log 11

cover image of log issues 11


The Winter 2008 issue of Log 11 is out.

In Žižek!, Slavoj Žižek states that everything he does is a spin-off from a book project. That is certainly an effective model for him and something I’ve been hoping to emulate for the last couple of years. As a consequence, of late my output of articles has a bit scant although I have three books slated for publication this year. 
In Log 11, however, I offer a teasing glimpse of some of my future work with the Network City book in a brief "Postcard from Passaic, New Jersey." Eventually I’ll post this, but for now you’ll have to get Log 11 to read it.
Note that a brief glance in the bookstore won’t suffice. Like any good naughty magazine, the issue is shrink-wrapped and if you unwrap it your fumbling efforts will be visible for all to see.



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plug-in city

 photograph of ad in subway

I ran across this advertisement in the subway the other day. It brought to mind the last of Robert Sumrell’s three thesis proposals in 2001 and I was struck by how this project takes advantage of the existing conditions—bored passengers waiting for the train accessorized with ubiquitous white headphones—integrating media distribution to a particular place and time in the form of an ad.

What else can we leave out in the city?



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deferred action


In response to a reader’s request, I have posted my 1999 essay Postmodern Permutations to the site. It was good to revisit this nearly decade-old work that came at a crucial moment for me. In the essay I am still concerned first and foremost with architecture. I have not yet begun the move into my broader research emphasis on architecture’s role in urbanism or into computation and networks. But the essay is consciously framed within the context of dot-com Los Angeles. This is already after the demise of Assemblage and the exhaustion of a certain critical project in architecture, but unlike the purveyors of post-criticism (note: when is the last time that term still seemed current?), who largely formulated their project a few years later, my interest lay in complicating matters not simplifying them. 
As my project this year is to continue my work on Network Culture, looking back at that issue, I can see the importance of periodization to me already. I begin the essay by recounting my students’ bafflement at my asking them what period they live in (modern, postmodern or other). To a degree, I misread the signs, arguing that in fact we were postmodern and that stylistic postmodernism could now be dispensed with in favor of a more complex and postmodern relation between architecture and capital. Now, in a sense I was right. The post-critical obsession with capital highlights this. Read in the context of this essay, post-criticism is a last moment of postmodern culture. As readers of my network culture work know, our cultural dominant is the network. Post-criticism now seems adrift against the demands of a new culture emerging from the context of the infomatic realm. My students were already telling me that we were not postmodern and that we were in another time altogether. 
But there’s another dimension to the article.
I don’t have the capacity to incorporate the student work that accompanied the piece. For that you will have to go to the issue of Thresholds itself. But I was able to scan and OCR a small section of that text and reproduce it for you here: 
The SCI-Arc project "Sampling Linux" represented on the opposite page and throughout this article is Rocio Romero’s reaction to the impact of post-Fordist capital on design, and her propositions for other, future forms of design methodology and practice. Inspired by the Utopian possibilities inherent in late capital, Romero proposes a new model for architectural practice. This model explores forms of consumption and production on the Internet for which capital has literally become superfluous, even an impediment. If the Internet can be seen as the furthest elaboration of the Post-Fordist service economy, it can also be seen as an anticipation of a future stage of culture in which capital has withered away. This exploration led to the copyright-free Linux, an "Open Source" version of the UNIX operating system hacked together for personal computers. Linux avoids capital to an even greater extent than the academy, the former, self-proclaimed locus of resistance. Proponents of Open Source software make what they need for themselves and share it. When traditional software companies offer to produce software for Linux, they often find the only way to succeed is to make their software free. This might be the beginning of a new, even more pervasive form of capital, but it could also be the beginning of a new Utopian impulse-one in which capital, pushed to its furthest extreme, becomes pure information.
-Kazys Varnelis
Open source and networks paid off for me. And what of my student? Although she hasn’t ventured back into open source, Rocio instead developed her research with prefab. To be sure, prefab is not the same thing as open source, but nevertheless it is a much more advanced way of thinking about architecuture in that it posits object-oriented thinking over the repetitive redesigning necessitated by animation software. While I haven’t seen her in a few years, I hope to see Rocio this weekend at one of her LV Homes in the greater New York area this weekend. Rocio’s work has been featured in a lengthy piece in the New Yorker by Paul Goldberger, in Dwell, and in many other venues and she’s one of the most succesful students to ever graduate from SCI_Arc. 
It’s fascinating to see where things wind up, years later. 


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what a day

Feel free to ignore this post. It exists only to act as a placeholder to make sure that you know you are not forgotten and that you know that my life has once again spiraled out of control. In the immortal words of Throbbing Gristle (one of my top five bands for the last twenty-five years): "What a day what a day what a day all day…"

I returned from Ireland this weekend, where I was teaching at the University of Limerick for a few days. The commitment involved in teaching all day means that I wasn’t able to update the site during that time. I had high hopes for today, but while making my morning latte, I let the milk get too hot and it frothed too high until it overflowed the mug and spilled onto my hand, forcing me to simultaneously scream and drop the mug, whereupon it shattered into a million pieces. Alas, not only does my hand hurt like crazy, it was my favorite mug. See the image below. Yes it’s by Gary Larson. Cited under fair use and the urgent need for a new one.

If anybody has any leads on a replacement, please let me know.



Next time I promise the Real won’t poke through and you’ll get a more thought-out blog post.



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the dalles revealed

Via Nicholas Carr’s Rough Type: view this blueprint for Google’s massive facility at the Dalles together with commentary in March’s Harper’s Magazine. 

I was surprised to see in the commentary that Google is planning a data center in Lithuania and a little research suggested that indeed it is.

The commentary in the article, however, is mistaken in suggesting that if Google moves to Lithuania it will be tapping into a grid that is largely nuclear.

This is unlikely. The nuclear power plant at Ignalina is ceasing operations in 2009, a closure that was a condition of Lithuania’s EU accession, notwithstanding that nuclear power was the country’s single biggest export. New plants are being planned, but only in the broadest sense. 


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muzak fills the deadly silences

An excerpt from Blue Monday:

Muzak developed during the era of Art Deco architecture and “jazzy” design. Like Art Deco, Muzak was meant to inspire office workers to move along to the increasingly fast pace of the modern corporation. Just as design and architecture evolved from Art Deco to the International Style, Muzak moved to the Stimulus Progression.

The streamlined geometry of Art Deco design attempted to mask the repetitive nature of office work with a representation of the speed and tempo of modern music. But Art Deco failed to keep its promise: fixed in architectural form, it could only represent change, and was not itself capable of changing over time. As workers grew accustomed to Art Deco, they grew bored of it, associate its forms with the overheated exuberance of the 1920s and the desperate salesmanship of the Great Depression. As International Style modern architecture spread in the postwar era, Muzak spread with it. Muzak punctuated activity on the floors of the Johnson Wax Company building, Lever House, the Seagram building, the Chase Manhattan bank building, the Pan Am building, the Sears Tower, the Apollo XI command module and countless other modernist structures. Muzak is the hidden element in every Ezra Stoller photograph of a modernist office interior. By 1950, some 50 million people heard Muzak every year.

Muzak made modernism palatable sonically. The new, hermetically sealed office buildings that the glass curtain wall and postwar air conditioning system permitted were capable of blocking out distracting sounds from outside, but without these sounds, two new conditions emerged. In some areas, office machines, building control systems, and fellow employees became more distracting while in others, you simply had too much quiet making the artificial lack of environmental sound uncomfortably noticeable. Broadcasting Muzak ensured a superior, controlled background condition.

Muzak’s slogan during this period was “Muzak fills the deadly silences.” But Muzak isn’t just invisible to the eyes, in the company’s own words, Muzak “is meant to be heard, but not listened to.” Aimed at a subliminal level, the immaterial gestures of the Stimulus Progression were neither ornamental nor representational, but rather physiological. Workers did not think about Muzak, they were programmed by it. As soon as Muzak received any requests for songs, they immediately removed them from the library. Like the Fordist worker, Muzak that drew attention to itself was deemed unsuccessful and dismissed.

By filling the deadly silences, Muzak supported modernism and made the impersonality of the Fordist management system more palatable. In bridging melody (individuality) and monotony (the abstract field), Muzak provided an element of accommodation against a background of abstraction, acting as a palliative for both the modern office and for modern architecture. Interactions between individuals that would otherwise have been uncomfortable, such as disciplinary reprimands, terminations, and general office tension could all be alleviated by its soothing background tones.

Composed almost exclusively of love songs stripped of their lyrics, the Stimulus Progression provided a gentle state of erotic arousal throughout the day. Desire, union, and disappointment could all be felt collectively, albeit subconsciously, thereby adding color to the day and blunting the impact of such emotions when real life erupted in the workplace. James Keenen, Ph.D., the Chairman of Muzak’s Board of Scientific Advisors concluded that “Muzak promotes the sharing of meaning because it massifies symbolism in which not few but all can participate.” Muzak provided the same symbolic experience as the pre-Industrial song did, but this sharing of meaning happened below the threshold of consciousness.

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networked publics on the net

The last few years have been a whirlwind of projects. This week, I deliver to MIT Press  the final copy edits of the Networked Publics book, which they will print this fall. 

I want to turn to this project for a while so let’s start with the inside scoop about the book. It came about as the product of a theme year at the Annenberg Center for Communication at USC. Initially, when I was brought on as a senior fellow, it was to coordinate a group of a dozen or so fellows, build and manage a group blog and write a book based on my Network City work.

With a new director at the Center, however, the rules of the game changed and we were asked to deliver some kind of joint product. After much deliberation, the group came to the conclusion that only a book project could rivet our attention enough. We divided up into four groups, each one devoted to one issue: Place, Culture, Politics, and Infrastructure. In turn, each group worked collaboratively, using social software such as Writely (now Google Docs) to produce the texts. As the leaders of the group, Mimi Ito and I framed the texts with an introduction and conclusion respectively. 

Initially our ambitions were pretty humble. How could you take such a diverse group and create a coherent whole out of it? Since all of us were treading in the heady realm of interdisciplinarity, we all felt like fish out of water that year. I barely talked about architecture in 2005-2006 at all. Could we pull it off? If we did, could the book be anything more than an introduction to the material?

As the texts got finished, ambitions on all of our parts began to rise. After all, the book does have our names on it. My conclusion, it became clear to me, would form the basis of an upcoming book on network culture. In editing the work, I realized how timely and important this project was. Two years after the initial drafting, an eternity today, the book still defines the key issues in network culture and does so incisively. The peer reviews from MIT suggested the same. Of course the reviewers, as good reviewers should, provided comments that necessitated a good deal of rethinking and rewriting this summer. I worked with the chapter editors over the summer and turned in the text last fall. As I complete the final copy edits this week, I am uploading the chapters one at a time to the Networked Publics site. I will be adding some reflections on each text and featuring them on this site. Be aware that some of the texts are not yet updated. 

Over the last few months, I have reworked the Networked Publics site to focus on the content and bring new readers to the book and the blog quickly. It’s looking rather nice although I have a bug or two in IE 7 that I still need to squash and I need to bring up the videos from our lecture series as well.

Of course the book will be far easier to read in print form and it will have certain features that don’t appear on the Web, such as sidebars by noted thinkers reflecting on issues addressed in the book. If you read the Web site, make sure you buy the book too. Our ability to work with publishers to allow content from books to appear on the Web as well as in print is linked to good sales. If sales takes too much of a hit, presses will invoke more protective models about their property.

So, with that preface, start out today by taking a look at Mimi Ito’s introduction to see how she frames the book. More than an introduction to this book, it lays out her models of thinking about the relationship of individuals and media today. For those of you who are architects, this introduction is especially important as it begs the question where is architecture in the ecology of new media? 

Mimi Ito, "Introduction," Networked Publics.



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on intellectual property, my intellectual property

2008/02/13 UPDATE: The author of the piece kindly emailed me with an apology and corrected the issue. I don’t feel I need to keep the link to the piece in this post anymore now that it’s fixed (it’s pointing a finger at something that isn’t a problem anymore) and since the piece was well-written and provocative, I fully intend to get back to it in a later posting of my own. 

This morning, Adam pointed me to a recent piece on computing and the city. Since Adam doesn’t see the images on my site with his RSSreader (hey, Adam, you need to adjust your NetNewsWire settings or upgrade!), he had no idea that the piece used one of my images (my photo from If You See Something, Say Something) without what I consider proper attribution. This led to a long chat about questions of intellectual property, which led to the following post.   

The above piece does link to the blog post from which the photo is taken and no doubt there will be a small spike of readers looking at that older post out of curiosity. But the link comes after the photo, in another sentence. It’s not clear that the photo and the URL are linked directly. Instead, the photos all appear in the classic form of illustrations and my assumption as a reader is that the author took all of them.  

I appreciate the back and forth dialog as well as every link I get. I do take the time to find out who’s linking to me via an RSS feed I have set up through technorati and, less frequently, my stats pages. Most of the time, I add whatever blog made the link to me to my feeds, at least for a while. I’ve learned a great deal that way and it’s a key reason I keep at this. 

To be clear even though my work as a photographer is increasingly gaining in recognition, I don’t mind people using my images. I license them under Creative Commons sharealike, noncommercial attribution. Doing so is, I think, critical to the free flow of ideas and media in our networked society.

Moreover, from time to time I will borrow an image from another site. I will do so only under the following circumstances.

1) I directly know the author/owner and either have asked them or assume it won’t bug them since I mention their name and, 90% of the time, am focussing on whatever it is I am poaching.

Example: I didn’t specifically mention it to Miltos, but I don’t think he will have issues with the post Miltos Manetas Paints Cables since I am using his image to lure people to his fabulous work but if I illustrated the Undersea Net with his image and didn’t ask him or explicitly attribute it, well, I think he should call me out). 

2) The image is used under the idea of intellectual fair use. This is much trickier and I shy away from it as much as possible. In general, I will only use an image in this case without asking directly if it is owned by something big (e.g. Apple, Google, maybe the New York Times) and if I absolutely need to use it. If I do this, I will mention where I got the link from. 

In the case of If You See Something, Say Something, Part 2, I thought about including a shot from the video I referenced, but even though I think that would have been fair use, I decided not to and just put in the link.

The way that Geoff does this over at BLDGBLOG seems fair to me. He captions each image with a link back to the site he took it from and usually he is saying nice things about the image anyway (see #1).  

What bugs me is that there was no direct attribution in this case. To a casual reader, it appears that the photo was taken by the author. The link afterwards is incidental. I could have sent an e-mail to the author, but this is a more important issue that readers should know about, so hence this post. 

When so many of us make indirect revenues from our blogs by generating cultural capital, either as academics, journalists, or industry players, we are already blurring the boundaries of what is and what isn’t commercial. If it’s a 12 year old poaching an image that they got through Google images, I don’t care. But if you’re playing in the same playpen as me, I do. If you get 100 hits a day, I don’t care. If you get over 2,000, well yes I do. 

So if you’re considering using my images, think about the fact that I just spent a half hour on this post. I do care about attribution. The work on this blog is licensed under the Creative Commons license "Attribution-Sharealike-Noncommercial," as is my FLICKR stream.  

Go ahead, use my work. I want you to. I could turn off your ability to use the images on my site with a simple switch, but I don’t. But spell my name right, link to the site, and please give clear attribution where attribution is due. 

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shortwave and polaroids

Last year I made a post about John Peel and my encounter with shortwave radio in the days before the Web. Shortwave is still around (although I need a radio) and has not yet entirely made it to the status of dead media.

See the International Herald Tribune for this article on the status of shortwave today. Will the Web ever follow down this route? 

Meanwhile in the New York Times, news of Polaroid’s abandonment of the instant photograph.




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far from equilibrium

I was delighted to receive a copy of Far From Equilibrium: Essays on Technology and Design Culture, a collection of writings by theorist Sanford Kwinter the other day. A full review is to follow, but the book is an absolutely gorgeous object produced by my current architectural press ACTAR. Its seductive appearance aside, I was struck by how formative Kwinter’s work has been in my thinking and in architecture culture as a whole over the last two decades. It’s a must-buy.

Book Cover



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