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Lift09: where did the future go?

As I already discussed here, the topic of Lift09 (25,26,27 Feb. 2009) will be "Where did the future go?":

"After three successful editions in Geneva, two events in South Korea, we are preparing for the 4th edition of Lift in Switzerland (February 25-26-27, 2009). This year, the topic will be "Where did the future go?".

We were indeed told the future would be about mechanization and computerization leading to 3D flying virtual assistants, 1984-like nightmare or Asimov-inspired robots. Most of the entertainment culture as well as scientific research have contributed to this representation of a future filled with disruptive and glossy inventions that may or may not eventually turned our world upside down.

Beyond this depiction of tomorrow, we realize nowadays the long-praised "21st century" itself may not materialize. The long-awaited videophones did not really take off in terms of user adoption, flying cars are still sci-fi and we do not yet jack direct interface into a nervous system. As some anthropologists recently claimed, it is as if we were stuck in a perpetual present, looking for the short-term.

That said, change happened but not necessarily where we though it would. Although innovation is not always shiny and visible, things as fundamental as solidarity, love, or way we inhabit our physical environment have evolved dramatically, calling for new approach to design meaningful new interactions."

Pre-early bird registration is available for few weeks here.

Design Engaged 2008

Pink cubes Very good week-end in Montreal at Design Engaged few days ago. Took time to cobble my notes form the whole thing.

DE is a designers get-together with a good mixture of practitioners and theorists. The events itself is not a conference nor a workshop but a sort of informal gathering of people who talks (through newcomers presentations), listens, walk in the city (saturday afternoon breaking out groups), eat and sketch (sunday morning use of material collected during the walk). As Andrew Otwell described in his introduction, these activities were meant to support the discussion of "models and visions about the future".

Coming from a sinuous academic background in both hardcore sciences and social sciences, I was kind of intrigued at first by the use of the "model" (by Andrew in his intro and Ben Cerveny in his conclusion). This notion was sort of prevalent over the week end, referring both to models built by designers concerning how they imagine future objects in their ecosystems and meta-models employed by theorists. As Andrew said "designers are constantly making models, that's what the job is, making complete vision of the future" and at the same time other actors (quant in finance) are failing to use their own models to predict the future. The session therefore started around this notion that the "the future wasn't what it used to be", which kind of echoed with my presentation. The "future" seemed also a recurring topic over the week-end with different talks which deal with how we're sort of lost in translation from an epoch with a clear future endpoint to now where the present overflowed the future.

the delight comes first

Raphael Grignani started off with a presentation about the Five Dollar Comparison project he and others carry out at Nokia Design. This project explores the relative value of five dollars and consists in a collection of examples from around the world. It takes the form of photos of objects or services that cost the equivalent of $5. Raphael showed some example of what you can get in the world for 5$: goods (foods, hawaianas, beer, BW passport photos, libido enhancers in china, startac phone on ebay), services (motorbike ride). What's maybe more interesting to me here was the discussion of why this has value for Nokia Design: it disrupts processes they have, give crowdsourcing insights, allows alternative funding, enable social responsability (for each picture, submitted to the group, give $5 to a charity), use of creative commons and make peopel realize that doing small things by big numbers has a huge impact.

Ruth Kikin-Gil, a designer who works at Microsoft, gave an insighftul presentation about how and why Strauss and Howe's generation theory are relevant and interesting for design. As she said, it allows to ask questions more than getting answers. She also described how they use generations as personas as well as the different technological framework (personal computers, mobile computing, social networks...) for each generation. That talk led to an interesting discussion of nostalgia and forward-looking attitude exemplified by the following example: 2 geeks talking with each other: one shows his phone to the other: "look! that's what you looked like five seconds ago".

A side comment from Matt Webb on the backchannel was that "designing to meet observed needs reinforces structure and removes its capacity to invent futures", something that I've found interesting as my work is about capturing elements regarding people (be it needs, motivations, contextual insights, etc.). There is indeed a tension between....

The following highlight from from Eric Rodenbeck (Stamen) who talked about gardening and why it's interesting for data visualization. Gardens are strange spaces where life can grow, places where there is not necessarily order but they bring manifest what is important about our future. He sees Stamen's projects as garden: it's not useful but it's delightful, it's cultivate to delight; it's not quite useful, not quite art but "it's a start", which is highly important. What Eric finds interesting is that it's not necessarily articulate but it's there.

Then Kevin Cheng dealt with lazy-generated content, some concepts I was interested in for a foresight project about the Web.

In the afternoon of the first day, near-future laboratory partner Julian talked about "Design Fiction: Something and the Something in the age of the Something". A memorable and insightful discussion which echoed with my own presentation.

Starting by interrogating the representation of the future, he questioned how we imagine what can come to be, what are the ways the futures will be and how these elements shape what we consider reasonable and possible futures. Change is often seen as inevitable and a linear model as if there were always one sort of alternative. In addition, "the future is here, it's just not evenly distributed" from William Gibson led to the "sandwich spread representation of the future": the representation of the future is lumpy in bits dans doesn't get to everyone evenly. Some people receive the future more than other, some try weird things to "live in the future" and it's hard to explain to parents, siblings, etc. One of the slides interestingly referred to possible quotes by Bruno Latour ("...") to show the 3D linkages of human/non-human collectives representation of the future, another important aspect Julian brought to the table. What he meant is simply that complex knots and linkages between many disparate social practices create thick representations of human activities, including our projections and imaginations about the future.

The second part of his talk was about ubiquitous computing is related to science-fiction, based on a forthcoming paper by Paul Dourish and Genevieve Bell. For instance if you type "minority report interface" in google you get some links about engineers, scientists, etc. It shows the entanglement between what people do in laboratory and steven spielberg's team, this slippery zone that reveals the blurriness between scifi and ubicomp... a promising area to explore. Lots of sci-fi pieces put together to fashion a perspective that tell a story about ubiquitous computing-y things as they are projected into sci-fi narratives. However, as Julian expressed, Ubicomp is Sci-Fi since it use sci-fi as a reference point for engineers and scientists in the lab. In the end, what we have is the deployment of an idea-mass 3D Latourian representation of the future: conversations shaped by human and non-human objects, their circulation which eventually draw more agents.

The last part of his talk concerned the importance of props and prototypes, which can take 2 forms: in their canonical form (the kind of stuff you build, scaffolding around ideas) OR David A. Kirby's diegetic prototypes (how prototypes and narrative ones shape an influence). The latter was described with the following quote from the RHCP: "space may be the final frontiers, but it's made in a Hollywood basement" (Californication, 1999!): being able to make the things and wrap them into a narrative form. To some extent, prototypes/props are idea-mass: they are objects that have attractive forces, enroll people and design can also be a kind of fiction making: design-fiction. In other words, stories matter when designing the future and perhaps even more than the "real thing". Julian then sees design as speculative prototyping, things that are real scifi, really curious and orthogonal to the conventions of technology-market-economies. And the measure of success is when someone says "stupidest fucking idea EVER" (jonah brucker-cohen).

He concluded on these 5 points:

  1. objects tell stories for people, not scenarios for users
  2. there are many futures, no inevitabilities
  3. makes lots of stuff quickly
  4. assume weird (or no) market models, weird imaginary worlds
  5. assume you are from the future

His talk obviously gave a great framework for Anab Jain's talk, as if her beautiful projects (Yellow Chair, the Gubbins as well as this awfully nice map powered by sugar which starts dying) were perfect examples of what Julian just said. I am looking forward to read this "Objects incog" book from the project she did with Alex Taylor ("Life and Death in Energy Autonomous Devices"). I particularly love the notion of aging objects and decay as a mean to show that death is very close, and it's acknowledged by the user, trying to figure out what it means. Mouna Andraos's "From craft to designing experiences" work and Tuur Van Balen's "My city = my body" also fitted very well in the picture.

After my talk, Molly Wright-Steenson spoke about the "anterior future" (the french tense) and some enquiries about past versions of the future ("how old are our futures? where did our futures comes from?"). It's always intriguing to nail down the obscure french authors Molly is using in her theoretical work. People such as Etienne-Louis Boullée for instance. Surely some food for thoughts to integrate to my own thinking about failed futures.

sensor porn

From Aaron Cope's talk about sensor porn. I liked his way to figure out what happen when the system breaks and how what that means the common perception is that we will just adapt. I now keep in mind the two following quotes he referred to and that I found insightful:

" We should be mapping information that in some ways has been historically un-mappable because it is 1) not valued or is 2) actively seen as threatening or is 3) simply too hard to map using traditional GIS" Anselm Hook

"It is this narrow definition of context that makes life harder for ourselves, because adding more and more sensor readings is not really the same thing as adding more and more context" Dawns Nafus

I loved Russell "i do this sort of project that involves printing the internet out" Davies as well as Schulze and Webb's presentation but at that specific moment, I stopped taking notes, enjoying the whole show ;) Both presentations were insightful

Timo Arnall's presentation about "visible present branded" was also interesting to me both because I am interested in the topic and as an example of cutting edge digital design practice. Starting form Dourish and Bell's characterization of uibcomp, Timo introduced his interest towards RFID objects as building blocks of ubiquitous computing: they are highly designed and visible, branded and it's stuff not that emerges only from engineering.

The first point Timo made was to show the importance of visibility/invisibility of interactions. Some examples: Hertzian tales by Anthony Dunne (invisible radiowaves leaking out people's houses into public space) + semiconducor that represent electromagnetic fields as very visual, hairy and unstable, sort of artistic interpretation of how fields behave ("from a viz POV it's beautiful, put images in my head") + the bubbles of radio (characterized radio fields through visual characters).

From a pragmatic perspective, timo is interested by invisible affordances of things, he and his colleagues worked on a rigorous analysis of how we signify/flag up different aspects of ubicomp, also worked on icons, to expose what is invisible. The invisibility can be a confusing model, a limiting model for ubicomp. What is happening is that things always become visualized; when sensors emerges into space you see "do this do that" (tap sensor). He looked at signage related to wireless: often represented as 3 concentric rings... interesting from the visual design perspective: when points up: positive, when points down or lateral: security. Looking at the visual vernacular of RFID allows to understand how it is represented. This is beginning to affect the ways we interact with things: the gestures people used to swipe cards, intimacy of touching phones for rfid contacts. Their next step is to sketch out what fields do, what material, what properties, represent field lines but these viz do not necessarily give way to tell how to interact with technologies!

Using an "RFID pen" that draws when it detects an RFID signals, they made a 3D picture of an RFID field viz of the actual readable volume around a coiled RFID antenna. It's an experiment in field drawing: as shown on this video. The en result is an interesting shape with properties. What are the implications? it's good to have a model but even more interesting to see what that means for interaction:

  1. different feeling of interactions depending on how close the tag is to the reader
  2. the physical object can interact + or - with the field
  3. different shapes of the rfid reader can be analyzed and producted... use it as an idea generation
  4. tool... like tag rader in a shape of a bowl, a sniffing dog that snifs objects

  5. investigate how the field (which surround the device) is a material for interaction

Timo's description fo RFID affordances

The purpose now for Timo and his colleagues is to turn an engineer-based technology in sth designers can look at, turn RFID into sth that has clear affordances for design as represented on the pic above: presence, memory, internal connections, antenna shape, antenna size, enclosure, field range, field width, field width. These are the important thing for designers to work with. I really enjoyed both that slide and the methodology they dealt with to come up with this list of affordance, there's really something innovative here. Simply, it's beyond lots of research I've seen in ubicomp papers and the perspective/tools they employed allowed them to (1) ask new questions, (2) come up with an interesting set of answers.

Ben Cerveny' conclusion about "Flocking through utopias" was a nice endpoint for DE. Ben showed how an event such as Design Engaged can be seen as "team sport, a self-organized school, collaboratively browsed" which allows to explore the space, like a cultural exchange. This "social club" would then have the following characteristics:

  1. discontinuity: it turns things are falling apart, critical moment... at the same time, other people (quants) works on developing model (viz, metaphor) for the future. that team did not won the medal this year because of that, there are some things that need reforming, DE as a group can provide new models

  2. optimism: there is no shiva in the west; when things fall apart in the west, this is bad however if things don't fall apart, that's death; if a system is not changing, it's over complexity, emergence happens in growth/decay cycles so we have to embrace decay
  3. possibility surfers, playing with models/possibilities, step out into the meta, look where value is going
  4. use the ultimate social object: utopia: how to build community around utopias, grand projects
  5. what we do is a game of system models with prototypes from alternative universes, they're not from the future, but they propose new set of design, bring probes from that space: ultimately, it allows to build a very large model

Surely a great event with a wide set of perspective. I particularly liked the mix of perspectives ranging from presentations of design projects, theoretical presentations and pragmatic views. Thanks Andrew, Boris, Jennifer and Mouna for the invitation and setting this up. My take away of the event below.

Sidewalk playground

numerical hop scotch Different occurrences of sidewalk employed as a game platform, from European cities (Geneva, Lyon, Paris, Rotterdam)

5 10 25 50 100

Pavement games

Quite a typology we have here with hop-scotch, tic-tac-toe, table to count point in whatever game, etc. What I've put here are only games that use the surface, for the use of shape, see this blogpost about skateboarding structures.

Playful pavement

Colored pavement

Surely a recommendation to have a look at what is under your foot in contemporary cities. And definitely of interest for people interested in urban computing? Why, simply to show how space is appropriated by a certain class of users and how simple they employ basic tools to create a playful environment. In the examples I chose here, there's only one instance where the sidewalk structure has been designed with a game purpose (the first one, in Rotterdam), there is room for both designed surface and people's appropriation. What role technology can play in this? perhaps mobile, touch and communication technologies can enable to expand the chalks, which seem to be the main tool used so far.

Remediating both gramophone and photography with a tape recorder

There is this moment in time when companies (after accounting computations and equation solving) release this sort of things and wonder about what sorts of added value it will have for people. The tape recorder was not primarily marketed as a music-playing device. It was meant to store memorable moments (babies), funny situations (snoring people? wet farts?), “voice letters” and the brave “sound hunting”. That's the topic Karin Bijsterveld tackle in her paper What Do I Do with My Tape Recorder …?’: sound hunting and the sounds of everyday Dutch life in the 1950s and 1960s (Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television Vol. 24, No. 4, 2004).

Above all the use case scenario envisioned by audio-tape designers and engineers, the "sound hunting" one is the most intriguing with all these weird photos with people bringing recorder here and there. There is an inherent poetry in this will to capture the sound of the environment. This hobby held for a while and is not a bit defunct; it's surely curious though as attested by this quote from a BASF ad campaign:

"Today’s hunters no longer turn to the woods or fields, but to the noisy big cities. Instead of banging rifles they take their silent tape recorders with them. These modern day hunters call themselves ‘sound hunters’. Instead of hunting for deer, foxes and rabbits, they are after sounds and noises. To be sure, sound hunting is no less exciting than hunting in the green fields"

The paper reports how companies came out with this "sound hunting" hobby as a way to engage people in the usage of their product:

"Apparently the recorder’s usefulness had to be established against all odds, for tape recorder books also highlighted, and exasperatingly so, that after a short period of great enthusiasm many people no longer knew what to do with their tape recorder. (...) other publications underlined that the tape recorder, unlike the gramophone or the radio or TV set, did not produce sounds automatically, but that this quality depended on the effort and creativity of the user and that therein was the secret of the satisfaction the device could give. (...) the enthusiasts and manufacturers of tape recorders tried to link up the tape recorder fad with hobbies and leisure activities that were already familiar: photography, writing letters, amateur music-playing, learning languages, tinkering, and even cooking, painting, reading and, increasingly so, music listening. (...) It is of course a common and often successful marketing ploy to link up a new technology with old and familiar practices "

Why do I blog this? I enjoy reading material about history of sciences/techniques lately as they always give interesting ideas or case studies regarding the user experience of technologies. In the present case, the tape recorder history seems to give an interesting instance of how a "new media often incorporate elements from the practice of older media". As we can realize now, the tape recorder tried to remediate both gramophone (recording and listening to music) and photography (through "sound hunting"). While the former remediation was a success, the latter only lasted few years and is now almost forgotten.

WASD, ESDF, IJKL et al

WASD WASD according to the Wikipedia:

"WASD is a set of four keys on a QWERTY or QWERTZ computer keyboard which mimics the inverted-T configuration of the arrow keys. These keys are often used to control the player character's movement in computer games. W/S control forward and backward and A/D control strafing left and right. Primarily, WASD is used to account for the fact that the arrow keys are not ergonomic to use in conjunction with a right-handed mouse.

Some gamers prefer the WASD keys to the arrow keys for other various reasons, including the fact that more keys (and therefore, game commands) are easily accessible with the left hand when placed near WASD. Left-handed mouse users may prefer using the numpad or IJKL with their right hands instead for similar reasons.

After being popularized by first-person shooters, WASD became more common in other computer game genres as well. Many of the games that have adopted this layout use a first-person or over-the-shoulder third-person perspective."

There are other alernatives such as WQSE, ESDF (sometimes preferred because it provides access to movement independent keys for the little finger), IJKL (common in browser games because employing the arrow keys woud make the window to scroll and thus hinder gameplay), and of course the unix-based HJKL. Why do I blog this? documenting different styles of interaction, it's intriguing to see how the arrow key configuration evolves and mutates.

Take-aways from LIFT Asia

Some notes Laurent and myself prepared for the wrap up, insisting on the following take-home issues, the image that takes shape after the conference is done:

  1. experience of space: physical space change, the way we perceive and interact in space is modified. Christian Lindholm talked about wifi places as oasis, Adam Greenfield talked about the new way we will experience places, etc.
  2. currency & business models redefined as shown by Davird Birch's talk, Joonmo Kwon described new business models such as co-promotion or the fact that game money are controlled by game designers (they even control the inflation rate)
  3. service convergence as described by Joonmo Kwon and Takeshi Natsuno
  4. cities as interfaces: Jury Hahn, Jeffrey Huang, Soo-In Yang or Adam Greenfield gave us different propositions
  5. technological relativism: some countries are more advanced than others, the speed of change is increasing (as shown by Jan Chipchase), it's never black or white, the notion of "uses" is also different.
  6. real world is a limit: the limit is often simple: the physical reality: battery life (and that there could be solutions as exemplified by Raphael Grignani), machines that crash, etc.

Kansa-amida!

Robot session @ LIFT Asia

Saturday morning at LIFT Asia 2008, quick notes. Frederic Kaplan began his talk by stating that the number of object we have at home is huge (nearly 3500), all of them have different "value profile". he showed curves that capture the evolution of the experienced value of an object). See the curve below. A roomba for example follows a curve such as a corkscrew (c) whereas an Aibo, an entertainment robot, follows more a "notebook" curve: where value augment over time through the relationship with the owner(s).

Frederic stated how we know how to deal with the mid to end part of the curve but not the beginning, namely how to create the first part of the robot-owner relationship, which is a crux question in general for robots/communicating objects designers. There are many reasons for that: in the west, it's not easy in the occidental culture, to "raise" and talk a robot; most people try but stop, and show it only when friends come visit. So the robot is a pretty expensive gadget.

After moving from Sony to the CRAFT laboratory, Frederic started moving form robot to interactive furnitures and became interested in how objects can be "robotized" and the fact that perhaps robots should not always look like robots. Since 1984, computers have not changed much (shapes, icons have been modified but still it's always the same story). We changed the way we used computers (listen to music, watch photos, get the news, that was not what computers were intended for) but they did not change, so they thought it would be an idea to build a robotic computer as in the former Apple commercial. They therefore designed the Wizkid, an "expressive computer" which recognizes people, gestures proposing a new sort of interactivity with people. To some extent, he showed how you can have expressivity without any anthropomorphic robot (unlike the demo we had of the Speecys robot).

Some use cases: - in the living room, the Wizkid can act as a central interface to the media players: showing a CD make the robot playing it; it can also take pictures autonomously and create a visual summary of the event that can be sent to guests afterwards. It's like an automatic logging system that remembers and use that information. - in the kitchen: the wizkid can help you cook and shop. When the owner prepare a recipe, the wizkid will help following it step by step, tracking face and gestures (ans also doing some suggestions). It would be possible to show an item and the wizkid add it to the shopping list. - games are also an interesting field: you can play augmented reality games with the wizkid: you look at yourself in the screen and see yourself in imaginary worlds.

As a conclusion, Frederic said that most people things that robots will look like objects but he claims that everyday objects can become robot and the next generation of computer interfaces will be robotic. People used to go to the machine to interact but now interactivity comes to you. Computers used to live in their own world, now they live in yours.

Then Bruno Bonnell in his "from robota to homo robotus: revisiting Asimov's laws of robotic" took up the floor and gave an insightful presentation about robot designers should revisit the definition of "robots" (and therefore Asimov' laws). To him, there is a vocabulary problem when it comes to robots.

In Czech, "robot" means "work" and it pervaded our representation of what is a robot, that is to say, a mechanic slave. Hence the laws of robotics for Asimov. These laws work well for military or industrial robots but what about leisure robots such as the Aibo, the roomba, iRobiq? We had the same problem with the word "computer". it's only since World War II that the word "computer” (from Latin computare, "to reckon," "sum up") been applied to machines. The Oxford English Dictionary still describes a computer as "a person employed to make calculations in an observatory, in surveying, etc.". We moved that into machines and computers took over the successive activities: Systematic tasks, support creation tools, became and artistic Medium and finally an amplifier of imagination. And it's the same with animals: it used to be food, then working forces, companions and finally friends. In addition, we don't talk just about "animals": there are ponies, dogs, etc. with a classification: animals, mammals, equids, horses. It would be possible to classify computers according to the same classification: order/family/genre/specy.

So, what about robots? are the very different robots all the same? Couldn't we classify them in a classification: a family of static robot, a family of moving robot, etc. So now, it's no more "robot, robot, robot" but "Robots,Mover,Humanoide,IrobiQ". What is important here is that all these robots in the classifications are recognized as having different features and characteristics. We start recognizing that they are all not the same species. By classifying (giving a name), you generate some different applications and can improve the quality of the product that you are designing. Putting names on things helps creating them. It allows to go beyond the limits of the robot vision: and it allows to reconcile the vision of having of both an anthropomorphic robot (like Speecys' robot we saw first) and a different one (like Frederic's Wizkid) since they are from two different "species".

After this classification, we can go into the evolution, how to branch out the future of robots. there could be the following path: mechanical slave, the alternative to human actions, the substitute of human care, the companions and finally the amplifier of human body and mind. Is it scifi or Reality ? Today or Tomorrow ? Is it possible technically? We don't know but what is important is to start today and look ahead?

An interesting path to do so is to move away from practical robots and investigate useless robots, as well as not being afraid of technical limitations (think about the guys who designed Pong at Atari). To the question "what does the robot do?", the answer is simple: to create an emotional bond with humans (that would be recipe for a robot success). The important characteristics are therefore: fun, thrilling, etc. Which is very close to video games do: they creatine a emotional bond with the players because they are faithful to a reality, they are reliable, available, adaptable, and above all TRUSTFUL. In the same fashion, robots should be trustful. The bottom line is thus that we should forget the Asimov laws and invent the Tao of robotic where the "gameplay" is the key to accept them as part of our reality.

Also, the funny part of the session was the first talk where Tomoaki Kasuga's demonstration of his robot, which "charm point" is the hip (or something else as attested by the picture below), especially when dancing on stage. What Tomoaki showed is that expressivity (through dance, movement, the quality of the pieces) is very important for human-computer interaction.

Pigeon and urban computing

A long time before Beatriz Da Costa's blogging pigeon, Dr. Julius Neubronner patented, in 1903 a miniature pigeon camera activated by a timing mechanism. Equipped with the cameras, the pigeons photographed a castle in Kronberg, Germany, around 1908.

(Photographs courtesy of Deutsches Museum, Munich)

More recently, Terraswarm Brooklyn Pigeon Project also deployed that trick as "an effort to confront the limits of this grid by creating an equally rich disclosure of the city from the vantage point of a flock of pigeons." Benjamin Aranda, one of the author of this project gives more details in that interview. Why do I blog this? documenting the intersection between two fields I'm interested in: urban computing on one side and "new interaction partners" (or the participation of animals in social computing) on the other. Plus, it's always fun to trace back the beginning of s-curves (new interaction partners in that case).

GTA and ubiquitous computing

situation Toying around Grand Theft Auto IV lately, I've been interested in how today's ubiquitous computing can help to create original game play features in a console game. There are three interesting elements about this topics: the in-game GPS, the use of the cell-phone in the game and the role of tangible interactions.

GPS

The GPS in the game is an important feature as it guides you to specific place where you have to do specific things. But you often end up relying more on it to drive than looking the street view since the action takes place in a very dark areas (especially if like me you have a tendency to bump-and-destroy lots of street lamps). So far, I have only used cars with graphical indication but I've heard there are some luxury cars which talks the player through the streets. Unlike lots of real situation the markers and waypoints that appear on the tiny maps are really accurate and often well updated. Given the complexity of Liberty City, driving is much simpler than in past GTA games.

GTA IV map

So, to some extent, geolocation in GTA is used as an enabling feature to help people getting around and making sense of that complex environment. You can avoid to use it but then the gameplay becomes weird since the world is very big and you might miss the place where the action is. That said, I haven't seen any glitch or GPS trouble yet; I would be intrigued if the game designers used GPS miscalculation as a challenge.

phone + GPS

In this case, the cell-phone is both a trigger for actions (like the GPS) but also an intriguing social feature that is less utilitarian. See for example what some game critics think about it:

"You'll keep in touch with your dates, friends, and some of your enemies using another of GTAIV's great new features: a cell phone," he says. "There's no unwieldy conversation system to deal with; you simply choose which friend you want to call, what you want to talk about (it could be work, a fun activity, or asking for a favor) and then, assuming that he or she answers the phone, the conversation plays out."

This results in appreciable gameplay benefits. "The rewards that you get when another character likes you enough vary depending on who it is," Calvert explains. "Without wishing to give away specifics, befriending a lawyer can prove useful if you're having trouble with the cops, for example, and having a nurse on your friends list can literally be a lifesaver." (...) "The mobile phone is central to this, allowing you to make phone calls and text-message people one-handed while you walk or drive; networking, socialising, organising, and listening to that ringtone you downloaded for America's Next Top Hooker," Bramwell explains. "When you fail a mission, you can answer a text to teleport yourself back to wherever you spawn after the cut-scene briefing finishes.""

Finally, the pace of cell-phone use is sometimes so important that it nicely reflects the current discussion about how mobile devices help hyper-coordination and attest of the intensification of relationships between people (mmh game characters) close to what Antony Townsend describes in his paper Life in the Real-time City: Mobile Telephones and Urban Metabolism . In the real-world hypercoordination is now a given, in GTA IV it's clearly a game feature.

Sixaxis Sixaxis

While the GPS and cell phones are in-game elements, the last ubicomp feature in GTA IV is certainly the interaction mode using the discontinued sixaxis: the ability to sense both rotational orientation and translational acceleration along all three dimensional axes, providing six degrees of freedom. I personally found it problematic and not accurate, way too sensitive by my standards. And it seems that I am not alone having that feeling, using a tangible interface to control an helicopter may sound cool at first glance but it's awfully bad in GTA IV.

Orange "identity studio"

"Orange Identity Studio" Seen yesterday in France, an Orange shop with an "identity studio". The sort of place where you can get a picture of you and translate it into a digital identity with the consentment of the french government (as attested by the little sticker on the upper left-hand corner).

Bucky Fuller Break

It's friday afternoon and the week-end is almost there so it's a good time to read few things about Buckminster Fuller, isn't it? First in Metropolis, there's an interesting overview of his "legacy" by colleagues and admirers. And second, Popular Mechanics have a sort of retrospective called "10 Gonzo Machines From Rogue Inventor Buckminster Fuller:

"The late, great architect and inventor brought us the geodesic dome, but Buckminster Fuller’s often twisted, often brilliant vision extended far beyond air-conditioned sporting arenas. From super-efficient cars carrying lots of passengers to entire cities encapsulated by single roofs, he made Frank Lloyd Wright look positively normal, and his prescient engineering foreshadowed—and continues to inform—the movement toward green design and prefabricated housing. Here’s a handful of our favorite concepts from the Fuller retrospective at the Whitney Museum in New York."

The one which amazes me is certainly the “Dymaxion Air-Ocean World Map” which shows the land masses as there true sizes:

"Frustrated with the failure of cartographers to develop an accurate two-dimensional map of the world, Fuller used his geometric knack to create his own distortion-free projection. His “Dymaxion Air-Ocean World Map” appeared in Life magazine in 1943 and remains one of the most geographically accurate world maps. "

Why do I blog this? pure curiosity in thinkers about space, urban environment and design.

Superposition of urban layers

Remnants Some cities are amazingly good at keeping the different layers which constitute the "urban envelope". In this example taken from Zürich last week, remnants from an old building have been kept to create a colorful playground. Where other cultures/regulation would tear it down, the city of Zürich amazingly allow this to happen, preserving a sense of different times in the environment.

Touch interface with or without RFID

Press Touch

Where the first picture only requires to gently caress the button, the second is strikingly more aggressive and requires the presence of an RFID tag to open up the access. In the first case, the symbol depicted is the hand, the situation is more complex in the second one with this non-universal pictogram. Besides, there is also this very non-user-centered number on a white sticker that reveals a different interaction "flavor". Finally, the concrete wall also reveals the different context definitely more oriented towards car drivers who want to enter a parking lot.

Expliciting the invisible: magnetic movie and pollstream

Two interesting projects that I ran across recently and which aims at making invisible phenomena more explicit: Magnetic movie b Semiconductor (Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt) shot at the NASA Space Sciences Laboratory, UC Berkeley, California, USA.:

"In Magnetic Movie, Semiconductor have taken the magnificent scientific visualisations of the sun and solar winds conducted at the Space Sciences Laboratory and Semiconducted them (...) In 1744 a simple experiment was conducted in Sweden to reproduce the underlying cause of the Aurora Borealis in a laboratory, what we would now think of as a room. A small hole in a shade "the size of a large pea" let through a ray of sunlight that then was refracted through a prism. The small patch of light broken into a spectrum of colours then traveled through a medium of turbulent air directly above a warmed glass of aquavit. (...) scientists at the SSL at University of California in Berkeley theoretically model, conduct experiments, and develop instruments to study the magnetic fields of the sun. They study them deep inside the sun's core, their effect on the looping of the corona flaring above its surface (the photosphere, that lights our days), and the solar winds of charged particles that interact with the earth's own magnetic field, creating the auroral displays at the poles. Magnetic Movie is the aquavit, something not precisely scientific but grants us an uncanny experience of geophysical and cosmological forces."

The Pollstream series

"Pollstream is a collection of ideas, forms and images that explore man-made clouds. We are fascinated by clouds because of their movement, and because of their natural undefined form - which makes them difficult to be fixed in time. Across a number of projects, clouds are used as a visual metaphor to aestheticise emissions and chemical toxins. (...) This project is an intervention in environmental ethics. It creates a series of environments and processes to monitor and localise pollution at the very same time that it is produced. (...) Pollstream, using visual, kinetic and sonic technologies, undermines these typical defences of disengagement by speeding up the normal time it takes for our actions in and on the environment to have consequences. Across a number of projects, a sense of constant rather than delayed feedback is created. Thus, in its final form, color coded communal information is projected onto the vapor of a power plant that is visible to all residents. The movement of the green vapor emission changes size to show levels of energy being consumed at any given time; the chimney becomes a community measuring tape, a shared canvas. Nuage Vert is the ultimate aesthetisation of pollution, while seeking to draw critical attention to it. "

Why do I blog this? two "pervasive art" projects that I've found intriguing recently, when looking for documentation before preparing the talk I gave last week in Torino. Can this be part of the "4D urbanism" described by Dan Hill?

Beyond the aesthetic of these projects I am often amazed by how recurring is the visualization of pollution in new media project related to ubicomp. Of course there's a growing concern about the environment but it's interesting to see how the locus of representation is geared toward this topic.

Towards LIFT Asia

SO... LIFT is going to South Korea for LIFT Asia 08, a three-day event taking place on Che-Ju island on September 4, 5 and 6. As in Geneva, the conference theme revolves around social change in information society. What we mean by that is that we will focus on the influence of technologies such as the web, mobile software and ubiquitous computing on our societies in domains such future cities, social media, mobility, sustainability or money transactions. Our goal is to spark discussions about the important changes, challenges and opportunities brought by technology, with the great diversity of the participants and their contributions providing a global reach.

An envigorating mix of researchers, designers, entrepreneurs, policy-makers and other thinkers will present us their viewpoints on eight topics: Beyond the web we know, Online for better society, Towards a Networked City, From robots to networked objects, The near future of social worlds, Techno-nomadic life, Virtual money and green tech. Since the conference is going to be held in South Asia, it's also our purpose to have a mix of westerners and asian speakers for each session so that discussion deal with a mix of perspectives.

Sci-fi writer Bruce Sterling and UK consultant David Birch will talk about virtual money: Recent changes in the digitalisation of money are less perceptible than more glamorous technologies, but they are of considerable importance. New banking solutions and money circulation practices are around.

In "Aiming for a better society" Wonsun Park from Hope Society and Raphael Grignani from Nokia will describe how technologies can help shaping a more inclusive and sustainable society as well take advantage of the world's diversity.

Given that the urban environment is of considerable importance when it comes to technological development, we will have a dedicated session about the Networked City with 2 architects Jeffrey Huang and Yang Soo Yin as well as user experience specialist Adam Greenfield. They will describe how new digital layers provided by ICTs on contemporary cities have now become reality and what it will mean for its inhabitants.

Close to the future of the city, mobility will also be a hot theme with the "Techno-nomadic life" session with design researcher Jan Chipchase, i-mode inventor Takeshi Nastuno and Christian Lindholm. They will talk about the user experience is reshaped by mobile technologies, and whether the mobile Web is going through the same process as the Web of the 90s.

Social platforms and media such as the one developed by Nexon will also be an important topic with Jonmoo Kwon, among other speakers. Social platforms on the Web and Massive Multi-Player games are indeed now merging in a new category of digital entertainment platforms with new business models and screens such as mobile phones. This will eventually lead to innovative usage and new forms of sociality.

In the "Beyond the web we know" session, we will talk about what's exciting on the web from the near future, what comes after web2.0 with Laurent Haug and Eric Rodenbeck from Stamen Design.

Moreover, a special event about sustainable development will feature Dan Dubno who will talk about green gadgets and an upcoming speaker coming from a NGO.

The final session will be about robotics and the convergence towards networked objects, or how current robots are going beyond the traditional anthropomorphism and start to communicate with Tomoaki Kasuga, Frédéric Kaplan and Bruno Bonnell.

If you're interested you can register here.