SXSW 2006 Panel: Cyberplace

Sunday, March 12, 2006

SXSW Page about this panel

Row: Chief community developer for Skidoo. The idea of the panel came up from a personal need: I’m a real local history geek. I walk around a lot. I have the web in my pocket, but I’m frustrated about how much I can learna bout where I am right now. I don’t want to go home and Google it. We’re getting closer to the place where the data we have in our pocket is the same data that we have in physical space. Rather than think about it myself, I thought I’d get four of the smartest people I know in projects like this to come and talk about it. […] I wanted to start with Molly talking about how the idea I’ve had is not a new idea. one example: Matteo Richie[?] and the memory palace.

Steenson: When I came to look at the web after looking at other communities, it came to me that the best way to look at interactions was to look at our space. one of the things I’ve discovered: Things that seemed like they are more futuristic actually have roots that are older than thing. I’m talking about buildings that have interfaces. [Shows a picture of Archigram from the 1960s.] Architects in GB in the 60s. Found themselves without jobs, so they started doing paper architecture and wanted to see thew ways tech could be manifested in architecture. Plug-in city. You could plug in replace parts for the city when they fall apart. Always rebuilding itself, using tech for the good of the city. You could also look at Centre Pompidou in Paris. You’re probably familiar with it. The services are on the outside of the building. What I think is interesting is this: The facade of the building has messages going across it. Their idea was that if you lost your friend you could use the big message board. But this is 1972 to 1976. These days we get kind of excited by things like this: A Building in Berlin, part of Realities Unlimited, with moving, interactive facades. [Shows a clip.] And even this idea isn’t new. It began around 2000 in Berlin with Blinkenlights. You could play pong on a building with a mobile phone. 2001. You could call in with the mobile phone and play pong and show SMS messages over Alexanderplatz in Berlin. So some of these ideas we have have some pretty strong roots in modern and contemporary architecture. So maybe there are some other things we should be looking back on. And maybe some of our ideas will be realized in space and are already changing how we interact with spaces.

Row: A friend and I were trying to find one another using IM in a room. I still haven’t found Jeff. It’s interesting. I was psyched about Dodgeball when it came out because of its ability to find friends within a realtime context. But it makes me sad because usually I’m at home and all of my friends are living these fascinating social lives that I wasn’t aware of. Has it changed what parts of the city you go to and how you spend your time?

Crowley: Definitely newer venues. The idea came from having multiple groups of friends and wanting to hang out with those friends over the course of an evening. What it’s turned into, though, is taking those groups of eight people and turning them into one big group of 25 people. Introduced friends back together. Really you’re going out without any major plans.

Row: Can you track any of that swarming?

Crowley: We don’t track it in real-time, but we are keeping logs as to where people are checking in. And some users find this really compelling. And you can track the paths of where your friends have been,. as well. And see what they’ve been recommending. Passively.

Sharon: Socialite has changes my appreciation of spaces. What I mean: You can open up your phone and it scans the area looking for messages placed there by people. So I was demoing it one time. And a friend who likes making alt-histories and scavenger hunts over the city, the one that he had was “a woman was murdered here.” He has the ability to annotate the space and communicate it in a way that really changes the interaction of the space, shifts your reality.

Heiferman: I do love that idea — imagine what it’s going to be like when all the pictures you’re taking, how you’re going to create this history of every inch of earth. Isn’t that fascinating?

Sharon: It’s like these things that used to be called mapamundi in the 15th century — maps of the mapmaker’s knowledge of the world at the time. For example, Jerusalem may be the center fo the map. It’s away to get a cultural reflection. It’s almost where we can create these personal maps for ourselves, whether we’re blogging or sending photos to Flickr or whatever. Everything we do happens somewhere. So now thanks to Google Maps and such we’re able to display that and show it. It’s powerful.

Heiferman: Imagine your home and being able to see the history from the past 100 years of what was in that apartment unit. It’s going to happen. The first early implementation — — by Diane Eisner.

Crowley: A lot of the content has been created — it just needs to be tagged.

Heiferman: And in shoeboxes, photos already exist of your plot of land form the past 100 years.

Row: New York Songlines. The idea is that in using text they’ve mapped the grid of Manhattan geographically and historically. It’s not very portable, but you can print it out. And I have. I’d like to see more of this stuff on my phone. Another key example:, a great real estate site. Type it your physical address and it gives you all sorts of awesome info about the building. Back into the nature of space, though. About Meetup. It seems to me that the kinds of places choose to meet up might change. Is that true?

Heiferman: Right. So. Um. We made a lot of mistakes. But there are no big categorical shifts where you go from massive strangers voting for the location of their breast cancer meetup or whether they’ve shifted. Except for the introduction of more homes. There’s a comfort level that can be brought into it. What’s interesting is that all the meetups people’ve organized, they’ve added about 100,000 locations to the database of where they have their meetups. And afterwards people rate these. So we can analyze that. I think there’s going to be a lot more of the app-specific databases that have to do with locations. It’s going to be interesting to see what kind of different uses of space will be categorized.

Steenson: There’s what’s freely available and what’s difficult to find. The mapping is powerful, but it’s difficult to make the data useful. If you can’t put them to use then how much use are they?

Heiferman: The point is, if you want to organize a Ruby on Rails meeting, looking at the Meetup database is relevant.

Sharon: It’s also about finding the richest source of data and information. And that’s usually from people’s heads. They know what the place is and isn’t good for. Allowing people to generate that content themselves. [Note: For a bit I attributed quotes to the first letter of the panelists’ last names. So. Some Steenson and Sharon quotes may be misattributed. Doh!]

Crowley: You’ve seen more people having meetups at private locations?

Heiferman: It’s been increasing as the meetup groups have become increasingly comfortable. […]

Sharon: Do you worry that people will get to the stage where people won’t need the service?

Heiferman: No. the reason why people use meetup is because that’s where other people are looking for the meetups — they want to be there for the people who want to find them.

Crowley: How about Socialite?

Sharon: It’s interesting the kinds of things people do. The first thing a lot of people do is, “I live here!” People really like to claim territory, even if it’s virtual territory. There’s this guy Nate Hitchcock who wanted to catalogue his entire life. So he gathered up old photos and commented them and it’s fascinating to be able to trace his development from college to a spot where he crashed his car into a tree. The ability to overlay that data into real space has never existed before, and that’s interesting.

Row: Question time.

?: I got into online tools because I wanted to help people who met face to face stay connected after they met. At retreat centers and workshops. Where are the apps that actually help us link together people and work for normal human beings? And not so I have to have ten profiles on ten different systems. Let’s get visionary here!

Steenson: If you look at mobile app dev, you get tools that speak more to that. Someone say you can have 150 people in your address book but only communicate with 2-5. So if you look at these sorts of tools, then you see tools that help people stay in touch. These tools are useful for that reason, to stay in touch with your friends.

Crowley: Dodgeball is a very specific-to-us tool. So the challlenge is, what do you do when it’s not just people who are hopping from venue to venue. We just need a couple more years and a bit more experimentation.

?: I wanted to mention I saw a website that was based on collecting community feedback as to where to best stand on Toronto subway trains as to be closest to the exit when you get off. It goes ot the point of, how do you feed back info that’s universally useful?

?: Could you comment on metro broadband. In Austin we have commnuity mesh nets starting this spring. How would that impact your apps?

Sharon: We’re really excited. To really use location info you have to be able to use it no matter what platform you’re on. So we’ve partnered with people who can sniff that location information.

Crowley: There are already apps experimenting with that. Like meetro. Here are my buddies and other people nearby.

Sharon: And place[something]. Acoffeeshop has a special router that makes a hypersocial network for that place. Any way you can get where that person is, if you can get it and deliver relevant info. Well, that’s the way.

?: Could you help us with the data versus the reality. Do people show up when they agree to come? I use the 50% rule. Do you have a rule of thumb?

Heiferman: We know. Because after a meetup everyone gets an e-mail asking who came. It’s about 80%. And it’s a lot of tag-alongs make for no-shows.

Sharon: That’s an interesting social dynamic. It’s almost a self-seelcted thing.

?: Curious for advice about universities that are in some ways diluting their own brands in the physical space by these online meetups.

Sharon: Explain more.

?: Difference between using learning mgmt systems for class meetups. Making that transition from the online class… You went through school when this stuff was vey early. Going and meeting face-to-face used to be the draw. No universities are reaching out with online classes that are muhc easier and cheaper.

Heiferman: The reason I wanted to be on this panel was the general notion, flipping the bird at the notion that location doesn’t matter anymore, that we can live online all over the world. there’s a reason why this event is better this way and not on an online chatroom. I don’t really know what it is, so… Yeah!

Steenson: It’s simply that the internet, if anything, reinforced our pathways. We don’t shop online. In SF we have to get out of the house to do work or we’ll go insane.

Heiferman: It’s killing me sitting front of a screen too much. We’re living in front of screens. The places are changing, but we’re living on screens. Get away form the screen! Who’s with me?!

Steenson: More and more oue devices get smaller and blend into our clothing. If you believe in three years you’ll be using a little PDA device, you’re wrong. It may be something more ambient that happens around you.

Row: Please don’t blog any of this.

?: How do you feel this does diminish the actual experience of being in Paris if you’re always looking at your screen?

Crowley: It’s supposed to enhance the way you experience the physical world.

Steenson: The dystopian factor is the spam factor. I’m from New Haven. There’s no Dodgeball in New Haven. And I sometimes turn off my computer for the day when I’m reading. So I turned on my phone and got 15 messages. And I turned off my phone because I didn’t want to hear about some random keg party I won’t go to. So when you tag your space, is there a time when you can’t get lost anymore? TWhat’s a world without serendipity? I think we’ll pay for better filters.

?: So this deals with tagging your space and adding collateral data to your location. I think of confessionals and speed dating. What about services that compel us to tag each other? So I can tell if you’re a good roommate or a good kisser.

Row: There are a couple of comapneis that make badges that like up depending on info you’ve keyed into them.

Random guy: Nokia scanner does it.

?: I’m a creator of Murmur, a oral storytelling location-based app from Vancouver. It’s all about experimentation, as you guys have said. We need to make these things work in the real world. It’s different from the wreb world, teh phyical world. And a limitation is the lack of data. Is your data something you’d consider opening and making available? There are other interesting ideas, but this info is being held in closed database.

Crowley: It’s tough to open up the locationds of where people are.

?: Like, “this venue is suitable for this sort of thing.” Or prefs or tagging.

Crowley: We borrowed a lot fo that data from people. It was kind of a community effort because we were unable to find that sort of data.

Sharon: A lot of what Dennis and I are trying to do is getting people together in the real world. It’s a different usage model from IMing on your screen. You use your location to navigate and browse. You don’t have to stare at the screen all of the time. And that’s where the interesting experimentation is going to happen. And that’s what you’re looking for: something that cahnges people’s experience of the place.

?: What about predicting where someone would be based on their patterns? It seems like you’d be able to do that [Dodgeball].

Sharon: One of the interesting thing is to overlay your check=oins with your friends check-ins. And there’s a definite pattern.

?: Is the history of a building something you can use to guess the history of a neighborhood.

Crowley: We could probably do that a bit in the LES where I live. What are the new bars and restaurants in an area. We try to spit the info back to the user in as many ways as possible.

?: is there a quality of information problem with Socialite?

Heiferman: I would love to hear your version of what’s the latest and greatest, why your things are cool.

Sharon: Yes, at the moment we have a basic rating system adn comments. But we think the way to do this is with filters to send less to your phone, not more. From that perspective, we’re looking for spam and looking for the data to see how people are handling the data. The first few weeks we had guys putting up real estate listings. We’re looking for material to filter.

Crowley: What’s the level of granular that you go down to? A bloc? 50 feet?

Sharon: A few things. In socialite the area is called a “sticky shadow.” But people weren’t really using it, so we turned it off. So that kind of thing is more applicable to commercial entities and not people. We thought it made the experience lighter with that aspect taken away. We had spam issues to with people who were too far away to get to.

?: I met the guys from Palatial. They’re dealing with a timeline issues — as you go down the timeline, the data gets weaker. Any thoughts?

Sharon: I’m not sure about that. Sometimes the data gets stronger if you’re talking about historical data. You wnat to creat this sort of time series aniamtion of what happened at a place over one yaer, ten years. We haven’t solved that yet. I haven’t seen a lot of other people to to solve it. But we’re thinking about it a lot.

?: You were talking about Second Life and the virtual spaces. More and more virtual spaces are becoming models of physical spaces. Where do you see that going? Will these viurtual spaces become a playground for exploring the potential of real spaces?

Steenson: Absolutely. There’s a woman at Harvard working. I play World of Warcraft — I get excetied about this stuff. She’s working on her dissertation about Everquest. I think these virtual spaces — virtual and real are not adichotmoy. These game spaces are other platforms for experimentation. You see virtual things becoming tangible in various ways.

Crowley: A lot of the interesting stuff is putting virtual space on top of physical space. Interacting with som evirtual world. That space is really interesting and will be much more interesting a year from now.

Row: Now, announcements.

Heiferman: Yesterday eBay bought a minority stake in Meetup!

Row: With World of Warcraft gold?

Crowley: We have some Dodgeball t-shirts.

Row: Thanks!

[ITP references: 2. Dodgeball. Socialite.]


SXSW 2006 Panel: Digital Convergence

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Digital Convergence

SXSW Page about this panel

Jon Lebkowsky (Polycot): … To explore what digital Convergence is and what it means because people’s eyes tend to glaze over…

Catherine Crago: [Introductions] We were talking with some of you about why you are here? [Various reasons. Want to keep up with new trends. Went to “get converged.”] So what is Convergence?

Pescovitz: I’m delighted to be on a panel with Jon L — he was an editor of BoingBoing back when it was a print pub. I was joking that I didn’t really know what Convergence means. But I realized I wasn’t really joking. People coming together, interacting with info in different ways. But there’s actually a divergence happening. Our interaction in increasingly being determined by the context of the interaction. More interested in a human Convergence. These tools are enabling us to do things originally promised with the net. It became this “information” revolution at some point. But we were able to create this communications revolution. So I like to think of it as a social Convergence tied to a digital divergence.

Tolva: They say, “You put your stuff on our box, and then you’ve converged.” Look back at the history of toolmaking: things don’t converge, they diverge. I think about biology. Life diverges. When things do converge, they’re infertile, like the mule. So how do we design for this idea of recombination. A recombinant design philosophy. The remixability of the web right now is the first sign of us designing things with recombination in mind.

Davies: Jon hosts one of my favorite places on the web: the Well. Separating converging tech and media. Tech: VOIP, TVOIP. Media: Seeing the internetization of traditional media. The inherent characteristic of the internet: people coming together and doing something, and some kind of a filter. So, Slashdot vs. New york Times. Or traditional movie making and what the Beastie Boys are doing this year letting the fans make the video. That’s interesting to me. But traditional media will begin to influence the way the internet works. So I like to think about convergent media and where that’s going, how that’s going to change, and be aware that we need to make the traditional media more like the internet and not the other way around.

Lebkowsky: I thought it was really about the data. We’re now capturing terabytes of data we were not capturing a few years ago. Convergence seems to me to be the multiplicity of ways we can stretch to accommodate that data. Start piling data in different places, think Google Maps, start mashing it up and it creates a whole new creative world. We haven’t begun to think about what that might mean.

Pescovitz: I really agree. People talk about info overload — you ain’t seen nothing yet. When the objects around you start to blog, embedded with location-aware computing, ubiquitous computing, being overwhelmed with info will take on a new form. One question I ask: How do we slow down? People say info is becoming too fast. But I think it’s not fast enough. And once we increase in speed, we can start to slow down. When things move fast, it’s easier to take along view and see how things are changing. And that’s one way to deal with this onslaught of data. Enable us to slice through, remix, and interact with this data.

Davies: There’s too much. And I think, well, deal with it. Get a spam filter. Do the thing. I don’t find it to be the most pressing party. I just tune out what I’m not interested in and into what I am interested in. But we’re at the beginning of something, some real change. People have to adjust, but we’ll all get there.

Pescovitz: One problem is that all of this info is in one place, cyberspace. It feels overwhelming. But it’s the end of cyberspace. The information becomes in the place where we want to access it.

Lebkowsky: Reading your e-mail today can be like mining for gold. You get excited when you find something you want to read.

Davies: E-mail. There’s this constant chance of something amazing happening to you. That’s why it’s exciting.

Lebkowsky: I’m interested in the number of ways people can spell “sexually explicit.” It creates a whole new kind of intelligence.

Pescovitz: But if it’s where we want to access it, it becomes less of a stressful experience. Switching tasks like that interrupts productivity and fun, enjoying the task you’re doing at that moment.

Lebkowsky: You and I are like elderly guys form a world when you do one thing at a time. My grandson has never lived in that world.

Pescovitz: It’s incredible. But the people in this room, we’re the ones who actually have to continue to make that shift.

Crago: But that shift is happening. Some people are saying they’re overwhelmed or they’re living in cultures where people don’t use voicemail. What about from the point of view of the designer? Are we pushing info around?

Tolva: The subtitle of this panel was how do you design for that? Designing your product or service as if the goal is to make designers out of your customers. That’s the salvation, in a a way: allowing remixing and mash-up. And that is Convergence. Google Maps is a Convergence, in a way, of disparate kind of data. Designing in a way to encourage more data to be created. That allows us to filter down.

Pescovitz: What these mash-ups really are are filters. Ways to deal with massive amounts of data. A new kind of interface. I’m a part of Make, a magazine that advertises DIY. The smart companies encourage people to crack open their products. Not everyone wants to crack open the case, but some people are passionate about it and companies have a lot to learn by working with these people. “Consumer” is such a wrong word. “Collaborator” is better.

Davies: New media is about everybody participating. Old media is the people at the top making decisions.

Lebkowsky: And consumers are producers.

Pescovitz: “And that’s the way it is.” And we believed. But there was a period when we could change what was on the screen. And that guy became just another guy who could control what was on the screen.

Lebkowsky: We’re seeing communities form in all of these spaces. And that’s a key convergence.

Tolva: There’s a sense that something has converged. In a way, it’s a social phenomenon more than a tech one.

Pescovitz: It blows me away that 1,000,000 people read Boingboing daily. We should feel privileged. And now blogging is allowing us to do this and connect in ways.

Davies: But what’s worrisome is when the old ways begin to infiltrate the new ways. There is a little bit of centralization going on.

Pescovitz: That is happening, but do people not in that circle notice or care?

Davies: Traffic is influenced by that.

Lebkowsky: So much of action in blogging is in that long tail. Everyone’s famous to fifteen people.

Crago: Everyone’s trying to brand themselves on the internet. Is it better for people to try and brand themselves on the internet?

Pescovitz: What people need to do is follow the fun. Find what’s interesting and doing that thing. What are you into, what excites you. Continue to do that. If you press on that path, the money to earn a living will follow.

Crago: What point as a designer or creator do you decide to specialize?

Davies: Everyone has different techniques. Some people are naturally specialists, some generalists. I find it rewarding to know how mark-up works. It’s a great skill I use all of the time. That’s the specialist in me. But it depends on the person.

Crago: Let’s open up for questions. Other examples you can thing of where things are crossing over? Cyberspace and reality merging.

Pescovitz: There’s a lot of examples. My bio says I work for The Institute for the Future, a non-profit. We tell people we can’t and no one can predict the future. But what you can do is look at things that excite you and figure out how those things may play out and you can make smarter decisions about the present. that’s the key. As for bleed-over, there’s the example of kids in Korea playing MMORGs and text-messaging, “come save my ass.” And game good being sold for real money on e-mail. And I like to look to art to see things that are possible. Pac-Manhattan, for example.

Tolva: A project we recently completed in Egypt, a digitization of their culture that you can view on the web. We want to tie all of that together. A notebook. People would take physical tours which would become virtual tours to be sent to friends and experience that way. Then people were mixing and matching those. Continuing the virtual tour physically. And those are the baby steps. The reality will be when sensors and actuators are available.

Pescovitz: Everyone knows the friend-finder thing. The other example people always say is the virtual tool guide: walk around the city and look at your phone for historical information. Or virtual tags (digital graffiti) on restaurants and such. Using it as a tool for communication rather than a tool for consumption.

Lebkowsky: Nobody knew about until Yahoo! had a private party. Come to to sign up for it. Explosion of information on there about the nightlife of SXSW.

Davies: one thing I always don’t do enough of: mining the past. Really go back and look at what was done before and learn from that. David Bowie made Bowienet in 1998. He created songs online with these people. Skype came about in 1995. Product designers look back.

Pescovitz: They’re remixing the past. There is no present. Only past and future. Hype and spin.

Lebkowsky: Someone building a history of community in San Antonio, follow the family though, etc. It was really pretty ingenious. I don’t remember what it’s called.

Audience member: There are new features about showing relationships […].

Lebkowsky: Not just creating a photo album, but one that’s integrated with the community.

Crago: Open it up for questions.

?: How is this convergence affecting indie culture?

Pescovitz: My roots are zine-scene, counter-culture. I hope people who are doing these indie things ignore… That people continue to do what it is they’re doing. What happened?

Lebkowsky: Yeah, the money came. We were building this community with interesting features and not much though of compensation. But when the money came in, then among other things, a bunch of us got hired for money to do things that were less creative but more commercial. Then the bust. We were all out of the streets again. And thus, the explosion. And now the money’s appearing again.

Pescovitz: Put extra money in houses and not the market and realize the pendulum will swing again.

Davies: When I saw the Mosaic browser in college. I was trying to see a foot-bagging web page. When the web came, there were hundreds and the skill level of foot-bagging went way up.

Tolva: The danger is the exposure of it without every being independent. What the convergence does is show you how many other people are doing it, then it doesn’t seem so unique, etc. So it’s a double-edged sword. They break up a small community, but give you access.

Pescovitz: The key is to not worry about it. Do you find it interesting? When I decide to post something on BB, the only filter is whether I find it interesting. A Time Leary saying: “Find the others.” And that’s what all of these tools allow us to do.

Lebkowsky: And it goes way back. The Well had its origins in Whole Earth. Origins in the Farm, communal thinking. And it worked. And there was more and more of that stuff going on back then. Once we started publishing Fringeware, we began finding all of those people that were interested. Sense of community thing.

?: If we define Convergence as more social, isn’t the focus on making the tech transparent and designing the content?

Pescovitz: Experience.

Tolva: I work with museums a lot. What are people feeling in the space. A function of many things. Same with designing a retail experience. And that’s what we’re talking about. There is no Convergence tech. Things specialize. So designing that experience is what we’re throwing out in this session.

Crago: Can you really design an experience that’s universal.

Davies: Absolutely not. It won’t be the same to all of them.

Lebkowsky: It makes me laugh. We built some e-commerce sites at Whole Foods. Inevitable some people wanted a visual representation of the physical store with shelves, etc. Ha-ha.

Davies: People are still doing that all of the time. It’s kind of remarkable.

?: I just read that Staples is using the web to design their new in-store experience.

Pescovitz: That’s amazing. Remember when CNN did the dense frame? All that crap everywhere? “Oh my god, we’re losing people to the web.” It took them this long to realize that it sucks. The crawl. A classic example of how the Convergence of tech is not always the best idea.

?: So taking that a bit further. There seems to be a move towards individualization and amateurization of experience. Agile. Quick. And on the other side globalization and brands, etc. So how could this trend be carried further into the future when you look at small federal states and corporate culture.

Pescovitz: Deep question. What do you think?

?: I live in Amsterdam and the culture there is changing, becoming more American every day. but there is a push towards giving people their individuality. […] So the question is how to get back to the roots, to free individuality.

?: Talking about Convergence. But we’re talking more about divergence. Convergence to me means standards. Create standards, then we loose the ability to create.

Pescovitz: I disagree. Standards allow you you to make other things that connect together. But I’m not an engineer.

Tolva: You can’t say that post-literate humanity is less creative than pre-literate. An absence of standards, there’s no potential for interbreeding.

Davies: Also. We have to stop thinking about whether something’s better or worse. Sometimes standards are great, sometimes they can be preventative. But that’s not really the way to look at it.

?: The challenge is to the sense of identity. When you see kids multitasking, that doesn’t freak them out. But … [What?] Are there ways we can assist that ability to dissolve that? “Increasing the functional surface area.” [Etc.]

[No more notes from me.]

[ITP references: 3. Douglas Rushkoff, Dodgeball, Pac-Manhattan.]



Friday, January 27, 2006

Last night, a TNO. Eliot arranged it. Austrailia Day, or something. At an Australian bar over on the far side of Alphabet City. Cold. I took a cab.

What can you say, really? $2.50 Fosters (though you had to buy ‘em a pair at a time). Talked it up with Christian and Christin and Jaki and Tristan and Paris and Andy and who knows who else…

What a weird night.

Got in… 9:30? Slept more. Late for my Post-Lin group meeting. And groggy through it (that’s no good).




SciViz Photos and Design Expo Presentation

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Yesterday I needed a dozen (or so) photos from around Manhattan for my first project in SciViz, so I took a bunch on my short walk into school from Washington Square Village. A few of the more interesting shots from that series:



Looking up

That’s a view from my balcony, a look across the park to the other WSV building, and a view up from the plaza by the NYU business school — respectively.

Enough of that goofiness. Let’s get to some meat.

Design Expo

So we had to come up with three genius ideas to present in front of class today. Ran, Dan, Steven, Tikva, and I spent over ten hours, I think, in discussion over this. And here’s what we came up with (more-or-less copied right out of our presentation slides):

1. Traffic “Load Balancing”: A system to automatically route traffic to ease traffic jams and avoid problem areas. Imagine: It’s rush hour and I’m driving to lower Manhattan from Brooklyn to my office. So I plug in my destination and my car communicates with a master traffic control system to find the best route for me to take to save me and and to ease traffic congestion all over by “load balancing” traffic across different roads, bridges, etc. It also avoids accidents and other problems automatically. It sends me back driving instructions. During high traffic times, I must follow these or risk a fine for deviating (like one might today risk a fine for driving in a hi-occupancy lane alone). Overall, everyone in the city has faster and easier commutes… Got it?

Genius, right?

2. Collective “Minor Crime Event” Reportage: A flurry of “minor crime event” flags from people in an area causes a police officer to come out and stand there as a deterrent to potential crimes. Someone’s snooping around in my trash at night. It’s not a big deal, but it’s weird. So I fire of a “minor crime event” message to the cops. If this guy’s rooting around in my neighbor’s trash, as well, or looking in windows, maybe they’ll also fire off a “minor crime event” message. Enough of us do this, and a cop shows up and drives down the street a few times. And the suspicious guys wanders away and leaves the block alone. Success! Or: If our neighborhood has a continuous stream of these “minor crime event” messages going to the cops over a few weeks, the cops might respond by sending an officer through periodically as a deterrent and just to help keep an eye on things.

Big brother, right? That seemed to be our theme. (We actually only presented these two in class.)

3. Organized Micro-Volunteering: Allows groups of untrained people with small offerings ˝ a single bed, a car, a few cans of food ˝ to coordinate and participate in emergency relief. “A hurricane just wiped out Miami. I’m in Orlando. I’ve got a free bed, a good car, $100 I’d like to donate, and twenty loaves of bread. I’m not trained in emergency relief. How do I help?” I register with a system and enter what I’m willing to offer and a system aggregates this for all people who decide to participate and sends back custom detailed instructions that do not require training to interpret to me: “Drive to a point six miles out of town and drop off your goods. Go to a specific address and pick up these two people and drive them to your house in Orlando.” Now, imagine 50,000 people participate.

Bam. So there you have it. Three billion-dollar ideas. Right here. For you.

We were assigned new groups for the coming week. Now I’ll be working with Gilad, Chris P., Max/Min, and Myra.



My Approach to ITP

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Prof. Tom Igoe was helpful enough to meet with me for a bit around noon today to go over the Skillbot project and offer some advice. A very good thing.

And so, let me describe my approach to ITP and graduate school. Because I think it’s a bit counter-intuitive, especially for those of us used to the undergraduate model of education.

ITP. NYU. I don’t know exactly what this is costing me, but all told it’ll probably be in the ballpark of… $80,000? $70,000? A bunch. So I have no fears whatsoever about taking my own time to do exactly what I want to do while in the program. I am the paying customer.

So I have things that I want to learn and ideas that I want to explore. And nothing should prevent me from doing these things that I want, especially when I have the plum opportunity to deal with a group of people who will go out of their way to test and try and give my ideas some good consideration (as I give theirs, I hope; and Skillbot has so far been an excellent example as people have been very open to helping me run this experiment). So no fears about fitting into classes or doing or not doing — I execute the ideas I want. If they fit into a class, awesome. If not, then I can ask the people around me, students and professors, for input and criticism. And they’ll give it.

And this is the power of a program like ITP. Even without formal classes, this would be a great experience. The classes just get our minds going, moving, jogging, thinking. The goals are completely up to us.

That I’m more than a quarter of the way through it saddens me. Part of me wants it to last for more than two years. But. Considering how much has already happened, I’m giddy to know what’s coming next. Who knows where I’ll be by May 2007…


Post-Lin 2

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Ho-ly shit. Emergency vehicles driving along Houston and Bleecker have this habit of — instead of just letting their siren run normally RRRRRREEEEEEEEooooooorrrrrrrrRRRRREEEEEEE-etc. — they, like, flip the siren switch on-and-off quickly, causing it to emit a tremendously annoying REEE-rREEEE-rrrrRREE-RREE-REE-rRE sound that absolutely 100% makes it impossible to think straight in the apartment. Of all of the various noises that drift up into our apartment from the city below, this is by far — by far — the worst.

This just happened a moment ago. Kevin went out onto the balcony to see what could possibly be going on. Nothing. Just an ambulance cruising east on Bleecker.

I just got back from a run from Washington Square Village down Houston to the Hudson River and south to the WTC site. About 2¼ miles. It’s about 40°F out — nice — so I had to take advantage even though I’ve just been feeling so crunched for time this past week back in New York City.

But the larger event of the day was, I suppose, the second session of Douglas Rushkoff’s Post-Linear Narrative Lab class.

So last week we made groups and were given this odd scenewriting assignment. Create a scene using somewhat random phrases we were asked to write down (not knowing what the assignment would be) and using a prescribed blocking. The Jacques Lecoq Knock-Knock exercise.

Our lines, by the way:

  • Person 1: “How’s the weather out there?”
  • Person 2: “Get that out of your mouth.”
  • Person 2: “Even the cat shouldn’t look like that.”
  • Person 3: “The world revolves.”
  • Person 4: “I’m hungry.”
  • Person 1: “Shut up!”
  • Person 3: “Where is it?”
  • Person 4: “I want to eat sushi tonight.

Okay. So now try to make that into a scene that doesn’t involve people who are either all on drugs or insane. Using just those lines in that order.

Rebecca Bray, Angelina, [another girl whose name I keep forgetting — ack], and I met on Saturday at 1pm to figure out what to do with this. Our solution (based on Rebecca’s good idea): Persons #1 and #4 are kids. #1 is sick. #4 is hungry (obviously). Person #3 is a distracted parent, under some kind of unknown stress. Person #2 is the housekeeper or butler who has the unwanted duty of trying to make the parent pay attention to the kids. Or something like that.

We showed our scene in class today and Douglas pulled it apart a bit. Our class reading (and the focus of the discussion for the first hour-and-a-half of class) was Aristotle’s Poetics, so he kind of used that as an angle for analysis and tried to compel us to tighten the scene, allowing each character to have an engaging turning point in the short story. The point of the exercise, I guess.

Anyway, now we have to work it again to show again next week. Redoing this assignment doesn’t really thrill me all that much — I’d rather move on to something else. But. So it goes.

Oh, and Michael Harari returned the jacket I left at the party on Saturday night. So that’s a relief.


Monday, January 23, 2006

Today, mostly work. Good work, but not write-all-about-it work. And then we had another group meeting for Design Expo…


Never Let Me Go, Design Expo Meeting

Sunday, January 22, 2006

I woke up kind of early (for a Sunday). 11am-ish. But didn’t really get moving until about 1pm. Went down to Cosi for a Ceasar salad and read the first chapter of Never Let Me Go, the new Kazuo Ishiguro book my dad gave me while I was in Austin. I don’t really know much about the book at this point — which is how I want it — but fifteen pages in it’s surreally off-kilter. In a touching way. Donors and carers. A mysterious world-renowned boarding school. A boy who cracks up crying and screaming at the slightest provocation. So far so good.

Anyway, one of the fascinating things about the novel is the book jacket. It’s a blurry, slightly yellowed (almost Poloroidish) photograph of a you girl sitting in the scrambled green of a wild, grassy meadow. She looks over her shoulder back at the earth with an ambiguous expression. The cover feels like a Boards of Canada album cover — probably part of the attraction. Especially in conjunction with the title, which has a kind of striking simple power to it.

Here’s the weird thing. Connecting this to Boards of Canada and other thoughts… It feels like a photograph of the future. I don’t think it’s supposed to be, but the photo — like the better Boards of Canada tracks — strike me oddly because they feel like reminiscences about the future, which in a twisting way seem like they could be almost as touching as reminiscences about the past… Blurry, somewhat unfocused echoes rippling backwards through time. The future inside the present. Etc.

Hard to explain, I think. But, anyway. Free-associations.

So after reading the start of this book over a Caesar salad and a rootbeer, I went down to ITP for my 3pm Design Expo group meeting with Dan Albritton, Tikva Morowati, Steven Jackson, and Ran Tao. Our assignment: brainstorm three applications that would be useful in a world in the near future of near ubiquitous data transmission and small physical tech. At least, that’s how I convinced the group to look at the problem. “Imagine you can get data from anywhere to anywhere. Perfect 100%. And imagine you needed no device to do this — it just came to you (or left you) in some mysterious way.” Telepathy came up. It’s like telepathy. Which fits with the Ray Kurzweil gem: “Any technology suitably powerful is indistinguishable from magic.”

This is a thought technique I’m becoming used to using: Everything we do and use has certain limitations. What if they didn’t exist? What does that lead to. Interesting stuff, often, and a bit easier for me to feel comfortable working with since I know I’m not prepared to do much of the grunt work making the bandwidth of the network effectively infinite or making the network effectively ubiquitous. More technical minds have to conquer those.

This meeting lasted until after 8pm. A five-hour meeting. But really good. Good discussion.

Came home, cranked out some updates to Skillbot and chatted with Ilteris about it. Got him signed up and trying it out.

Now I lay across my bed, typing. Watching Cheers reruns. Kevin looks like he’s about to go to bed, so I guess I’ll have to turn off the TV… Shucks.