Archive for January, 2007

another gui for multimedia storage

Tuesday, January 30th, 2007

A new one to add to the list of new graphical user interfaces that could manage our massed amounts of information. This one comes from the Mitsubishi Electric Research Labs. It’s a way to store and manipulate digital files.

In this video, we describe the design of Personal Digital Historian (PDH), an interactive system that facilitates face to face conversation and story sharing, using a digital tabletop user interface, where relevant images can be easily displayed and manipulated by everyone. The design of PDH focuses on providing the right tools and visualizations for the listeners of the story as well as the story sharers. Our goal is to provide a new digital content user interface and management system enabling face-to-face casual exploration and visualization of digital contents.

Most of the examples in the video are photos. But some are maps (i.e., scanned images of maps). Think of what could be done in terms of managing all softs of digital files, photos, audio, databases, text, etc. that have geographic locations. And I love the round display with the tools on the circumference.

BTW, this could not only be an excellent tool for historians, sociologists, and geographers but for urban planners, too. Think of all the data we have, in terms of slides, master plans, old coursework, interesting references, and photos. All of these could be categorized, discussed and recategorized. The GUI has great potential for scenario planning or futuring sessions or plain old planning meetings.

Google Maps/Earth Spam

Monday, January 29th, 2007

Once again from the inestimable slashdot,

An anonymous reader writes “Google organized a flyover of Sydney, Australia last Friday for Australia Day. The images taken on the day will be posted to Google Maps in a few weeks. A number of dotcoms spent hours making huge signs that would be visible from the air. It will be interesting to see whether Google will repeat the event in other cities. If they do, get prepared early. What sign would you make?”

Some sour grapes on the swift city site over spamming Google Earth. But I say, all’s fair in love and geo-spatial data.

too good to last

Monday, January 29th, 2007

On slashdot, kdawson posts on censorship of Google Maps/Earth spatial data.

Cyphoid writes

“While viewing my school (the University of Massachusetts Lowell) with Google Maps, I noticed that a select portion of the campus was pixelated: the operational nuclear research facility on campus. Curious, I attempted to view the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth, Massachusetts. It too was pixelated. What or who is compelling Google to smudge out these images selectively? Will all satellite images of facilities that the government deems ‘sensitive’ soon be subject to censoring?”

Not surprisingly, the same areas are blurred in Google Earth. But how about images from satellites operated by other nations, such as SPOT or Sovinformsputnik?

It’ll be interesting to see what’s next? My guess is:

  • US major infrastructure, including dams and bridges
  • Celebrity’s houses
  • Sensitive sites, however foreign governments wish to define them

brother, can you spare a man a spy coin?

Monday, January 29th, 2007

From the US government, the bizarre story of the Canadian spy coin:

The government said the mysterious coins were found planted on U.S. contractors with classified security clearances on at least three separate occasions between October 2005 and January 2006 as the contractors traveled through Canada.

The US government’s subsequent retraction. Including the acknowledgement that the coins didn’t work especially well as a surveillance device if the person could easily use them to buy a cup of coffee or, I’d add, give money to a homeless person.

the ‘green’ leisure suit

Monday, January 29th, 2007

It’s not computers but it is the return of polyester as an environmental statement. Put down your hemp shirts and don a leisure suit!

the iPhone: gone tomorrow

Monday, January 29th, 2007

CBC radio had a great interview on the environmental impacts of the iPhone. It featured Heather Rogers’s book, Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage. The author provided an extensive look at the likely environmental costs of the iPhone and the way in which those costs are obscured by marketing and design. Below are some highlights.

What’s the environmental impact? Rogers says that the first impact occurs with industrial production in the third world, which generally lack good labour or environmental laws. Then, of course comes transportation costs and packaging costs. Apple, at least, has been forced (here too) to reduce its overwhelming amount of product packaging and invest in recycled materials. In the interview, Rogers doesn’t mention the rest of the lifecycle because this is what we normally think of as e-waste–the energy usage and disposal costs (which likely take us back to the third world but not necessarily).

Her larger point is that much of the environmental problems are embedded in metaphor and marketing. “Apple’s sleek design doesn’t tell you where it came from OR where it goes to.” The last thing companies like Apple want you to know is the technology’s planned obsolescence, its toxicity.

Indeed, according to Rogers, Apple products’ image is one of cleanliness. Apple focuses on sleek design, compactness, and a lack of clutter in its user interface (who knew that user friendliness could suggest environmentalism?). Its white colour is no accident. Of course, we can go back further than Apple designs. Such was the reasoning for white kitchen appliances–because they appeared clean and that implied germ free (see S Nickles. 2002. “Preserving Women”: Refrigerator Design as Social Process in the 1930 s. Technology and Culture. I wonder, does that mean that the iPhone will be virus free? Hmmm).

Back to Rogers–the company also evokes an environmental sensibility. They care about such things; they cultivate environmentalists to purchase and use their products. What they also cultivate is a cultural acceptance of disposability. When a new device is introduced, it becomes acceptable to simply throw it away, even high priced ticket items. It should be astonishing to us that we so casually discard working technology that costs $100s. Rogers contends that the devices are explicitly designed so that they last less time than they could (read–battery life, durability). You could lodge many of these complaints at the consumer electronics industry writ large. What Apple brings to electronics is the idea of fashion obsolescence, which can be added to the pantheon of types of obsolescence (planned and, in a later post, technological, cultural, and adulterous obsolescence).

The CBC piece also features an interview with Steven Levy, author of The Perfect Thing: How the iPod Shuffles Commerce, Culture, and Coolness. He points out that Apple has been “relentless” in bringing out new models that, of course, caused people to throw them out. I think that Levy defends too vigourously Apples’ need to compete (competitive obsolescence?). His point is that constant improvement propels consumption which unfortunately produces the detritus of our electronic lives.

Listen to the whole CBC piece here.

One positive outcome of these innovations that neither interviewee mentioned is that technological convergence (phone, camera, music player) will someday result in fewer devices to throw away. Until that day, we will be bombarded with features that, instead of allowing us to upgrade the software or firmware, force us to buy a new device. That is, if we buy the hype.

Watch Greenpeace’s spoof ad of the Green iPod announcement:

The State of the Union in Words

Saturday, January 27th, 2007

The New York Times once again shows it’s capable of producing some very interesting flash content, today’s culprit: The State of the Union in Words which lets you find how often and in what context words or phrases were used in the last six state of the union addresses and one ‘state of the union’ in early 2001 by the benevolent Mr. Bush.

The word “terror” has been been a frequent guest, between 20 and 34 mentions per address post September 11th. “Health care” peaked in 2004 with 9 mentions, but has remained scant since then. The word “surplus” appeared seven times in his first speech, but has shockingly disappeared from the horizon since then.

“Climate change” got a mention in 2007, its first.

computer waste books

Wednesday, January 17th, 2007

For you computer/e-waste fans, here are some great books:

Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage by Heather Rogers
(Heard her on the radio the other day–she’s fantastic)

High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health by Elizabeth Grossman

Challenging the Chip: Labor Rights and Environmental Justice in the Global Electronics Industry edited by Ted Smith, David A. Sonnenfeld and David Naguib Pellow, foreword by Jim Hightower

One of my all-time favourite computer waste books because it’s the first attempt to quantify the environmental components and costs of computers:

Computers and the Environment: Understanding and Managing their Impacts, edited by Ruediger Kuehr and Eric Williams

catching hi-tech trash

Wednesday, January 17th, 2007

Canada is finally getting serious about all the high tech trash that is mysteriously finding its way from Canadian white collar offices and recycling firms:

A joint investigation by Environment Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency since last year seized 50 containers loaded with about 500,000 kilograms of “E-waste” — discarded parts valuable to foreign junk merchants who extract recyclable material from the goods.

Although, as the report mentioned, Canada has signed the Basel Convention, making it illegal to transport hazardous waste, it also neglects to mention that the federal government creates its own loopholes to the Convention. For example, computers are not considered hazardous waste unless they are disassembled. Moreover, the federal government has often been the worst offender when it comes to inadvertently shipping its own computers, monitors, and printers to China.

Still, it’s never too late to live up to our image of being an environmentally responsible country (especially now that the minority government has decided it’s expedient to act like one).

cell phones for food

Tuesday, January 16th, 2007

Finally, a way to recycle cell phones in Canada, either via a drop off location or mail. The money generated from recycling the cell phones goes to local food banks. Hopefully the recycling will save some gorillas too, if think-food is able to recycle the coltan in the phones.

a sweet consequence of climate change

Monday, January 1st, 2007

Climate change means that Quebec now produces 75 percent of maple syrup.

Due to changes in both sap collection technology … and climate … the maple syrup industry is migrating from New England into Canada,” concluded the New England Regional Assessment Group in a 2001 report. The study, spearheaded by University of New Hampshire researchers, also predicted that if current climate projections hold true, New England forests will be dominated by oak and hickory trees – not maples – by the end of the century.