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October, 2009 Monthly archive

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?

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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?

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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 640×480 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 1080×720 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.

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