 8-tracks, and of course the radio (AM and FM). The vinyl LP is the first edition book of the music world, the technological object that comes to stand for an era or cultural moment, and in so doing obscures all the other kinds of printed matter that surrounded us way back before personal computers but didn’t have much cultural significance (who has mourned the decline of the Sears catalog in the age of the Web?). So when CDs came along, it was kind of just one more thing.

I also think Almond somewhat overplays the idea that for kids, «music exists as a kind of omnipresent atmospheric resource,» as if it didn’t for us. How many times did our parents say, «Turn that music down!» How many times did we choose a particular restaurant, or go to the pool, or hang out somewhere, partly because of the music? I don’t remember music being a rare commodity when I was a kid. It might have been harder to make it completely private— to go out in public plugged into your own audio universe, the way my kids do with their iPods— but the music was definitely there.

Another reason my experience differs is that I don’t have a gigantic record collection that I’ve built up over decades. I once had a lot of LPs. Then I replaced them with a lot of CDs. Then all my CDs got stolen (I love Berkeley!). Then I rebuilt my collection, and again have a lot of CDs.

So iTunes— and more recently things like Concert Vault— allowed me to rediscover a lot of music that I hadn’t heard in decades. In other words, Almond and I have the same experience, only he has in his basement, and I have mine online. (There are virtues in deleting and forgetting, but on the whole I prefer rediscovery. Though you can’t have the last without one of the first two, I suppose.)

But there’s one other thing: as I discovered when I first upgraded to OS X and started dropping money into iTunes, finding an old song usually doesn’t involve getting back in touch with something I hadn’t heard in a long time. Just as often it’s about rediscovering the music. As I discovered about five years ago,

When I was young, I always had pretty lousy stereo equipment— often just a portable AM/FM radio, or a $39 stereo from K-Mart— and it turns out that, even though I heard some of these songs a thousand times, there was a lot of detail I missed. Now I hear it. Twenty years later.

Though it won’t be long before we start fondly remembering CDs or the early days of music on the Web…. Actually, MIT professor Henry Jenkins has already gotten nostalgic: years ago he compared Napster and iTunes, and argued that for his generation, the former was far superior. «iTunes is about music as commodity,» he wrote. «Napster was about music as mutual experience. iTunes is about cheap downloads; Napster was about file sharing— with sharing the key word.»

For me, the process of rediscovering music is more like the experience of reconnecting with people on Facebook than being transported back in time: yes, they have the same names as they did when they were in college (well, some of them have the same names), but they’re not the same people— and neither are you. But it’s still nice to hear from— or just hear— them.

[To the tune of Greg Lake, «In the Court of the Crimson King,» from the album Live at the Hammersmith Odeon, London (November 5 1981) (I give it 3 stars).]

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The End of Cyberspace

About a year ago I wrote about Web 2.0 as a time machine for my generation, and my suspicion that «mine may be the last generation that has the experience of losing touch with friends.» This concerned me because

when it comes to shaping identity, the ability to forget can be as important as the ability to remember. It’s easy to implore people not to forget who they are; but sometimes, in order to become someone better, you need to forget a little bit.

Likewise,

Forgetting insults and painful events, we all recognize, is a pretty healthy thing for individuals: a well-adjusted person just doesn’t feel the same shock over a breakup after ten years (if they can even remember the name of Whoever They Were), nor do they regard a fight from their childhood with anything but clinical detachment. Collectively, societies can also be said to make decisions about what they choose to remember, and how to act toward the past. Sometimes this happens informally, but has practical reasons: think of national decisions of avoid deep reflection on wars or civil strife, in the interests of promoting national unity and moving forward.

The idea that digital and human memory work differently, and that we fail to recognize the difference between the two at our peril, is something I’ve been writing about for a while. So I was very interested to see a review by Henry Farrell in Times Higher Education of Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger’s new book Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age. It sounds like a book I need to read… or at least footnote!

At its heart, his case against digital memory is humanist. He worries that it will not only change the way we organise society, but it will damage our identities. Identity and memory interact in complicated ways. Our ability to forget may be as important to our social relationships as our ability to remember. To forgive may be to forget; when we forgive someone for serious transgressions we in effect forget how angry we once were at them.

Delete argues that digital memory has the capacity both to trap us in the past and to damage our trust in our own memories. When I read an old email describing how angry I once was at someone, I am likely to find myself becoming angry again, even if I have since forgiven the person. I may trust digital records over my own memory, even when these records are partial or positively misleading. Forgetting, in contrast, not only serves as a valuable social lubricant, but also as a bulwark of good judgment, allowing us to give appropriate weight to past events that are important, and to discard things that are not. Digital memory — which traps us in the past — may weaken our ability to judge by distorting what we remember.

[To the tune of Sukhwinder Singh, «Marjaani Marjaani,» from the album Saavn Celebrates Bollywood (I give it 3 stars).]