"How you can hack your blood pressure implant to provide fake and healthy data to an insurance company"

Intriguing:

"how biomedical data sent wirelessly from a human body, might be re-appropriated by services other than the remote healthcare. This discussion about data monitoring was developed in Nelly Ben Hayoun’s project Cathy the Hacker. Hayoun designed props and made short films documenting “how you can hack your blood pressure implant” to provide fake, healthy data to an insurance company that is monitoring the fictional Cathy’s lifestyle in order to make decisions on the premium she should pay on her health insurance. Through an interview and follow up conversations with Murphy, Hayoun devised hacks which included attaching a sensor to an energetic pet cat, in order to generate a surrogate data set, while “The closing spin cycle of the washing machine also does a good job”

Find in: Kerridge, T. (2009). Does speculative design contribute to public engagement of science and technology? Proceedings of Swiss Design Network Symposium‘09, Lugano.

Why do I blog this? A good example of a phenomenon that may or may not happen in the near future.

Futures? a short interview with Warren Ellis

Few weeks ago I published a new book about the kind of topic we deal with at the Near Future Laboratory: the disappearance of "big futures", design fictions, the role of science-fiction, etc. The book is only in French, but some of the interviews I've conducted when preparing it are in English (I translated some of them in the book itself). In the next few days, I'm going to publish this material here on the blog. Some interviews are pretty short, others are longer but they are quite insightful.

The first one features Warren Ellis, the English author of comics, novels, and television.

NN : If the future is dead, if we didn’t get the future that we were promised, it does not mean that the present, the here and now isn’t curious. In a talk you gave few years ago at Improving Reality in Brighton, you coined the term "sci-fi condition", what did you mean by that?

WE : I don’t know if I coined it, to be honest.  But I think it’s important to look at the present moment with clear eyes and understand the wonder of a contemporary context where we can see the glass lakes of Titan and satellites orbiting the sun can report to our phones.  Or even that several thousand years of developing communication technology means that I can type this right now and you’ll see it in seconds.  We tend not to see it.  We’re conditioned to see the present moment as "normal," with all the banality that implies.  This is not a banal moment.  It’s the sort of intense, chaotic moment, full of strange things, that we previously only found in science fiction.  "Right now" feels like all of science fiction happening at once, and needs to be considered in that context -- that  we’re living in that promised world of miracles and wonder, and that we’ve been trained by the culture not to see it.

NN : What kinds of situations/examples/technologies do you have in mind to refer to this awkward condition?

Sometimes it’s the things that seem simplest.  Networked maps on phones.  If you’re in the Western world and in a context of relatively low-level privilege, you will never be lost again.  You could draw up your own list of things that would seem completely alien to someone from 1984.  Or things that would simply seem science-fictional, like public internet kiosks.  

NN : In this context, what’s the importance of science-fiction according to you?

WE : In lab-testing the potential pressures of all possible futures.  And in universalising the poetry of science, which is the machinery of the world.

 

Algorithms+reverse engineering

Everyone interested in software studies and research about algorithms should read this piece by Nick Seaver called "On reverse engineering: Looking for the cultural work of engineers". Based on TheAtlantic's investigation of Netflix's tagging system, the author discusses the consequences of reverse engineering for how we think about the cultural lives of engineers.

Some excerpts that attracted my attention:

"reverse engineering, as both a descriptor and a research strategy, misses the things engineers do that do not fit into conventional ideas about engineering. In the ongoing mixture of culture and technology, reverse engineering sticks too closely to the idealized vision of technical work. Because it assumes engineers care strictly about functionality and efficiency, it is not very good at telling stories about accidents, interpretations, and arbitrary choices. It assumes that cultural objects or practices (like movies or engineering) can be reduced to singular, universally-intelligible logics. It takes corporate spokespeople at their word when they claim that there was a straight line from conception to execution. [...] The risk of reverse engineering is that we come to imagine that the only things worth knowing about companies like Netflix are the technical details hidden behind the curtain. In my own research, I argue that the cultural lives and imaginations of the people behind the curtain are as important, if not more, for understanding how these systems come to exist and function as they do. Moreover, these details are not generally considered corporate secrets, so they are accessible if we look for them. Not everything worth knowing has been actively hidden, and transparency can conceal as much as it reveals."

Why do I blog this? Because it's an interesting argument and practical recommendation for researchers working on such topics. Being interested in the interplay between technical constraints and cultural/imaginary elements, I quite appreciate the point Seaver makes here.

"a Pop-Up Sensor Nail Salon"

"The Future of Wearable Services: A Proposal for a Pop-Up Sensor Nail Salon" is an intriguing design studio project conducted by Kristina Ortega at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, in the Media Design Practices program. It addresses the adoption of wearables, which shouldn't rely on a "one size fits all" approach as "context and specificity matter". Such starting point led the team to focus on nail art and how to embed sensors into layers of a gel manicure.

Useless Wearables (Photo: Kristina Ortega)

Useless Wearables (Photo: Kristina Ortega)

The website described the process they adopted:

For the first part of the lab we designed wearables with the idea that they would be "useless". This was our first version of our nail service, which we called "ritual nail". We experimented with form, 3D printing cats with LEDs embedded in them and embedding a nano pixel into the nail. [...] After our first round of making we decided to take a research trip to a nail art salon. While we were there we were fascinated by the process and negotiation that took place between the technician and the client. We really discovered the place of the service in the process. What would technicians look like in a electronically embedded salon service? The process of making prototypes, some with "sensor extensions" others made extremely brittle from the z corp 3D plaster printer. [...] We tested out five sensored options during a workshop/ user test [...] After user testing our early prototypes we decided that our project wasn't so much about the electronics embedded into nails, but more about the new services that will grow out of the need for wearables that can be specific and customizable. The new question is: who are the technicians in a new electronic fully customizable salon? We stopped looking for a solution and started looking for scenarios.

popup1

Why do I blog this? The topic (wearables) and the way it's addressed via nail art is interesting. I take the project as a relevant counterpart to lots of boring-and-utilitarian products or prototypes. Plus, the design process (with the useless-to-useful move) is curious, and somehow typical as an assignment.

 

 

Resurgence of early software?

Currently reading “Software Takes Command” by Lev Manovich, i’m fascinated by the part where he explains the lack of interest about the history of cultural computing by our cultural institutions and computer industry itself. He explains that a possible reason for this lies in the absence of profits from the old software by current companies, unlike, say, Hollywood which "continues to receive profits from old movies as it reissues them in new formats (VHS, DVD, HD, Blu-ray disks, etc)”. The most intriguing part corresponds to this affirmation that I find super intriguing:

"given that consumer culture systematically exploits adults’ nostalgia for the cultural experiences of their teenage and youth years, it is actually surprising that early software versions were not seen as a market opportunity.”

I guess that’s quite common in the video game industry, see for instance the release of yet-another-version of Eric Chahi’s Another World, but what about other types of software ? What would that entail ? Which software would you pick?

Why do I blog this? Thats looks like a good design fiction angle, and alternatively, a curious assignments for marketing students: how would you sell the resurgence of Quark X Press and Mac Paint ?

Visualizing TV series

This month, I'm giving a workshop at HEAD–Genève with Frédéric Kaplan and Yannick Rochat about Information Visualization and TV-series. The idea is to show the students how to visually depict events, characters' network, geographical evolution, among other things in these shows... using various sources (scripts found in imsdb, subtitles, Wikipedia entries fan encyclopedia like wookiepedia, etc.). Some examples below we discussed in class:

ALL ABOUT TV SERIES by DH101 students EPFL

Production of various visualizations, like the one below (Game of Thrones)

TWIN PEAKS 1990 on moviegalaxies

LORD OF THE RINGS PROJECT by Emil Johansson

CORE-SAMPLE by Aurelien Farina:

This editorial and artistic project is based on the metaphor of "coring", a technique used for geological and industrial ground surveys. The project was elaborated as an application of the coring technique to a particular mass-culture production : the "Starsky & Hutch" TV series. The book consists in a number of chapters made of screenshots captured in the series' first two seasons (1975-1977) : all recurent scenes are gathered and accumulated in series of similar images.

Core sample

Core sample

Core sample

Core sample

Outline

Outline

"we need to talk" pages

"we need to talk" pages

Why do I blog this? Collecting examples for the coming days of the workshop: types of visualizations (social networks, maps), sort of data proposed (texts, images...), the type of analysis, etc.

"These machines can be a metaphor for whatever's on people's minds."

A dialogue from Mad Men S07E04:

"Lloyd: These machines can be a metaphor for whatever's on people's minds.

Don Draper: Because they're afraid of computers?

Lloyd: Yes. This machine is frightening to people, but it's made by people.

Don Draper: And people aren't frightening?

Lloyd: It's not that. It's more of a cosmic disturbance. This machine is intimidating because it contains infinite quantities of information, and that's threatening, because human existence is finite. But isn't it godlike that we've mastered the infinite? The IBM 360 can count more stars in a day than we can in a lifetime.

Don Draper: But what man laid on his back counting stars and thought about a number?

Lloyd: He probably thought about going to the moon."

Why do I blog this? Just found this dialogue interesting as a metaphor for discussion in the 1960s about "computing" and the role of this machinery in society.

"Pop-up studio" manual

Studio D Radiodurans – Jan Chipchase's new boutique – just released an intriguing booklet called "Pop-up Studio: Designing The Design Experience".  It's basically a 43-pages guide that describes "how to run a pop-up studio, when and why it is appropriate, the trade-offs that need to be understood".

Popupstudio

 

Based on various examples coming from Jan and his current/former colleagues, it's full of insightful material for design researchers, field explorers and people interested in product/service/strategy development. The set of tools and the approach explained in this book are meant to show how to manage "rapid immersion" into new cultural forms, people's practices and use that material to surface new ideas and designs. Lots of details are provided about how to do that and what it means practically (studio duration, use of space, budgets, check-lists, ...). It seems like a great companion to the upcoming "the field study handbook".

Why do I blog this? Definitely because I'm interested in others' methods, guidelines, recommendations and informed opinions. It's always good to take them as inspiration and cases to create one's approach. Plus it's related with a current project that aims at describing how designers repurposed ethnography in their own work context (book to be released in few months).

Collection, accumulation, compilation

Coincidentally, I received two magazines today about a similar topic: collection and compilation. The first is the last copy of The Wire, the British music journal; and the second is FACTA, a fascinating Brazilian fanzine about "gambiologia" (the study of creative improvisation and electro-digital DIY).

Transient
Transient
Transient
Transient

"What is a compilation but a collection of similarities and differences? To compile is to suggest or imply that everything within it has something in common, whether it be a sound, a time, a place or a theme. The remainder is difference: the varying species of that sound, other elements in that time or place, alternative angles on that themes" describes Adam Harper in his introduction to the special issue of The Wire on compilation.

Why do I blog this? I'm curious about the role of compilation, collection and selection, mostly with regards to the analytical mindset of designers/artists and ethnographers. There's something in common here that should be explored, beyond the type of artifacts and cultural content that is collected. I generally work using aggregation of various types of material and enjoy this type of process. For instance, the game controller project was based on collecting actual game pads that we explored in conjunction with patents, interviews with designers and players, books about the history of video games... the careful compilation of facts, anecdotes, pictures, opinions, statistics and hypotheses created a curious assemblage that helped creating various intermediary objects (diagrams, genealogy trees, installation in exhibits) and two books.