Annenberg Center for Communications Fellowships

The Annenberg Center (where I am this year) recently posted a call for applications for 6 postdoctoral fellows and one visiting scholar position for 2006-07. We're looking forward to having an interesting group of scholars in residence at the Center in the fall. Please blog and post widely!

Cubicle Culture

Fortune Magazine carries an article Robert Propst and the history of the cubicle. As moves away from physical offices toward more fluid, cybernetically conceived spaces, cubicles were an evolutionary step toward the networked workplace of our own day. Along with the fascinating history of this ubiquitous part of office design, the article makes some surprising observations about the present, most notably that 26 million Americans now telecommute via broadband. The article is, unfortunately, vague about whether this mean they just check their email once a day from home or whether they don't bother going into the office at all.
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Verb Conditioning Shipping

Amazon has finally shipped my copies of Verb Conditioning, great news since this book, which I first saw back in September, puts in print AUDC's project on Muzak.

Mustard Gas Party

How can you resist a site calling itself "Mustard Gas Party"? Bring the hot dogs and gas masks, it's time to visit some modern ruins in this site full of very nicely done photography.

Johnson Symposium Summary

Archinect's Yale school blogger Enrique sums up the Philip Johnson symposium in an eloquent post. Enrique mentions that the symposium left him feeling "a little creepy." Harrowing might have been the term I would have used. If it was billed as a celebration of Johnson, the symposium was far from that, by no means the kind of pre-digested conference so common in architecture schools. Much praise goes to conference organizers Emmanuel Petit and Robert Stern for not shrinking from debate in organizing the conference.

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the car is the new office

Today's New York Times reports on studies showing that the use of cell phones in automobiles is increasing at the expense of radio broadcasts. As reported by the Times, the study did not account for iPod usage, which makes the validity of the results a little questionable since in my personal experience, at least, the iPod receives about equal time with my cell phone with radio a distant third. Nevertheless, it suggests that busy commuters are continuing to extend their workplace from office and home-office into their transit time. Or maybe they're just trying to figure out what groceries to bring home. Intriguingly, the survey notes that cell phone conversations in the car are longer than outside of the car. Will "call you from my car" soon denote the most highly prized of conversations? Will it become important to live far from one's workplace in order to have longer, more sustained conversations without the disruptions of email, IM, co-workers, or family members?
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Project Cybersyn

On the topic of convergences between cybernetics and design, there's also the rather wild Chilean Cybersyn project. In 1970, Dr. Salvador Allende was elected President of Chile. Against the wishes of the United States, Allende and his Popular Unity government hoped to create "the Chilean Way to Socialism," La v??a chilena al socialismo. Allende and Fernando Flores, his 29-year-old minister of finance (now philosopher and management consultant) were faced with the challenge of managing newly nationalized industry but hoped to avoid the top-down methods of the Soviet model. As a doctor, Allende was attracted to scientific methods and when Flores proposed a technocratic means of controlling the industry, he agreed, hiring on his recommendation British management guru/scientist/visionary Stafford Beer to create Project Cybersyn, a system with which to monitor the output of factories, the flow of materials, rates of absenteeism, and other indicators on a daily basis. Through Project Cybersyn, Beer hoped to implant an electronic "nervous system" into Chilean society. The country would be linked together via a vast communications network to create what the Guardian calls a "socialist Internet." Finding about 500 abandoned TELEX machines in a factory, Beer networked these together to a provide input for software written by Chilean engineers in consultation with British engineers from Arthur Anderson called Cyberstrider that used Bayesian statistics to create a self-learning control system. cybersyn opsroom All this was fed into the Cybersyn Opsroom, designed by Grupo de Dise?±o Industrial, a government Industrial Design Group led by former Ulm School Professor Gui Bonsiepe. Although the room was never operational, it was understood at the time as "the symbolic heart of the project," to quote Eden Medina, a scholar who wrote her dissertation at MIT on the topic and presented the material at Bruno Latour's Making Things Public exhibit as well as in the catalog for the show. In a setting influenced by the design of 2001, seven swivel chairs with buttons in the armrests""?themselves influenced by Saarinen's Silla Tulip Chairs""?were clustered in a circle as advisors processed data from large projection screens. The armrests of each chair were outfitted with ash trays and spaces for drinks. Although there was no space for writing, which was prohibited, buttons allowed occupants to control the material on the screens and provide feedback. Since the advisors were used to secretaries doing the typing, there was no keyboard interface. Instead, large buttons, fit for pounding on, if necessary, allowed officials to make their decisions. But computer graphics was not yet ready for the job. The displays were not CRTs with computer generated data. Instead, industrial designers would painstakingly produce the diagrams by hand. These would be photographed and projected as slides onto the display screens. As Robert Sumrell mentioned to me, this proves that they had more faith in the computer than if they had actually had machines produce the renderings. cybersyn opsroom chair Even as it consumed massive amounts of the Chilean economy, Cybersyn initially appeared to be successful when, during October 1972, conservative small businessmen went on strike. Some 50,000 truck drivers blocked the streets of Santiago, but through Cybersyn the government was able to identify 200 trucks that remained loyal and coordinate food deliveries to the areas of the city that needed it most. A year later, however, on September 11, 1973, Allende's government was overthrown in a military coup with support from the United States government and, allegedly, telecommunications conglomerate ITT, which specialized in owning telecommunications monopolies outside the United States and owned 70% of the Chilean Telephone Company. Cybersyn's simplifications proved unable to comprehend what was to come and the Pinochet regime destroyed the Cybersyn project and the Opsroom.

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of pedagogy and gerbils

Digging through some web sites today, I ran across two more to share. First, a model for how teachers and pupils might relate that, to a veteran of teaching, seems so, well, poignant. Second, a cybernetic utopia for rodents eerily reminiscent of Moshe Safdie's Habitat.
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Architecture Machine Lab Videos

The Institute for the Future of the Book has put up a web page containing videos from the Architecture Machine Group, which later evolved into the MIT Media Lab. Two things immediately fascinate me about this project. First, as Institute for the Future of the Book Director Bob Stein has pointed out, much of this material is still visionary and like the work of Kit Galloway and Sherri Rabinowitz, still hasn't been made real. Second, what fascinates me is that this project, which is so foundational to our notions of the user interface begins in the discipline of architecture and is fundamentally spatial in character.
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Two books : AUDC and Infrastructure

The last few days have been rather intense. After recovering from a cold that I got while at Yale, I wound up finishing the images for AUDC's first book, Blue Monday, to be published by ACTAR later in the year. It was a long haul, but the DVD-R went off to the press this morning and the project is looking very good indeed.

Amidst all that, I ran into Brian Hayes's Infrastructure. A Field Guide to the Industrial Landscape at St. Mark's books while in New York. Hayes spent some 15 years on this project and it shows. Beautiful, pristine photographs stud a remarkably informative text that addresses virtually all the aspects of contemporary infrastructure. If you're an architect, engineer, or just interested in the city, don't even think twice, just buy it now.
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