Archive for the ‘the other’ Category

A Missing Perspective on ABMs: The Developing World

Sunday, January 29th, 2012

Bonabeau speaks of four main areas of application in which ABMs can be used: flows, markets, organizations and diffusion and organizes his article around these four applications with examples for each. What caught my attention was that most of the examples drawn for these applications relate to the developed world. Technological innovation has clearly been far more rapid and widespread in the developed world which could account for the current uses of ABMs being from developed countries. Granted, the applications of ABMs in developed countries could just as easily be used in developing countries as these face the same issues as developed countries with respect to situations such as traffic jams, evacuation from crowded areas, transit and stock markets among others.

What I would like to see more with ABMs is use of ABMs in developing countries to simulate the way some situations may impact these countries in different ways than developed countries. One example of this can be seen through the application on ABMs by diffusion. Bonabeau describes diffusion as an application for ABMs where “people are influenced by their social context” (7285). The diffusion of education and knowledge in space in developed versus undeveloped countries could be interesting to examine as the processes for this could be very different in these countries and could be performed by very different processes dependent on many factors such as the spread and use of technology such as computers, cell phones or social networks that may exist online or face to face. In a broader context, how might ABMs be applied in development scenarios in developing countries?

Bonabeau, Eric. “Agent-based Modeling: Methods and Techniques for Simulating Human Systems.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 99.10 (2002): 7280-7287. Print.

-Outdoor Addict

Performance Art: Subversion, Activism and GPS

Friday, November 14th, 2008

From a student in our Intro to GIS course:

In 2007 three artists living in the country of Slovenia officially changed their name to Janez Janša. Janez Janša is the name of the country’s Prime Minister, a right wing politician who is hostile towards any opposition. On January 28th 2008, the group performed Signature Event Context’s as part of transmediale 08, a Berlin festival that focuses on the digital arts. The performance took place at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. During the event, each of the artists was equipped with a GPS device, and walked through the memorial while repeating the mantra “Jaz sem Janez Janša, Jaz sem Janez Janša, Jaz sem Janez Janša…” (My name is Janez Janša”).

The performance is available online. Since it would be hard to decipher the movements live, video on the webpage offers a planimetric view of the event. First, it locates the site with a “polygon of action” that is supplemented with longitude and latitude locations. With the aid of video cameras, GPS receivers, and Google Earth we can trace the artists’ paths through the memorial. Each artists’ path is highlighted in green. The final result is a signature, the trace of the creators, the name “Janez Janša”.

The title of the event comes from Jacques Derrida’s essay “Signature Event Context.” The group posts this quote on their website to explain their performance:

By definition, a written signature implies the actual or empirical nonpresence of the signer. But, it will be said, it also marks and retains his having-been present in a past now, which will remain a future now, and therefore in a now, in general, in the transcendental form of nowness (maintenance). This general maintenance is somehow inscribed, stapled to the present punctuality, always evident and always singular, in the form of the signature. This is the enigmatic originality of every paraph. For the attachment to the source to occur, the absolute singularity of an event of the signature and of a form of the signature must be retained: the pure reproducibility of a pure event.(Jacques Derrida, “Signature Event Context” in Margins of Philosophy, tr. Alan Bass, pp. 307-330)

The group claims that the memorial event puts together three concepts (signature, event and context), which “re-contextualizes the site of signature.”

In relation to their name change and the site of the performance, the meaning of the event is complex. Memorials are supposed to engage each individual in the act of remembering. What happens when three artists collectively sign their name at such a significant place? How and where is the original Janez Janša implied? What meaning are Internet viewers supposed to draw? Our own interpretation of the work is mediated by technology. Antonio Caronia notes that in this case, technology has the semiotic function, because the realization of the concept of identity (the signature) is closely related to the virtual world. In effect, the performance of the three Janez Janšas “places in doubt the basis of everyone’s social and individual identity and wants to deeply investigate on the social conventions that constitute and decode it, aiming at unearthing those processes which lie on the border between mind and society.”

Economics and Environmental Costs

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

I fear not doing justice to the seminar presented on October 18, however I can attempt to describe it.  October 18 was the day of the Beatty Memorial lecture given by James Gustave Speth.  He began the lecture with a discussion of the environmental problems that are taking place today.  Aside from global warming, there has been an increase in species extinctions, eutrophication and a higher occurrence of toxins within the body.  We are living in an age of spiritual and social deficit coupled with longer work hours and a crumbling family structure.  One of the major factors; our economy is not taking into account these environmental and social costs.

I was surprised that Speth included the social environment as part of his talk.  Normally the first thing one considers when thinking of the environment is the ecosystems along with its flora and fauna.  However our community is a part of who we are.  One might argue it is our immediate environment as it is where we connect with each other.  The statement was made that our progress is measured by the GDP.  Speth suggests that this is counterproductive as people who are earning more are not necessarily happier.  In addition along with the progress of our economy we are seeing greater disparities between the rich and the poor.  If we wish to decrease the amount of poverty in the world this cannot be seen as progress.

It is difficult to change the economy to suit our environmental needs.  Because it appears to be more costly to incorporate these new environmental policies we are faced with the dilemma of wishing to save our current environment but being fearful of damaging our economy.  In addition, because of the stronger influence the private sector is having over the government, it is harder to seek government support conflicting with the needs of the private sector.  This statement appears similar to that made in the Linzey Seminar, Building Activism Stripping Corporate Power and Recognizing the Rights of Nature.  Finally it is difficult to put forth an environmental agenda when people are currently struggling to support themselves.  Thus they’d prefer lower cost options.

If we are going to seek to change an economy that conflicts with our environments (ecological and social) we our going to have to make sacrifices.  It has been suggested we are currently living beyond our means.  It has therefore been proposed that we lower our consumption and (as put by Speth) consider the market of nothing.  Buying less, buying local, and buying “slow food” would have a decreased impact on the environment.

Concluding Speth’s lecture are many powerful statements.  He seems to aspire to a future where there is collaboration with the political, social and environmental aspects of life.  He also aspires to a future where we focus on “needs, rather than wants, dependence rather than transcendence, [seeking to be] a part of nature rather than apart from it, [and seeking to become] better, not richer” (Speth, 2008).  To us in particular Speth beseeches us to get off the sidelines and get active in our goal for improving this world.

slaves of our (geospatial) media

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

(An excellent post written by Intro to GIS student, N. E.)

Questions of how one must classify geographic information systems (GIS) have received much attention in the years since GIS’s development. While it is most often a debate between calling GIS a science or a tool, geographers Daniel Z. Sui and Michael F. Goodchild suggest that neither of these options properly convey the relationship between GIS and society. In their essay “A tetradic analysis of GIS and society using McLuhan’s law of the media,” they describe GIS as a means of communication, the new mass media (Sui and Goodchild 2003, 7). Throughout their essay, GIS is presented with skepticism. Sui and Goodchild emphasize the abuse of GIS by companies and governments, drawing on the problem of privacy within GIS. However, they likewise address the fact that the social implications of GIS are neither exclusively positive nor negative.

To focus only on the consequences is to miss the point. Therefore, to explore the relationship between GIS and society, Sui and Goodchild (Ibid., 10-12) evoke 20th Century media analyst, Marshal McLuhan. McLuhan’s law of media is founded on four questions that they apply to GIS:

  1. What does GIS enhance?
  2. What does GIS make obsolete?
  3. What does GIS retrieve?
  4. What does GIS reverse into?

Sui and Goodchild answer these questions. First, they propose that our human faculties are enhanced by GIS. Through the use of remote sensing and aerial photography, our eyes are enhanced. Likewise, our brains are enhanced through the various spatial analysis and modeling applications of GIS. The accessibility of geographic information is enhanced. By extension, the place of GIS in society is enhanced.

These extensions are met by consequences. To the second question, “[GIS] also simultaneously make obsolete … various social practices and human faculties” (Ibid., 10). In the case of GIS, the art of traditional cartography and firsthand data collection are becoming increasingly obsolete as a result of the fast advance of GIS (Ibid., 11). In the face of this loss, GIS retrieves long lost social practices (the third question). For example, with GIS has come a return to a kind of oral culture that faded with the invention of the printing press.

Finally, implicit to GIS is a kind of reversal. Whereas GIS began as a an extension of people, soon people become a sort of extension of GIS (Ibid., 12). Environments are shifted to fit GIS, rather than further developing GIS to fit diverse environments. Furthermore, this role reversal of GIS and its environment create a kind of hierarchy between the individual and the system. The implications of this hierarchy are the loss of personal privacy with the struggle to improve the system and data collection. Thus, “we become slaves to our media” (Ibid.). Through these four areas of analysis Sui and Goodchild express the importance of viewing GIS in a holistic manner.

This notion of GIS as media continues to gain relevance. The increase in online geospatial databases, search engines such as Pipl and Wink, and social networking sites such as Facebook make it increasingly easy to find geospatial information of individuals. With these kinds of technology, tracking down an old friend takes a few minutes. The problem becomes whether it is morally right for these search engines to communicate the information of individuals. Zabasearch, a people search engine, provides both listed and unlisted telephone numbers (Ibid.). In this way, a sense of agency is removed from the individual for the sake of an accurate and convenient system. Sui and Goodchild summarize this idea nicely by stating that: we are “more concerned with what GIS does for us rather than to us” (Sui and Goodchild 2003, 14). It is important to acknowledge both the benefits of GIS and the consequences and attempt to fully recognize the social implications of GIS.

Daniel Z. Sui; Michael F. Goodchild, 2003 “A tetradic analysis of GIS and society using McLuhan’s law of the media” Canadian Geographer 47, 1: 5-17. The article is worth reading in full. It discusses the role of GIS as a mass media in much greater depth and raises interesting connections between McLuhan’s theories and GIS.

Gina Trapani. 2007, “How to track down anyone online” This post gave me insight into the roles of new search engines to disclose geospatial information about individuals without their knowledge or consent.

Nicholas Carr’s “The social graft” Another post I found quite interesting in regards to the functions of GIS and its implications on privacy.

but I need a supercomputer to watch youtube!

Saturday, August 11th, 2007

via Slashdot, which alert us to the following article at c/net: Will the $100 laptop spell the end of Moore’s Law?

Since 1965, the tech world has obsessed about keeping pace with Moore’s Law — an empirical observation that computing performance will double every 24 months. Concurrently, consumers have lusted after the latest and greatest computing hardware, encouraged in part by newer, fatter, ever more demanding operating systems and applications.

Moore’s law is great for making tech faster, and for making slower, existing tech cheaper, but when consumers realise their personal lust for faster hardware makes almost zero financial sense, and hurts the environment with greater demands for power, will they start to demand cheaper, more efficient ‘third-world’ computers that are just as effective?

Of course, a first world demand for cheaper laptops doesn’t spell the end of environmental damage, considering the millions (billions?) of $100 laptops may be produced. But that’s the tricky trade-off between environmental protection and social equity. Personally, I prefer that needs of the developing world don’t get lost in our (largely) first world concerns for the environment.

google earth and darfur

Tuesday, April 10th, 2007

Google Earth teams up with the US Holocaust Museum to track the enormity of the first genocide of the 21st Century: Darfur in Sudan. There’s a wealth of information, both at the personal and the transnational scales. One can zoom in to see the stories of individual children or zoom out to bear witness to the sheer number of destroyed villages.

burning Darfur village

It would be an easy task to add geographic layers describing the public heath (e.g., water scarcity) and environmental devastation that often accompanies genocides.

IM watching you

Tuesday, April 4th, 2006

Today’s Washington Post reports on the use of instant messaging (IM) to keep tabs on friends and relatives without necessarily using it for two-way communication. I like the bit about the potential to make IM locationally aware and combine it with GIS technologies:

Over time, companies such as Microsoft say they expect to pair location information with instant messaging, making it ever more possible for buddies to pinpoint a person’s physical and technological accessibility. AOL LLC’s AIM system, for example, already shows whether a person is logged onto instant message on a mobile device. Skype users with Web cameras can post icons to alert other users of their ability to video conference.

Not only are you constantly connected but constantly located. Add to this the cellphone and we always know what you’re doing and where you are.

This use of IM has interesting implications for surveillance. Does this constant accessibility — read, visibility — open the door for greater acceptance of Big Brother? “If all my friends know where I am and what I’m doing then it’s no big deal that government and business knows this too.”

activism at large

Tuesday, October 18th, 2005

It seems quizzicle that anyone not familiar with the concept of virtual activism readily argues that ‘virtual’ can be traced to 1 degree of separation from ‘physical’, while those who claim to be ‘experts’ in the field are quick to agree and continue making the distinction nonetheless.

One bold method from in a oft-cited article uses “process tracing” to draw a line from dot to dot to dot in order to establish causal relationships, where each dot is an actor or event, starting from NGOs and ending with international negotiations (Betsill and Corell, 2001). Imagine, howeve, the complexity of this trace:

Out of an idyllic blue sky dotted with birds and butterflies come warplanes that carpet-bomb the Smurfs’ forest village, killing Smurfette, leaving Baby Smurf wailing in distress and sending Papa Smurf and the others bolting for cover.

The scene from a bizarre commercial featuring Belgium’s lovable blue-skinned cartoon characters is so upsetting it can only be shown after 9 p.m. to avoid scaring children.

Yet it is part of a UNICEF ad campaign on Belgian television meant to highlight the plight of ex-child soldiers in Africa.

“It’s working. We are getting a lot of reactions, and people are logging on to our Web site,” said Philippe Henon, a spokesman for the Belgian office of the U.N. children’s agency.

. . .

“We get reactions from all over the place,” he said. “People are shocked and want to know the reasons behind this cartoon image.”

The goal UNICEF has with this campaign is to attract donations for its program to aid children in war-torn areas. Imagine the diffiuculty – but also, the real possibility – of doing research that draws from NGO representatives, policy makers, and all stripes of media to show how influence is caused by specific actors. But, what is physical and what is virtual is a secondary matter, an issue of semantics. It does, however, make for promising – if disturbing – advantages in activism. See below:

papa smurf!

Eight ways to save the world

Sunday, September 18th, 2005

The World Summit meeting recently concluded at the United Nations. Sadly, the leaders from the 191 countries came nowhere close on their original promise to deliver on the eight Millenium Development Goals by 2015.

A series of articles in the Guardian Newspaper reminds us (a) how easily achievable the Millenium Development Goals actually are, and (b) how inextricably joined are environmental protection and poverty alleviation. Eight ways to save the world is also a photography exhibit in London, which illustrates the development goals (the main page of the Guardian series contains examples of the photos). Below are the eight goals, linked to their associated Guardian articles.

  1. To eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. To give all children a primary school education
  3. To promote gender equality and empower women
  4. To reduce by two thirds the mortality rate among children under five
  5. To improve maternal health
  6. To combat HIV/Aids, malaria and other diseases
  7. To ensure environmental sustainability
  8. To develop a global partnership.

Native people and climate change, part 2

Monday, May 30th, 2005

Check out the Indigenous Environmental Network, which has recently dedicated itself to addressing the effects of climate change on native peoples around the world and particularly in the sub-Arctic.

Computer technology meets organic vegetables

Sunday, May 22nd, 2005

In honour of Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith, see the organic foods version of Star Wars, Grocery Store Wars. (Someone needs to explain to me why a cannoli is included in the cast of characters.)

For some reason, organic food producers seem to be attracted to sf films as a way to promote their vision. For another example, see The Meatrix.

Ok, for another video, which draws on toilet themes of earlier posts (here, here and here), see this extremely silly Japanese advertisement.

Your virtual girlfriend

Friday, February 25th, 2005

Cyberspace meets meatspace, in the form of your new virtual girlfriend, Vivienne. Developed by Artificial Life, Inc, Vivienne can converse in 7 languages and can move through 18 settings, such as bars, restaurants, shopping malls and movie theatres. She loves virtual flowers and chocolates that you can buy here. You can even marry her and get cell phone messages from her mother-in-law.

This is all done through your cell phone. According to the article, “Vivienne … is at the leading edge of a wave of services that companies are developing to take advantage of the much faster data transmission rates made possible by 3G technology.” It utilizes expert systems located on servers to handle the 35,000 topics that Vivienne can discuss, from philosophy to movies to sculpture to banking.

Apparently there are technical problems because the 3G cell phone batteries run down easily and there is no voice recognition (although she voices her responses, you have to text your requests). But consider the social problems.

Artificial Life has already run into delays in introducing Vivienne to men in Asia and Europe. It originally hoped to have her flirting on cellphone screens by last Christmas.

[However, there are cosmetic problems] -Vivienne is being reprogrammed not to bare her navel or display body piercings in conservative Muslim countries like Malaysia.

And the designers are worried that Vivienne’s boyfriends might become addicted to her so contact will be limited to one hour per day.

Now I can hear the guys thinking out there, “if only I could limit my conact with my girlfriend to one hour per day.” Or “if only I could get a girlfriend willing to ‘respond’ for a few virtual flowers or movie tickets.” Will we have lots of virtual hookups because they’re more efficient, giving us what we desire, instead of the more messy reality? From the success of certain types of chatrooms, I think the answer is yes.