Friday, 30 October 2009

Apocalyptica and the New City of Space


Last weeks the most disturbing science news headline was “How the city hurts your brain” circulating as new research that proves the evil of cities. The original article can be found at the Boston Globe.
It all starts with a very innocent introduction where the author says: “The City has always been an engine of intellectual life, from the 18th-century coffeehouses of London, where citizens gathered to discuss chemistry and radical politics, to the Left Bank bars of modern Paris, where Pablo Picasso held forth on modern art. Without the metropolis, we might not have had the great art of Shakespeare or James Joyce; even Einstein was inspired by commuter trains.” From this point it goes down hill. From spreading cholera to the argument that the before named artists eventually moved out of the city, concluding “ ... [the city] it’s also a deeply unnatural and overwhelming place” We’ll that is a statement, DEEPLY UNNATURAL! However, as we try to grasp the extend of the devastating news, the authors are quick with analysis and of course solution. It is all down to the city affecting the brain and a few minutes on the busy street will blow your memory and you start suffering from reduced self control (what does that mean?). Again with a very pointy argument, “that's why Picasso left Paris”. The excuse comes in the form of the acceptance that “The mind is a limited machine” while still concluding this, the first solution comes in the form of “One of the main forces at work is a stark lack of nature”. I am aware that this is not actually a solution , but rather an other analysis or hypothesis, but in its tone directly implies to be a solution. And it does not stop there it straight goes through the wall with the sledge hammer solving ALL! the problems: “...that hospital patients recover more quickly when they can see trees from their windows, and that women living in public housing are better able to focus when their apartment overlooks a grassy courtyard”.
WOW, now I feel much better and I am convinced we live in a better world.
It however comes to the first element I do actually very much agree with the authors, the fact that this kind of research comes exactly in time with the news (and of course the media coverage and interpretation) that now over 50% of the world’s population live in cities. Unfortunately it dives right back down with a sweet but unrealistic naive worldview of: “For a species that evolved to live in small, primate tribes on the African savannah, such a migration marks a dramatic shift. Instead of inhabiting wide-open spaces, we're crowded into concrete jungles, surrounded by taxis, traffic, and millions of strangers.”

I think I stop here, because the article goes on for another four pages, I hope I have missed the point of the article and if some of you read it all through, please let me know what I missed. The ‘leave a comment’ field can be found at the end of the post.

But actually there is another reason to stop at this point, because this one point is very interesting and important. We are living in a mainly urbanised world. Most of us live in urban areas and rising. The UN predicts some 70-80% by 2050. “The United Nation Population Fund, UN agency, says in a new report that humanity will have to undergo a “revolution in thinking” to deal with a doubling of urban populations in Africa and Asia. The UN continues to say that the number of people in African and Asian cities will grow by 1.7 billion by the year 2030. And worldwide, the number of city dwellers will reach five billion or 60 per cent of the world’s population (citymayors)“
‘Revolution in thinking’ is probably a more appropriate suggestion than to point out how bad our (western) cities are. Western city here is important if not to say European, because this is what I believe the above article is referring to. Conditions in other ‘urban’ areas in the world are dramatically different from what westerners call ’a city’. And I mean, to dig out a cholera example is pathetic. According to Wikipedia the first cholera pandemic reached London and Paris in 1832, a second one in 1849, the third Europe skipped, fourth in 1854 and a fifth in 1866 that was locally very much condemned as by then London was just about to finish its new water and sewage system (I guess it is still the same, but that is another topic). However you can see that since 1866 dramatic chances in the urban environment were introduced. I am aware that I also imply a lot here, but to bring it across in a similar style: the city was a much worse place. (We all know that this is a very difficult way to express thought about historical events and while being aware of the implications of the distorted and constructed past as seen from the present,
it might be much more complex, but we’ll keep things simple her for today.) To come back to the new challenge of the dramatic growth in urban population - a doubling of the city population in Asia and Africa - another example might be of interest. Thinking back to the last urban crisis this latest and now upcoming reaction very much reminds me of Haussmann’s renovation of in Paris or Ebenezer Howard with the Garden City.In fact both came after the Cholera pandemics. I am pretty sure, actually I was only waiting for the first such news to appear, that we ill see a lot of reactions to the ‘city problem’ coming down a similar route as the article quoted in the beginning of this post. It is all bad and we have to reinvent to solve it. Urban designer will be very quick to jump to Howard’s idea of the Garden City to have a readymade solution. Someone will dig it out.

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Image from Wikipedia - as published in "Garden Cities of tomorrow", Sonnenschein publishing, 1902

However to make it clear, I am not playing down the urgent and extend of the raising question. In the contrary, it is an urgent matter, especially because the urban planning profession in general and urban design and architecture (I add them here because they all think they can do both anyway) in particular is in an identity crisis with no consistent concepts available at present. The only thing that buzzes around is sustainability, but it’s got no content to it.

In an article on io9 Chanda Phelan presents how apocalyptic stories have changed in the past 200 years. She explains ”It's not the idea of Ending itself that has faded – that will be around until we are actually mopped off the face of the Earth. It's the actual moment of disaster, the blood and guts and fire, that has been losing ground in stories of the End. Post-apocalyptic fiction is a 200-year-old trend, and for 170 of those years, the ways writers imagined the end were pretty transparently a reflection of whatever was going on around them – nuclear war, environmental concerns, etc. In the mid-1990s, though, everything just turned into a big muddle. Suddenly, we'd get a post-apocalyptic world whose demise was never explained. It was just a big question mark.“ And she also points out that actually it was never about the end, but the new beginning. However she analyses that in the last 30 years there has been a decreasing interest in the why and how of the end, very often simply assuming that there was an end. Presumable, from my reading of it, the apocalypse was never about, it actually ends, but about narrating a sin or something stylised ‘problematic’ to actually urge people to change something in the present. Implying ”if you don’t behave now, something disastrous might, could possibly, eventually, maybe happen“. And in this sense skipping this part of the apocalypse is indeed a very dramatic change.

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Image by Stephanie Fox - How the Apocalypse Will Happen - A Literary Chart

In this sense the attitude to the posed urban growth question would be, let’s skip the growth, the infrastructure demand, logistics, flows, identity, morphology, material, organisation, atmosphere, form, transport, colour, work, resource, governing, social, knowledge, communication, finance, and so on question and just build a New Cities for some 80 million people or maybe better a set of Garden cities, each with some 58’246.1 residents ?

So what to do?

Thursday, 29 October 2009

GPS Signal Jammed by the Pentagon


Actually the GPS signal can be manipulated, who would have guessed otherwise? The system being a American Military Defense innovation initially, this is one of the strategies implemented to prevent enemies using the system against US targets. The other system implemented was the selective availability (SA) restriction imposed on the signal for civil, e.g. non military, use. Today a large variety of digital gadgets are equipped with a GPS receiver, ranging from in car navigation systems to mobile phones and cameras. This was kicked of by the former president Bill Clinton’s decision to lift the imposed selective availability (SA) restriction in 2000 (Prasad 2005, p.7). Following the SA removal, civil and commercial GPS accuracy increased from around 100m to somewhere between 3m and 15m (Pendleton 2002 as cited in Spencer Spencer 2003, p.56).
However to come back to the temporal and local jamming of the GPS signal holds still a very important status in the strategy of US military action. This is that the European system Galileo is still under construction and its partial launch will not be until 1012 or beyond. The other functioning system is the Russian Glonas. However this is not covering the entire planet with constant signal as it only operates from 18 satellites (2008) covering Russia. In this sense the US holds a monopoly on this location based information system.


Image taken from Wikipedia

The jamming of the signal is normally not know to the public and only speculated over. However it is very likely that it is used in current war zones, like Iraq and Afghanistan. There are reports over this jamming to be found on the internet.
Computerworld has an article on the subject quoting some GPS experts on the matter. “Sam Wormley, a researcher at Iowa State University in Ames and manager of an authoritative GPS resources and accuracy Web site, said that the Pentagon "definitely" has the capability to jam civilian GPS signals in a given area without interfering with more precise military signals. Wormley said that's because the military signals occupy a different and smaller slice of the GPS frequency band than that used by the civilian signals.” The jamming most likely is achieved through a slight desincronisation of the clocks. For military purpose this can easily be decoded.
There are very funny discussions going on out there on the web around the possibility of jamming satellite signal. A good one is on yahoo.answers.com, where some guy accuses his neighbor ‘Joe’ to jam his satellite dish, because when ever Joe is home the guy thinks his TV signal is disrupted.
Thinking this further, how do we know that the actual position is correct? As we have seen in the introduction of this post, as well as in last weeks new Argos catalogue, consumer GPS products have become immensely popular and everyone needs to know where they are. Whether this is true or not in this case is probably not that important. So to say, we don’t know if the represented location on Google Earth is actually the true position as in lat long, yes we can see that this image shows the street we’re in, but the structural framework of the Lat Long coordinate is not necessarily the ‘right’ one. But I guess this is the question of the artificially impose grid that we can only virtually refer to and belief in as a convention.
So next time you end up in New York, rather than the planned Newark because of a spelling mistake while typing it into the gadget, you can blame the US for temporarily jamming your specific satellite. But if you are after your neighbor here are some web stores where you can purchase your own satellite jammer to annoy your ‘Joe’.

However I wanted to link a creepy James Bond extract, where the space craft swallows the satellite, but you guess it is not out there yet. So if anyone has this sequence laying around please upload and link it here.
However I therefore link to a very boring but scientific clip that actually visualises the GPS signal availability in Kabul during the course of one day. The scientist, Richard Langley, a professor of geodesy and precision navigation at the University of New Brunswick has observed the predicted position of the satellite versus the actual signal strength in the are and there seems to be clearly a jam. However, that was recorded back in 2001, but most certainly this has taken place before and after, as well as in other places than Kabul too.


Clip by Richard Langley - Kabul.GPS.Visibility.mov

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Der Mensch als Industriepalast - Animation


I am currently very fascinated by everything machine. We’ll as you can guess or experience your self there is very little that would not fall into this category, in terms of conception. However this might also simply be a preconditioned view through the glasses of the ticking ticking ticking blog topic with the idea of cycles and rhythms.
What ever it is here is an update to an other post on the human machine, referring to concepts picturing the body as a machine. Famously Fritz Kahn stands for the most complete work of this idea.

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Image by Anatomies by Fernando Vicente - Illustration in the style of Fritz Kahn

However there is a beautiful project by Henning Lederer to animate the drawings of Fritz Kahn and brings them to life. It was produced as an university Master project, details on HERE. Detailed project information can be downloaded as a PDF. Henning also writes a very fascinating blog on everything related to the topic of machines and animation with a string of beautiful examples.

Der Mensch als Industriepalast [Man as Industrial Palace] from Henning Lederer on Vimeo.

World Racer


Gaming in the real world is currently the big thing and interactive technologies do support these activities. However there is on the other side similar effort to make games more realistic, see game engines on digitalurban. In between the two extremes, you could say, there sits Google Maps and Google Earth. Of course not as an official game but in terms of reality vs. virtual, as it virtually represents the reality. Google has so far had little aspiration to take on the games market, apart from the flight simulator in Google Earth together with release 4. There are now with the release of the new flash version some new options. Not Google, but independent developers, have started to merge some gaming interaction with Google’s virtual real world platforms.
A very early one was the Monster Milk Truck that could be driven in Google Earth. I love that one, it is hilarious with some nice, but simple effects, like jumps that made the feeling. It was made possible by the release of the Plug-In to run Google Earth in a browser.
Earlier this year we saw the launch of Monopoly based on Google Maps and now there are some new racing games out.
One is RealWorldRacer by Tom Scott. Here you can enter a destination in Google Maps as you would to find a route you are planning and off you go. There are some four cars to compete with. Along the track there are check points and you have to drive relatively close to them to deactivate. This is to make sure you are not driving off somewhere on the map, as there are currently o other bounding elements implemented.
Another tool is googleDrive developed in conjunction with the MIT by Samuel Birch, this one is said to have limitations where you can only drive on the actual roads, however it did not work on my machine so let me know what you think of it.
A third one is Driving Simulator on geoquake and here you can choose between four different vehicles. It has just released a beta version with a perspective to drive the car HERE.

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Image by urbanTick - Screenshot Real World Racer : Plymouth to Exeter. You can tell, I am driing the red paper car that is going down towards Sutton Harbour.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Stopping Time - the Most Precise Measurements


Time measuring is nowadays very precise and this we take for granted. To some extend in some sense time has become natural. This is probably a safe assumption to say. Most people would regard time as a natural occurring ‘substance’ and the watch around their wrist as a piece of technology ‘measuring’ this phenomenon. In reality it might be the other way round. The little and in some cases beautifully crafted piece of engineering is actually inventing the time as it ticks.
Certainly time is not a natural phenomenon even though we have grown to think of it as fundamental it is little more than a social convention or a cultural agreement that has developed over the last century and managed to extend its importance. The first wave came with the industrial revolution and the synchronisation of working hours. Time has entered individual households and then accompanied each individual around the wrist. Even more so, time players ‘behind the scenes’ a crucial role without which not much would work in today’s highly timed society arrangements. From computer networks to complex shipping and transport schedules everything ticks. GPS as a technology for example is basically based on time sync. Each satellite has up to three atom clocks to keep track of the time and provide the most accurate time the receiver is checking its time against. Besides the visual field of images and photography, time is probably the second most important field of technology in our era.
There seem to be two big groups of time application, one side is the technology applications and the other is the consumer side of time keeping. An application that somehow sits in between the two is the discipline of time keeping for major sports events such as the Olympics. The determination of the accurate measurement of the new 100m sprint world record has both aspects, on one side it is completely technical and a question of applied engineering, but on the other hand it is highly emotional and directly why millions of people are drawn into the fascination of sport. The company Swiss Timing is delivering this crucial bit of the games since the 1932 Olympic games in Los Angeles.
It is all very accurate, on time and in sync. In this job one cannot make mistakes there is only one chance to tae the time of a potentially new world record and the time ticks. So backup systems are needed. If time fails what do you do what can you rely up on that compares. The other problem is the accurate stopping of the time in relation to the finishing of the race. Who crossed the line first when exactly was the line crossed? Surprisingly, but probably obvious the back up is a visual method. It is all captured on camera, the finishing as well as the backup start signal. Here gain the power of the ‘true image is striking. Decisions in the dimension of a thousandth of a second not only decide over who the winner is, but decides over a number of attached an most likely very valuable extension, from sponsors to advertisement and supporter, sport is about money. The truth and evidence are important and it seems that once more the visual is dominant.
It seems that most of these types of measuring the time are all very much exterior and so far athlete centered technologies are not jet accepted by the IOC. Positioning systems and RFID technology are in trials and most probably the future of time measuring.

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Image by “Ciclos d’Racco Anti-Age”, Agency: ByVivas, Curitiba, Brazil, Creative Director: Marcos Steffens, Art Director: Ricardo Madeira Peroza, Copywriter: Fernando Baibich, Illustrator: Studio M - takn from adoholik

Monday, 26 October 2009

Gaming at Large Scale


Real world gaming with the help of mobile gadgets with GPS are high up this week. This weekends Saturday Guardian Guide points to a gaming event that will take place over the next weekend simultaneously in three locations across the UK.
It is once more a sign of the upcoming section of location-interactive-real-world-games. Those are together with the availability of gadgets popular and also develop into more mass compatible storyboards and technologies. In an other post on real-world games HERE, looked at reinterpreted old classics.
The announced event ‘greatstreetgames’ will take place between 29 October and the 1 November simultaneously in Gateshead, Sunderland and Middlesbrough. It is set up as a competition between the three places, but anyone can join any team, it is open to the public.
Basically it will consist of a large play field projected in each location where players collect points by collecting ‘virtual’ balls. It will be a best of five series each game lasting 90 seconds. The city with the most points wins. Surprisingly the official web pages do not make a very big deal out of it. THere is very little information to be found outside the world of techies and geeks.

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Image by KMA via Pruned

It is designed by KMA, collaboration between Kit Monkman and Tom Wexler. They introduce their work as follow “KMA’s work creates large, immersive, sometimes networked, ‘digital playgrounds’, in which distinctions between audiences and performers disappear. The resulting social engagements reaffirm the urban community through embodied, rather than verbal, discourse.”
The project has already featured on Pruned and was embedded in a lovely story envisioning the encounter with the projected game field as something one might stumble across in the darkness of the vast city, something that might be a discovery.
However this game is locally very confined to a rather small space as the visualisations suggest. You wont need the GPS to play, maybe to find it, if you were texted the latest location for today’s game. Nevertheless, it does connect over a large distance the three cities. From the available descriptions it is difficult to grasp how much interaction is possible between the locations, but this definitely would be the most interesting aspect. Maybe someone in Sunderland will snatch your virtual ball and drop it in their own box.
To some extend the game proposal reminds me of the ‘Where is Wally’ scene with the six team football.

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Image by KMA via Pruned

As it looks, Hollywood also has realized that there is something changing in the world of gamers and games. They have implemented the aspect of real people in a virtual game for quite a while, probably because it makes of simple plots. The latest version is the ‘Gamer’ movie directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor. What they haven’t yet realised is the spatial aspect of the emergent street games and with it the importance of the location.
But probably this is the point, a game is not a movie, you are not entertained, you are entertaining as you play the game.

Friday, 23 October 2009

GPS to 3D Max - update


In the 3D max post post I wrote about a script to import GPS data directly into 3D studio max.It was developed here in CASA with a focus on using it in the UK. Due to the interest of people in the code we decided to release it for you to use. It is now available to download HERE.
Richard, who developed the code, had to make a few changes for the released version. It has got mainly to do with the transformation. As mentioned earlier it was developed with a focus on the UK, so the implemented transformation was from WGS to OS GB. For a general release this might not make much sense. So for now the released code is a simple factor multiplication on the Lat Long GPS information. For the quick import that should work fine, as long as you are not working on a Max model dealing with large geographical areas like the whole of Africa. For small scale models this should be ok. However, let us know how its work and what you like or what you d’wanted changed.
We are also aware of a problem related to time interpretation. For example if you are using GPS Babel to write the GPX file it will have milliseconds in the format and that might cause the script to report an time interpretation error. You can change it manually in the code, two formats are implemented.

I have just tested the new script with a rather large GPX file of some three month of tracking data, Max really has to work but it comes up with all the points.

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Image by urbanTick - GPS track rendered in 3D Studio Max

Small Life Weekend Activity


For the approaching weekend something to relax, a beautiful stop motion timeLapse with some tilt shift. The title suggest Switzerland, but actually it is Germany. The area is I think a national park that bares similarities with the Swiss mountain landscape.
It might inspire you for some special activity for the upcoming weekend. We are already mid autumn, the threes turn bright orange, red and yellow and start sailing off the branches and twigs. But those are also the days of these beautiful walks in the park or the countryside, with the low sun throwing an intense light out into the landscape.
Also have a look at Christoph Schaarschmidt other clips and movies, he does great stuff.

Small Life in Saxon Switzerland from Christoph Schaarschmidt on Vimeo.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Are we Losing our Sense of Direction?


Are we losing our Sense of Direction? What a rhetoric question. Without the context this does not really make sense, or does it?
Usually as things are starting to be fun, some one comes over to tell you how bad this is and that you should not do it because of this or this or even this reason. At least it was like this when you were a teen, battling for independence with beloved ones.
However this is long gone and things have changed since. And still the same situation. But now we are wiser and think twice, maybe it is true, or at least partially, there might be something about this other opinion I have not thought of in this way.
Here we re with the news, finally, GPS is BAD!
Yes, you are right, your SatNav is doing harm to you as you drive. At least this is what the headlines of the news on the New York Times blog and the walrus magazine suggest Actually it is all based on an article by Alex Hutchinson.
We actually have an other SatNav article her on urbanTick, that addresses the problem of arriving at the desired location but in this case it was about spelling the destination name correctly.
In general Alex Hutchinson points out in hi article that navigating is a learning process that is a dual relationship between brain and action. The more we use it the better we are at it, but it needs to be maintained.
Scientists have identified an area in the brain, the hippocampus, to be responsible or this sort of navigation task. “The brains of London cabbies have outsized rear hippocampuses, because they are required to painstakingly learn the byzantine lanes and byways of the Old World city. (NYblog)” Most of us will not attempt to learn the apparently 25’000 street names and thousands of landmarks required for becoming a cabby. However navigating and orientating do not necessarily require you to know all the names of the streets. Other elements are important in day-to-day navigation. Hutchinson refers to Veronique Bohbot a researcher at McConnell Brain Imaging Center: “Bohbot demonstrated in a widely cited 2003 study that our mapping strategies fall into two basic categories. One is a spatial strategy that involves learning the relationships between various landmarks — creating a cognitive map in your head. The other is a stimulus-response approach that encodes specific routes by memorizing a series of cues, as in: get off the bus when you see the glass skyscraper, then walk toward the big park. For their study, Bohbot created a virtual maze that tested both methods; they found that about half of us prefer spatial strategies, while the other half prefer stimulus-response” (walrus magazine). We probably use both of these techniques depending on the situation, but most likely we prefer one over the other. What navigation type are you?

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Record Your Life - With This?


TimeLapse has extensively featured here before and I am always interested to hear about new projects in stop motion. One of the aspects of time laps is the ‘compression’ of time as opposed to the ‘real time’ video recording at 25/30 frames a second. TimeLapse can be any frame rate per second, minute or year. In post processing the images are then output as a clip at the video frame rate. This then is a video with dropped frames, skipping sections, but thus compressing an event in to a much smaller timeframe.
There are brilliant examples of yearlong projects, capturing the change of the seasons.
For a lifelong project a couple of difficulties have to be overcome. One is the readiness of the photographer. For not to miss the opportunity to get the good shot, one has to be constantly on the trigger. This is not possible over a longer period while ‘living’ the lead role in the soap opera project. An other implication is the storage capacity, even though it is a compressed version of filming it generates quickly a lot of data.
A new product is about to enter the market to take on exactly the customers that are interested in that kind of stuff, somehow that would consequently include me too. However, the product was initially developed by Microsoft in one of the research centers, actually in the Cambridge research centre. In short it is a camera that can be worn as a bracelet and it takes, as the name suggests, triggered by a bunch of sensors images. These sensors are light-intensity and light-color sensors, a passive infrared (body heat) detector, a temperature sensor, and a multiple-axis accelerometer. The camera processor controls the sensors and will if there is a change in sensed environment take a picture. Every thing is automatic, hands free photography so to say. Cleverly the developers got rid of the viewfinder, to save on unnecessary elements and probably to stop customers using the device as a normal camera. Whether the device has an actually release button to manually shoot an important scene is not reported.

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Images by Microsoft - Example shots taken with a SenseCam

Reading the specs does not necessarily make you jump for joy, the cam spots a VGA 640x480 pixels resolution receiver. I am not a big fan of massive resolution, but having at least the option for a timeLapse on vimeo in HD should probably be standard. That’s only some 1080x720 pix what a first generation iPhone will do! But it goes on, the camera is capable of taking a picture every 30 secs only and there is currently only a 1GB flash memory available. Microsoft suggests this will give you room for 30’000 pictures.
As a life log this is, as gizmodo points out, only a record of 10 days at a 30 sec rate, not exactly a lifetime. Again there is currently no data regarding the power supply available but this is likely to have additional implications. It is unlikely that the cam will manage 10-day session.
Microsoft has now licensed the product to Vicon, based in Oxford, UK, a specialist for motion capturing. The reason named for this move is demand. So far some 500 devises have been produces. The new producer is prepared to launch the product in the next few months according to the New Scientist. But at a price of £500.00, not cheap eh, you might think now, me too.

However the blogging community has taken this announcement to test a few funny slogans. They came up with a couple of funny titles for the device: SenseCam - the Black Box Flight Recorder for human beings, by gizmag.com, 'Black box' cam for total recall, by the BBC.

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Images by Microsoft/Vicon - the SenseCam

And here an example of the cam in use.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Mouse in Matrix - How Mental Maps are Made


How do we create mental maps? In a story the New Scientist reports new development in the area of brain studies. The research was presented in nature in September 2009.
Over this question scientist have long speculated. The involved brain areas have long been identified, but the how was still subject for debate. Apparently the region in the brain is called hippocampus. The problem so far was that recording the activity required the subject’s head/brain needed to remain fairly stable and this is not possible for normal navigation. The New Scientist reported earlier initial findings related to the brains spatial navigation activities.
Reportedly after paying Quake II researchers came up with the idea of using a virtual reality surrounding for the experiment to record brain activity while navigating.
Researchers at Princeton University developed a Quake based VR environment for rodents as well as a special navigation ball on which the rodents could run (in a stabilizing harness to keep them relatively still) and navigate the VR maze. Basically they created a mini IMAX for the mouse, reports wired.com.
They were the able to scan the mouse’s brain activity as it learned to navigate the maze. Some treats along the way helped I guess.
However, there is little information on what they have actually found. At the moment the main interest seems to be the technique how they used to record the brain activity, so mainly the VR for mice set-up. It looks fancy though.



In these experiments scientists are not really interested in how and what the brain records and how participants (in this case mice) actually understand the maze or the environment they have navigated. Here they simply assume that this is taking place. They are talking about a mental map but are just looking at activity as ‘space’ is navigated. To some extend this is only implicit looking at how the memory and sense of place is building up. History is always biased by the fact that it is in the past and it is remembered back from a present state that might be rather different from the past and this influences the way the memory is recalled. Some sort of processing is taking place and the result is a weighted remembering. Through this the history has a present relevance, but is not ‘true’. In this respect the mental map as a review of the maze experience is probably a rather different case than the activity of navigating it. Let’s wait and see how scientist interpret the rodent’s sketch of the maze...

Monday, 19 October 2009

Integrated Videos and Maps for Driving Directions - Microsoft


New development on the navigation gadget front. This time it comes from Microsoft and that is in it self a bit surprising. So far the company has not been closely linked with navigation. In general they are trailing behind everyone, generally trying to improve the stuff other have developed and promoted. In this sense this ‘new’ development has to be looked at.
The research featured as an article on Technology review this week where its chef researcher Billy Chen introduces us to the concept. They are using video for driving directions. Instead of Google Street View, they are playing video recordings of the route in Microsoft Virtual Earth. The research is partly about the recording and synchronising of the map a video, but partly also about the influence of this method for direction instructions. The results of course claim that the animated instructions enable participants to find the route easier, with 70% to 60% for participants who were instructed only with image (Google images I presume).

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Image by Microsoft - (a) Original spacing of panoramas. (b) Final spacing of video frames, after slowing down at landmarks/turns and speeding up between. (c) Straight ahead orientation. (d) Final orientation with look ahead. (e) Widening the view and freezing the landmark thumbnail.

However, the paper written about the project can be found HERE. It has to be noted, that it i not simply a replayed clop. An important feature of the software is the way it focuses on landmark and guides the users view files. It is not a passive record that has just followed the movement. Rather it is a carefully calculated section of the 360 Degree recording. Through this movement emphasis is put on certain aspect along the route, say a landmark. This means that the route somehow has to be processed and interpreted. How quickly and with what kind of system the software can be rolled out is not clear,         

Friday, 16 October 2009

Historic Earth - Old Maps Georeferenced for the iPhone


Former old map app has transformed and teamed up with a large library and is now Historic Earth. The old map app featured earlier this year on the bog with a review and now we want to look back, previous post HERE.
The really big change is the data, the app now has in the background. It draws the data from Historic Map Works a huge database of maps, containing some 1’000’000 maps including United States Property Atlases, Antiquarian Maps, Nautical Charts, Birdseye Views, Special Collections (Celestial Maps, Portraits, and other historical images), Directories and other text documents. Their main business is to provide high quality images of old maps to researchers and map enthusiasts. The main focus is North America, but they stock and increasing number of world maps and others. This means for now that the iPhone app also only covers North America. But this is changing, they have a visual counter on their web page to demonstrate how they are making progress both, increasing the service for the iPhone and geocoding maps in general. The aim is to offer some 130’000 maps in the next month. You can follow them on twitter to check on the status. For facebook lovers here is the fan page.

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Image by urbanTick - Screenshot, looking at the Los Angeles Bay area over different times.

The iPhone app is probably aiming at map enthusiasts mainly really. As for research one probably wants’ more specific access to the data. However the app serves a fascination and is very addictive. It is developed by Emergence Studios as was the old map app. It is introduced as “Historic Earth allows you to map the history of cities, times, buildings and landmarks. View historic maps showing property owners, see buildings constructed and replaced, and watch the landscape change over time.”
The app is using OSM for the background to reference the layers to the modern map of the location. The overlay, the base can be adjusted in its transparency with a slider, normal gestures as known from Google maps are used to navigate the map. Once in the actual map window it is great you flip between times with the arrows provided and watch the area change. The trouble really is to get into, as the menu is not intuitive and there is for example no link between the map showing the covered area and the actual historic map.
However once figured out that in the settings the “lock frame when switching maps” switch is set to on it is a real pleasure to browse.
Not only the area changes, but also the representation techniques and focus of the maps. In this respect it is also a documentation of a changing space perception.
It is a bit slow to load here in London, I suppose this is down to all the 32’000 maps have to squeeze into the tube to get across the big blue : ) But the frustrating thing is not that it is slow (I don’t mind waiting for interesting content), but there is no indicator that something is actually happening. Usually while loading the screen only displays the, sort of, old paper background, but no progress bar or indicator of any sort. It is also one of the very few apps to choose not to display any information of the usual top bar with basic iPhone stats, like quality/type of connection, time and battery life. So there is no way you can tell the device is actually doing something and this has, at least for me, been very irritating I have to admit.
But sure enough, this is the first release of the app (if you don’t count the previous one) and as usual there are some things that just had to be done quickly in the end, but can easily be solved and improved in a following update. The main thing is the quality of the interface and the value of the data available. For both of these points the app scores very high!
You can get it for some £3.49 from iTunes.

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Image by urbanTick - Screenshot, settings, coverage and menus

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Layar - AR at Large for the iPhone


It is here, finally for the iPhone. Layar is available and with it a whole series of information packages. There is nothing new on it, but the way it is visualised is new. You get familiar stuff like Wikipedia, Open Street Map, ArchINFORM, Twitter, Panoramio, flickr, Brightkite plus a lot more. There is a high chance that the library will grow dramatically in the next few months. Currently there are a lot of services from Japan as layers available, as well as from the Netherlands. An up to date list of Layar layers can be found HERE.
Layar is basically the browser that visualises the data provided by individual companies offering a specific service. Download the app for your iPhone here.
So lets have a look at how it looks and feels, by testing some services around CASA.

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Image by urbanTick - Screenshots, Depending on the angel, Layar adjusts the horizon line of the overlaid plane that serves as a reference for the displayed data.

The reference information is drawn from the GPS / Wi-Fi / Network to establish the current location. The compass built in to the iPhone give the direction of the phone. Layar provides a grid plane to locate the information and presumably give a better sense of depth. The icons used to represent the information are rather simple, a circle, a square, ... The interaction with these objects is limited to select them. It turns out that this is a difficult task at times. One because it is a rather small area of the screen that is available for the actual AR display (the rest is cluttered with backup information) and two because the icons are overlapping one another and are obviously displayed even smaller if they are further away from the present location. However there is a automatic selection that works fine if there are only one or two items on the screen and by moving the iPhone you can alter between them, but as soon as you get more items the sensitivity of the compass can not keep up with the millimeter differences between the items.

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Image by urbanTick - Screenshots, Brightkite layer on Layar

The top bar holds a setting button that contains a number of options related to the service. For example the range/distance within results are displayed can be adjusted. The second bar on the top allows to switch between a map, a list and the AR mode, here called reality, WOW! Additional information for each selected item is displayed in the box below. It also provides a link to the displayed contend at its original location on the web. Meaning, Layar is really just a window to search for stuff. In this respect it could increasingly compete with Google and this raises the question why Google has not yet developed their own service or when they will buy Layar?
Well at this point is still a very crude application with a rather cluttered and ugly interface, crappy icons and not very intuitive handling. But you know it is a first stab at a commercial platform to display location based information projected onto reality though the lens of a camera and this is exciting enough.
How beautiful and simple this could look like was shown by acrossair, it was reviewed in an earlier post HERE.

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Image by urbanTick - Screenshots, London Tube, not as nice as Nearest Tube, but with additional information that it links to.

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Image by urbanTick - Screenshots, Panoramio as the Layar layer, link page and panorama on the web.

Underground is Overground


In term sof the environment we live in there is alot of hidden function, that we are not aware of at times. Normally we do not want to know about everything that is going on in the city and a lot of them can not be seen from the everyday perspective. Still the city machine is rumbling and rotating: in the air, behind the block, around the corner and underneath our feed.
A intriguing visualisation developed as an ad for the metro madrid by lahuellafx

Metro de Madrid: “Transparente” from Shinichiro Matsuda on Vimeo.



same approach used for an ad for foxsportsdesign this time for an HD sports channel.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Cycles and Urban Morphology - The History of Urban Form


The origin of cities has been subject of an earlier post with a clear focus on cycles. For an additional post here the starting point is quite a different one. It is the book History of Urban Form - Before the Industrial Revolutions“ by A.E.J. Morris in the third edition. A book of facts and old school history, interpreting the subject rather functional and with a pretend objectivity.
However it is a very popular book and as the third edition demonstrates, able to maintain its popularity over more than twenty years. The first edition was published in 1972.
From the book by Josef H. Reichholf titled “Warum die Menschen sesshaft wurden” the idea of rites and routines where directly involved in the creation of the first settlements and later the creation of the city. In the HUF (History of Urban Form) is acknowledging that the early history of human settlements is still being written, the description blurs early cities/settlements into early cultures such as Aztecs, Maya, Egyptian/Mesopotamia, Greek/Roman or Islamic culture. However, the description in the book starts much earlier in the human history, somewhere in the Neolithic Age when humans are believed to be, in the words of the publication “...on much the same basis as any of the other animals, by gathering naturally occurring foodstuff...” (p 3). Fro this assumed nomadic life (I am not sure this would not necessarily imply a nomadic live, some animals do live a territorial life) the humans moved on, around 14000 BC to live in caves. Suddenly, settling is possible, but I assume this is what the archeological evidence is telling us. This is presented a shift in the concept of living, an improvement over the nomads to settle down in a cave. The logical step to follow this shift is the cultivation of plants around 8’000 to 10’000 years ago and successive the domestication of animals. Logic because it is believed that a settled live would make it necessary to source food locally and this food stock would need to be maintained through out the year. This is then famously described “The escape from the impasse of savagery was an economic and scientific revolution that made the participants active pattern with nature instead of parasites on nature” (by Childe? in What Happened in History)
The book moves then on to describe the “Fertile Crescent” as introduced by J Breasted (1935) in Ancient Times. Some 3000 years of slow development later villages are believed to be established and the first introduction of cities comes at the beginning of the Bronze Age. It follows a statement by Gideon Sjoberg (1965) in The Origin and Evolution of Cities as follows: ”a community of substantial size and population density that shelters a variety of non agricultural specialists, including a literate elite.“ This description is trying to articulate that again a shift is taking place and no longer everyone is responsible for her/his own food, but some sort of specialisation took place and exchange of goods between these specialists is invented.
For this development, the book lists a number of necessary steps to be taken. Named first is the production of surplus food and the storage of such, as well as other materials that would be needed by the specialists, as named before. Then follows the listing of science achievements such as writing,, mathematics, and astronomy. Only in a third set of additional achievement social organisation, is listed. And it is only named in the context of ”to ensure continuity of supplies to the urban specialists and to control labor forces for large-scale communal work...“ Mumford is then quoted to state that these requirement where roughly met by around 3000 BC. Surprisingly social organisation is not examined as a structuring of a large group of individuals beyond the family or clan structure what could be some sort of early politics.
However none of these factors are then explored in more detail and none of them feature as defining in the chapter on the actual creation of the urban form. To be fair all of them are addressed in neat row, one after the other, but not as a determining element, but rather a feature of the city. Almost in the sense that the city made this possible or it is a ”function“ of the city. It goes from topography, climate, material, economic, political, religious, pre-urban cadastre, defense, aggrandisement, gridiron, mobility, aesthetics, legislation, infrastructure, social/religious/ethnic groupings and leisure, Anyway there would be a nice example for each of them, but overall it represents clearly a time of thought, the eighties, were everything was neatly divided, separated and isolated to be investigated and then in the exact same state presented. As if the city is made of bricks.
To summarise this short introduction to the history of urban form as it were, one could say ”it somehow happened“. Out of all these objective descriptions of analysis no clear thread emerges along that the evolution cold be examined.
The book continues to examine the form of cities. Moving from early settlements examples like Jericho and Catal Huyuk to Jerusalem and UR quickly to the Greek City State. Here examples of Miletus, Priene and of course Athens are provided. In this section the defense mechanism of the city are present, but not dominate. This, however, changes in the following section of Rome and the Empire. The examples here strongly build on the ideal construction of the military base camp, the army castra. The idea of the wall and the strong grid are dominant through out the description of the roman city. This pre conception of ”the City“ as the wall and the grid stands in the way of examining the city form from multiple angles. There are very little references to trade, production or everyday life for example religion. The problem of food production and food storage was earlier put as the main problem of urban settlements, but have, surprisingly, ever since not features as a defining element of city form. If it was, and presumably still is in cities today, this aspect must be considered while defining the urban form. As a consequence of this the city can not be defined as the grid and the wall, but would need to include the relationship to the surrounding fields for food production as well as, in terms of typology, the locations and types of food storage should be added to the examination of climate impacts.
As the book progressed through to the medieval Towns there appears to be a big break. The collapse of the Roman Empire also led to the collapse of a lot of roman founded cities. Some of them would be rebuild as medieval towns. However, of course some large and regional significant settlements manage to maintain its base, such as London or Verona. The installed structures by the Roman Empire where neglected through out and the sophisticated road network for example vanished. This meant for medieval times that there was no reliable way to distribute products in bulk. The solution was to establish transport on waterways. Surprisingly Morris states her: ”Neither the location of medieval towns nor their form was significantly affected by industry“ (p 96). Even though he continues to analyse the typology of medieval town houses as a place combining living and working.
The medieval city wall continues to be the defining element of urban form. Even though in Britain the wall was, in the 14th century, not a significant military need due to the state of peace within the island. However the wall was used to clearly state boundaries to for example impose a tax on good coming through the city gates.
There is as an intriguing beauty about the medieval town. It probably derives from a constructed clarity of dominant elements. Apart fro the wall, there is a church, as market place and a town hall. Sir Patrick Abercrombie’s favorite as it appears was Furnes in Flanders, a pretty business town in 1590. But again the connection to the outside is formally not considered. It appears in some example in the form of a port that implies some sort of trade.
Also new elements in the description are aspects of urban design that are mixed into the description of urban form. A nice example is Telc, which after a devastating fire the town had to be rebuilt. An unknown designer had for this reconstruction used a musical allegory. This results in a pretty facade bordering the main market space drawing mainly from its uniformity, while integrating individuality to great extent.

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Image Google Earth - Telc historic centre with distinct market place

The Renaissance the emphasizes once more on the military defense structures, mainly in mainland Europe, especially Italy. Ideal structures are developed mainly with characteristically arrow wall extensions. Where as in medieval times the wall was designed to be the shortest and most efficient ways to surround the largest possible plot of land the defense strategies became much more sophisticated resulting in a very distinct urban form in the sense of a picture. These ideal towns like Palma Nova or Naarden became icons for the time with a dramatic impact on how towns are perceived. As a one of object, an artifact in itself. The idea of the city as an object remains through out the book.
In the context of how these cities have developed ever since again shows how interwoven, urban form and urban design in this approach are. Cities evolve and even if there are types of design elements are established the form evolves. Examples such as Copenhagen or Karlsruhe can illustrate these thought.

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Karlsruhe old/new)
Image from GHDI and Wikipedia Commons - Karlsruhe line drawing around 1739 and Karlsruhe today

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Image from Wikimedia Commons and Monash University - Copenhagen circa 1700 and Copenhagen today

The connection between travel pattern and morphology of the city is a topic of the research that has not been explored much yet.
A starting point could be the perception of space drawn from the UD interviews.
from UD txt - “Usually participants have quite a different perception of their spatial habits and will describe them at the beginning of the tracking as divers and spread over a large area of the city. The first few times they see the data they actually have collected, it is quite a disappointment to them to see that they follow a rather strong routine. Routine seems to be rather negative perceived and participants often would describe themselves as active, flexible and spontaneous implying a widely spread range of activities with a diverse movement pattern. To describe it they often refer to someone they think is very flexible or very inflexible just to provide for them selves an example of comparison. Routines and rhythm seem to be a not so much discussed subject but rather a topic people make a lot of assumptions.”
If individuality and flexibility, range of patterns and path are current values of our society, how would this influence and change the current development of the urban morphology? Would it be possible to conclude on current styles and designs or even the next ten years? Also retrospectively could the social values and the urban morphology be connected? Say the Victorian morphology, what would it say about the people of this times’ perception of habits and space?

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

CoMob - Collaborative Tracking With the iPhone


CoMob is an iPhone GPS tracking application developed at Edinburgh College of Art in collaboration with Edinburgh University. “The CoMob iPhone Application was developed as part of a research project exploring the creative use of collaborative GPS mapping.”
It is a simple tracking application that sends the location to a customisable server. It was designed for an art project presented at ISEA2009. Some images of the event can be seen on flickr here by jensouthern. The application determines the position and ends the information to a pre configured server. The update frequency is customisable as well as the server. You can change the server and for example send the location to your own server. It does not give you a visual feedback, all you can see is numbers. The interesting data is saved on the server.

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Image from CoMob - Logos CoMob (red) and CoMob Net (blue)

The CoMob (in red) application has only recently received a sister application CoMob Net (in blue). It is built on the base of CoMob, but adds some group functionality and a visualisation using Google Maps. A group of iPhone users can use the application simultaneously and see the location of each group member on the screen. Locations are shown with a connection line between them producing shapes across the urban fabric. Usage is really simple, all you have to do is put in a user name and choose a name for the group. If joining an existing group simply type the name in the box provided and you’re linked up. Here too it is possible to customise the server to store the data.
So get your iPhone friends to come out into the streets and start mapping... Download CoMob or CoMob Net directly from iTunes here. You can then join our casa group by entering the name of the group to the settings page (lowercase and you have to hit return to verify the entry).

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Image by urbanTick - Screenshots CoMob Net

Monday, 12 October 2009

Tilt Shift Tracking


A brilliant Timelaps, stop motion, tilt shift, tracking movie. Actually it is an advertisement clip for a internet platform maptype.com. Unfortunately it is all in russian language so I am not on top of the information, I simply like it. It looks like some event site, with symbols for party locations, museums, theater venues, universities, shopping, eating and cinema locations. I assume the tracking in the clip refers to people going to these locations.

MapType from MapType on Vimeo.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Mental Map - flickr Pool


The online pool at flickr to collect mental maps from all over the world is slowly starting to take shape. I have just added some examples drawn at the mapping workshop down in Plymouth. So the pool has grown quite a bit and it is featuring mental maps from China, Caada, America, United Kingdom and Belgium.
I would also like to showcase some examples here. First there the sketch by devine74 with very detailed drawn landscape and building features.

Mental Map

And then there is also the beautiful map of a commute focusing on sound with the audio experience along the way. There is a big difference between the morning and the evening journey. This is illustrated through two sets with each a slightly different focus.

mm10

As before you can also join in and share you map sketch on:

http://www.flickr.com/groups/mentalmap/

Thursday, 8 October 2009

25'000 - U R B A N T I C K


Some 25’000 visitors on urbanTick today... over actually!

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urbanTick - Graph blog visits per hour, per day and per day per hour

The blog remain stable on the high numbers of visitors over the summer month. It started to increase in May and visitor numbers now are stable around 155 per day over the week.
Regarding the graph, it represents three sets of data in three rings. From inside to outside, he inner bit is the visits per day per hour. The big peaks are still around midday, mid afternoon and four in the morning representing the shift between Europe and America. The middle ring is representing the number of visits per day. Differences here between weekdays and weekends, where the mid week is still a bit between than the beginning and the end. Wednesday remains the most popular day, closely followed by Tuesday. The weekends generally have about half the visitors of these popular days, so it is a dramatic difference. The last ring is the total visits per hour. The peaks are mainly the same as last times, the overall line is smother however with less wiggles.
The topic of body and city as proposed was the topic for the summer and I am just finishing a working paper on this. Some stuff will of course also go on to the blog. A second working paper focusing on the urbanDiary project is also under way. Here a lot of bits and pieces have already featured on the blog, but some stuff is still to come.
I am currently working on my upgrade and will give a presentation, sort of a mini viva either next month or in December. For this I am trying to finish the two papers.
There is also a publication of this blog coming up. Having this platform for a year now, I am planning to publish extracts of it. For this I have joined up with a bunch of researcher working on related topics and they will contribute a short essay to each section. It is all under way and should be ready towards the end of the month. I don’t want to give a way too much of this but the structure of the publication will be roughly:
urbanDiary        urbanMachine        urbanNarrative        timeSpace        bodySpace        LocInfo        Review

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Der Mensch als Industrie Palast - Body Machines by Fritz Kahn


The late 19th century was the time of the machines and the industrial revolution was in full swing. Machines where everything and adored by a great number of people, including scientist (guess they are still today), architects and artists. Le Corbusier was a big fan of the automobile and the ocean liner. The fascination was very strong and in many of his projects references to these machines can be fond. He even wrote: “A house is a machine for living in” (Times). The “Form follows function” coined by Louis Sullivan phrase could also be seen in this context. Others were looking at the city for example Antonio Sant'Elia the Italian artist with his machine dreams of the city. Several movies pick up this topic, from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. The idea of the city as a machine has replaced the image of a medieval city, that is dark, narrow, alive but out of control. The industrial city as a machine had an internal function and each piece was understood to be full filing a role, there is a very strong sense of control. To some extend this is still how the city is imagined, as a huge interlinked machine that someone is in charge of. Only in the very late century some new description of the city emerge linking it to organic structures.

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Image by Antonio Sant'Elia, 1914 - La Città Nuova - taken from storiacontemporanea

During the machine period also the human body was subject to imagination as being a machine. It is the time where sport and sport competition became important and the training of the human, mostly male body, as a machine was convenient.
The artwork of Fritz Kahn falls into this period and illustrates the ideas beautifully. Metaphors have probably always been used to explain human body events. Phrases like “Butterflies in our stomach”, “eardrums”, “and eyeballs“, the heart is ”broken“ or our ”mind’s eye“. These mental visualizations can illustrate feelings to help make them better understandable for others, since they are very personal and experienced individually.
The time was all about efficiency and industrial production was reaching very high levels of production. In this context is easier to understand how people have tried to push the human body. Suddenly the in context of the machine the unpredictable aspects of the human body became a threat that medical science tried to overcome and probably still is.
But some other aspects of understanding of the body are important at the time. The industrial evolution also introduced the human body to new forms of movement. The train and the car meant that dramatically different speeds could be experienced and time and distance in relation to the body had to be newly defined. The very big change was the fact that flying was now possible. The human body was able, with the help of the machine, to fly in the air, just like birds.

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Image by Fritz Kahn - taken from morbidanatomy and dreamanatomy

Monday, 5 October 2009

Body Morphic - the Creation of Space


It is tight in the morning in many senses, body and time are only two examples. Commuting is the result of this. The motion plays a big part on this as a summary of both time and body. Space could then be described as the movement, meaning that commuting actually creates space.
Yi-Fu Tuan describes this nicely in his book Space and Place (1977), he distinguishes between space and place as motion and rest.
I am currently writing on this topic for my upgrade the coming month and have come a cross a really nice movie clip to visualize some aspects of this discussion. Amazingly this video is very popular and I don’t think all these fans are enthusiastic modern dancers, but commuters who feel represented .

The Body Morphic from Indelible Dance on Vimeo.

Friday, 2 October 2009

The Urban Narrative as a Tool - Mapping Workshop


The mapping workshop down in Plymouth was structured roughly into four sections. The first three in the beginning were to explore the topic of urban stories and the fourth to actually invent an urbanNarrative.
The first part was about lost and found objects. The participants where asked to bring in an object they had found on the familiar commute between home and university. I had do be something small enough to bring to university and something that obviously did not belong to the surrounding it was found, an objet trouvé.
Everyone brought in something, wondering what we might do with this. Even though they did not know what I had in mind everyone had already formed some kind of relationship with the object. Already the fact that it was found on the familiar, individual commute created a sense of ownership supported by a curiosity.
We got together and put all the objects in the middle and I asked them to speak about the found object and explain where it was found, speculate about who might have lost it and what its value is. This quickly got out of hand. The stories became lively and very creative. They even started to interlink as people quickly realized that the area the objects were found in is rather small and invented characters could have met on another. There where stories about lost shopping baskets, lottery tickets, loafs of bread, bits of wood and many more.
Whit out intending we spent a good hour talking about Plymouth as a city and the everyday life. The main characteristics started to come through, such as the relationship to the water with the story of the lost lottery ticket combined with the sailor who was connected to the wooden plank. Or the aspect of university life and students in Plymouth as a love stories over a bracelet, alcohol and a brick wedged under a railing. But also the social problems involving different classes and characterizing areas played an important role around the Marks and Spencer bottle.


Image by urbanTick / selection of objet trouve.

We continued by drawing and sketching the commute, introducing mental maps. While discussing the sketches, again participants realized that they actually described similar section of the city and started comparing their personal perception with some one else’s description of the same space. Differences in time and mode of transport where identified.
After discussing Kevin Lynches Image of the City we quickly mapped Plymouth as a whole using Lynches five elements of path, node, edge, district and landmark.


Image / Mental map of skating between home and university

The third elements was directly aimed at the real body experience, to actually go to the city and physically experience it. The Plymouth After Life tour was perfect for this. I took the students on a walk through the car parks of the city centre.


Image by urbanTick for JLF-urbanresearch - Plymouth After Life tour

The design of the urban plan by Abercrombie is intended to welcome the visitors and residents with the big axis, either north south or east west. But in reality everyone sneaks in through a little back door from the car park inside a block into the shopping street. We walked up and down raw concrete staircases, across large decks of car parking and through long tunnels or bridges. Because these service spaces are normally not experienced in sequence it generated a strong impression. This divide between back and front of the “modern“ layout became apparent and discussion sparked among the way.

For the urban Narrative part of the afternoon the participants were sent of in groups to find the location of their story with the help of a GPS device. In a visualized short story they had to revile the location. The story was made up of the objects from the morning and the invented characters.

It was a great day and good fun. I was myself surprised by the power of stories once more. This playful approach to describing and mapping the spatial aspects of the environment proofed valuable in many ways. Not only in the aspect of character, body and location, but also in terms of time, atmosphere and sequence.