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Tag "memory"

The biannual conference of the Society for American City and Regional Planning History (SACRPH) is this year the 14th National Conference on Planning History being held in Baltimore MD.

The Society for American City and Regional Planning History (SACRPH) is an interdisciplinary organisation dedicated to promoting scholarship on the planning of cities and metropolitan regions over time, and to bridging the gap between the scholarly study of cities and the practice of urban planning.

Berlin Badeschiff
Image taken from the Baltimore Architecture Foundation / The Inner Harbor, before Charles Center & Harborplace.

I will be presenting a paper on The City in Time and Space drawing on the research work undertaken with the urbanDiary project using GPS-tracking, interviews and mental maps. The paper is part of the session 49 with the overall title Seeing Time: Urban Paces and Building Cycles it will be chaired by Philip J. Ethington, Professor of History at University of Southern California and the initiator of the HyperCities project.

Other presenters in the session are Sandra Parvu, Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Paris on Time Perceptions in Neighborhoods Undergoing Demolition, Francesca Ammon, Yale University on Progress in Progress: The Representation and Experience of Postwar Building Demolition and Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani, The New School on Seeing the Human City: A Visual and Value-Rich Urbanism.

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It is ten years since the 9/11 attacks in New York in 2001. Quite a lot has happened in the mean time and something unbelievable has become accepted as part of lives that will go on. The attacks with two passenger panes crashed into the World Trade Center at the heart of Manhattan brought with them many changes of perspective in the way cities are viewed.

A memorial is going to be opened at the site on 09/11 this September. It is part of the ten year anniversary. After a lot of discussion and back and forward there is not going to a new tower or set of towers but a garden with two fountains. The two sunken fountains are designed by architect Michael Arad and landscape architect Peter Walker.

A animation rendering of the project can be fond over at Dezeen. It is a flight through showing some context and some details.

As a place of remembering this will serve the public with a museum and a visitor centre. No doubt it will become an attraction in Manhattan and indeed a very welcome space. It is a place for families to remember but also for office workers to eat their sandwich. As any urban space it is multifunctional. In this respect the design could probably become quite successful.

The design is built around the two footprints of the towers. The two wholes in the ground are transformed into waterfalls within a forest of trees. As Rowan Moore points out in a article for the Guardian, the design uses materials of commemoration – water, stone, trees, bronze.

9/11 Memorial Fountain
Image taken from nyctrip / Memorial fountain at the 9/11 memorial in New York with broze plates and engraved names.

Another one of the very important elements that are from the original site is the Vesey Street Stairway, practically the only remains above ground. It will feature as an element in the exhibition directly at the entrance.

Memorials are not any more as much in fashion as they used to be. Remembering is not something that fits into a busy dynamic and smooth society. The function of memorials changes as the events move into the distance. In the best case they become landmarks as an integrative part of the individual mental map and a point of orientation for visitors.

Cénotaphe a Newton Boullee
Image taken from 911memorial / Vesey Street Stairway as it will be integrated with the museum.

This is not at all a negative thing, but actually the way the city and its places can live, if people can connect to it and project their visions onto it. Memorials are with their ‘non-function’ the perfect place for this and have the potential to become essential anchor points for identity and place-making.

The site works as a cenotaph similar to the one placed outside Whitehall in London. However is quite a lot bigger as the entire site is the monument. In this respect it remains more of the project for the Newtown memorial by Étienne-Louis Boullée, Cénotaphe a Newton (1784).

The 9/11 site is massive and the memorial to be opened is at a very large scale. It is both, two sculptures and a park in one. Were otherwise a park has a place for a memorial, that is maybe a statue or a plate. Over time we wil see if this nationally styled function is actually functioning as it is designed.

Cénotaphe a Newton Boullee
Image taken from Wikimedia / Boullée, ”Cénotaphe a Newton”, 1784.

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I will be giving a lecture today at the Bartlett School of Architecture to the MA Urban Design course students. The course is directed by Professor Colin Fournier.
My talk will focus on the spatial dimension of narratives and time in everyday urban live. The different topics discussed are Repetition, with an introduction to the machine city and different types of cycles to create an identity of the place, Time as a framework of organisation, Space as a result of body physicality and experience, Pattern as a combination of time and space and a conception of place as mental maps to Morphology as the physical result of the narrative created.
As illustration material serves the data collected via the twitter microblogging site, the New City Landscape maps, as well as urbanDiary GPS tracking data.

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The spatial manifestation of presence, such as ownership, power or usage is commonly clearly and durable regulated in stable societies. The practice has sort of merged with the everyday routines and is hardly notable. There might be the odd neighbours dispute over a garden shed, a tree or a parke car but largely the boundaries are in place and not negotiable on a individual or even personal level. In a sense they are accepted as a sort of pre existing spatial institution.
Boundaries do change in shape and ownership. Usually lager pieces, such as plots of land, if they are not public, are traded as a good on the market, payed for and sealed with a contract. So pretty save stuff here.

This is however only a condition and depends on the accepted practice.

In a brand new 010 publication by Malkit Shoshan exactly these conditions and practices are examined. Shoshan meticulous works his way through the spatial extends and manifestations of the Israel-Palestine conflict over the past 100 years. The book ‘Atlas of the Conflict – Israel-Palestine‘ maps out the processed and mechanisms behind the shaping of the area over the past century.

Atlas of the Conflict 02
Image taken from Atlas of the Conflict 010 Publishers / Spread 132-133, chapter 3, showing the pattern of settlements by size.

The conflict is a constant topic in the western news with its ebbs and flows. Sometimes the coverage is more intense and then it fades away again, depending mainly on the involvement of western authorities or individuals. The last wave of prolonged news coverage flicked across our screens this past May 31, as the ship convoy, the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, tried to reach the Gaza Strip to deliver humanitarian aid and suplies. Over 700 People from 37 different countries were aboard to support the mision, including Britons. The Israeli special force Shayetet 13 brutally stopped the convoy, killed nine of the passengers and injured dozens. The goods did not reach the destination. This act was widely criticized and dominated the news for a couple of day and it faded away again.

However the extend and the implications of this conflict are hard to grasp by following these only doted coverages. The news stories are usually quite narrated and in comparison to this the Atlas of the Conflict ha a very different approach. It is promising to develop an objective overview through mapping and factual documentation. Factual we can most likely expect from the large news channels, but the comprehensive mapping really offers a new perspective on this entangled situation.

This book is not the first attempt to map out this topic. For example there is the ‘The Routledge atlas of the Arab-Israeli conflict‘ and other earlier book dating back to the eighties or early nineties. In this sense it is time for a new publication with a fresh approach.

Atlas of the Conflict 01
Image taken from Atlas of the Conflict 010 Publishers / Spread 414-415, lexicon, showing the evolution of the wall erected by Israel along the border to Palestine.

The collection of maps is extensive. The book boosts a massive 500 maps and illustrations, detailing different aspects. It puts things into places, context and more importantly into relation to each other. The developed context is however very limited, it hardly goes beyond the ever changing borderlines of the Israeli state. It does however go into a lot of detail on the inside of the border line and puts things on the maps such as infrastructures and demographics.

The publication is organised into two parts. The first part is mapping, mapping, mapping, putting the information into beautifully simplified maps, often reduced to icons. In the second part the author presents a lexicon of selected objects, topics, facts and figures to intensify and narrate the topics presented in the maps section. The two sections are interlinked with page numbers to offer option for nonlinear reading of the atlas. This element however works only one way, from the maps section to the lexicon section.

As hinted above the design of this publication are outstanding and do set standards. There is no other way to put it. Behind this is again Joost Grootens who was already responsible for the design of ‘Atlas of the New Dutch Water Defense Line‘, reviewed here earlier. Through out the book the design works with a three colour colour scheme. Blue is used for Israeli information, brown for Palestine information and black for general info. The illustrations are very often reduced in detail and information to be mainly an icon. This is extremely beautiful and makes this publication a pleasure to brows. However it also struggles at times with the odd non fitting design problem, but thats part of the game.

The overall size of the publication is at first surprising. For an atlas it is very small and more a sort of pocket atlas. This especially in comparison to the oversize ‘Atlas o the New Dutch Water Defence Line’.

A striking speciality of the publication’s approach to document the conflict over the last 100 years is the largely absent topic of religion and individual destiny. Shoshan explains in the introduction how she started investigating the spatiality of the conflict and it can be assumed that it is a very conscious decision to exclude these topics in order to enable a different access to the conflict as a whole.

While reading through the publication and studying the maps, a very strong sense of temporality of space, land and even country started to emerge. Even though the maps and illustrations are very static and by definition exclude temporality, a story of the conflict started to emerge of which spatial practice of an idea was the key player. All of a sudden it became clear that a country, the land and the people are not one and the same thing. But all have their own very different theoretical interpretation and reading, but also practice.

The practices and strategies employed in this conflict appear in this presentation as tools and mechanics of an extremely theoretical vison of a myth to try and bring the three element of country, land and people together.

Atlas of the Conflict 03
Image taken from Atlas of the Conflict 010 Publishers / Spread 154-155, chapter 4, showing two typologies of Israeli spatial practice, the ‘Wall and Tower and the ‘Moshava’. Both are two ways of settling to claim ownership of the land.

Through out, but foremost in my favorite section, chapter 4, the utilisation and manipulation of the population through spatial planning and strategies is portrayed in depth. Chapter 4 introduces the typologies of settlements on an almost architectural scale and illustrate how individuals are misused for a bigger cause, as pins on a map, as shields, as metaphor, as demonstration, but not as humans.

As a technique of spatiality this illustrates how important or more so fundamental the presence of human being is, to value the spatial dimension. It could be argued that this publication, not intentionally, but as a by product, shows how important the individual act of creation, space making is, as recognised and institutionalised by the Israeli government.

The list of examples and fascinating details that could be put forward here is really long. There are so many moments while reading this book where you go ah…, uh…, yes! and things, you have heard from the sporadic news over the years, all of sudden make sense in a wider context. By definition Shoshan excluded the narratives and stories, but cleans and reassembles the base map for the news, tales, fact, information, tales and events we hear elsewhere. The book might not be as objective as it would like to be, but it as objective as possible an this makes this atlas also worthwhile in another context.

Atlas of the Conflict 03
Image taken from 010 Publishers / Cover of the atlas of the Conflict – Israel-Palestine.

Shoshan, M., 2010. Atlas of the Conflict – Israel-Palestine, Rotterdam: 010 Publishers.

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It is one more year since the last summary of personal tracking was posted. This year it is a consistant 405 tracking record as compared to a mixed device record the previous year. This matters in so far as the 405 performs very well and the data processing job is a simpler for the cleaning part. The down side is that it is slower for the processing part since there are very detailed records with loads of points. THe previeous year can be found at Plymouth365 and oneYearLND_2009.

oneYearLND09-10 London
Image by urbanTick / London overview of the 2010 GPS track record. A one year drawing of movement on a daily basis, recording all activities and trips. For a large version click HERE.

The map also shows the previous year in green, since there is a striking similarity and in order to highlight the differences this seemed to make sense. The similarity goes as far as the two records being more or less the same. I expected a similarity, but not to this extend.

There are differences only on a very small scale. There is one major change in routine that dominates the differences between the two years. My son has started school and the trips to the nursery near the work place have been substituted by trip to drop of or pick him up at the school near our home. This changes the spatial practice and with it the pattern. However it is not as obvious since the directions of movement stayed more or less the same.

Image by urbanTick / London Bloomsbury zoom of the 2010 GPS track record. A one year drawing of movement on a daily basis, recording all activities and trips.

To update the zoom in to the leisure area around Regents Park here is an updated version showing the different visits to ZSL. In 2010 there appear definitely a shift in interest focus. Never been to Australia this year.

As pointed out in last years post, the capacity to recall events using the lines as memory triggers works very well. I can basically over the whole year piece together my steps. Being this for example in the bottom left corner some of these trips to the Natural History Museum, Royal Geographical Society or in Hyde Part visits the Diana Memorial.

Image by urbanTick / London Regents Park zoom of the 2010 GPS track record. A one year drawing of movement on a daily basis, recording all activities and trips.

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The experimenting with the SenseCam over the past summer month was great fun and the various contributors and participants have enjoyed the experience.
We are left with a huge pile of data that needs processing now and besides all the other stuff calling for attention it is sort of a tricky task. In total we snapped over 200’000 still images, that goes together with the data collected with the GPS that we attached to the SensCam. Additionally we of course also have the log files of the cameras own sensors.

To give a preview example of the temperature logged by the TMP sensor of the camera here is a Graph of this summers temperature. It wasn’t too bad, was it this summer?

Image by urbanTick / Temperature curve over the recording period during the summer of 2010, as captured by the SenseCam Revue TMP sensor.

In terms of visualisation one of the main and intense aspect is the image processing and in a temporal sense the animation of this timelapse data makes sense. An earlier preview of some of the captured dat can be found HERE, together with some screen shots.

One of the participants, the artist Kai has also now processed the data she collected during one day of the experiment into a 1 minute clip, showing her every move, covering a mad range of activities. For detailed description and the longlist of different activities visit the artists website at 3rdlifekaidie.

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Do you remember what you did just forty minutes ago, or maybe over lunch or just after you got up this early morning?
Maybe roughly and most likely you could piece it back together using key frames of memory constructing a sort of narrative reaching close to the area in question.

As a sort of extension of the UrbanDiary project, where GPS technology is used to trace the spatial extension of an everyday routine, timeLapse technology is used to frame individual activities and record a massive pool of images documenting an individuals day.

Image by urbanTick for UrbanDiary / Everyday situation recorded with the ViconRevue during the initial trials in August 2010. The perspective is something the viewer has to get used to.

The technology used is a ViconRevue cam. It is based on the Microsoft SensCam discussed in another post. From the distance, not having had the chance to test the device, the impression was not too convincing. However now, having used it for a coupe of days, taken a few thousand snaps, it has to be said that it work really well.

Vicom describes the product everywhere as a memory suport and uses a couple of medical studies where the Revenue is used by patients suffering memory loss, brain injuries or Alzheimer. In the current setting we are focusing on urban and city navigation, differences of activities in a number of spatial configuration. For this we have coupled the camera with a GPS device inorder to trace the spatial movement.


Image by urbanTick for UrbanDiary / Everyday situation recorded with the ViconRevue during the initial trials in August 2010. The available privacy button gives a 4minute time-out, but usually this is over in the very wrong moment.

It does help a bit with the remembering of specific situations. However the perspective is something one has to get use to. It si not exactly the belly button view, but slightly higher. More strange it is the sort of Doom/Quake perspective with one’s own hands constantly in the frame that distracts from the actual activity documented. It is your personal first person shooter perspective.

The installation and managing of the camera and data surprisingly works on a Mac as well as a Windows machine. It uses the Adobe AIR (Adobe Integrated Runtime) technology.
Best surprise was the accessibility of a CSV fiel that actually stores the sensor information for each captured image. The camera uses, in addition to a timer, several sensors to trigger the capturing of an image. This should ensure an image being captured at every change of environment. However, in the accompanying documentation Vicom does not reveal what sort of sensors there are integrated wiht the cam. There is a brightness sensor, maybe a motion sensor? but not sure what else there might be. The CSV file should reveal more details.

Not convincing is the desktop software to review the captured material. Maybe there is less function on the mac version, but even with establishing the various folders the app has difficulties. It did corrupt some of the days and is not willing to show the material unlike for other days where it works perfectly. Handling is tricky and the only option given is a note box either for full albums or individual images. There is not option to sort the images other than by album which is based on time and date.

We will keep working with the as part of the UrbanDiary project in collaboration with the New Scientist. A variety of different participants will contribute glimpses of their everyday lives over the coming weeks. We will keep you posted for update.

Music ‘Ain’t my Night to Drive‘ taken from mp3unsigned by Jennifer Riddle.

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Tales of Things, the new service to link digital memories and physical objects has gone online recently. It was covered widely in the media, from the New Scientist, to WIRED and the Guardian, as well as of course on urbanTick HERE and HERE. The internet of things has come to life. It is now in your pocket on your iPhone and ready to interact 24/7. How and why this is happening now with this new project out of the ToTeM labs is the question put at the initiators. In this interview Ralph Barthel, from the developer team behind the service, explains the context and the details of this project.

urbanTick: Tell us something about your background and your role in the project and of course tell us about your most precious tale!

Ralph: My research and work background is in the areas of social computing, design research and new media system development with specific applications for learning and knowledge building. In this first phase of the project I was responsible for the development of the backend web application of the Tales of Things service and some aspects of the Interaction Design. In the next few months I will start to explore additional interactions and novel user interfaces to engage with the Tales of Things service.
My first tale on Tales of Things was about an old audio tape recorder (Grundig TK 23) that my grandfather owned. It was built in 1963 and is extremely heavy by today’s standards. Interacting with this thing brings back joyful memories from my youth.

Grundig TK 23 Advertisement
Image taken from TalesOfTings website / The Grundig TK23 documentation from the 60’s. Find out more about the Grandfather tale on TalesOfThings.

urbanTick: Can you describe the development process of this project.

Ralph: In October 2009 Andy Hudson-Smith, the project leader here at CASA, brought Martin De Jode, Benjamin Blundell and me together to work on the TOTeM (Tales of Things and Electronic Memory) project. The TOTeM project is funded through a £1.39 million research grant from the EPSRC to explore social memory in the emerging culture of the Internet of Things. Five universities in the UK (Edinburgh College of Art, University College London, Brunel University, The University of Salford and The University of Dundee) are collaborating in this project. The scope of our initial work up to the launch in April 2010 was very much predetermined and detailed by the TOTeM project plan. Consequently we soon started building and evaluating prototypes of our web application and mobile clients with the aim to refine them through formative evaluation with project partners, advisors and selected user groups. In the next phase of this project the Tales of Things service will enable us and our partner institutions to study the relationship of personal memories and old objects when mediated through tagging technologies.

urbanTick: Technical difficulties and special solutions?

Ralph: From a technical point of view the main difficulty in an applied project like TOTeM is to leverage the capabilities of broadly available tagging and ubiquitous computing technologies while making them accessible for a large number of people. In this context it is important to go beyond the step of providing a proof of concept (which is the purpose of many research projects) but to create a sustainable and maintainable technological infrastructure for years to come. Within the constraints of a research project with a small technical core team it can be difficult to balance innovation with providing basic support services. This tension cannot readily be resolved and in the next few months also depending on the uptake of the service we will see how this will develop.

urbanTick: In this sense Tales of Things is not a pure research project. What are the aims and who are you working together for the development and for the application (service)?

Ralph: The core development team does currently all development work and hosting in-house. Our project partners in Salford are exploring the possibilities of commercialisation. We are planning to collaborate with libraries and museums and to be present Tales of Things technologies at events and festivals. TOTeM will for example be in May in Manchester at the Future Evertything Festival.

urbanTick: Describe the basic steps to take part in the tales of things project.

Ralph: To start people can go to www.talesofthings.com and browse around and have a look at some of the tales that have been already added. They can register on the site for a free account and can download the iPhone application that reads Tales of Things QR Codes and enables people to create new tales when they interact with a tagged object. After loging in to our web services people can create a new things. To do this they would typically provide some information about the thing such as description and title and a photo of the object if available. In the process of creating a thing they will also be asked to provide a first tale for the thing they are adding. People can then generate and print the QR Codes of their things and comment on other peoples tales of things. The website provides further map views that display where in the world the tales have been created.

urbanTick: The tale is refering to the memory someone has of a thing. As we all know these memories are variable and can be difficult to pin down. Can you describe the strategy you developed to can ephemeral thoughts, what does a tale consist of?

Ralph: A tale starts with a brief textual description and a title of the tale. References to any addressable media for example from services like YouTube, Flickr, Audioboo can be added to a tale. Currently files from the three mentioned services are displayed in an integrated media player interface. All other URL’s are linked as additional resources. Finally a geolocation can be added to a tale.

Image taken from TalesOfThings / The tale of the Banksy maid in Camden, long gone but still here.

urbanTick: The project has only launched two weeks back on the 17 of April. How was it received and how will you develop the platform in the coming weeks?

Ralph: It was receiving quiet a bit of media coverage for example in the Guardian Technology blog or BBC Radio 4. The media feedback was largely positive. There were also some critical voices that doubt that people will socialize around tagged objects. Obviously this is something that time will tell. The media coverage brought some attention to the project and many people visited the website and several hundred already signed up for user accounts.
At this stage we will closely follow how people engage with the Tales of Things service. At this point we are looking for different uses and the values and meaning that people assign to Tales of Things in several pilot studies with different communities. The results from this piloting stage will inform further development efforts. We also aim to support additional mobile platforms such as Android and to develop an API so that other services can connect to Tales of Things.

urbanTick: There are a number of specific terms frequently used to describe aspects of this project. Some are borrowed, some are newly defined and other are everyday words. Can you explain the “thing”, the “tale” and the “tag”?

Ralph: A thing refers to any object (e.g. industrial objects, tools, architecture) people would like to link an individual memory to. A tale is story of a personal memory that someone associates with this thing. A tale is told on the platform using different digital media (text, video, images, audio). Video, Image and Audio media can be taken from the web and users can create textual content through our web service. Consequently people can link any addressable digital media file in the creative storytelling process. The thing and the tale(s) are then linked via the tag. This is a unique identifier in the form of an QR Code. This tag is machine readable and can be attached to the thing. The Tales of Things service generates QR Codes for each thing automatically. We also have the option to use RFID identifiers to mark an object. This emerging technology is known for example from the Oystercards. We are curently developing an Tales of Things RFID reader to further explore the possibilities of this technology. For now any existing RFID tags can be linked to the things in our database.

urbanTick: The project could be classified as being another social networking site. Is it, and if so what is different, or how would you characterize it instead?

Ralph: In the concept of Tales of Things the physical interaction with tagged objects is important. People can only add new tales about things if they physically interact with an object through reading its tag. Certain permissions can only be shared and passed along through the interaction with the object which changes the configuration of the server. While people can view tales of things on our website they can only add new tales when interacting with the tags. Consequently the website, that has elements of social networking sites, is only a part of the entire service experience of Tales of Things. The project aims broader to explore implications of a service space in which enabled through ubiquitous forms of computing physical world and cyberspace are interlinked. The project is interdisciplinary so that the research inquiry includes aspects of Human-Computer Interaction, Art Practise, Anthropology and Commerce.

Image taken from talesofthings.com / The World of Things, map on the project site showing the location of the objects and tales. It is also possible to track objects as it loggs each location it was scanned.

urbanTick: Potential of the internet of things?

Ralph: There is a certain anticipation that the Internet of Things will eventually lead to a technical and cultural shift as societies orient towards ubiquitous forms of computing. The development of technology and practises are often co-evolving so that it is important to understand possible implications. Internet Of Things applications can be complex services that evolve in space and time. The experience of using an Internet of Things service spans several user interfaces and the design space encompasses physical artifacts in the real world as well as conceptual artifacts. Personally I am interested in exploring human-computer interaction (HCI) in this design space as it poses specific methodological, ethical and philosophical challenges that need to be addressed when design IoT applications.

urbanTick: The Internet of Things is not new, why do you think it is emerging just now again?

Ralph: The idea of tagging of things and networked objects is by no means new. What has changed in recent years is that enabling technologies such as internet-enabled smartphones have become more affordable, usable and widespread. More and more people carry powerful small computational devices with them. This has led recently to a renaissance of Internet of Things applications used in a non-industrial context which can be witnessed by services like Foursquare or Pachube.

urbanTick: Critical mass for the internet of things to enter as a important player?

Ralph: Internet of Things applications are already important and wide-spread in many industries such a logistics. The TOTeM project is concerned with a different application of the Internet of Things outside industry practise. I can’t say what the critical mass for our project is. The critical mass is not necessarily the most important aspect of the project. It might very well be that the technologies that are developed as part of this project have the potential to add value to the social practises of specific communities. Such findings would be equally important. Tales of Things is after all a research project albeit an applied one.

urbanTick: What is your vision for this project?

Ralph: The partners in TOTeM are from five universities and have different backgrounds and might therefore have different visions. From a research perspective I am mainly interested in studying and exploring the Internet of Things as hybrid interaction design space and how IoT applications can be used for learning and knowledge building in everyday activities. From a long-term perspective it would be great to see a sustained engagement of many people with the Tales of Things service.

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Linking thoughts, visions and memory to real object has so far been surprisingly difficult and complicated. Only when you start thinking about recording a message related to an object and making it available in relation, you realize how impossible this currently is. A number of projects are under way storing and making memories accessible such as the BBC Memoryshare. But it is not related to actual objects or locations.
Well actually not any longer this changes and the web of things becomes reality. Online projects are under development. Here at CASA we have just launched today a project specifically focused on the relationship on the object and the related memory: Tales of Things.
This project comes out of the Totem Labs funded by the Digital Economy and is developed in a collaboration between Brunel University, Edinburgh College of Art, University College London, University of Dundee, University of Salford. CASA is involved in the development of the technical elements of this project.
Tales of Things allows you to link any object with the internet as a place to store memory and thoughts. This link is established via an unique tag, a 2D barcode. This tag is machine readable and specific software can read it via built in cam or web cam and direct you to the linked content. The link can be any content from info and text to multimedia files.
This could become very interesting for trading, e.g. ebay and libraries or museums. The underlying concept is not new and visionairs have fantasised about it for long, but only now the technology and the practice is available to make it happen.
It is one of these ideas that could potentially change the way we interact and process data and information, in a very practical sense brings the virtual and the real world closer together.

Image taken from taesofthings.com / Project logo.

It is currently a bit hard to get at these tags, I mean to find taged objects, until a number of stuff has been taged. So unless you start making your own, HERE, you can only follow other’s tales.
It is simple to create your own. Take an picture of the Thing, upload it, give it a name and keywords so that others can find it. You can then write a blurb about your memory or paste the URL of anything from a video clip to a normal website to link it. So your all set! If someone scans the code, automatically the provided information and links will be shown. Your visions and thoughts or memories will be accessible to others.

The most important bit really is the iPhone app! It is available in the app store, in time for the launch, that was lucky guys!

The project has been presented at the CASA conference by Andy from DigitalUrban, it has a twitter account as well as a blog and first reviews and comments were published by the NewScientist, Wired and the Guardian.

So how does it work? Here is a first example, I created a note for one of my everyday objects and linked it to a clip on youtube. Get the iPhone app, scan the barcode and see where it takes you!


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In the current times the topic of change is big, Life is changing and the awareness of this consumes a lot of the attention both, individual as well as collective. The Financial crisis has just rocked the world for the whole of the last year, health concerns dominated the media with the pig flu virus and wars are not won quickly any longer, to name just a few of the current big topics of change. Global climate change would be an other big topic. However there is a common topic to all of them and I believe this is the awareness of time as an aspect of the topic description. You could almost say it hasn’t featured to such an extent at any point in history. The second element is the global awareness, we all share the same planet in the end.
Big changes are also discussed among cities and it is true that the construct city faces a really dramatic change. It has become a global phenomena how cities grow and predictions point still upwards. Cities or better city regions are at current extremely attractive. However the extent of the change we are facing in structural, organisational or social terms, hardly anyone can grasp.
The crowded, dense and dirty instalment of the industrial city is long gone and new identities have to be found or most likely invented. A whole series of heavily industrial cities struggled with decline over the past fifty years. This was already pointed out by the Shrinking Cities Network or by the Shrinking Cities Project lead by Philipp Oswald. In a series of publications V1, V2 and an Atlas of Shrinking Cities, the group has researched case studies of mainly former industrial cities struggling with decline. To some extend this project was an eye opener for a lot of people did it for once divert from the cliché of the ever growing, pretty and strong city. It lent an image to the deserted city centres and run down neighbourhoods. If you wanted you could accuse them of simply moving beyond the empty industrial building in the inner city location stylised to a trendy urban loft and sexify the decline of the city as a whole. But this is probably going too far.
Since we now have the shrinking in our repertoire of capitalist planning reality, we can steer our attention back to the growth of the cities. Growth is one aspect of the solution these cities are working with. There are other aspects too, for example sense of place or identity are other factors to play an important role, not only for location marketing. In a recent NAI Publishers publication ‘Comeback Cities – Transformation Strategies for Former Industrial Cities’ edited by Nienke van Boom and Hans Mommaas (2009), brings together a documentation of eight cities’ strategies to develop themselves into the twenty-first century. The different places are Tilburg, Entschede, Manchester, Huddersfield, Tampere, Forssa, Ghent and Roubaix. However oddly the whole setting is created around the city of Tilburg and its anniversary celebration of the fact that it received its municipal charter two hundred years ago from 2009. This is really an odd context or such topic as immediately one gets a sense of actually becoming part of a cities promotion effort, quite literally, marketing between book covers. This is clever, if it then is and reaches a different group. What better way to promote than to become a model.
Anyway, we leave this discussion aside for now and look more at the content of this as usual with subtle design decisions surprising publication. NAI Publishers really love their books, you can tell. This one here has textured covers that give it a nice touch as you hold it.
The content is preceded by fact sheets documenting anything from population size to type of fiber used in production to levels of education. It seems almost that this kind of quick context creation starts to become a common feature of a serious book. I ultimately think of ‘the Endless City’ book by Ricky Burdett, Deyan Sudjic, where the facts even crept onto the covers to make the point. This element of the book is of course also the perfect stage to clarify the publications graphic design position. The ‘Endless City’ is bold black on bright orange, to underline the fact that they are talking fact. Here in ‘Comeback City’ the information is communicated through diagrams represented by sewing thread bobbin (I had to look this one up, what a creation. It is probably also long lost together with the tradition of the industry in cities.) So no the first few page you get a really good sense of the material these industrial cities worked with and in all sorts of colours. At times these bobbins almost transform into characters.

Image taken from ‘Comeback Cities’ p28/29 / Opportunities

The main art of the book the is a series of chapters named ‘Case Study’ each comparing two of the example cities, out of the eight. These texts are structured as similar analysis writ-ups starting with some history, talking about the years of suffering and then the slow change highlighting the different players and their roles in the context. There are detailed descriptions of political processes right down to who was the major during which period and what were his interests. It does end up in propaganda paragraphs at times, in a series of cliff-hangers from positive aspect to positive aspect. Having said that the amount of detail is astonishing and even if at times extremely one dimensional it is valuable and gives a good insight to understand the mechanisms almost on the level of daily business (in case you wana run your own city). So you end up with a bunch of creative cities, highlighting their cultural potential and practice mixed up with cafes, restaurant entertainment and a big bit of higher education. Anything the cliché of a contemporary dynamic city would ask for, right out of a third year architecture students project presentation. But I guess this is the reality we live in and consuming is a westerners main occupation. To some extent this raises the question whether these cities are not on the road to buy right into the next big mono functional bubble after escaping battered the industrial gripper.
However the one phrase that really jumps out from all the descriptions is ‘the DNA of the City’. It is used in most of the city portraits as a subheading and it is an element I really can not relate to. After having read all of the paragraphs I can still not understand what the authors describe with the phrase. It is probably thought to refer to the basic, fundamental building blocks of the city, but I doubt those are creative industry and knowledge. The only element I can think of that could maybe fit the shoe are the citizens, the society living the cultural context the city is created in, but there is little talking about them in this book.

Image taken from ‘Comeback Cities’ p82/83 / Industrial halls in Tilburg at different times.

There are two intermezzo elements to the book structure, each a photo essay illustrating the feel of these places then and now. These are beautiful parts where the reader can put together the puzzle of descriptions and sense the extent of the drama covered by the book. You see black and white or sepia photographs of mainly women, but also men in vast halls standing at machines with hundreds of threads going off and then you see a contemporary group of people looking at art work in a similar building. This really illustrates the dimension of change and for me helped to understand the struggle described in the text. It also directly talk about the memory of places that might not be accessible for outsiders but are the essential element of identification.
However nice the book is designed sadly the sections with the photographs is pretty unfortunate. Somehow the framing of the images, the blue colour of the page background, the wiggly line, the black of white frame and the description text box do not make sense, a real pity.

The book is concluded with a section documenting student projects developed in the context of Tilburg addressing the issue of change and identity. This is a refreshing section and underlies the potential and the capacity these cities have, both actual and for marketing.
I guess in this sense the review can be concluded, a refreshing book that does not always follow the much used paths of documentation, plays with the subject even as part of the book, fails in some cases but succeeds in others. A valuable contribution to the debate around the creation and recreation of an identity of place.

van Boom, N. & Mommaas, H. eds., 2009. Transformation Strategies For Former Industrial Cities, R: NAi Publishers.

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