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— urbantick

July 2011 Monthly archive

Temporal dimensions are only visible as fractions and over a very small scale. There are very clear limitations to the recognition of temporal changes to the human senses. This ranges from about 18 frames per second to the movement of a snail. Everything that is faster or slower is only to be registereed in comparison to a reference point.

Like the slow movement of the tide with ebb and flow it is one of the natural rhythms beyond the direct human perception. It can be registered for example by reference points such a the sand castel that is washed away by the water or the appearance of rocks and sand banks.

With the help of timeLapse photography phenomenon at the slow range of the spectrum beyond the capacity of the human eye can be visualised. This is for example the growth of plants and the changes in plant size and orientation.

This is generally not only down to the capacity of registration, technically, by the eye, but also to the very different speed of the human character. The capacity can reach out to aspects such as for example patience or concentration. At slow motion distraction are pretty influential and make the registration pretty hard.

Adam Gregory show in his clip ‘Asparagus’ exactly this sort of movement as the growth of asparagus in the field. It shows an amazing change and movement speed up and easier to recognise. It unveils a a process normally not accessible by the naked eye.

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For today NASA has scheduled the final mission of the Space Shuttle launching the last flight into space of the now 30 year old shuttle program. The mission STS-135, will be a a 12-day mission to the International Space Station. It will use the Atlantis space shuttle and carry a crew of four and the Raffaello multipurpose logistics module containing supplies and spare parts for the space station. The STS-135 astronauts are: Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley, and Mission Specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim.

Space Shuttle on launch pad
Image taken from cnet / The space shuttle on the launch pad, being prepared for the mission.

Atlantis is scheduled to take off at 11:26 a.m. ET today, weather permitting, on NASA’s final shuttle mission after three decades and more than 130 flights, with a landing at the Kennedy Space Center set for July 20. If Atlantis misses its launch window on Friday, there are additional opportunities to launch on Saturday and Sunday mornings, when the chances for favourable weather increase to around 40% and 60% respectively. If the delay continues after that, the next window for launch is likely to be Saturday 16 July.

The space shuttle mission started back in 1972 and opened an aera with the launch of the Columbia in 1981. The program was troubled by its cost, a reckoned $198.6 billion. With a total of 134 mission, This is about $1.4 billion per flight.

THe retirement of the shuttle came as a result of political vision and games with former President Bush announcing changes in the NASA targets aiming to launch a new program to send astronauts back to the moon. The retirement of the shuttle was part of the plan to free up cash within the NASA for these visions. The program was however by President Obama scraped as it was already running out of hand in terms of cost and timing. Currently there seems to be not really a plan for what comes next. The current political climate could maybe even feature a privat provider of space explorations being involved. A number of commercial space missions are in planning, with the Vigin Galactic being only one of them.

Space Shuttle on launch pad
Image taken from dailygalaxy / Hubble looking at distant nebula.

The dimensions of the whole Space Shuttle program were massive. Not only in terms of cost but also in terms of staff and vision. The conquest of space is a old dream fueled by global rivalry and politics since the early fifties of the last century. The Space Shuttle program was a bold statement taking the mission on a next level by basing it on reusable technology as opposed to the one way missions launched earlier.

As the Guardian n puts it: “The failures of the shuttle could easily eclipse the programme’s achievements. But aficionados point to a long list of triumphs. The shuttle hauled three of Nasa’s four “great observatories” into orbit – the Hubble Space Telescope, the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory and the Chandra X-ray Observatory.”

Above all the shuttle enabled the building of the International Space Station. A massive structure for longer space mission and extensive experiments. A controversial project, it has a decade to prove its worth as an orbiting science lab. With a price tag of $100bn, that is a tall order, but if nothing else, the station taught astronauts how to build complex structures in space. This might be something to prove of value in the future depending on the projects for future missions.

Certainly the Space Shuttle has contributed a lot to the identification of millions with space missions and is a beloved symbole for technology and achievement. It establishes a connection beyond earth, projecting into space. Thus opening the lid on a experiment in to dimensions far reaching firmly putting human kind into relations.

Looking back at Charles and Ray Eames famous power of ten movie from 1977, it becomes clear what the sort of dimension are the Space Shuttle program has unleashed. The dimensions of the actual flight might not be very special, but the outreach of the programs and missions launched from the shuttle are. LIke the Hubble telescope and several spacecraft hitched a ride into orbit on the shuttle before embarking on their onward journeys. The Galileo probe went to Jupiter, Magellan mapped Venus and the European Space Agency’s Ulysses spacecraft conducted the first survey of the sun’s environment.

Putting the dimension in place is one way of starting to get to grips with the scale. Some interactive versions extend on the Power of 10 idea making it possible to link in by allowing interaction and jumping between the scales and references. Nikon has in 2005 put together a really nice online version of such an interactive scale comparison called Universcale.

Nikon Univescale
Image taken from brainpicking / Screen shot of the Nikon Univescale web app. Click to have a play.

UPDATE 2011-07-08

The Atlantis has successfully left earth and is on its mission, expected to dock at the International Space Station on Sunday. It will be a 12 day mission.

Nikon Univescale
Image taken from NASA / The space shuttle Atlantis leaving the launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 11:29 a.m. EDT.

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It was a fairly busy day, the first of a three day conference in Lake Louise, Canada. The weather was brilliant, the views amazing and the tables had table cloth on. Already the opening has been visited in good numbers and so did the sessions.

The first keynote by Ken Lindmark focused on a local project, a elaborate model for the city of Calgary forecasting scenarios for a 60 year period. A number of the local people were involved with this project. The setting for the model was very large and looking far outside the city boundaries in order to create a fairly accurate picture of the traffic and commute volumes.

As things go and different interests colide, the actual report coming out of the study was reduced to the city boundaries dramatically limiting the models capacity. But still the city of Calgary now has a decent plan for the future for its mobility. For details see plan|it|Calgary.

RealTime Rome
Image taken form Sensable City lab / RealTime Rome project visualising sensor data.

Kristian Kloeckl from the MIT Sensable City lab presented the work he had done with his colleagues on the Live Singapore project. A very ambitious data visualisation project covering the whole country state in real time. They are extending on previous projects such as RealTime Rome and WikiCity Rome.

For the Singapore version the team is aiming to develop a very flexible platform capable of handling many hundreds of independent data sources at a speeds of up to 300 updates per second. The concept is to only provide the platform, but not to host the data. This simplifies the ownership and responsibility requirements as well as the infrastructure load. Its really the engine and not a data repository.

This allows for a lot of flexibility and the team to focus on questions beyond the data management. For example the interesting bit is not the data but how the different data streams are combined and how the services are used. The project will log these details and there is a lot of capacity to learn from the usage details where real value can be generated.

Currently the test model is running with real time mobile hone data, real time Taxi GPS data (from 16’000 taxis), real time shipment data, real time airport traffic data as well as real time electricity consumption for industry and business. This is possible through partnerships with a range of high profile companies based in Singapore.

Erik Kjems presented the project of a 3D Model used as a User-Interface for energy system modeling. There was some interesting approaches to visualise scenarios based around the options of future energy solutions for the city of Copenhagen. The cit was rebuilt in 3D were each module was capable of processing information and transform according to the scenario settings. User were able to put power plants an windfarms and watch their city transform.

Peter Zeile and Antonio Nelson da Silva discussed their collaboration for a Smart Sensoring prototype supporting barrier free planning. The sensing is measuring individual stress levels via skin conductance, also known as galvanic skin response (GSR). The concept is very similar to some of Christina Nolde’s Bio Mapping and Emotional Cartography projects.

RealTime Rome
Image taken form CPE TU Kaiserslautern / COncept sketches and prototype of the Smart Sensor and GPS.

The group at University of Kaiserslautern has developed a wristband that monitors and records the stress levels and is in sync with a GPS. The project focus is on detection of excluding barriers in urban contexts for a variety of disabilities. The current wrist band prototype is still quite expensive at about €1000, but could be optimised for the use in a scaled up study. Also they are currently working on a mobile phone connected version of the tool. It will be Android based and transmit the GSR levels to a central data strage.

Simona Sofronie from PHL University College in Hassel, Belgium discussing the project ‘An Ubiquitous Urban Game’ she is developing for her PhD. The project is based around GPS tracking of individuals adding a group task feature to foster experimenting with spatial navigation and questioning of established routines. See her presentation below.

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It was a great day with a lot to talk about later on during dinner. Looking forward to two other days of great inspirational talks.

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I am at CUPUM presenting a paper on the ongoing New City Landscape location based Twitter message mapping project. The paper gives an overview of a whole range of aspects this project is working with. Rangin from data collection, ethical discussion of ‘tweets as public data’, mapping the virtual landscapes, to temporal aspects.

Lake Louise Postcard
Image taken form Attic Postcards / Vintage postcard, dating ‘White Border’ 1915 – 1930, showing the Chateau Lake Louise on the shores of Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada.

The presentation also gives a brief outlook of what the upcoming directions for the project could be. Earlier there were a number of these directions presented on urbanTick. This ranges from crowd sourcing to the tracking of public events or disaster as well as networking, connecting social and spatial aspects.

Some of these are currently being details and for other development of methods is under way. Recently the networking aspects were in the focus. There were network maps based on the London data, but also the Munich data and the San Francisco data. Most recently there were some visuals looking at intercity relationships using a data set that contains tweets for Switzerland were the alps as physical barriers showed up clearly in the network.

The presentation can be found below or on Prezi.org.

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Traditionally Geographic Information System (GIS) have been exclusively run on the Windows platform. Only very few applications run on either cross platform or exclusively on the Mac.

The idea behind a GIS is the linking of spatial content with table data. This ins beside the geographic and geometric information an object can have any additional information associated. For example a data set contains points for all the locations of School buildings in London. Get the data from the Guardian Data Blog for a real go at it with your GIS of choice. This is a list of Latitude longitude coordinates. Every such row can now feature additional information such as the name of the school, the number of pupils and whether it is a nursery, primary, secondary school or a university. The GIS allows to distinguish between these separate entities of information and perform tasks using this additional information.

John Snow 1855 cholera outbreak
Image taken from Wikimedia / The ultimate application of GIS in practice. E. W. Gilbert’s version (1958) of John Snow’s 1855 map of the Soho cholera outbreak showing the clusters of cholera cases in the London epidemic of 1854.

For example it is possible to query the table and only display the primary schools. With a further query the primary schools can be coloured in bands of pupil numbers, and so on. GIS is very flexible in the way it can hand this sort of data and most of the systems are modular where different modules can be added and upgraded. There is usually also the option to extend on the functionality by writing individual add-ons to perform very specific tasks.

The ultimate practical application for GIS is the discovery of the cholera source in London by John Snow in 1855. THe story goes that he was able to identify one single water pump as the source of the cholera outbreak because he mapped it out spatially and realised there was a cluster around one pump that must be causing the illness.

The dominating system is the ESRI platform offering the most complete set of tools and services ranging from mapping to mobile applications. The ESRI system however is so big and versatile, that it has grown a massive beast of an application capable of doing everything at the cost of manageability and simplicity. Handling and usability is very clunky and feels very much 1995. It is just about like Microsoft Word with terrible icon bars and millions of functions, you’ll spend more time reading the helpful for individual tools than actually applying tools and functions.

Screenshot Cartographica GIS
Image taken from Cnet / Screenshot showing some of the Cartographica GIS windows.

With the location focuses move towards more spatial data and geographication of just about everything, GIS has risen to be one of the crucial applications, employed widely across disciplines and trades.
Especially recently there has been a push towards flexible GIS platforms, platform independent as well as web based. A number of these smaller applications have now grown up too and are capable of an impressive range of functions and getting very useful for spatial analysis of a good range of problems.

Cartographica is such platform and it is built exclusively for the Mac. It is one of the most up-to-date GIS’s for this platform. It was first released back in 2008 and has seen since some updates running the current version 1.2.2. The market is very competitive, but Cartographica has secured itself a niche with the platform tie.

The functionality is covering a very good range for basic spatial analysis and functions ranging from simple displaying of geographical data including a range of projection transformation to performing of basic analysis such as density or querying to the export of data in a range of formats from shape files (ESRI file standard) to web based and KML, but also graphic formats such as jpg and Illustrator.

This is polished by a intuitive handling of the software as well as extensive data manipulation, including creation of data features. There is also a range of add on features such a the option to display geographical context or background information such as Bing aerial imagery or Open Street Map.

Screenshot Cartographica GISCartographica on iPadCartographica on iPad
Image taken from Cartographica / They are offering also a brand new mobile app, running on iPhone and iPad.

This is about enough said about the functionality. If you need to have a look at a data set spatially this is what you want. Importing a table in a few clicks, project it correctly, pull in some context maps. Find the characteristics, adjust the graphics and export it as in a comprehensive way to share and communicate.

This is exactly what Cartographica does. And this is what a lot of us currently need. A comprehensive, but user friendly tool that does exactly what it says with no magic, but a lot of confidence. Of course there is a lot more to it and in two upcoming post the features and the handling is looked at in more detail. Look out for the posts on ‘Import and Handling’ and ‘Styling and Export’.

Screenshot Cartographica GIS
Image taken from kelsocartography / Screenshot showing some of the Cartographica GIS windows.

The software is available form the web store at a price of $495 and as an academic student license for only $99 for one year. This is tremendously good offer, especially if compared to some of the other packages prices.

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Is this time of year again, summer shows are on and London has a great tradition for architecture summer shows. Two events that are a highlight every year are the UCL Bartlett School of Architecture Summer Show and the Serpentine Gallery Summer Pavilion.

Images by the Bartlett on Flickr / Megalomania by Jonathan Gales.

Both have opened this weekend. The Bartlett Summer Show will be on for the next week and the Serpentine Pavilion will be on until October. Both are a must see and definitely worth a visit. It does not require you to spend three full hours for each event, however you could. This is the interesting thing, both events/locations are very flexible, it might be even worth going twice.

The Bartlett Summer Show is the end of the academic year show of the entire Bartlett School of Architecture units. Its is already for years every year at the Slade School of Art in the main UCL court at the north end. THere is a lot of space but if the Bartlett takes over its jame packed and models drawings and makings fill floor and walls up to the ceiling, visitors can be happy if they find a little walkway in between al the material produced. And this is even only a selection of students projects on show here.

Images by the Bartlett on Flickr / Some of the Bartlett Summer Show highlights.

The show is organised by unit with each unit having done their own architectural projects, research and development you can expect a highly divers range of projects and visualisations. THere is stil however an sort of overall style or aura to each Bartlett project.

The Serpentine Summer Pavilion on the other hand is a single object. The Serpentine Gallery invites an architect (not sure how they define this) every year to build a pavilion structure for the duration of the summer just outside the Gallery in Hyde Park. The idea is to bring visionary architects from all over the world to England who have not built anything in the UK before. The project started in 2000 with a contribution by Zaha Hadid and has since collected an impressive list of names including Neymeier, Koolhas, Gherry, Elliasson and so on.

Serpentine Pavilion by Zumtor - model
Images by habitables / The pavilion model as a preview for 2010.

This years pavilion is created by the Swiss architect Peter Zumtor. The Prizker Prize Winner 2009 is respected for his quiete but very strong style. His dedicated use of material has become a trademark. He is not new to the idea of building a pavilion. In 2000 he built the Swiss Pavilion for the World Expo in Hannover, a wood pile branded ‘Klang Koerper’ (Sound Box). Other acclaimed projects include the thermal bath in Vals, Switzerland, Kunsthaus Bregenz, Germany or the KOLUMBA Art museum of the Archdiocese of Cologne. See this article on Dezeen for an overview.

Serpentine Pavilion by Zumtor - model
Images by Phaidon / The pavilion with the secret garden as it looks in real in 2011.

This years Summer Pavilion is a secret garden, a black box with a very quiet and enclosed garden. Protected and well looked after it reassembles a medieval
The specially created garden by the influential Dutch designer Piet Oudolf.

As the Serpentine describes the projects:”The concept for this year’s Pavilion is the hortus conclusus, a contemplative room, a garden within a garden. One enters the building from the lawn and begins the transition into the central garden, a place abstracted from the world of noise and traffic and the smells of London – an interior space within which to sit, to walk, to observe the flowers. With this Pavilion, as with previous structures such as the famous Thermal Baths at Vals, Switzerland, or the Bruder Klaus Chapel in Mechernich, Germany, Zumthor has emphasised the sensory and spiritual aspects of the architectural experience, from the precise yet simple composition and ‘presence’ of the materials, to the handling of scale and the effect of light.”

The black box has a special materiality to it. It is essentially a plywood box treated with a cotton fabric and painted. This creates a sort of warm and calm atmosphere. A lot of the noise is being swallowed by this surface. It does completely transform the wood properties and as a look it has more of a concrete quality to it. However, in use (while running or stamping or touching there is of course no stone or concrete quality to it. Also in terms of temperature there is no stone quality is is warm an lacks the summer cooling quality of stone or concreet.

Nevertheless, the focus was ont eh quietness, formality and temporality of the pavilion. Regarding those aspects the material is used in a surprising and beneficial quality. It is an experiment, but it works as an image.

As a place it works well and is definitely a departure form previous catering and fun centered pavilions. Some of the visitors then complained about not having a cafeteria integrated with the structure, but only a coffee van outside the main Gallery. On the other hand the quiet and strong atmosphere is very present once one has reached the inside. with the garden and the open roof. The impact and quality of it is probably best assessed by children, of whom some can be observed to quietly stand or sit, some even lay down on the benches, relaxing and diving into the quietness and strength of the formal architecture. Zumtor has the capability to create architecture at such a level of strength.


The Bartlett Summer Show is the annual celebration of student work at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL. Over 450 students show innovative drawings, models, devices, texts, animations and installations. Saturday 2nd July, 10.00 – 20.30, Sunday 3rd July, 10.00 – 17.30, Monday 4th July, 10.00 – 17.30, Tuesday 5th July, 10.00 – 17:30, Wednesday 6th July, 10.00 – 17.30, Thursday 7th July, 10.00 – 20.30, Friday 8th July, 10.00 – 20.30, Saturday 9th July, 10.00 – 17.00 (show closes). Ticket Information: Exhibition open to the public.

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2011, Designed by Peter Zumthor, 1 July – 16 October 2011.

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Social Networking is the biggest and most importantly the fastest growing Internet branch at the moment. The companies have managed such a steep intake of new users over the past 18 month and most of it translated into what the company is worth.

It is what people do on the internet, they spend time on social networking sites. According to the 2011 stats published by Ken Burbary users do:
“Average user spends an average 15 hours and 33 minutes on Facebook per month, the average user visits the site 40 times per month and the average user spends an 23 minutes (23:20 to be precise) on each visit.” This is a lot of time for one network and there are many others. Most users will also be using Twitter and Gowalla and so on.

Now that the first really big hype around these sharing platforms is over the a lot of users start to rethink the practice of sharing with everybody, random and unwanted friends. They start to ask for more controle over the mechanisms behind the suggestions, the adds and the linkages. But most of all users want easier controle over what is happening around their profile.

After the 2009 wave of privacy discussion centring around Facebook and Google, most services have implemented better options, but it is getting extremely complicated to use them and manage these functions relevant. Adjusting the settings manually for each group and each page and each entry and each status and each photo and each link and each what ever…, is really taking half the fun out of the activity.

Social connections seem to be fragmented and individuals have ties to different groups of people each having different expectations, likes, standards or practices. There might be a group of work colleagues including the boss, there is the group of parents from your child’s nursery, there is a group of school friends you haven’t see in ages and there are all these nerdy people from the sunflower growing circle and so on.

You know all of them or at least have some connections to them, however certain elements do not fit from one group to the other. It’s not that you are leading a secret life in all the groups (probably you are), but the context is just different. It requires more insight to understand some of he items, inks, comments and jokes and this is relative to the groups.

Google+ you
Image taken from Google+ / The new design puts a strong emphasis on ‘you’ to reflect the software architecture focus. Also the design is slightly less comics than the other Google stuff so far. This is a good step they are taking. It has to look at bit more serious so people can trust it. This is not to say they have to drop their colours.

Very likely the work group and the parent group will not fit and so will the group of old school friends not connect to any of the content from the nerds. Managing this can be painfully complicated on existing networks. This comes as some sort of historic load of how the platforms have grown and developed. Back then there were different elements crucial, because the idea of online networking had to be introduced at first.

A new generation of social networking platforms is about to come a long and if they want to be successful they better make this management element core. Google is the first one to launch a new service with their Google+ and it is said to feature this management element very central with clever, but simple tools to adjust and handle this.

XKCD Google+
Image taken from XKCD / Google+ as discussed across offices these days.

Google+ introduces a new terminology for the wall, friends, groups and so on. It comes as Circles – a group of friends, and this is how you arrange them, Hangouts – where you can spend time with your contacts, Sparks – where you share and find new stuff.

There is a lot more like a Profile and a Stream and Photos. But also the privacy with a privacy policy and general Settings are par tof this important management board. There is also direct information on Backup, something that has never been talked about in the socil networking context so far and Google seems to be willing to offer solutions here as well as the shuttign down of acounts here called Downgrade.

Google has also changed the entry requirements and it seams that signing up to Google getting a specific gmail address is no longer necessary as it was with all the previous services. This will probably make a lot of people willing to give it a try, but then most people wil already have a gmail address from the previous services.

Very interesting will be the integration of location based and mobile sharing of which there is only little known at the moment. Will Google relaunch Latitude a fourth time or will Google+ have an integrated location service? We shall see.

It will be very interesting how these user centred setting management options will transform the service and how the platform is used. Currently it is run in privat beta, but the interest seems massive. People are keen to get into building a new social network. But then this was the same with Google Buzz and Google Wave, which both were later not that successful. However, it is likely that both of them together with latitude sort of feed into this new Google+.

The privacy and ethics discussion will be ongoing. And it will be for example interesting to what extend an API will be provided allowing to mine the social networking data at large which is generated through the use of the service. One question will be how this can be integrated with the stepped up privacy policy or whether, as Google has done so far, they restrict access to this part of the service.

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