on the press catching up

Yesterday, within the space of five minutes two stories from the major media outlets struck me as hilarious.

The first was from Wired. Some five years after the first show I had at CLUI about One Wilshire, they have a gallery of photographs of the place at Seems like little has changed. Seems like they didn't bother to do anything with the copy of Blue Monday we sent them except get a good idea or two for a somewhat belated photo piece. Seems like they couldn't get any better shots even with their professional team. Wired's looking tired. What's up with that, Chris? I mean really, at least they could have asked Nicholas Carr and me to talk about One Wilshire and the future of such data hotels. THAT would have been interesting. Ah, but you have to love the media. That's why we academics do believe in searching for prior art on a topic and citing it. Even if it means we have to try harder to be original, it makes what we do write about so more interesting.  

Here's a standing offer to Chris and other editors of major technology magazines: give me a theme issue to edit and I'll give you something worth grabbing off the newsstands, not a rehash of five year old work. 

The second was from the New York Times and was entitled "How the Bubble Stayed Under the Radar." In trying to account for the longevity of the bubble, this piece had a bit more content, but its first premise—that nobody saw the bubble coming—was strange. I think I've been talking about it since 2003 or so. Has nobody else noticed? I guess this blog's readership is only in the thousands…

Anyway, this was a classic bubble: only the very deluded believed otherwise (or the very calculating—on a foreign exchange basis, there is no bubble…an American house that has doubled in price since 2002 has seen no gain vs. its value in Euros…but if then that leads you to think of what happened to salaries in the US under GWB). Everyone else (and this means you, real estate agents and bankers) knew it would collapse, they just wanted to cash out first. (financial disclaimer: I got rid of all the REITs in our 401k's a couple of years ago and put them into global equities).

It's still rather surprising to me that Manhattan continues its bubbley behavior. Maybe when the Europeans realize just how little their fabulous investment is netting them given the falling dollar, they'll wise up. Maybe when the most interesting and talented Manhattanites begin to flee in droves to other cities (but where? not many candidates in this country? probably to Europe), it'll begin to happen. 

Most of all, however, I'm amazed by architects. Due to the time involved in making buildings and the heaviness of the capital needed, architecture is traditionally a slow profession. Still, can it really be that architects haven't noticed that the boom is over? Sure, China and Dubai have kept the system on life support, but construction in the former is going to cease the moment the Olympics start and the latter is merely another mad boom economy, entirely fueled by debt (see here). When collapse comes it will be grim and sustained. All too well I remember the recession of the 90s (or that of the 80s) when architects had great opportunities to work at the local café.  

But those of us who have been diligently working in the field of the expanded architect will still be here, welcoming your new ideas with open arms. Now more than ever, working on the periphery to expand what architecture is and what architecture can do is critical for the future of the profession.   



more trouble with cables

Today's post is an uncomfortable follow up to last week's entry on "the undersea net" and the problems that ensued when a cable was cut in the Mideast. It turns out that more cables have gone offline. Techdirt asks "Did The Warranties Just Run Out On Undersea Cables?

One of the cable operators is downplaying suggestions that the any of this is related. image of graphs tag clouds over time.


the techno-utility complex or, the end of the distributed

I'm en route to Vilnius for the weekend and then to Limerick for final reviews but I thought I'd still manage to get a blog entry in. It's a recurring theme of mine that the notion that the Internet is a distributed entity in which nodes communicate in a non-hierarchical manner is largely a matter of ideology. Still, take a look "Red Shift Meets Event Horizon" by Phil Waineright and "The Techno-Utility Complex" by Nicholas Carr. Boarding is in a few minutes so I don't have time to recount the entire argument now (well, I tried and stupidly I closed the window, losing the text). We're moving rapidly toward greater consolidation at the level of data centers.

What implications does this have for privacy and surveillance? For cities (remember that the emergence of the contemporary data center went hand-in-hand with the development of the global city…and, correct me if I'm wrong, but these new data will  largely be located outside of urban conditions)? For regions (what does physical and telematic distance from these data centers mean, what does it mean if a country doesn't have access to them)?

architecture is politics

I'm reworking part of the Networked Publics book and ran across a post by Mitch Kapor titled "architecture is politics." Compare this with my earlier post about Lawrence Lessig's use of the term architecture in his book Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace. Again, as any reader of Mark Wigley's The Architecture of Deconstruction knows, such references are far from idle.

As readers of this blog now, I'm thoroughly bored by idle speculations in architectural form (as if we still needed that). Kapor's post is useful in reminding us that architecture has a much more important role to play in society and that its future is tied to how we think of the Net.

First Impressions: the iPhone, Proficiency, and the Internet as Appliance

Being the Director of the Netlab means that I have to try anything being touted as a fundamentally new way of networking, right? Of course, it doesn't mean that the Netlab pays, unless by that you mean that I pay!

So what are my first impressions?

To be sure, this is a paradigm shift. The gestural aspect of the Interface seems to work well. Assigning some rough values to proficiency, I would say that I am about 70% proficient with it now, whereas I might be 98% proficient with my Mac's interface and ever only reached 95% with my Treo.The difference between 95 and 98 may be small, but it's big enough that whenever I used the Treo, I felt like I wasn't at home. That was significant. In contrast, there's something about drawing pens that doesn't work for me. Whenever I use one, my hand cramps up and I've never been able to get beyond 75% on them. In other words, they're unusable. The first big test of the iPhone is how quickly I will get used to the interface.

In certain ways the interface is contradictory: on the one hand, web pages are rendered as exquisite miniatures that you zoom in on to read, on the other hand, settings pages have inordinately large text for such a small device, making it necessary to navigate multiple menus to accomplish a task.

An obvious solution would be for the user to have some access to the settings, but this isn't possible. There is definitely a locked-down feeling on the phone compared to my Treo. On the Treo I was limited in my options, but I had them. For example, I could set up my screen as a set of icons or as a list. Not so on the iPhone. The most frustrating aspects of the Treo was the phone application which was impossible to configure. The iPhone is entirely like that, which is disappointing, except that unlike anything Palm has done in the last few years there is some sense of design here.

Now on to another, serious issue that has larger implications beyond the iPhone. Over the last few years, it's become rather common to see the Internet as a place of media convergence and the web as the means by which this will happen. In particular, open APIs such as Google Maps, Amazon, or Flickr have allowed programmers to build applications that remix online content in a plethora of way, some ludicrous, some, like hopstop.

The iPhone's interface undoes this completely. If you go to a YouTube site in iPhone's Safari, a notice that you either have javascript turned off or an old flash player appears instead of a video. Quicktime videos from Apple's web site work great (perfect for watching trailers from Apple's web site!), but flash doesn't play. And of course you can't download anything so forget about trying to install Skype or Google Earth.

To be fair, I still remember the bad old days when every architect had to have a flash site built. All of these were equally wretched and I welcome another nail in that coffin. But the the iPhone has reinscribed the isolated nature of flash sites. The widget based nature of the device suggests that Apple sees a future in single purpose applications for the web. Really the weather and stock applications (who needs the latter, really?)—front ends to Yahoo! services—aren't much different. So what's next, Wikipedia and Flickr widgets? Certainly I have nothing against such projects when they make Internet resources easier to access, but in the iPhone's closed architecture they suggest that Apple will lock down the web into a series of discreet applications with Apple the arbiter of who gets to be a provider (read provides a sexy widget and good corporate sponsorship).

The iPhone is less than a day old and Apple was scrambling just to get it out the door, but the device clearly will make the Internet a true mobile platform for the first time. How this will play out, however, is far from certain.

Visualizing Internet Traffic

From Read/Write web, we find that AKAMAI technologies now has tools for visualizing current Internet traffic on-line. AKAMAI hosts a huge amount of Internet traffic by acting as a host for images, videos, and other large files for large corporate sites such as CNN and Apple. AKAMAI's strategy is to house these images locally so that if you are in the New York area and you pull down a site half way across the country, AKAMAI delivers the byte-hefty content from servers in the city rather than 1,500 miles away. Since long distance pipes are more costly than local connections, AKAMAI can save money for sites while improving download times.

Obviously keeping track of Internet traffic is part of AKAMAI's business and they have recently made available online applications showing such data in near real time.

Visit these tools here.

internet traffic

Taking a Look at Google Street View

Both CNN and the New York Times carry a stories on how Google Street View may be too good. The Times quotes individuals who believe that the service is an invasion of privacy—although as Google points out, you could see more driving down the street…maybe those concerned should try curtains? CNN points out that the random nature of Street View's photography means that you get a slice of life which sometimes can be rather unseemly (I'll leave it to the story to explain) or unwelcome, e.g. protesters in front of abortion clinics who might make clients nervous.

photo of guy breaking into house

Link (via Mashable)

We should side with Google on this one. As a photographer, I've been concerned by the twisted limits on our freedom to take pictures that have emerged after 9/11. I don't see how (or why…surely any terrorist clever enough to take down a bridge will be clever enough to get past such silly limitations) anyone can restrict my right to take photographs from bridges or in tunnels, but on your way in and out of the city, signs clearly denote otherwise. Taking photos of certain office buildings and infrastructural installations will often get you a visit from security, but these characters will often wilt if you hold out the Photographer's Bill of Right, drawn up by a lawyer, to them. And although I couldn't find a reference, some architects seem to believe that by copyrighting their buildings it is possible for them to prevent unauthorized photographs. If enforceable, I suppose that would be a good way to ensure that historians will write them out of history. No images, no discussion. I'll be glad to hold to that policy.

I doubt that the Myspace generation would have qualms about having their likeness or their house's likeness on the Web, but other generations still cling to older models of privacy (anybody have the demographics on sales of shredders?) and, in this case, their "right to privacy," which is not enshrined in the Constitution, infringes on freedom of speech, which is.

But there's more to Google Street View.

Having investigated the work of the Architecture Machine Group in a course last fall, naturally, I was impressed by how Google has finally delivered the Aspen moviemap, developed by Michael Naimark, nearly 40 years later. The other precedent, is quite obviously, the first person shooter (games such as Doom, Marathon, or America's Army), which is not unrelated. Like many of the Architecture Machine Group's projects, Aspen was funded by military research. In Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture, Alex Galloway points out how the first person viewpoint of such games is at odds with previous cinematic practice. Instead of montage and rupture, the first person shooter demonstrates the video game's obsession with seamlessness and continuity. This is what Google Street View, like the Aspen Moviemap before it, delivers, making it a great example of Network Culture.

the end of the long tail?

In the Guardian, Nicholas Carr suggests that "The net is being carved up into information plantations ." He observes that more and more Google searches are returning less and less sites—"if you Google any person, place or thing today, you're almost guaranteed to find Wikipedia at or near the top of the list of recommended pages"—and that traffic is increasingly consolidating in sites like Myspace. Carr's article is based on "The Shrinking Long Tail " by Richard MacManus at Read/WriteWeb. Indeed, this is a danger to the Long Tail, that no matter how much we obsessively fetishize our micro-cluster of consumption, for the most part, we all do the same things, or at least similar things.

On the other hand, does this mean we should lament the demise of the Long Tail? By no means. Rather, it suggests that yet again, we've been too simplistic in valorizing the meshwork over the hierarchy, something that Manuel de Landa so aptly cautioned we should not do in the introduction to his 1,000 Years of Nonlinear History. Since that is not available on the Internet, if you don't have it handy, you might find his piece on Meshworks, Hierarchies, and Interfaces worth a read. I'll cite the last few lines to tempt you:

Hence, demonizing centralization and glorifying decentralization as the solution to all our problems would be wrong. An open and experimental attitude towards the question of different hybrids and mixtures is what the complexity of reality itself seems to call for. To paraphrase Deleuze and Guattari, never believe that a meshwork will suffice to save us.

Time to work this into the network culture essay more directly, I suspect.

Russia Unleashes Cyberwar on Estonia

The BBC reports that Russia has unleashed cyberwar on Estonia in retaliation for the Baltic country's moving of a Soviet-occupation era memorial that the Russian government says symbolizes war dead but that for Estonia symbolizes occupation. Unlike Russia (or LIthuania for that matter) Estonia is one of the most networked countries in Europe. Is this the first case of cyberwar? Politically acceptable dirty tricks? Well, I suppose it's better than the U.S.'s debacle in Iraq.

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