Categories
Film Photography Project Research Technology Urbanism

Satellite Lamps

Satellite_Lamps

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Satellite Lamps is a project that reveals one of the most significant contemporary technology infrastructures, the Global Positioning System (GPS). Made with Einar Sneve Martinussen and Jørn Knutsen as part of the Yourban research project at AHO, it continues our project of revealing the materials of technologies that started in 2009 with RFID and WiFi.

GPS is widely used yet it’s invisible and few of us really have any idea of how it works or how it inhabits our everyday environments. We wanted to explore the cultural and material realities of GPS technology, and to develop new understandings about it through design.

“Satellite Lamps shows that GPS is not a seamless blanket of efficient positioning technology; it is a negotiation between radio waves, earth-orbit geometry and the urban environment. GPS is a truly impressive technology, but it also has inherent seams and edges.”

We created a series of lamps that change brightness according to the accuracy of received GPS signals, and when we photograph them as timelapse films, we start to build a picture of how these signals behave in actual urban spaces.

We’ve made a film that you can watch here, and published an extensive article that details very thoroughly how it was made and why. You can read more on how we explored GPS technology, how the visualisations were made, and about the popular cultural history of GPS.

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Categories
Exhibition Film Photography Project Research Technology

Internet machine

InternetMachine01-web

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Internet machine is a multi-screen film about the invisible infrastructures of the internet. The film reveals the hidden materiality of our data by exploring some of the machines through which ‘the cloud’ is transmitted and transformed.

Film: 6 min 40 sec, digital 4K, 25fps, stereo.
Installation: Digital projection, 3 x 16:10 screens, each 4.85m x 2.8m.
Medium: Digital photography, photogrammetry and 3D animation.

Internet machine (showing now at Big Bang Data or watch the trailer) documents one of the largest, most secure and ‘fault-tolerant’ data-centres in the world, run by Telefonica in Alcalá, Spain. The film explores these hidden architectures with a wide, slowly moving camera. The subtle changes in perspective encourage contemplative reflection on the spaces where internet data and connectivity are being managed.

In this film I wanted to look beyond the childish myth of ‘the cloud’, to investigate what the infrastructures of the internet actually look like. It felt important to be able to see and hear the energy that goes into powering these machines, and the associated systems for securing, cooling and maintaining them.

InternetMachine14-web

What we find, after being led through layers of identification and security far higher than any airport, are deafeningly noisy rooms cocooning racks of servers and routers. In these spaces you are buffeted by hot and cold air that blusters through everything.

InternetMachine09-web

Server rooms are kept cool through quiet, airy ‘plenary’ corridors that divide the overall space. There are fibre optic connections routed through multiple, redundant, paths across the building. In the labyrinthine corridors of the basement, these cables connect to the wider internet through holes in rough concrete walls.

InternetMachine16-web

Power is supplied not only through the mains, but backed up with warm caverns of lead batteries, managed by gently buzzing cabinets of relays and switches.

InternetMachine10-web

These are backed up in turn by rows of yellow generators, supplied by diesel storage tanks and contracts with fuel supply companies so that the data centre can run indefinitely until power returns.

InternetMachine03-web

The outside of the building is a facade of enormous stainless steel water tanks, containing tens of thousands of litres of cool water, sitting there in case of fire.

InternetMachine11-web

And up on the roof, to the sound of birdsong, is a football-pitch sized array of shiny aluminium ‘chillers’ that filter and cool the air going into the building.

InternetMachine15-web

In experiencing these machines at work, we start to understand that the internet is not a weightless, immaterial, invisible cloud, and instead to appreciate it as a very distinct physical, architectural and material system.

Production

Internet machine shoot

This was a particularly exciting project, a chance for an ambitious and experimental location shoot in a complex environment. Telefónica were particularly accommodating and allowed unprecedented access to shoot across the entire building, not just in the ‘spectacular’ server rooms. Thirty two locations were shot inside the data centre over the course of two days, followed by five weeks of post-production.

Internet-Machine-production-04

I had to invent some new production methods to create a three-screen installation, based on some techniques I developed over ten years ago. The film was shot using both video and stills, using a panoramic head and a Canon 5D mkIII. The video was shot using the Magic Lantern RAW module on the 5D, while the RAW stills were processed in Lightroom and stitched together using Photoshop and Hugin.

Internet-Machine-production-02

The footage was then converted into 3D scenes using camera calibration techniques, so that entirely new camera movements could be created with a virtual three-camera rig. The final multi-screen installation is played out in 4K projected across three screens.

There are more photos available at Flickr.

Internet machine is part of BIG BANG DATA, open from 9 May 2014 until 26 October 2014 at CCCB (Barcelona) and from February-May 2015 at Fundación Telefónica (Madrid).

Internet Machine is produced by Timo Arnall, Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona – CCCB, and Fundación Telefónica. Thanks to José Luis de Vicente, Olga Subiros, Cira Pérez and María Paula Baylac.

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Categories
Film Media Narrative Technology Television

Three films on communication and networks

In the last two weeks I’ve seen three documentaries dealing with communication and networks.

Firstly, a broad and ambitious film from Ericsson, taking on the ‘networked society’ including interviews with David Weinberger, Catarina Fake and Eric Wahlforss.

Each of the interviewees discusses the emerging opportunities being enabled by technology as we enter the Networked Society. Concepts such as borderless opportunities and creativity, new open business models, and today’s ‘dumb society’ are brought up and discussed.

The next film from Nokia brings daily life around networked communication technologies to the forefront, and does it through lovely experiential sequences. However it does come across much more as a branding exercise or promotional piece, and doesn’t offer to explain or explore the practices it shows.

Third is a film by Ben Mendelsohn and Alex Chohlas-Wood about the physical, geographic and material infrastructure that goes into running the internet.

Lower Manhattan’s 60 Hudson Street is one of the world’s most concentrated hubs of Internet connectivity. This short documentary peeks inside, offering a glimpse of the massive material infrastructure that makes the Internet possible.

There is clearly a need to unpack the increasingly technology-inflected geography, and social and cultural practices of the world we inhabit, so it is good to see films like this being made.

Categories
Media Photography Technology Ubicomp

CCD and computational photography

A few links on imaging and computation:

I’ve concluded that the promise of RFID was eclipsed by another technology out there that’s poised to become more and more disruptive, not only to RFID, but to a host of technologies, and that’s the CCD.

from CCD by Joe Gregorio. Via BERG.

Cameras might allow a photographer to record a scene and then alter the lighting or shift the point of view, or even insert fictitious objects.

from Computational Photography, American Scientist

The camera as a device you carry has completely disappeared. Image sensors have become part of the literal fabric of everyday life.

from What Photography Will Look Like By 2060

Categories
Interaction design Media Technology Ubicomp

Augmentia

Anselm lays out the emerging issues with Augmented Reality (AR). In doing so he relates it to a whole host of known and unknown problems associated with ubiquitous computing, semantic publishing and data platforms.

Below are some clippings of bits that seem particularly insightful:

bq. It puts own embodiment at risk. And whomsoever can mitigate that risk while providing reward will probably do well. I believe that organizations such as Apple and Google see this and are pursuing not merely real-time, or hyper-local or crowd-sourced apps but ownership of the “view”.

bq. Everybody wants a part of the lens of reality, the zero-click base layer beneath the beneath. As Gene Becker puts it “The World is the Platform”. And an ecosystem is starting to emerge.

bq. Suddenly game developers are arguing with GIS experts and having to unify their very different ways of describing mirror worlds.

bq. [I]nterfaces move from being heavy and solid with big heavy buttons and knobs and rotary dials to becoming liquid and effortless like the dynamic UI of the iPhone to becoming like air itself.

bq. By making hidden things visible, and visible things cheap, it will make other things possible that we don’t entirely realize yet.

bq. There will be user interface interaction issues. What will be the conventions for hand-swipes, grabs, drags, pulls and other operations to manipulate objects in our field of view.

bq. [AR] is not simply “memory” – it isn’t just a mnemonic that helps bring understanding closer to the surface of consciousness. Clearly we are surrounded by our own memories, signage, advertising, radio, friends voices and an already rich complicated teeming natural landscape loaded with signifiers and cues. But it is another bridge between personal lived experience and the experience of others. It seems to lower costs of knowing, and it seems to provide stronger subjective filters.

bq. Augmented Reality seems to at least offer the possibility that we can punch some holes in the boxes. It seems to offer a bridge between structure and chaos rather than just structure.

Categories
Photography Technology Ubicomp Urbanism

Pour votre sécurité

Pour votre sécurité.

17 January.

Categories
Mobility Project Research Technology Ubicomp

Touch

Categories
Interaction design Research Social Technology Ubicomp

Tangible and social interaction

h3. Brief history of interaction

(Based on Dourish, see reading recommendations, below)

Each successive development in computer history has made greater use of human skills:

* electrical: required a thorough understanding of electrical design
* symbolic: required a thorough understanding of the manipulation of abstract languages
* textual: text dialogue with the computer: set the standards of interaction we still we live with today
* graphic: graphical dialogue with the computer, using our spatial skills, pattern recognition, and motion memory with a mouse and keyboard

We have become stuck in this last model.

Interaction with computers has remained largely the same: desk, screen, input devices, etc. Even entirely new fields like mobile and iTV have followed these interaction patterns.

h3. Definitions:

* Tangible: physical: having substance or material existence; perceptible to the senses
* Social: human and collaborative abilities, or ‘software that’s better because there’s people there’ (Definition from “Matt Jones”:http://blackbeltjones.typepad.com/work/ and “Matt Webb”:http://interconnected.org/home/)

h3. Examples

Dourish notes in the first few chapters of his book that as interaction with computers moves out into the world, it becomes part of our social world too. The social and the tangible are intricately linked as part of “being in the world”.

What follows are examples of products or services we can use or buy right now. I’m specifically interested in the ways that these theories of ubiquitous computing and tangible interaction are moving out into the world, and the way that we can see the trends in currently available products.

I’m aware that there are also terrifically interesting things happening in research (eg the “Tangible Media Group”:http://tangible.media.mit.edu/) but right now I’m interested in the emergent things that start to happen effects of millions of people using things (like Flickr, weblogs, Nintendo DS, and mobile social software).

h3. Social trends on the web

On the web the current trend is building simple platforms that support complex social/human behaviour

* “Weblogs”:http://www.rebeccablood.net/essays/weblog_history.html, newsreaders and RSS: simple platform that has changed the way the web works, and supported simple social interaction (the basic building blocks of dialogue, or conversation)
* “Flickr”:http://www.flickr.com/: a simple platform for media/photo sharing: turned into a thriving community: works well with the web by allowing syndicated photos, bases the social network on top of a defined funciton
* Others include del.icio.us, world of warcraft, etc.

h3. Social mobile computing

On mobile platforms most of the exciting stuff is happening around presence, context and location

* “Familiar strangers”:http://berkeley.intel-research.net/paulos/research/familiarstranger/: stores a list of all the phones that you have been near in places that you inhabit, and then visualises the space around you according to who you have met before. “More mobile social software”:http://www.elasticspace.com/2004/06/mobile-social-software
* “Mogi”:http://www.thefeature.com/article?articleid=100501: location based game, but most interestingly supports different contexts of use: both at home in front of a big screen, and out on a small mobile screen.

h3. Social games

Interesting that games are moving away from pure immersive 3D worlds, and starting to devote equal attention to their situated, social context

* Nintendo DS: “PictoChat”:http://www.eurogamer.net/article.php?article_id=57287, local wireless networks that can be adapted for gameplay or communication (picture chatting included as standard)
* “Sissyfight”:http://www.sissyfight.com/: very simple social game structure, encourages human behaviour, insults
* “Habbohotel”:http://www.habbo.no/: simple interaction structures, (and fantastic attention to detail in “iconic representations”:http://www.scottmccloud.com/store/books/uc.html) support human desires. Now a very large company, in over 12 countries, based on the sales of virtual furniture
* “Singstar”:http://www.eurogamer.net/article.php?article_id=55470: entirely social game, about breaking social barriers and mutual humiliation: realtime analysis/visualisation of your voice actually makes you sing worse!

h3. Tangible games

* “Eyetoy”:http://www.eurogamer.net/article.php?article_id=4525: Brings the viewer into the screen, creates a “performative and social space”:http://www.prandial.com/archives/2005_01.html#009045, and allows communication via PS2
* “Dance Dance Revolution”:http://www.eurogamer.net/article.php?article_id=52731: taking the television into physical space
* “Nokia wave-messaging”:http://blackbeltjones.typepad.com/work/2004/06/motional_rescue.html: puts information back into space, and creates social and performative opportunities (Photo thanks to Matt Webb)
* “Yellow Arrow”:http://www.yellowarrow.org: puts digital information into city space, gives us a glimpse of the way that we might have more interaction with situated information in the future

There are also very interesting aspects of “gender”:http://foe.typepad.com/blog/2005/01/embodied_intera.html in all of this: this move towards the social implies a move towards the type of games/play that is seen more often in girls.

h3. Recommended reading

“Where the Action Is, Paul Dourish”:http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0262541785/ (Read the first 3 chapters for a great introduction)

“Digital Ground, Malcolm McCullough”:http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0262134357/ (Exploring the relationship between architectural and digital spaces)

“Physical Computing, O?Sullivan, Igoe”:http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/159200346X/ (Practical book on making physical computing devices)

“Smart Mobs, Howard Rheingold”:http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0738208612/ (Exploring wider social aspects of mobile technology)

“The Humane Interface, Jef Raskin”:http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0201379376/ (Covers screen based interaction, but has the best discussion on ‘modes’ of any book)

“Mind Hacks, Matt Webb and Tom Stafford”:http://www.mindhacks.com/ (Looks at our interaction with the world from the perspective of neuroscience, great introduction to ‘affordances’)

Categories
Interaction design Research Sound Technology Ubicomp

Sound objects

These are some of my notes from Mikael Fernström‘s lecture at AHO.

The aim of the “Soundobject”:http://www.soundobject.org/ research is to liberate interaction design from visual dominance, to free up our eyes, and to do what small displays don’t do well.

Reasons for focusing on sound:

* Sound is currently under-utilised in interaction design
* Vision is overloaded and our auditory senses are seldom engaged
* In the world we are used to hearing a lot
* Adding sound to existing, optimised visual interfaces does not add much to usability

Sound is very good at attracting our attention, so we have alarms and notification systems that successfully use sound in communication and interaction. We talked about using ‘caller groups’ on mobile phones where people in an address book can be assigned different ringtones, and how effective it was in changing our relationship with our phones. In fact it’s possible to sleep through unimportant calls: our brains are processing and evaluating sound while we sleep.

One fascinating thing that I hadn’t considered is that sound is our fastest sense: it has an extremely high temporal resolution (ten times faster than vision), so for instance our ears can hear pulses at a much higher rate than our eyes can watch a flashing light.

h3. Disadvantages of sound objects

Sound is not good for continuous representation because we cannot shut out sound in the way we can divert our visual attention. It’s also not good for absolute display: pitch, loudness and timbre are relative to most people, even people that have absolute pitch can be affected by contextual sounds. And context is a big issue: loud or quiet environments affect the way that sound must be used in interfaces: libraries and airplanes for example.

There are also big problems with spatial representation in sound, techniques that mimic the position of sound based on binaural differences are inaccessible by about a fifth of the population. This perception of space in sound is also intricately linked with the position and movement of the head. “Some Google searches on spatial representation of sound”:http://www.google.com/search?&q=spatial+representation+of+sound. See also “Psychophysical Scaling of Sonification Mappings [pdf]”:http://sonify.psych.gatech.edu/publications/pdfs/2000ICAD-Scaling-WalkerKramerLane.pdf

h3. Cartoonification

‘Filling a bottle with water’ is a sound that could work as part of an interface, representing actions such as downloading, uploading or in replacement of progress bars. The sound can be abstracted into a ‘cartoonification’ that works more effectively: the abstraction separates simulated sounds from everyday sounds.

Mikael cites inspiration from “foley artists”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foley_artist working on film sound design, that are experienced in emphasising and simplifying sound actions, and in creating dynamic sound environments, especially in animation.

A side effect of this ‘cartoonification’ is that sounds can be generated in simpler ways: reducing processing and memory overhead in mobile devices. In fact all of the soundobject experiments rely on parametric sound synthesis using “PureData”:http://www.puredata.org/: generated on the fly rather than using sampled sound files, resulting in small, fast, adaptive interface environments (sound files and the PD files used to generate the sounds can be found at the “Soundobject”:http://www.soundobject.org/ site).

One exciting and pragmatic idea that Mikael mentioned was simulating ‘peas in a tin’ to hear how much battery is left in a mobile device. Something that seems quite possible, reduced to mere software, with the accelerometer in the “Nokia 3220”:http://www.nokia.com/phones/3220. Imagine one ‘pea’ rattling about, instead of one ‘bar’ on a visual display…

h3. Research conclusions

The most advanced prototype of a working sound interface was a box that responded to touch, and had invisible soft-buttons on it’s surface that could only be heard through sound. The synthesised sounds responded to the movement of the fingertips across a large touchpad like device (I think it was a “tactex”:http://www.tactex.com/ device). These soft-buttons used a simplified sound model that synthesised _impact_, _friction_ and _deformation_. See “Human-Computer Interaction Design based on Interactive Sonification [pdf]”:http://richie.idc.ul.ie/eoin/research/Actions_And_Agents_04.pdf

The testing involved asking users to feel and hear their way around a number of different patterns of soft-buttons, and to draw the objects they found. See “these slides”:http://www.flickr.com/photos/timo/tags/soundobjects/ for some of the results.

The conclusions were that users were almost as good at using sound interfaces as with normal soft-button interfaces and that auditory displays are certainly a viable option for ubiquitous, especially wearable, computing.

h3. More reading

“Soundobject”:http://www.soundobject.org/
“Gesture Controlled Audio Systems”:http://www.cost287.org/
“ICAD”:http://www.icad.org/

Categories
Interaction design Photography Technology Ubicomp

Photos of touch-based interfaces