Archive

Geography

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Played for the first time this evening with the Nokia Sports Tracker app on the N95. I placed it in the front pouch of my Brompton bag and set off for the station from the office.

The GPS usually acquires satellites painfully slowly, but it got a fix fairly quickly – helped by being in the middle of semi-rural Hampshire, with the tallest thing for miles being a squat 3-storey technology company HQ…

There’s an “autopause” feature on the app which seems to notice when you’ve been at rest for a while, which is a nice touch – but the best thing was once I’d got home and discovered the ease at which you can export it to something like Google Earth.

It was a three-click operation to save and send the file to my Macbook, where I just double clicked it and swooped in on my little bike ride from orbit.

Magic!

Jason Kottke points to a remarkable post by Kevin Kelly entitled The Big Here, after the Eno-coined-counterpart to the Long Now – which shoots a diamond bullet through my thoughts for the last few months:

At the ultimate level, your home is a cell in an organism called a planet. All these levels interconnect. What do you know about the dynamics of this larger system around you? Most of us are ignorant of this matrix. But it is the biggest interactive game there is. Hacking it is both fun and vital.

In the post it goes on to take you through a quiz which examines your knowledge of your immediate environs, and the linkages it has to the wider ecosystem.

Here are the first three questions:

30 questions to elevate your awareness (and literacy) of the greater place in which you live:

1) Point north.

2) What time is sunset today?

3) Trace the water you drink from rainfall to your tap.

Kelly prefaces this with a positioning of the quiz as one of his “cool tools”:

“The intent of this quiz is to inspire you to answer the questions you can’t initially. I’d like to collect and then post the best step-by-step suggestions about how to answer a particular question. These are not answers to the quiz, but recommended paths on how one might most efficiently answer the question locally. Helpful websites which can provide local answers are wanted. Because of the severe specificity of local answers, the methods provided should be as general as possible. The emerging list of answer-paths will thus become the Cool Tool.”

So far, so good.

Wonderful, even.

My immediate thought though, reading both Jason’s post and Kevin Kelly’s mission is why the hell is this not on a mobile?

So – I over the summer am going to try and knit something together to get it there.

  1. I imagine it will be pretty easy (i.e. within the reach of my terrifyingly-bad coding skills) just to port the text quiz to a mobile using S60 python as a standalone experience.
  2. It might be easy enough then to both launch web resources from the quiz on the mobile device, and perhaps post answers in some easily-aggregated format to back out to the web from whoever takes the quiz.
  3. however might be more tricky…

What I immediately imagined was the extension of this quiz into the fabric of the near-future mobile and it’s sensors – location (GPS, CellID), orientation (accelerometers or other tilt sensors), light (camera), heat (Nokia 5140’s have thermometers…), signal strength, local interactions with other devices (Bluetooth, uPnP, NFC/RFID) and of course, a connection to the net.

The near-future mobile could become a ‘tricorder’ for the Big Here – a daemon that challenges or channels your actions in accordance and harmony to the systems immediately around you and the ripples they raise at larger scales.

It could be possible (but probably with some help from my friends) to rapidly-prototype a Big Here Tricorder using s60 python, a bluetooth GPS module, some of these scripts, some judicious scraping of open GIS data and perhaps a map-service API or two.

One thought that springs to mind would be to simply geotag the results of a quiz (assuming the respondent takes the quiz in-situ!) and upload that to a geowiki, something like Place-O-Pedia.

It might be delightful to see the varying answers from valiant individuals clustered in a location and inspire some collaboration on getting to the ‘right’ answers about their collective bit of the big here or the issues raised by the route there more importantly perhaps.

One open question would be if this ‘Big Here Tricorder’ where realised, would it genuinely raise an individual or community’s awareness of their local ecosystem and it’s connections at other scales? “Every extension is also an amputation” etc.

Well – we won’t know unless we build it.

While we’ve had a couple of year’s noise about Where2.0, I reckon there’s a hell of a lot of mileage and some real good could come of focussing on Here2.0… which gives me a nice little summer project – thanks Kevin, Brian and Jason

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Globe of Patents, originally uploaded by blackbeltjones.

By chance this morning found an excellent mini-exhibition in midtown Manhattan.

“Places & Spaces: Mapping Science” has been curated by Dr. Katy Börner and Deborah MacPherson.

From the website:

“Today, the word “science” encompasses myriad arenas of physical and abstract inquiry. This unique exhibition, at the Healy Hall in midtown Manhattan, uses innovative mapping techniques to physically show what and where science is today, how different branches of science relate to each other and where different branches of study are heading, where cutting edge science is erupting as archipelagos in the oceans of the yet unknown – and – how it all relates back to the physical centers of research. The world of science is turned into a navigable landscape.

Modern mapping imagery has come a long way from Ptolemy. In this stimulating show compelling for all ages and backgrounds, audiences will both visually and tactilely uncover how contemporary scientific thought has expanded. Such visualization of scientific progress is approached through computer-generated relationships, featured on large panels as well through the collaboration of New York based artists W. Bradford Paley, Digital Image Design Incorporated and Columbia University and Ingo Gunther with renowned scientist from the field of scientonometrics: Eugene Garfield, Henry Small, André Skupin, Steven A. Morris, Kevin Boyack and Dick Klavans.”

Scientonometrics! Awesome!!!

It’s a concise, enjoyable and clear exhibit showing concrete examples of what John Thackara might call ‘macroscopes’: artworks, mappings and visualisations of complex interconnected systems (in this case science and intellectual property) that help ‘ordinary folk’ examine the choices they make and those being made for them.

Recommended.

People make places @ Demos

Just wandered tonight along to Demos for the launch of their “People make places” report. A skim on the bus home made it seem the sort of thing I would like the Dan Hills and Anne Galloways of the world to have a look at…:

“The rise of privately owned corporate malls, out-of-town shopping centres and the virtual landscapes of the internet have cast doubt on the publicness of our towns and cities. Privatised space is seen to be in the ascendancy and, it is argued, this is squeezing out the possibility of shared social spaces in our cities, replacing them with a ‘shopping mall culture’ of sanitised, frictionless consumer environments where architecture and technology are used to filter out undesirable people and groups. So far it is unclear whether the new set of public spaces created through the urban renaissance are countering this trend and proving effective hosts for shared public life and exchange between people, or whether they are adding to the loss of publicness by imitating the character of private space. Many of the shiny new quaysides and squares seem either curiously empty of people or curiously monocultural in the type of people they attract.

The mission of Demos over the past 12 months has been to take on this uncertainty and track down the public life of cities – to identify the shared spaces of interaction and exchange, the value that such spaces generate and how that value is created. We explored in depth three cities in the UK – Cardiff, Preston and Swindon – to discover and illuminate the processes by which the public life of cities more widely might be reinvigorated.”

I arrived a little late as I only read about the event on the train back from Farnborough, so I don’t know whether it was covered before I got there, but there was little on the effects of digital technology, particularly personal, mobile digital technology on the use of public space. The debate wasn’t all that, although Greyworld were exciting – pointing out the role of play and playful technologies in invigorating and maintaining public spaces.

There’s a small mention of the venerable grassroots geoguide Knowhere in the report, but otherwise very little investigation it seems (again, I haven’t read it in great depth yet) of the impacts of digital technology.

There is a tantalising section heading: “Visible and invisible choreography” on page 62 of the report [PDF], with a brief mention of NYC’s “311” phone line as a concrete example – but nothing about pershaps, how space and place can be ‘reprogrammed’ smartmobs-style by mobile technologies, or how invisible infrastructures can change a place, e.g. free wifi in Bryant Park. I’m sure there are better examples, but hopefully you get my drift (derive?)

Worth a read, and as I say, I hope some of the more hardcore cyburbanists I know will offer their 2p…

As Hurricane Katrina makes ‘landfall’, this from the Viridian Design mailing list’s Bruce Sterling:

In the meantime, however, humanity’s incapacity to recognize and deal with its own peril is becoming eerie. And hilarious. Granted, this situation is not going to feel all chucklesome if you’re shivering in the New Orleans Superdome while its parking lots sink underwater, but that awesome mayhem is just the Southern Gothic version of our planet’s rapidly increasing woes. Here comes America’s worst storm ever, yet nobody on this plethora of satellites whispers the obvious: “climate change.” It’s catastrophic. It’s also surreal. A perfect placement for science fiction as political satire.

Watching the CNN coverage is surreal, he’s right.

They are covering it like a sports event – and inventing a psuedoscientific argot of catastophe as they go along: “wobble factor”, “cone of possibility” etc.

Wierd.

—-
Update: AD calls out BS on his apparent glee.

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If this is what you get when you search for London.

I love that there are places called “Sublimity City” and “Deer Lick” neighbouring the great metropolis.

Liz’s notes on the recent O’Reilly Where 2.0 conference, even though she says they are sketchy, give a lot of food for thought (and they are funny, but it probably helps if you can imagine Liz recounting them, arms-a-waving) – I’m looking forward to her promised post-4th-of-July reflections.

Overall, it sounds like it was a fascinating carpet-mindbombing of the state-of-the-art of geographical technology and it’s effects on business and society. Wish I’d seen Nathan Eagle, and Kevin Slavin in particular.

One line in her notes will be thought about (and probably written about) much more by me:

“as always, they [O'Reilly] think that the difference between the desires of early and late adopters is one of size, not kind”

Crossing the Chasm was first published 14 years ago. Pre-web, pre-mobile. And yet the tech industry is still set in it’s belief that the mainstream will inevitably, steadily, globally – follow the alpha-geek early adopter. Surely it’s about time the Valley’s “Whig” telling of technological progress is tempered with the wiggly nature of human desire.

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