Category Archives: Projects

The Open Journal of Critical Infrastructure Studies

An awful lot of us live lives wrapped in infrastructure, its what keeps many parts of the world functioning in a modern way.

A number of people have started writing, producing work that attempts to examine this infrastructure with the same critical eye that we cast over other components of our lives and the development of such a critical thinking framework is rapidly and increasingly becoming vital as the new infrastructure of the digital, communications network increasingly affects so many aspect of our lives.

Yet this infrastructure is increasingly invisible, from the fact that it uses electromagnetic radiation to transmit information through to the strategic agendas of corporations who wish to mask the underlying operational methods behind their productised solutions to modern life.

‘It Just Works’ being the mantra from Apple and you as the user of the apple product, do not have to understand how it works, just know that it does. Except that often it doesn’t or doesn’t quite and you won’t know why.

@thejaymo is concept curator at @stacktivism and Paul Graham Raven has created ‘Infrastructure Fiction‘.

Vinay Gupta (@leashless) has created Simple Critical Infrastructure Maps and written extensively on the infrastructure that keeps us alive.

We want to create an open access journal to disseminate the new ideas and thinking in this space. This is a blog post on starting the process and I will keep these going until we have one up and running or have decided that the area is already well served.

To this end we need to:

1. Check the landscape, what are the existing journals on infrastructure (critical or otherwise) and what is their approach? Are they papers on the latest implementation techniques for X technology or are they discussions on the implication of installing such a technology with such and environment and what could be the impact on the population of that environment.
2. Decide a domain to cover, is it about critical infrastructure, or is is critical thinking about infrastructure? Is it urban in scope? What does it encompass and what is outside of its remit?
3. Find a name.
4. Define an editorial process. Who will edit, how will review take place, how often will it publish, will it be online only or print and online?
5. Then launch journal.

(Somewhere in there we will attempt to find funding as well).

Since these discussions are already collaborative, if you have any thoughts on scope or ideas or name or anything, then please take part.

Introducing the researchAgenda

I want to research how being more public and open about the subjects that you wish to research affects that research, does it make for a richer outcome? Does it mean that you start competing with others to get your results out sooner once you know that you and twenty others are working on similar topics? Or do you collaborate, maybe publish more, your own work plus work written together?

I sat down and hit the paralysis that I wrote about before, I want to change the world in these ways and right now I have no idea how to take the next step. Which idea is worth spending time on? which one not?

Of course, rather than just pick one work out the plan for it, then if it failed quickly move onto the next I decided to create another idea to address the problem.

researchAgenda is a simple site, simple because part of it is really me practicing my coding again after too many years just managing projects.

Using twitter, you sign in, and create a simple post, a title and a small block of text. Describe quickly what you are thinking of researching.

This can then be tweeted to your followers, who can, if they are interested visit the site, give you a positive vote if you think the idea is worth looking at, maybe leave a comment or maybe they know a reference you should be aware of, a paper on the web, or in a journal or another project by someone.

Each idea has its own view, so you can see all the comments, the suggested references and if it was your idea, you can press a button to start the project. What does this do? It clones a standard, default project in GitHub, creates a set of folders for data, documentation, references etc and a readme and contributor list that is based on the people who have added comments and references to your idea on researchAgenda.

Think of it as similar to HelpMeWrite for research.

At the moment there is nothing about the institution, nothing about how the project is reviewed or funded, or even a necessity to document what the outcome would be. It is currently just a space to write down the fact that you are interested in investigating further X. Maybe after feedback you get to refine what it is, maybe its a short project, you are going to spend a week just using a new technology and your outcome will be a blog post on what you found, good learning references etc.

Maybe though the outcome is more going to be more substantial. Can you take the input and form it into a proposal to go before one of the research councils, are you attached to an Institution that can manage the funding from such?

Of course, longer term this is, in itself a stake in the ground about creating a more public discourse about research, knowledge acquisition, generation and dissemination. Can you shape a research proposal an perform the primary work without being attached to a usual Institution? How are the outcomes of your work reviewed and published and how can the current models of academia bend to accept such work? Can they?

This does also tie into my previous posts, one on how to affect change, having a simple way to put a message ‘I want to do X’ that you can point to and ask for feedback is nice. Yes you can write a blogpost, or a facebook post or any number of other places but there is also something about the idea of a communal space, this is creating an simple ‘UnAcademia’ (ok, I’m not sure that is really the term to use, I could be quickly using up my valid excuses to use the Un- prefix). The other the Arts UnCouncil on alternative funding for arts and cultural activity.

I think as this stands, it would work for ideas around the arts and humanities, as well as for people who already operate outside the usual academic institutions. They can use the interest in a proposed research problem to help support trying to get funding for doing the work, for example. Would the idea work in other areas of research? Would bioscientists use such a platform to start staking out what they were interested in and maybe finding interest / collaborators outside their usual field/lab of interest?

There is nothing to say that you have to use the GitHub project, or you have to keep it open, maybe it can integrate into other online tools, maybe you can use this to help start parts of a research project that involve crowd sourcing of participation for microtasks?

researchAgenda will launch shortly in alpha, it is just a sketch in code but if you are interested in trying it out drop me a line and I’ll make sure you know when its live.

a new new art riot

this weekend just past (19th & 20th November 2011) Rewired State hosted a Hackday For Honda at The Guardian and I got to go along as one of the devs.

It was possibly the scariest hackday to do as what to build, what did Honda and their agency Amplify expect? It was a tricky event but the amazing Rewired State team did pull it off and some amazing ideas got built. You must check them out.

I planned to work with Chris Thorpe (@jaggeree) and originally we planned something on behavioural change but…

You turn up, you think differently, a hard week and you want to try something else. Art became our theme quite quickly and in fact, just making something that could be called art.

So we did.

Under the group name ‘This Is Our Algorithm’ we produced three pieces of art, pieces that had thought and ideas behind them, that should be provoking but playful.

‘The Watchful State’

At last I started my CCTV mapping project, if you have spoken to me in the last ten or more years you will know I have been interested in the idea of mapping our surveillance infrastructure. Over the weekend I started a project to actually start to realise that idea, albeit slowly.

I had discussed the fact that rolling up to a large surveillance installation with a camera and starting to snap would in fact interest the police. But what if the image of the installation was recorded with pencil and paper, or charcoal or even water colours.

The final triptych consists of:

A map made using (This is Michal Migurski awesome tool that makes a paper map of anywhere, but you add details to the map, then scan it back in and help add detail to Open Street Map)

A photograph of the CCTV installation in question and a pencil and charcoal drawing or sketch of the street scene.
First art

The other pieces were Karma,




and a Dream with a Dream

A Chain of Dreams #hondahack

All three pieces dealt with algorithms, code and control. They were as much about some strange desire we have to codify up our lives into possibly complex but ultimately meaningless algorithms, trying to reduce complexity to a point beyond understandable simplicity to end at a nihilistic pointlessness.

Reality is complex, understanding reality is hard.

That’s what makes it fun!

So we intend to make more art. We will tell you more about it all at This Is Our Algorithm.

UPDATE: 23/11/2011

You have to go and read Chris’ thoughts on the event and learn more about Dream with a Dream. He’s right, I miss it already too and want to build another chain. Possible Christmas decoration project if nothing else.

‘The Letter Writing Cafe’

It’s a small cafe, tucked away off a main street. There is a steady bustle of people walking past on their way to other places. Inside is a small counter to order your drink, maybe something to eat. A handful of tables and chairs, all old wood, looking like they have been used for years and been in places other than this.

One thing you notice is that all the tables are large enough for a sheet of letter paper to be placed down and for words to be written upon it, with a warming cup of coffee by your side.

Paper and envelopes, all detailed with the name of the cafe are available at every table. Postage can be ordered with your coffee and food.

Regulars can have their own box to which letters can be sent, the walls display messages sent generally to the cafe itself. Stories from around the world as people who have visited briefly decide to share their current adventure with the place itself.

Each table itself has an ongoing letter, one that never leaves the table. People come and add their story and thoughts to the letter, addressing the people who have been their previously or those yet to come. ┬áThese letters are in fact all over the cafe, the walls, the chairs. Stories can be told to everything in the cafe. They are like Kerouac’s long roll of paper recording his road trip only the travelling is not done by the storyteller for the journal, it is about those that move towards the object and what they set down in words at that time. The objects record those that use it, rather than the travelling experience of the individual.

Letters arrive and are sent, private and public messages to share and those to cherish. Letters official or random, some make sense whilst others more like a narrative fragment from elsewhere.

Some letters are bequeathed to the archive, to become as much a part of the narrative of the cafe. Others remain forever part of other stories, personal stories to be told to a different audience.

The cafe exists for those who want to sit down and write their thoughts, their dreams. Their criticisms and imaginings. The stories to share with loved ones, the letter to the editor or just a missive in a bottle.

It is a destination for letters and a distribution hub, a nodal point in a world of communication. A place to think,  to watch, to talk.

A place to write.

hackday in london

Yahoo and have announced a Uk hackday, to be held in London.

This will be a cool event where stuff will be built. I have signed up and here is a quick braindump of stuff i would like to try and build / see built / talk about:

  • viridian widgets

desktop widgets to allow me to keep a track of power usage, paper usage and other data wrangling on the physical impact of my computing on the world.

  • mypersonalkyoto

A site to really start collating, shifting and sifting my physical footprint. This links back to ideas I have previoulsy posted on my ‘occasional log‘ namely car data and boutique energy companies.

  • streetpower

another idea, to get small groups working together to generate power, aid in recycling and motivating other ideas to reduce the carbon footprint of our lives.

I’ll see if I can bring a Wattson or something similar along and see what power data I can dig up for consumption, and what other API’s to mash (when will Dopplr be open?)

the daily climate forecast

yesterday (14th February 2007) i was lucky enough to attend the 3rd Design Futures conference, held by the BBC’s Design Forum. yes it is for BBC staff only but the ideas are so important that they need to be spoken about elsewhere.

the day had 5 world class speakers, one of whom was John Thackara, of ‘In The Bubble‘ and ‘Doors of Perception‘ fame. His talk was about content, an underlying theme of the day. His focus was content in the face of global, catastrophic climate change.

by starting with a distillation of Al Gore’s presentation to four slides he then went on to present some of the work that is happening in DOTT07, or Designs of the Time. this is happening in the north east of england and is looking at design and everyday life, in the context of climate change.

he then gave four ideas that he felt that the BBC could help build and communicate. all four are good and important and i can see ideas for all of them but at the moment i want to concentrate on one which i feel is visibly most appropiate for the geeKyoto project.

‘the weather report’

on prime time television, every day we have meteorologists present what is essentially a jargon ladden, scientific based prediction and report on the current and expected weather. most people watch it and note the graphic over their area, the rain or the sun maybe paying attention to the time as well. does anybody really understand what they mean by the bands of high (or low) pressure and why it affects the weather over their heads?

so the challenge is can we present the state and predictions of the climate, globally and locally. all the science and politicians state that it is going to get worse before it gets better and if we do not do anything it will just get worse.

can the BBC do this? well yes i think it can but so could geeKyoto, could we make a ‘the daily climate’ meaningful and easy to understand in as ambient and easy a way as possible?