Old Vox – Playful Spaces

[Another old vox.com post, this time from  April 2007]

playful spaces

Apr 27, 2007

over on my geeKyoto project site I blogged about a BBC event that I was lucky enought to attend. It was the 3rd Design Futures conference, held by the BBC’s Design Forum. We had a number of speakers, John Thackara I have blogged about in the above post but here I want to talk briefly about Pat Kane, The Play Ethic and playful spaces.

Pat attended the conference at the last minute and the gist of his presentation was about play, especially online but not games. It was about the playful ideal, how ideas and philosophies of play affect and inform the things we do online even without thinking about them being playful.

A lot of online video was used which lead to the thesis that YouTube was the most playful forum on the web at the moment. Not to say that all videos on their are fun. He showed a Jihaddie video, distributed on YouTube (and I am sure many more online video services). This was a highly political and charged video. It was polemic and propeganda but it was constructed in a mashed up, creative, playful way. Music, video and news footage joined together to put across an idea inside your web browser.

The fact that around the video there were also comments both textual and video made this possibly one of the more open, public and possible vibrant disucssion spaces on the whole agenda of Iraq, Terrorism, Middle East Policy etc.

These spaces are not the definitive places for dialogue but they are important places for people to sound their thoughts, maybe the ones they feel uncomformtable with.

Was there a problem? Only with the fact that this space, this arena for discussion was in fact owned by a Shareholder owned Internet Company (Google of course). This lead to the discussion about such spaces belonging in the Public Service arena. Is it right that Google own the space? Will they control what is said in these spaces in a way that strangles free speech. Google may claim that they will try ‘Not to be evil’ but they do have a responsibility to their shareholders that is enshrined in US law.

Initially I thought that this is a problem, that this is the sort of service that should be run by bodies such as the BBC but soon came to think differently. After working at the BBC for 5 years I know that such a space could not exist, at least not from the BBC as is. These spaces in fact need the risk willing, the type of thinking that start ups and small, fast companies can come up with. Even once in the belly of a beast such as Google there will still be the risk willing thoughts that a body that has been created in the image of ‘Public Service’ would not be able to muster.

I hope that spaces like this continue to be created, they will spring up and allow us to create with the playful instinct.


[and shortly afterwards:]

playful spaces 2

May 1, 2007

Just a quick thought, the videos that Pat Kane showed, ‘Dirty Kuffar’ by Sheikh Terra & The Soul Salah Crew (2004) or DIGIHAD were mashed up, music, politicised activist videos, mostly making use of found (stolen) footage.

We saw many of these same techniques in Adam Curtis’s BBC 2 series, ‘The Power of Nightmares’. This was a three part ‘rib, burn and mix’ construction with a new soundtrack designed to deliver a cultural / political thesis on the modern world.

‘The Power of Nightmares’ is available all over the internet, just like the Jihad videos.

Old Vox – Boutique Energy Companies

[Another old vox.com post]

Boutique Energy Companies

Nov 14, 2006
Will we soon see this?

Boutique energy companies, will you pay a premium for someone to manage your energy needs?

A BEC would come into your home and carry out energy surveys for you, suggest solutions and oversee and project manage the installation of various energy saving systems (insulation, solar water heating, wind turbine).

They will also install an equivallent of the Wattson, maybe each plug and light fitting in your house will have a chip in it that makes it unique, they will be able to monitor your electricity usage (and maybe gas if you use that for heating or cooking). They would be able to report annomolies and also find you the best energy supplier on as ‘on the fly’ as it is possible in the energy world.

They will balance cost and the eco damage of the suppliers, maybe shifting around.

When you move house, they will come in and remove your tags (or leave them with a calling card for the next occupant, though switched off. The option for removal will be important, for the next 10 years at least people will be paranoid about people spying on their energy usage).

Old Vox – Car Data

[I used to post some stuff over on vox.com when it was still up and running, at nodapoints.vox.com. The material is old and out of date but I wanted to re-post a few older pieces so I can reference them and update them.]

[The first here is about some early thoughts on cars and data]

Car Data

Nov 15, 2006
This is an email I sent to the friendlycrowds.com mailing list a few months ago:

The other night I went out for a drink with a friend, he is the
technical director for a UK startup that deals with car industry
data. A few pints in and I was raving about how I wanted to park my car and then download the days car data to my computer (bluetooth, wifi whatever).

I want to know how far and where i have driven (ok, that I can get from a GPS) but how about other data, how much fuel has been used, maybe the temperature of the engine over the day (capture problems before they arise).

Now my friend reckons no one would really want that. In theory the car manufacturers could offer this (look at the data that pours out of formula one racing cars) but they dont want to open up access into the car network. I can understand why, someone standing on a motorway flyover could, maybe through a bad bit of code bring all the Fords to a halt on that bit of road. Probably not good ;)

But I reckon that people would be interested in being able to get
that data. Not everybody but a lot and increasingly so. In five years time a lot of people would want this. Maybe it will only be the middle class car owners, but then they are often the families who own more than one car.

What does everyone think? would you want to be able to access this information? would it be useful? would you, maybe agree to parts of the data being aggregated (how about you got a discount on the London Congestion Charge if you shared more of your car telemetary).

Maybe I need to persuade him it should be his next start-up.

I had a couple of responses, B.K. DeLong has been thinking about this a bit and has a couple of blog entries:



and Andrew Turner sent back a nice set of links to help build some stuff:

You can get OBD modules (bluetooth, usb and/or logging) which will
record this data and you can either stream it to a computer or
handheld device in the car.

Logging & USB: http://www.davisnet.com/drive/products/drive_product.asp?pnum=08221

Bluetooth: http://www.vitalengineering.co.uk/




This is definitely already doable – just a DIY solution right now.
Here’s a cool demo Interface for this kind of solution:


Also – Make magazine is putting out a controller board that includes a CAN interface – so that could be really neat for doing this kind of


Of course, no companies are doing this yet, it is still the realm of car hackers and data gatherers. I still think this is a ripe business area, one that can produce lots of benefits.

On the Elegant Cyborg

[In light of new thoughts since originally writing this I will be posting an update shortly to this site.]

‘Wearables’ or even wearable technology are slightly misleading terms. We wear technology or the products of technology close to our skin all the time. Nearly all of us consume technology or the products of technology all the time, we have modified, created and shaped our environment through technology. We are all, as Donna Haraway has stated, Cyborgs.

What is new is the connection between elements of technology and how you can wear new technology close to your skin and it can both respond and communicate how your body is reacting. Partner that with the network of wireless communications and the Internet of Things and once again we are radically changing our environment.

As such we can define wearable technology as a collection of sensor and communication technologies that have been packaged into physical format that allows for easy carrying by an individual. You could extend this definition to the mobile phone, which in the shape of the ‘Smart Phone’ is a complex computational and communication device. This description also easily encompasses the latest, marketed technologies such as Google Glass, or the activity trackers such as Nike+, or UP 24.

These new wearable technologies are different in other ways as well. Whereas before the technology would most likely be a medical intervention, from vision correction via glasses, contact lenses or even laser sculpting of the actual eye lens, through to other bio-mechanical prostethics through to the use of pharmaceuticals, the current batch of wearable technologies fall (at least initially or predominantly) on the other side of what we are calling the prescription filter.

The prescription filter is a lens through which we can view the different technologies and how the decisions are made that allows them into our bodies. Classic medical interventions are often through the lens or filer of some kind of medical professional. This could be embodied by a Public Health Service or a private doctor but there would be a set of criteria that would either allow or suggest the use of these technologies.

On the other side there is a self-prescriptive filter, where the individual decides to use one of these new technologies. Whereas the medical filter is usually predicated on keeping the individual either alive or better able to interact with the rest of society according to set norms (hearing aid, corrected vision) , the self-prescribed route can be seen as one of enhancement.

‘I wish to improve X and technology Y says it can help do that.’

The decision to wear an activity tracker is not, usually, directly associated with a medical decision. The individual may feel the need to be more active or get healthy in some more general way and decide that using such a device is the way to help them do this. The questions and inputs that lead to the acquiring and use of wearable technology through the self-prescriptive filter are different from those through the medical-professional one.

Of course some of the technologies could be prescribed by either of these filters. A medical professional may ‘prescribe’ an activity tracker to help them monitor a patient for example. Here though questions can be raised about the privacy and providence of the data. If a doctor prescribes  a blood pressure monitor that works with the individual smart phone to capture and upload the data to a secure place to be shared with the doctor, who provides that service and how is it paid for? Whilst it is currently highly unlikely that a Nationalised Health Service would currently do this, it is not inconceivable that a private medical practitioner could. Would the device and service they use be one that has been developed specifically for use by the medical profession or would they use a more ‘off the shelf’ service? Would it be clear to the individual concerned what is happening to their data.

Can you describe possible ‘data side effects’ in using wearable technologies?

The ‘Elegant Cyborg’ is a research project being carried out by geekyoto. It is an umbrella of projects, thoughts and ideas that contribute to the dialogue around the position of the cyborg and communication politics. The overall project aims to use some of the existing language and tools that are being used and developed to critique network infrastructure to be able to examine the more specific case of wearable technology. The Elegant Cyborg project aligns itself with the Stacktivism ‘movement’ as a way of examining the modern landscape. These new wearable technologies are mostly developed by the Stacks, or with the goal of becoming acquired by one of the Stacks and thus designed with the Stack philosophy in mind. They are reliant on the infrastructure that is either created, maintained or being co-opted by these corporate entities.

An Elegant Cyborg is one that understands how their data flows, what the chains of production are and the infrastructures are that enables their technology to work and to be mindful of the political and social implications of these components. An Elegant Cyborg should also, possibly, be aware of when to stop. Stop recording and sharing, when the data is becoming noise and the signal, the reason for the intervention in the first place is getting lost.

Mapping the Cyborg, the first project in the elegant cyborg project is using SCIM to map the position of the human in the data flows around these wearable technologies. Its aim is to use the SCIM framework and develop visual maps to show how the data flows from the individual to the ‘Stack’ through the wearable the network.

The initial visualisations attempt to show the individual and the two filters spoken about, medical professional and self prescriptive. Whilst we are currently focusing on the spec prescriptive side as this is the place that the Stacks most obviously operate, what is also interesting is the fact that the medical professional filter also shows the flows of information through to big, global, corporate entities. The space of public health institutions, pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies and governments creates a web just as complex as the new webs that are being exposed on the side where the stacks operate.

These visualisations will help us uncover areas for further research, to develop new approaches on how we communicate to potential users of these technologies what the flows and implications of these flows of data could mean. A critical toolkit that allows both the designers and users of new wearable technology is vital in being active participants in a democratic, digital society. Developing a way to be digitally polite around your friends, neighbours and everyone else is vital. Otherwise we run the risk of subsuming ourselves into a loud, brash and uncontrolled environment that is driven purely by the philosophy of the Stacks.

Stacktivism, Stacks and SCIM?

Stacktivism is the critical study of the Stacks, as coined by Bruce Sterling. The Stacks are the new corporate style entities, global, highly technically integrated capital systems. They collect data from everywhere they can get it, they process, package, mine and try and turn this data into a capital asset.

They deal in you. You are a part of the network and environment onto which they have mapped their capital model.

The cyborg has always been attached to the institutions, governments and other entities and as such, to examine the cyborg one has to also examine the political systems as much as the technical ones.

Simple Critical Infrastructure Maps were developed to evaluate personal and social resilience and is used by Stacktivism to help visualise and understand the political and social analysis of the infrastructure of the modern world.

Updates on the Elegant Cyborg project are posted at http://www.geekyoto.com/?cat=48


[This article was written as a contribution to Connected, The Internet of Things Quaterly for the second issue on wearables]

[It has been pointed out that Benjamin Bratton coined the term Stacks in the context it is referred to here, which was picked up and popularised by Sterling. Not coined by Sterling as I state in the text].


we’re physical

The internet is tied inextricably into the physicality that is the earth. Even the network nodes that exist beyond this planets atmosphere have been constructed from the materials pulled from the ground below our feet.

Whilst many will now take their power from the sun, the very fact that they are there and are able to collect, transmit and receive data is dependant on the raw materials that this planet provided.

Roy Batty proclaimed that ‘We’re not computers Sebastien, we’re physical’ what we have done is built the paths and tools for computation onto a physical layer.

Our infinite virtual exists in the imagined space conjured up by this computation and our interaction with it.

At some level, at some point we have to step off the virtual levels of the stack and examine the physical parts that make this machine work and tally the cost of each component and each joule of energy it consumes.

Physical costs but so do bits.


Art and …

I was watching some of the twitter stream from an event last night about #Stacktivism. From the stream it felt like there were a number of people in a room who could not communicate with each other, their disciplines used elements of language differently, expectations varied.

I was not there and I am waiting for the video of the event but from the narrow strand of talk I did pick up on, it reminded me of something else.

A while back I was at a symposium at the National Maritime Museum on Art and Astronomy and I think there was one question from the day that is useful thinking about art and Stacktivism.

One of the artists, Elizabeth Price, who had won the Turner Prize in 2012, had been invited to talk about her work and was asked a question from the audience about the scientific usefulness of her work.

Price had been working at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, on work around their archive of photographs of the Sun.

When asked though about the outcomes of the artistic practice, in relation to the scientists work neither the artist or the scientist could give a straight answer, either a ‘Yes, her work gives us new insight into the data and we have done new research on X’ or ‘No, but the outcomes are pretty.’

Similarly, earlier in the day we had been introduced to the work by Hubble scientists in how they present the images that are released. How they echo the great American landscape artists of the 19th and 20th Century. Again a question had been asked on the ‘scientific usefulness’ of this work.

The question could not get a simple answer, it does not deserve a simple answer even though it was an easy question to ask.

One of the things art can do is take something ‘mundane’ and make it weird and in doing that make you think about the thing again.

Art can use the materials of other areas to make the art, it can inherently discuss the materials and processes or not. It can be considered political (or not). It can help describe, help define or just reflect upon.

The language of art becomes a part of the culture of communication, even subconsciously. The photographs taken by Apollo astronauts reflected an aesthetic of the time, and now the images from Hubble are often framed to recall the great sublime landscape art of the 19th Century, the frontier of American colonisation.

Even though the artist may use the data that was used by scientists and create a new output and that output by itself does not answer any questions the scientists immediately have does not diminish its value.

What is it that lies at the nexus of Art and Infrastructure? I don’t know yet, I don’t think anyone has developed it fully yet, no one is properly weirding that part of the world to make us think about it again.

A thin strand of the new digital infrastructural layers are starting to be reflected, presented back and made visible to us, but there are vast stacks behind all this that remain a dark matter to be explored and re-exposed.

Looking back at the history of art, could I just make a small suggestion, Carl Andre’s Equivalent VIII could be an interesting node to start looking at this nexus, but then, so could Turner.

To take someone else’s rallying call ‘Be The Change!’

To say that the existing political system feels even more out of touch, potentially dangerous and most definitely out to protect its own over the last few days is probably an understatement. Part of the problem is the more it is like that, the easier it is to try and ignore, to decide that there is nothing you can do so why bother.
Turnout at election time is low, in the reviews of the day there are discussions about what could have happened if a greater number of people turned up but its a no win scenario. People won’t vote when they don’t see the potential for change, can’t see how they can make a difference.

Change is a good thing, though it can be both scary and difficult. So I want to ask you all to imagine something simple.

What if we could persuade at least one person to stand as an independent in each constituency in the coming general election. Someone who lived locally in the constituency, someone who was interested enough in politics to make a go at it, but also realised that this is not a career move. With an aim not to be in the Westminster Circle for the rest of their life but to help make their constituency, the country (and impact the rest of the world) for the better of everyone.

They would have to be able to listen to argument, to compromise, to speak up at times, to be willing to return to the constituency to listen to the thoughts of the voters they represent, to work across scales. Most importantly they must be willing to be transparent about their political life, and we should be respectful of the transparency on that life and respect a private family life.

I very much doubt it would be an easy job, if you stand as a part of a party you have a grander support structure but a structure that is becoming obsolescent in the modern networked world.

The #UnParty can be a new kind of support structure. By standing as an independent you declare that you are not subject to a Party mandate, your manifesto can be drawn from the best ideas, not driven purely by ideology. If the #UnParty can be a support network for independents, a place for those wanting to stand to discuss issues, problems and ideas without conflict, a place where volunteers can help independents stand and when elected do their job then I believe we can affect change to the system overall.

To stand for election is incredibly easy, at the moment there is no register, no one you have to tell, you can just wake up one morning and decide to do it. Then you can tell as many people as you like. Later on some paper work does come into play, and by the election you will need to have found the following:

* 10 people in the constituency that you want to stand in willing to sign your nomination paper.
* A deposit of £500. You get this back if you get 5% or more of the vote, otherwise you loose it.

That is pretty much the basics, yes there is a lot of communication, a lot of talking to people but that is not a bad thing. If that is not something you can do then maybe don’t stand yourself but help someone else.

If you decide to stand then read this article over at the Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2009/may/22/how-to-become-an-mp which has some more basic tips on getting started.

Also go to the Electoral Commission website where there is a lot of information. You can call them as well and they are really helpful.

Finally, James Smith, who has been running the OpenPolitics Manifesto has decided to do just this, he is blogging and writing his experiences to share with everyone.

If you decide to stand or help persuade someone to stand then let us know and we will build out the #UnParty network to support them.


[[This was sent out as a TinyLetter, subscribed to via the Unparty Politics Website and was the first one.]]

Quantified Value

In thinking about the Elegant Cyborg one has to start asking the value in the data, that which we measure must have a value somewhere, somehow, mustn’t it?

That value does not have to be financial though, which of course makes the quantification of the perceived value difficult.

From the first sketches of the cyborg I can see the points of basic data flow from the individual and their activity, through the devices and onwards towards the stacks. To me, this does ask an initial question.

‘How useful is the data captured by devices such as Nike+, or Jawbone UP to me?’

From this initial question, I can add some further questions, to try and get more detail on this:

Does seeing the number of steps I take and/or data such as the calories burnt (estimated?) actually allow me to improve my health? Am I equipped with the right information to understand and analyse this kind of information properly?

I also have another question,

‘what is the value of this data to the Stack?’

Either on an individual basis, or in aggregation? How can they use the data to sell? (which is the primary use of data by the stacks).

In thinking about this at one stage I did wonder, does any of this information really have any value to the stacks? especially in aggregation? Or in fact is it really of use in creating a platform with share options, which basically leads to other sales of the devices (and a possible update path for existing users)? Basically is the real value in selling the device and general information on users sharing on the platform or is there any value in the quantified activity data from the users?

[I know, lots of questions and as yet no answers]

imagining preferable futures