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flaneur musings by teodor mitew Posts

Authenticity for internety things

I think that the Internet of Things [IoT] for the masses will first manifest itself, paradoxically, through branded and high-end objects, because that is the usual vector for popularizing a new technical affordance. The entire nascent industry of trackers, from the Nest line of ambient ‘see everything’s’, and the FitBit ecology of wearable trackers, to the SenSe Mother household tracking hubs, the trajectory is to appeal to the aspiring [and lately shrinking] middle class and above. Enter Remy Martin IoT bottles for the Chinese market, positioned around the notion of authenticity. How do you get authenticity in this age of fakes? You connect to the internet of course, and personally register your bottle for that extra bit of authentic stamp of approval that someone somewhere has recognized your conspicuous consumption.

I think the two big trajectories along which we will be experiencing the IoT are nicely illustrated by this ad. The lumpen-proletariat gets the surveillance end, the middle class and everyone above gets the authenticity and personalization.

Drone Aviary

To understand the effects, affordances, and contextual implications of cars one has to imagine not a single car, but the mindbogglingly dull commute in a suburban traffic jam. Similarly, to understand the affordances of drones and UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles – a terrible term] one has to imagine the sky-air permeated by networked machines; from micro-drones suitable as toys and message relay, to massive permanent-hover drones suitable for advertising, surveillance, and – inevitably – policing. Enter The Drone Aviary – an R&D project from The Superflux Lab.

The Drone Aviary reveals fleeting glimpses of the city from the perspective of drones. It explores a world where the ‘network’ begins to gain physical autonomy. Drones become protagonists, moving through the city, making decisions about the world and influencing our lives in often opaque yet profound ways.

On Nightmares

In a lecture on Nightmares, delivered in Buenos Aires in the summer of 1977, by which time he was completely blind and therefore speaking entirely from memory, Jorge Luis Borges narrates the following story from the fifth book of Wordsworth’s Prelude, one that was later to be praised by De Quincey.

Wordsworth tells us that he was in a rocky cave by the sea. It was noon, and he was reading Don Quixote, one of his favorite books, ‘the famous history of the errant knight recorded by Cervantes.’ He put down the book and began to think about the end of science and art, and then the hour came. The powerful hour of noon, a hot summer noon. ‘Sleep seized me’, he recalls, ‘and I passed into a dream.’ He falls asleep in the cave, facing the sea, amid the golden sands of the beach. In his dream he is also surrounded by sand, a Sahara of black sand. There is no water, there is no sea. He is in the middle of a desert – in the desert one is always in the middle – and he is horrified at the thought of trying to escape. Suddenly he sees there is someone next to him. It is, oddly enough, an Arab of the Bedouin tribes, mounted on a camel and with a lance in his right hand. Under his left arm he has a stone, and in his hand he holds a shell. He brings the shell to the poet’s ear; the shell is of an extraordinary beauty. Wordsworth tells us he hears a prophecy ‘in an unknown tongue which yet I understood’: a sort of tender ode, prophesying that the earth was on the verge of being destroyed by a flood sent by the wrath of God.  The Arab tells him that it is true, the flood is coming, but that he has a mission: to save the arts and sciences. He shows him the stone. And the stone is, curiously, Euclid’s Elements, while remaining a stone. Then he brings the shell closer, and the shell too is a book; it is what had spoken those terrible things. The shell is, moreover, all the poetry of the world, including – why not? – the poem by Wordsworth. The Bedouin tells him that he must save these two things, the stone and the shell, both of them books. He turns around, and there is a moment in which Wordsworth sees that the face of the Bedouin has changed, that it is full of horror. He too turns around, and he sees a great light, a light that has now flooded the middle of the desert. It is the waters of the flood that will destroy the earth. The Bedouin goes off, and Wordsworth sees that the Bedouin is also Don Quixote and that the camel is also Rosinante and that, in the same way that the stone was a book and the shell a book, so the Bedouin is Don Quixote and is neither of the two and is both at once. This duality corresponds to the horror of the dream. Wordsworth, at that moment, wakes with a cry of terror, for the waters have engulfed him.

I think that this nightmare is one of the most beautiful in literature.

Liquid objects and the mode of anticipation

This is a prezi from the research paper I gave at an Institute for Social Transformation Research (ISTR) seminar last week. I played with ideas going into several papers I am working on at the moment, but mainly my focus was on anticipatory materiality and the notion of liquid objects. Here is the abstract for the talk:

As internet-connected objects become more and more sociable – smart fridge, smart car, etc. – they become less and less ‘stable’ (think of rocks, coffee mugs, etc. as examples of material stability), and more and more like a twitter feed. 3D printing only compounds this process as the material is literally liquefied and injected based on computer code – in effect the code is primary, and tangible materiality is secondary in this process. The resulting materiality is literally ‘on demand’ – in that it exists as relational data first and foremost and as material artefact only when demanded; and anticipatory – in that the main characteristic of connected objects is their capacity to initiate action based on predictive algorithms. My argument is structured as a provocation examining the notion of anticipatory materiality in the context of the internet of things and 3D printing.

Do Objects Dream of an Internet of Things?

This is a text I’ve been working on, or rather keeping in the back of my mind, for quite a while, and now it’s finished and sent to Fiberculture Journal. The early beta was presented at a conference in Istanbul in 2011, and my thinking on sociable objects has evolved quite a bit since then. The key shift in my thinking was facilitated by a series of chance encounters – discovering object oriented ontology through Ian Bogost’s Alien Phenomenology, finding the notion of affective resonance in Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter, and rediscovering the heteroclite in Lorraine Daston’s awesome Things That Talk.

My YouTube lectures

This semester I’ve started uploading my lectures for DIGC202 Global Networks to YouTube, while abandoning the face-to-face lecture format in that subject. The obvious benefit of this shift is to allow students to engage with the lectures on their own terms – the lectures are broken into segments which can be accessed discretely or in a sequence, on any device, at any time. The legacy alternative would have been either attending a physical lecture or listening to the university-provided recording, which is an hour-long file hidden within the cavern of the university intranet, accessible only from a computer [must keep that knowledge away from prying eyes!], and, as a rule of thumb, of terrible quality. Anecdotal evidence from students already validates my decision to shift, as this gives them the ability to structure their learning activities in a format productive for them.

The meta-benefit is that the lectures – and therefore my labour – now exist within a generative value ecology on the open net, accessible to [gasp] people outside the university. On a more strategic level, I can now annotate the lectures as I go along, adding links to additional content which will only enrich the experience. In that sense the lectures stop being an end-product, an artefact of dead labour [dead as in dead-end], and become an open process.

The only downside I have had to deal with so far is that lecture preparation, delivery, and post-production takes me on average three times as long as the legacy model. I am still experimenting with the process and learning on the go – fail early, fail often.

I am uploading all lectures to a DIGC202 playlist, which can be accessed below:

Building a fast machine

A few pics from my recent PC build, involving:

Level 10 GT Thermaltake case, MSI A88X G45 motherboard, XFX R9 270X GPU, AMD A10 7850K Kaveri CPU, 32GB combo G.Skill Ripjaws 2133MHz DDR3, Samsung 840 EVO Series 250GB SSD, Seagate Barracuda 1TB HDD, CoolerMaster V850 PSU.

The MSI motherboard comes with an o/c friendly BIOS, and I already overclocked the Ripjaws and the CPU – the OC Genie button on the motherboard allows presets for different o/c scenarios.

Click for album