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— urbantick

September, 2010 Monthly archive

A city is built in many layers. Layers in the temporal sense, but also in layers in the physical sense. The two often go hand in hand. A new area brings a new layer, a new style develops a new typology or new technology allows for a change in usage.

In addition to time more factor can influence the type and number of layers. With more and more people living in cities, the density and pressure in certain areas can be one such factor. Unplanned or ilegal settlements can form spontaneously at different fringe locations. However even in innercity locations, if there is room.

In dense inner city locations however, very seldom one finds an unused spot, at least not on street level, but maybe on roof tops.

Image by Wu/Canham taken from “portrait fro Above’ / A view onto a rooftop village from across the road. The building dates from 1958 and is a Cantonese-style shophouse.

A new Peperoni Books publication with the title ‘Portraits from Above: Hong Kong’s Informal Rooftop Communities‘ by Rufina Wu and Stefan Canham portraits and documents a series of roof top communities in Hong Kong. The authors work with photographs, drawings and personal stories to tell the story of little villages that exist in the density of an urban mega city, hidden away in the sky.

At least they used to be far away from the streets, hidden on the flat roof of a fifties building, plugging into its infrastructure. Nowadays high rise buildings overshadow these roof tops by far and investment and land speculation threatens there base layer, the original building.

Image by Wu/Canham taken from “portrait fro Above’ / A view onto a rooftop village from across the road. Six staircases provide access to this 8 story building that hosts another three stories on the roof.

Wu and Canham provide insight into a very personal documentation of these villages. Very soon it becomes cear that these are actually a lot more than just slums. These houses or units are tiny and improvised, not in very good condition, uncomfortable, but they are homes. Almost all of them are carefully decorated and organised, as far as this is possible.

The documentation uses the three different methods, drawing, photographs and textual description, very cleverly and manages to put together a good, at times almost too clean, picture of these small communities. Each technique can develop its very own angle and helps to shape a very particular whole. For example the drawing, in architectural terms and very dominant in this publication, a acclaimed objective, clean and clear method to represent the ultimate truth. Being used in this context of improvised housing is at first glance a farce, develops however, in cooperation with the other elements of the photographs and the texts a very specific role and can play to its strength. Similar the photographs, because it is used alongside the drawing, the photograph can focus on the documentation of the in between, the mess, the colour, the lighting, the style and the vibrancy of the place. The introductory text that portraits in a few sentences the owner or tenant of each place documented, provides the clues and the hints to piece together a narrative and spin a story between the different elements of the documentation.

Image by Wu/Canham taken from “portrait fro Above’ / A living unit documented as a drawing showing the interior and some of the context. Forms part of the previous roof top landscape.

It is a publication with relatively little text and for one this is a good thing. There is however, a longer essay on the topic of roof top village and informal housing in Hong Kong by Dr Ernest Chui, is placed at the end of the book and provides a good context for the wholes story.

The design of the book is as simple, clear and effective as the methods used. The slightly gray paper used fits nicely with the black line drawings and the black and white photographs. It even works well with the few colour photographs.

Image by Wu/Canham taken from “portrait fro Above’ / Same livign unit as before. Here a view into the kitchen living room part.

The project won an award at the 5th International Bauhaus Award in 2008 and is now available as a book. It documents an urban world that is reality to many people in urban areas, the hard reality of finding a place to stay, making it a home with very little. The book also documents the multiplicity of the city and fits in well with other publications such as Pet Architecture Guide Book
or Made in Tokyo: Guide Book by atelier Bow-Wow. Portraits from above does however provide more context and more detail beyond the pure architectural or spacial interest.

In this sense it is a beautiful book for every library or tea tabel not only for architects, but also for everyone else with an interest in the city.

Canham, S. & Wu, R., 2009. Portraits from Above: Hong Kong’s Informal Rooftop Communities, Peperoni Books.

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dolphiners is a Korean movie and animation company who produces brilliant stuff. One of the lates works is the series Small Earth, a loose sequence of everyday stories focusing on the little pleasures in urban live. It does however also include the drama and twist of a real thriller, amazing.

The series is produces as stop motion animations using a tilt-shift effect to guide the focus.

Have a look at the most recent one ‘The Race’ and watch out for the blue and the yellow racers, they will take you on a journey with a rather dramatic finish. Catch up on the previeous three and a bit prequels HERE.

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Mobile Action have introduced the third generation of their GPS logger series iGotU. Alongside the GT-120 and the GT-200/e there is now newly available the GT-600.
It is however in the tradition of the 200e larger than the GT-120 which really is tiny. However it boosts more storage, it is up from 16MB to 64mb and now also has a motion sensor. This was in earlier version of the 200 available but discontinued. It is back now with this new product.

Image by urbanTick / the all new GT-600 including accessories as you will find it in the shop.

More storage is great and with 262’000 points you will not run out of memory any time soon. This is up from about 65’000 points with the GT-120. So it’s a lot more storage space and is suitable for long trips with infrequent access to a computer to download the data.

The other improvement that the new product brings is the battery. Instead of a 230mAh Lithium-ion battery that the GT-120 has, it has a 750mAh rechargeable Li-ion battery. This probably also partly explains the slightly large dimension of the GT-600. A longer lasting battery is of course very much appreciated by every user, since this provides the freedom to stay out just this little bit longer.

Not only the battery life has improved, but also the GT-600 is now able to manage its sleep wake time automatically. It has got a Motion Sensor built in, hence the ‘MD’ sign on the device. With this technology the device is able to distinguish between time of motion and times of rest. If it doe not move, it automatically goes into sleep mode to save energy. It will of course also wake up if movement is detected and automatically starts recording again.

This automatic battery management system is believed to improve the battery live dramatically. This would be about 80hours at a log interval of 15 seconds. So in this sense last for a 10 day trip. And certainly this will be good enough. Compared to for example some of the Garmin products, reviewed a 405 HERE, or a 201 HERE, where a Forerunner 405 last only for about eight hours. Of course this is a tricky comparison since the two products do completely different things and the Garmins for example all have a display which the iGotU series doesn’t have. This is only to say that for the purpose of simply logging location data this iGotU GT-600 tool is perfect.

Lets have a quick look at how the GT-600’s SiRF StarIII 65nm GPS chipset performs. Actually all the three iGotU devices are using the same low power chipset and it can be said that it works pretty well. Give that central London is a tricky location for GPS devices the results are very good. There are here and there some glitches and stay points as we are used to from using for example a Foretrex 201, but that really depends on the terrain and environment.

Image by urbanTick / The GT-600 draws the ORANGE line as compared to the Forerunner 405 drawing the WHITE line. It can be a little bit noisier at times, especially if not switched off indoors as it keeps trying to record something.

In comparison to the Forerunner 405 (WHITE line) which manages inner city locations extremely well the GT-600 (ORANGE line) draws nice lines and at time even better than the 405. It depends really on the location and how it is held or worn. If used on the bike, attached to the handlebar makes for a really good reception, but even in the bad or pocket it perform very well.

In case it becomes necessary, depending on the use, the track can be easily edited using either the mobile action package or other free software available on the internet, for example directly in Google Earth.

Image by urbanTick / The GT-600 draws the ORANGE line as compared to the Forerunner 405 drawing the WHITE line. Here the Orange line is actually more accurate than the 405. It was used on the handle bar of the LikeABike in this case.

The data handling and device setup is managed thought he PC suite provided by Mobile Action. No setting other than on/off can be handled directly by the device. This simplifies the whole process, but of course puts a lot of pressure on the desktop software. It is easier, though to navigate on a large screen and manage the different settings than it is on a small screen directly on the device. However changes on the go are not possible. Also the software only really supports Windows machines unfortunately leaves all the mac users unsupported. There is an open source project on launchpad that will enable mac users to load and delete data from the device. You can download the igotu2gps version 0.3.0 HERE. However, it can not change any of the device settings, so is only really for the simple data management. For a lot of users this will be good enough and they can just leave the settings be the factory defaults.

The GT-600 comes out of the box with general factory settings that will allow the user to start logging straight away. This is really useful and given the simple device user interface, one button and two colour LEDs, one literally can start logging while walking out of the shop. The box also contains the USB cable that connects the device to the computer and is at the same time the cable to charge the GT-600. As with previous models the 600 also comes with a silicone case, now transparent instead of the previous characteristic blue case, and a very basic strap to attache the device to something or even wear it around the wrist. A note on the case. Given the flexibility of the material and the larger size the device does not sit as tight as the smaller brother GT-120. I got it caught in the bad and the bus door and the case slid of the actual unit. Generally though it works perfect and give it a good grip for the handling of the unit.

To conclude on this very exciting new GPS logger as the latest one in the Mobile Action iGotU series, the GT-600 is definitely one of the very few GPS units of choice for travel and location loggers. The large storage and the dramatically improved batterie life combined with the Motion Detection technology will serve you very well on any trip. The one button to save waypoints or the location of a photograph is as simple as it gets to use and will help to organise and arrange your photo collection after the trip. If you start using it you will probably find yourself tracking constantly and not only for trips it is really interesting to review the record of movement one does even day to day. With this you can start your log book today.

Image by urbanTick / The GT-600 with cable.

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It has been a bit more than a year that the great timeLapse short story produced by Olympus for the PEN cam featured HERE. You might recall it, the life told in thousands of images taken printed and retaken as a stop motion animation, lovely.

Here comes no the second take on the same product comes as a XXXXXL version – PEN Giant.

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In the serie on cycle disruption here is a new one on the latest tube strike in London today. It is the first morning into the tube strike and chaos is rolling into the city. Some earlier posts on the subject in the past can be found HERE (following the disruption), HERE (disruption second take) and HERE (every year). There are only very few tube line actually running a service, Northern Line being one of them. However this might not mean that you can get a train on this line and it aso does not mean you will arrive at the desired destination as many stations along the line are closed.

For the latest updates on the open stations please see the official TFL website.

Image taken from the BBC London Tube Strike Map – September 2010 / a platform for crowd sourced real time travel information.

But even there you might not get the most up to date information. If you put more trust in real time crown sourced information you can go to the BBC test mashup-crownsource-tubestrike-map and click around for infos on our local area.

There are a number of ways you can participate: a) Sending an email to londontravel@bbc.co.uk, b) Sending a text to 81333 starting your message LONDON STRIKE, c) Sending a tweet with the hashtag #tubestrike, d) Uploading an audioboo with the hashtag #tubestrike or directly to the BBC London stream, e) Filling in the form on the site

new TWTR.Widget({
version: 2,
type: ‘search’,
search: ‘#tubestrike’,
interval: 6000,
title: ‘Tube Strike September 2010’,
subject: ‘Live update’,
width: 580,
height: 460,
theme: {
shell: {
background: ‘#8ec1da’,
color: ‘#ffffff’
tweets: {
background: ‘#ffffff’,
color: ‘#444444’,
links: ‘#1985b5’
features: {
scrollbar: false,
loop: true,
live: true,
hashtags: true,
timestamp: true,
avatars: true,
toptweets: true,
behavior: ‘default’

The page is set up to log incidents over a longer period of time. The timeline is set for a whole year. There is even a play back feature integrated that wil replay the information logged and can potentially visualised the ebb and flows of the system. Currently there seems only data available from today so no point replaying it, but in a month time this might be very interesting already. The project could grow into a valuable alternative to the official information.

Reports are logged on the site and can be accessed. In this sense everyone has access to the source data and can verify the accuracy of the information. This a note in the light of the recent discussion about the validation of the crowd sourced data at the CRESC conference in Oxford. Making the data available is one way of dealing with this issue. However if the amount of data grow too large, and hopefully it will in the case of crowd sourced real time transport information, it becomes impossible for individuals to crawl through the mountain of snippets and verify individual pieces.

Image taken from the Oliver O’Brien’s cycle hire visualisation / London Cycle Hire Dock Status Map taken on Tuesday 07th September 2010 09h30.

Since there is little progress to be made today on public trasport the London Cycle Hire scheme would be a perfect alternative. A quick look at the viualisation map over at Oiver O’Brien’s page draws a rather pessimistic picture. The scheme has sort of come to a lock down too with all bikes being parked in the centre and empty station in zone two. People who have planned ahead managed to grab one this morning and traveled in by bike. There will be the big run this afternoon to catch one of the central bikes to ride it back out again to avoid the long queues at the crowded bus stop.

On twitter the tube strike is a big topic with alo Steven Fry taking to it linking this 2006 clip on frustrated commuters and the perceived incapability of TFL to meet their needs. This is linked without comment, this discussion is too complicated and personal. I believe, from past experience, the staff working today are doing quite a good job given the extend of the shutdown.

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Every now and then one walks into a piece of art that is really fascinating. Usually this happens when lest expected or one expects nothing at all. So it happend only this weekend upon a visit to the Tate Modern.

While the large Turbine Hall is currently empty awaiting the upcoming installation of the Unilever Series by Ai Weiwei to open on 12 October 2010, there was (last day on the 05.09.10) an exhibition on by the Belgian artist Francis Alys. The exhibition was under the title ‘A Story of Deception’.

Image by urbanTick / The video installation ‘Nightwatch’ by the artist Francis Alÿs. Francis Alÿs’ The Nightwatch was made by releasing a fox into London’s National Portrait Gallery and following its movement through the galleries using the museum’s CCTV system.

As the Tate introduces the artist: “Alÿs’s work starts with a simple action, either by him or others, which is then documented in a range of media. Alÿs explores subjects such as modernising programmes in Latin America and border zones in areas of conflict, often asking about the relevance of poetic acts in politicised situations. He has used video projection and film but also spreads his ideas through postcards. Painting and drawing remain central to his work too.”

For me the surprising moment came with the work ‘Nightwatch’, a video installation with 20 monitors all showing recordings of different surveillance cameras at the British National Gallery. It is quite a arge installation, but at the same time very simple and quite. The empty rooms the calm after the daily storm of thousands of visitors. It was not so much the ‘Night at the Museum’ type of reference that came up, but more the sort of ‘A Dogs Night’ type of idea.

And yes there it is a fox enters one of the rooms. It sniffs here and there tries this corner, sneaks round the bench and off in to the next room. It appears on the next screen where it goes straight through into the following room, exploring. Quite exciting this must be, not only for the fox but for the director and the insurance representative.

Image taken from the Guardian / A fox on a London street: the highest density of foxes is now found in our cities. Photograph: BIGPICTURESPHOTO.COM

The work is explained as a piece to comment on the rising numbers of CCTV cameras that watch our every moves. There are now more cameras installed in London than anywhere else on earth and counting. The discussion is ongoing, but as the artist righty points out this sort of ‘urban infrastructure’ has already grown into our experience so much as a certain acceptance level is reached. It is no longer questioned or discussed, it is taken for a fact or only raised if it is not present. The promised security that comes with it as a label is enough of a promis.

For me this is one side of the work, but there is another more poetic side to the fact that the fox has come to see and there i something going on while we are not there. It is not just left empty, clean and tidy awaiting the next mornings bus load of tourists. The gallery has an afterlife, something hidden, beautiful and promising. Instead it points at a more complex whole where the view the individual has is only part of the picture. It needs at least twenty views and even then we loose track of the fox as it trails of into not displayed spaces of the house.

Image taken from askbiblitz / Reynard the Fox at the court of King Noble, celebrated Biblitz forebear, by Wilhelm von Kaulbach, from Geothe’s Reineke Fuchs, 1846, the frontispiece of a new Biblitz favorite, In Praise of Flattery by Willis Goth Regier.

The fox also stands for a number of things, not only as recently here in the local and national news portrayed return of the wile animals to the urban desert. This aspect of the adjusting wild animals is one side, but the fox also stands for a clever and very sly animal character. It has both wily and villain sides to it. THat it survives or even thrives in urban areas is not at a surprising. already in very old stories of fables the fox character often coexists or even overtakes the humans if not destroyed with brut force as in for example fox hunting.

The discussion around the private or public domain and the ‘public observation’ of space as in CCTV, in this sense makes perfect sense in combination with a fox. As a quote form (Robert Darnton, “Peasants tell tales: the meaning of Mother Goose” in The great cat massacre and other episodes in French cultural history. N.Y.: Vintage Basic Books, (1984)) demonstrates: “Some historians argue that the fox came to symbolize the survival strategies of European peasantry from the Medieval period to the French Revolution. Peasants admired guile and wit needed to outmaneuver the powers of aristocracy, state and church, just as they saw the fox use these same qualities to raid their livestock under cover of darkness.” Maybe this is a strategy to adopt in urban spaces a lot more. Instead of adjusting our lives to the omnipresence of the ‘public’ observation the secondary, tertiary live/perspective of the city has to be activated as a call for more responsibility and negotiation.

Watch the full 18min fox clip HERE, unfortunately on a single screen all cut into one. Movie description: A fox named Bandit, was let loose by Belgian artist Francis Alys as the gallery’s surveillance cameras recorded his every move for his latest work. 18min video installation.

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Around the topic of the city and urban areas, one word is omni present in the discussions. ‘Density’ seems to be the key term to a whole range of aspects. This incudes not only questions and explanations but also definitions. Very often density is used to define or characterise certain aspects, but frequently this is based on visual material. For example high-rise buildings are an indicator usually associated with high density and brick buildings with low density.

A recent NAi Publishers book by Meta Berghauser Pont and Per Haupt examines afresh this topic of density and urban spaces under the title ‘SPACEMATRIX – Space, Density and Urban Form’.
One thing is obvious from the beginning and this is refreshing, it is an approach to density that does not start from the visual and does put a lot of effort into developing a whole framework of characteristics of density from a simple, pragmatic mathematical point of view.

Calculating density might be the obvious thing to do, but looking back there hasn’t been a lot of other publications on this topics actually looking into the math of the topic. Other than in building regulations one might not find a lot about actual density figures.

Image taken from SPACEMATRIX / Spread from the book showing the central matrix. This is the tool to relate the 79 example projects.

The core of the book definitely is the ‘Spacecalculator’. This section explains the different factors and calculation methods, but then also introduces how the different numbers calculated for different projects can actually be compared in the ‘Spacematrix’. In addition this section is followed by a whole catalogue of 79 built examples aken from Amsterdam, Berlin and Barcelona.

In additiona to the book this section is available online at http://www.spacecalculator.nl/. A tool that many planners and offices will love. A click on the ‘Spacematrix’ brings up a list of projects that are cose to this value. Each individual project is documented with images and plans. This provides a good sense of what the density factor produces and how the same factors can vary in appearance. So for your next competition were you are working on a whole block or estate, this is the reference and source for density example!

Image taken from spacecalculator / By clicking on the left hand matrix a selection of examples pop up with the related density come up. Each project is documented with additional details.

The book is otherwise structured classically organised in to concept, history, variables, urban form, performance, practice and qualities as a conclusion. However in the light of the approach via the mathematical way this provides a great background. In this sense the authors have managed to merge the technical core element of the density calculation with the rest of what we know from the density calculation. This rich background of the topic as it is discussed in the book might also be partially because the content is based on the authors PhD research work undertaken at the TU Delft. The Thesis was successfully defended in late 2009. And how fresh, surprising and new books based on PhD thesis’ can be was only recently demonstrated for example by the book Grand Urban Rules by Alex Lehnerer.

The book is beutifully designed by Studio Joost Grootens as was the extremely beautiful book ‘Atlas of the New Dutch Water Defence Line’. In this sense even though the topic is approach from a mathematical perspective and suporte with a lot of theoretical background information it is a joy to read. A must have for every planning office and the chance to finally move beyond abstract discussion, starting to develop an individual approach with each project.

Image taken from nijhoflee.nl / Book cover.

Pont, M.B., Haupt, P., 2010. Space Matrix: Space, Density and Urban Form, NAI Publishers.

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A winterday as one is dreaming of. Winter holiday in Lenzerheide, Switzerland.
This clip was shot with an iPhone 3GS using timeLapse and edited in Quick Time. Music by Ceilí Moss ‘Ship of Fools’ on mp3unsigned.com.
It isn’t really the season for this kind of activity, but it is sort of a teaser for the coming winter month that will hopefully be as beautiful as it was last year.

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Today is RGS day, actually RGS has been on since Tuesday this week. RGS is the Royal Geographical Society: ‘We are the learned society and professional body for geography’. The annual conference of course is a big event, prestigious and well attended we hope. THe official twitter tag for this conference is #RGSIBG10. So look out for this to follow the latest news on the day.

I will be presenting a paper in the session 143 organised by James Cheshire from spatialanlaysis. The session title is: Postgraduate Session: Analysing and Visualizing Social Change

THe paper I will be presenting is on aspects of routine migration in the city, the daily migration from home to work and changes in location on short term. I will be using both, the study using GPS to trace individuals in urban areas as well as the more recent twitter mined data with the New City Landscapes to illustrate these aspects. Important key elements will be time obviously, but also a number of aspects of repetition, memory and the creation of identity. There will also be a focus on visualisation using the Hagerstrand time-space aquarium.

The abstract of the paper:
The research project investigates temporal spatial patterns of citizens. For the study we are using GPS technology to track participants over a longer period to record repetitive activities. The collected data, through the GPS has a timestamp and a location, serves well this purpose. However the challenge is the visualisation and the interpretation of the data. To approach this problem the ‘technical’ GPS data is complemented with individual information collected through interviews and mental maps. This set of data helps to create a context, in which the aspects of temporal experience can be studied as an additional dimension to urban life. Visualisation concentrates on time budget in the spatial context taking location features into account as part of the memory as well as the creation of identity. For visualisation purposes a number of approaches are used, from time-space aquariums to animations.

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I will be at the CRESC ‘The Social Life od Methods’ conference in Oxford today. The conference takes place at St. Huges College and covers different aspects of methods in social sciences.

I am presenting a joint ‘CASA’ paper focusing on data mining and crowd sourcing. The team behind it is Andy Hudson-Smith from Digital Urban, Richard Milton, Steven Gray and myself. We are focusing on the development of tools that make use of the recent wave of digital social networking tools and methods.

For the first time it is possible to gather large scale social data sets containing detailed information about activity, interests and network of thousands of individuals. This is extremely exciting and interesting for spatial analysis. The city is not just a built artefact, but a living structure continuously changing with the inhabitants shaping it. Using this data we can start to understand the immediate connection between the environment and individual a well as collective decision making and opinion.

Image by urbanTick / A visualisation of my over 1200 facebook connections and how they are connected, using the Gephi software.

To illustrate this I will be using three recent projects that we have developed here at CASA. It will feature the ‘Mood Mapper’ turned into MapTube. The brand new Survey Mapper system that allows everyone to set up a survey and get the result on a map and the New City Landscapes generated from tweets sent in an urban area.

From the abstract:

The paper describes how we are harnessing the power of Web 2.0 and related technologies to create new methods to collect, map and visualise geocoded data as an aid to further our understanding of social, spatial and temporal change in cities. The authors begin with an insight into the ‘Ask’ survey system developed as part of the National infrastructure for e-Social Simulation (NeISS) project. ‘Ask’ provides social scientists with series of online tools to collect and visualise data in near real-time allowing the creation of ‘mood maps’ linked to a backend geographic information system. We examine the systems use to date, specifically by the BBC, and the implications of allowing anyone to survey the world, continent, nation, city or indeed street via our social survey system.

The authors expand on the concept with the additional of data mining social networks such as Twitter to collect, map and analyse social related data. Developed around the populist name ‘Tweet-o-Meter’ we have developed a system to mine data within a 30 km range of urban areas, focusing on New York, London, Paris, Munich, Tokyo, Moscow, Sydney, Toronto, San Francisco, Barcelona and Oslo. The system mines all geo-located Tweets creating a vast database of social science data and numerous challenges for both visualization and analysis. The paper concludes by arguing that data mining has notable potential to aid our understanding of the complex social, spatial and temporal structures of the city environment.

Image by urbanTick / Moscow New City Landscape, explore areas you know close up and find new locations you have never heard of. Click HERE for a full screen view.

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