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May 29, 2003

Decaying Dioramas.

Eerie pictures of haunting urban scenarios.

Dark Passage (via Smoke).
Todd Hido (via Jonathan Jaynes).

Posted by fabio sergio | 5:54 PM | permalink


May 28, 2003

A blog is a blog is a blog.

Tom Coates starts from an interesting article, "Dynamics of a Blogosphere Story"" to add many more bright considerations of his own.
His focus is on the quality of blog-based discussions, and he brings forth the idea that the BlogoSphere is replicating in much faster cycles the typical academic idea-generation process, based on peer-reviews and recursive refinement.

Tom's thoughts immediately made me think (of all things) about the Matrix Reloaded comments over at Kottke's.
What I think is peculiar is that his considerations still perfectly apply: if you take the time to read through all 260+ (and counting) contributions you'll encounter the very same patterns he describes.
An original interpretation of the movie (main post), echoed by another similar one (major response), followed by scattered chatter (micro-votes), collected in a weighty post (aggregation) and so on.

Even more fascinating is that over time hubs (thought leaders) have clearly emerged ("Spoon Boy", "Brian"), with other strong voices taking the debate further and the rest randomly adding fuel to the discussion.
Jason has seemingly decided to "relinquish control", and the child space has taken a life of his own, inheriting implicit rules from its parent.
Clay Shirky and object-oriented programming fans should be proud.

A blog spawning (instancing?) a blog, which in turn seemingly mimics the entire BlogoSphere?
A fascinating fractal-like example of scale-invariance, the micro mirroring the macro?
Or simply an ecosystem showing its informing patterns?

Talking about ecosystems, but slightly off-topic, do also read Boxes and Arrows' latest installment, "The Sociobiology of Information Architecture", which hints at potential sources of inspiration when it comes to mapping and structuring information flows: the evolution of living organisms, from monocellular life-forms to to complex multicellular ones.
Just like us, really.

Posted by fabio sergio | 12:13 PM | permalink


May 27, 2003

The plot that wasn't there.

Valeria and I went to see The Matrix Reloaded last Friday, and we both enjoyed it, maybe simply because we had no expectations about it.
Then yesterday I finally got around reading other people's reviews and opinions.

Taken at face value Reloaded's plot can be compared to that of a triple-X movie, with all the action cadenced by pretty absurd, meaningless dialogues, but if you hold a PhD in comparative philosophy and/or theology things apparently change.
After reading Ken Mondschein's intriguing meta-review, or the comments over at Kottke's (focus on Spoon Boy's thoughts unless you really have time to waste) I was left quite honestly fascinated.

As it often happens with modern art forms, it is not what is there that matters, but what is not there, the hinted and the evoked, whether it is intentional (as it is probably in this case) or unintentional, construct-ed by the cultural milieu in which art is put into context.
Where is the value, in the catalyst or in the conversations it attracts?

Exegetical dark matter, shrouded in luminous interpretations.

Posted by fabio sergio | 12:25 PM | permalink


May 26, 2003

As boring as water.

Water is, together with air, possibly one of the least exciting substances know to humankind.
Both are positively associated with terms like colorless and tasteless, and usually go totally unnoticed unless there's something wrong with them...or they are not available, a situation in which we seem to have a hard time surviving.
When it comes to see them as products though, substances that epitomizes generic-ness have unsurprisingly focused all efforts and attention on what surrounds them, from packaging to advertising.
In other words, on the experience.

Just like a stop at the nearest Starbucks will have you pay a premium not necessarily for the quality of your caffeine fix of choice, but for the pleasure of spending time in a successfully crafted (and branded) third place, Oxygen Bars have definitely built their success on the ever-increasing level of pollution we currently enjoy in our cities, but also on the coolness factor associated with breathing a scented mix of volatile gasses in trendy places.
As Magritte would have said: "This is not air".

During my recent forays into the UK I couldn't help but notice how companies like Hildon are bottling and marketing their water so that if you are not careful it might just pass as really, really cheap vodka.
The decision is part of a probably successful branding strategy, focused on giving good'ol humble water the allure of elite-oriented products, with the likely goal of attracting consumer segments willing and able to shell out a little extra money.
Two considerations come to mind.

Purely on the design side, I am tempted to confront Hildon's bottling choices with that of Ty Nant, the "blue bottle company" lately brought to fame because of its enlightened collaboration with Ross Lovegrove on a curvaceously sexy new plastic bottle.
Without touching themes such as bringing beauty to the masses, as Adam has effectively done in the past already, I will just briefly speak about honesty.
Ty Nant's plastic bottles use the material in an honest way, taking advantage of its inherent qualities and merging functionality, pleasantness and differentiation in a tight package (pun unintended). Similar consideration equally apply to Ty Nant's previous glass-based efforts, which coupled a Klein-anesque love for blue with a distinctive shape.
Adolf Loos would have been proud.
Hildon-like efforts, on the other hand, look purely like mimetic exercises, with bottles and labels cloning those of upper-end goods of different nature.
I can take mimesis as well as anyone else out there, but I must admit that part of me refuses the easy way out chosen by these producers, even when it comes to a purely brand-related strategy.
If you want to be different, dare to be different.

The other consideration has nothing to do with design or branding, but only with the dubious sustainability of western-world water practices in general.
Unless you have very specific kidney-related needs, water is, well, water.
Have you ever thought about the amazing amount of money spent bottling, moving, stocking and marketing something that for most of us lucky ones is never farther away than the closest faucet?
I should know, as Italy leads Europe in the consumption per capita of bottled water, while still enjoying some of the highest quality publicly-available water out there.
Sure, most tap water tastes of chlorine these days, but it is as safe to drink as the more expensive bottled liquid found in supermarkets.
And all it takes to make tap water even safer and tasteless is a good filter, after all.

What if instead of sheepishly following the cool-brand-of-the-day, water-bottle-wielding crowd we started demanding that our countries invest money and time into improving the quality of tap water?
I'll happily run the risk of sounding even more naive by adding that this is again one of those cases in which financial resources could be effectively diverted to bringing water where it is a problem, where there's none, rather in places where it's just become an expensively fashionable commodity.

Posted by fabio sergio | 4:56 PM | permalink


May 23, 2003

Social middlemen.

The Social Software arena is buzzing these days.
Here are a few links I found valuable, in no particular order, and a few scattered thoughts.

Lee Bryant has written a creatively detailed intro/overview to the whole phenomenon, "Simpler, Smarter, Social", which also features a couple of references to yours truly to boost.
Tom Coates first pointed out the excesses-ive level of forgetfulness of the roots of the whole shebang, then went the definition route, scoring bright comments from the likes of Howard Rheingold and Anne Galloway.
Motivated by Tom's words Howard also decided to remind us all that the old Buddhist saying, "nothing is created, nothing is destroyed, everything changes", does apply in this case as well.
If that was not enough some of the usual suspects have started moderating a very interesting new blog over at Corante, "Many to Many", which could easily become one of the reference points when it comes to these themes, and a daily stop as well.
Finally online services like Friendster and LinkedIn have received attention and caused interesting bets.

I am somewhat observing from the sidelines.
Sitting. Thinking.
Trying to capture on paper evasive neuron bursts.

For now I'll make very superficial comments, based on the words of a couple of cool people, Adam Greenfield and Joi Ito.
Here's Joi's enthusiastic and appreciative praise of LinkedIn's usefulness:

"...I received a Linkedin request from Adam asking to be introduced to Rebecca to see if she wanted to cover the conference.
I clicked, typed something like "you guys should talk" and... done. It was a very easy way for me to add value and I ended up helping to friends without taking much of my time.
I really do think that Linkedin will help me manage requests for introduction. I get SO many of them via normal email and many fall through the cracks. Intros are such an easy way to help people and add value, but they are really a pain to keep track of. It's usually just a matter of searching through my email to find the email address of the person that needs to be contacted, but often I'm too busy to do that.
Linkedin solves that problem.

So far so good.
Unfortunately here's how the experience turned out to feel like for Adam:

"I used LinkedIn's request mode to ask Joi to introduce me to another contact of his, a woman named Rebecca who happens to be CNN's bureau chief here.
A day or so passes, and I get a pleasant note in my Inbox informing me that Rebecca has assented to the request for contact, and all I need to is click on the provided link to close the loop. I do so.

Only to be slapped in the face by LinkedIn's mandate to "upgrade my membership" (to paid status) in order to reply to her.
Since I intend to do no such thing, I now run the risk that she'll interpret my radio silence as a rebuff - actually damaging an incipient professional relationship before it's properly begun.

If I had to map the episode above to a human context I'd envision a middleman, shuffling his goods mechanically, with no understanding or emotional attachment to what he's handling, or to his clients and to their feelings about their products and about each other.
A fairly lousy middleman, I'd be tempted to say.
One who'd likely forget his best client's wife's name.

If you've been visiting this site regularly you probably know what I am also thinking.
Here's technology apparently providing new means to efficiently ease social relationships and solve problems, but totally oblivious to the very social and emotional context surrounding those problems.
This not even mentioning that we should also be wary of where some of those problems came from in the first place.
Would Joi be so busy introducing people to other people without email?
Yes, for all purposes a moot point, but in these cases I cannot help but think about John Thackara's "frog story": opening new cold water faucets should not trick us into forgetting that the water might just keep getting hotter.

Yes, I know, "the software will get better", "the example above is just an example of what you get with 0.1 releases" and all that.
I could even go as far as saying that I agree. I understand. I really hope it will.
But then a feeble voice in the back of my mind keeps whispering that until our machines will start showing what Nathan has called "Computer Human Values" this is what we can expect.
Efficiency: yes. Effectiveness: yes. Human-ness: well, maybe next time.
The values are those of the machine, again.
As soon as humans come into play things get messy, really fast...and if you need proof just read the comments to Joi's words mentioned above.
I don't see any of our binary, dicothomic, white/black, right/wrong tools ready to tackle our wonderful illogicity, leave alone mediating it.

I am sure that in the upcoming future our relationships will be increasingly channeled via digital means, and I am keen on understanding how this will happen and what the change will bring.
I'll be welcoming it.
With eyes wide open.

Posted by fabio sergio | 5:54 PM | permalink


May 21, 2003

Games people play.

If Philippe Stark can why shouldn't the MIT?
"You're in Control" (via Research.Suppose) is basically what you get combining tech-heads, a spare LCD, humor and a urinal.
If they weren't undergoing such a bleak period I'd say the whole contraption looks like something NASA could be interested in to entertain bored astronauts.

Couldn't help but also think about the (blogged-to-death) "Fly UI", supposedly a simple but effective way to help users aim better.
How about combining the two?
Put the screen (or maybe simply a projection device) in the urinal, not above it.
Let the fly, well, fly.


Maybe not.

Posted by fabio sergio | 2:54 PM | permalink


May 20, 2003


Couloir is almost ready to go live again (taste of things to come here).
Got me for snow once more.
Tim Gasperak's Big Empty has been germinating for quite a while.
I've been waiting. I'll keep waiting.
Paul Baron's London-Tokyo by train.
Never thought a list of expenses could be so inspiring.

I'd like to be there.
Now. Please.

Posted by fabio sergio | 5:10 PM | permalink


May 19, 2003

Webloggers. Broadcasters.

Coincidences. Maybe.
Two of the best-known, oldest bloggers around, Jason Kottke and Anil Dash, have decided, almost at the same time, to try outsourcing their mini-links side-bars.

If you have read Clay Shirky's controversial article, "Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality" this might be one of the first feeble signs that he was right, at least with some of his considerations.
One of Shirky's ideas was that over time the most well-known bloggers would become indiscernible from today's mainstream broadcasters:

"At the head will be webloggers who join the mainstream media (a phrase which seems to mean "media we've gotten used to.").
The transformation here is simple - as a blogger's audience grows large, more people read her work than she can possibly read, she can't link to everyone who wants her attention, and she can't answer all her incoming mail or follow up to the comments on her site.
The result of these pressures is that she becomes a broadcast outlet, distributing material without participating in conversations about it.

Why do I feel that Jason and Anil's decision might somewhat back up Shirky's ideas?
Well, simply because they've started "hiring journalists" to help them maintain their content up to date.

Interestingly enough though, Steven Johnson's latest article on Wired, "Mind Share", brings forward the Memex-inspired thesis that blogs are transforming the web from a space of connected pages (structured around content) to a space of connected minds (structured around people).
If that is the case then, it is very unlikely that readers coming to sites like those of Jason and Anil will be happy to hear someone else's voice, or to find someone else's choices.

Both Shirky and Johnson are probably right.
Because of the style in which Jason Kottke has decided to ease his burden at the linking helm: he asked someone he trusts to help him.

Posted by fabio sergio | 12:33 PM | permalink


May 16, 2003

Air made visible.

I think I first encountered the word "design" in one of Bruno Munari's thought provoking, smile inducing books.
Munari is arguably one of the least known but most influential Italian designers, even though in his case the term is severely limiting, given the fact that his work spans across writing, art, graphics, architecture, philosophy...and the list could keep going.
The closest definition that comes to mind is a "design's designer", as the profound influence of his vision on the birth of Italian industrial design will never be underlined enough.
His trademark ironic and poetic approach to the creative process can be easily traced to better known, commercially more successful designers, with Achille Castiglioni easily springing to mind.

Lately I have been pleasantly surprised to see Munari's volumes and meta-books populating bookstores again, allowing his wonderfully useless machines to stimulate young and older minds alike to question the value of the many gizmos that surround us.
During the past week-end Valeria and I re-stumbled onto Munari's creative take on "Little Red Riding Hood".
His yellow, green and blue versions of the story are wonderfully charming, but white is a work of art.

20 totally white pages, with only a few words hinting at the story, set for the occasion in a snowy winter setting.
All the rest is left to the reader's imagination, to be found where the empty sheet meets minds freed from the usual visual clutter.
I couldn't help but relate to the book as a children version of Fontana's white-on-white, slashed canvasses.
The timid text at the bottom of each page cutting across the empty narrative space, revealing the void that lies beyond it.
Valeria and I stared, caught between surprise, pleasure and sheer admiration.
Such simplicity, such beauty.
Kids, once more.

If I've got you interested in Munari's work, and I hope I have, "Bruno Munari: Air Made Visible: A Visual Reader on Bruno Munari" is, as far as I know, one the best starting points for English readers.

Posted by fabio sergio | 12:00 PM | permalink


May 14, 2003


A short while ago Nokia introduced its Observation Camera, which is nothing more than a GSM-enhanced camera that will send pictures via MMS to your device of choice whenever you want or need it to.
Logitech and Verizon have now teamed up to let you look trough a webcam's watchful eye on your mobile phone.
The trick is fairly simple, at least if you happen to be a Verizon customer that is.
Download a lttle Brew application to your mobile phone and, presto, the handy app will point you to one of the available WebCams which broadcast their CCD's pixelated harvest through Logitech's own servers.

While the idea quickly conjures up money-making schemes of dubious moral value, it just feels like we are looking at the first steps towards scenarios that people like Steve Mann have recently advocated for as a bottom-up approach to prevent terrorism and avoid big-brother like scenarios.
Sousveillance tools for the masses.

Posted by fabio sergio | 4:02 PM | permalink


May 09, 2003

Dreamers. Doers.

Leave it to Adam to come up with great ideas, and then turn them into tangible projects.

First it was the Moblogging Conference, now (soon) to be held on the 5th of July in Tokyo.
Then, together with a Joshua Ellis, the always-on Mr.Greenfield has given metaphorical birth to MarginWalker, a blog-based forum that will host and foster discussions around themes such as Nomadics, Emergent Democracy and Urbanism.
At the moment participation to the conversation is "invitation only", but my humble opinion is that what's available is already worth a daily stop.
See you there.

Posted by fabio sergio | 11:21 AM | permalink


May 07, 2003

Ubiquitous Presence.

Quite a few of us are currently enjoying a geographically distributed life, to use Molly Wright Steenson's words.
We happily hop across physical and political boundaries, often along bit-crumbed paths traced beforehand by our information streams.
A seemingly constant state of flow which raises new needs, related not only to our sense of place, but also to the emotional bonds with our loved ones, bonds which usually imply a physical presence to make us feel whole.
In this case all our expensive tethering tools act like sorry surrogates, leaving us hungry for what in our physical embodiment easily sedates our emotional hunger.
The reassuring firmness of a friend's arms, the glimpse of a stolen smile in a crowded room, the sound of rhythmic breathing by our side in the stillness of night.

Last year I was struck by a poetic research project called Faraway (connecting to distant one) which precisely investigated emotional communication.
The researchers mostly focused on the concept of presence itself rather than on creating artifacts that could support connected nomads in their movement trough space and time zones.
Along those lines, but in a much more tangible way, here is the Remote Home exhibit (via Ashley Benigno).
Two apartments, one in London and one in Berlin, where the space itself and the objects that populate it will allow dwellers to experience a shared environment.

"The RemoteHome is a flat that will exist in two distant cities at the same time: London and Berlin.
Both spaces are electronically connected through the Internet, to turn furniture and architectural elements into tangible and sensual means of communication.
Sensory and kinetic devices, as well as an interactive light installation allow for the exchange between this remotely living group of friends.
A mobile wireless artifact, in the shape of a transforming interactive bag, can be taken on journeys to stay emotionally in touch with the RemoteHome.

The project is an architectural response to the emerging notion of a remote-society; a society that is forming personal bonds beyond sharing origin or geographical proximity, a culture that is constantly on the move.
The RemoteHome is proposing more intuitive ways of communicating and exchanging presence.
The materiality of the architecture becomes the medium, the space transforms into a metaphysical reflection of its inhabitants.

UbiComp meets UbiPres.

Posted by fabio sergio | 3:21 PM | permalink


May 06, 2003

London highlights.

Valeria and I made it back in one piece from our trip to London (funny thing is that almost as soon as we got home I was London-bound once more, but that's a different story).
We enjoyed eight pleasant days of fair weather (by UK standards at least) and basically walked everywhere our tired feet could take us to.

Up until last week I had only spent brief week-ends savoring what one of Europe's cultural capitals has to offer, so it felt great to finally have enough time to see things without feeling that difficult compromises had to be struck every other second.
We tried to avoid too many tourist traps (failing miserably at least a couple of times) and instead focused on getting a feel for London's varied Boroughs, finally deciding that the side streets of Chelsea, branching off of King's Road, would be our (expensive) area of choice if we were ever to live across the Channel.

London is for all purposes a Norman Foster smorgasbord, from the elegantly understated Great Court at the British Museum to the nite-glo Canary Wharf Underground Station, to the almost-finished and controversial Swiss RE Headquarters egg-shaped skyscraper.
I must admit I tend to fall for Foster's daring connumbiums, engineering feats barely restrained by stunningly delicate, inspired architectural frames.
Or maybe it's the other way around.
Along these lines I can't help but also mention the still futuristic Lloyds Building, in which Richard Rogers applied lessons learned from the Centre Pompidou and took them the next step.
We silently stared as the sky-bound, glass-box elevators took off at irregular intervals, just as lifts swallowed trucks whole and disappeared below street level, engulfed in gun-metal darkness.

Our collective favorite moments, though, probably relate to our visits to Herzog and de Meuron's Tate Modern, located on the south bank of the Thames and elegantly connected to the other bank through Foster's Millennium Bridge (which, I can attest, does not wobble anymore).
The old Bankside Power Station, originally designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (the mind behind London's famous phone booths as well), has been stripped clean on the inside, leaving the outside as it was originally conceived, save for the over-imposition of a green-ish glass box.
The gallery's phallic dark-brick chimney still irreverently dialogues with Saint Paul's dome on the other side of the river, but its most striking feature is now the Turbine Hall, left empty to hold special exhibitions, which greets visitors with its 100-feet tall, light-filled space.

Unfortunately we missed Anish Kapoor's "Marsyas" installation (report here, pics here), but the two remaining black steel rings at each end of the hall more than attested to the visual impact of his larger-than-life three-pronged megaphone.
Other than the sheer experience of the space itself, my Tate Modern Moment had to do with the "Rothko Room", which holds seven large paintings originally created for the Seagram Building in NY. Valeria had to pull me out and back into the flow of time.
I was also, as usual, totally fascinated with Joseph Beuys' conceptual framework, but this time found myself emotionally drawn to some of his pieces as well, small blackboards thick with glyphs and words. "Everyone's an artist".

Endless walks across London's great parks, the casual discovery of the Borough Market, with its maze of sense-overloading food stands hidden under railroad tracks, and a couple of pleasant dinners with friends (thanks Andrew and Tory!) rounded out a nearly perfect package.
Now if I could only break the spell and finally get to meet Mr. Hill in person.
It's the second (or even third) time that we agree to get together and then weird things ( keep us from doing so.
Next time around, I am sure.

Posted by fabio sergio | 5:01 PM | permalink


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