What the Internet of Things Is (Not)

Another element I want to highlight from the ThingsCon opening keynote by Alex Deschamps-Sonsino (Designswarm), is her discussion of what the internet of things (IoT) is and is not.

Of course the internet of things, just like any other technology is only a novel and separate subject by itself as long as it is the exception and not mainstream. Right now we are simply somewhere on the continuum between early human computer interaction and normal regular life. At the singularity point, or perhaps better, the vanishing point, an everyday object will ‚simply’ be smart, and we’ll just get on with it.

the continuum to normal life
slide from the keynote

This autonomy and smartness in everyday objects where it is relevant, does not equate automation, nor only smartness. It also means playing well with others (objects / interfaces / people, through APIs), and it means being connected to the internet as the underlying substrate, so it can become a grid or platform of objects and can be built upon.

One of the slides is shown below as a handy comparison chart.

Smart vs Connected

OECD Regional Well-Being Index

At Re:Publica in a session on data visualization to make sense of globalization, the release of a very cool dataviz project was announced for next week: The OECD Regional Well-Being Index. ‘Truth and beauty operator’ Moritz Stefaner, who contributed to the visual aspects, made this announcement during the session and gave a sneak preview.

It is a follow-up of the OECD Better Life Index (also very cool), and a new incarnation of the statistical regional explorer.

What it allows you to do is explore regional data, on the basis of what you deem relevant, and then find out which regions in other OECD countries have similar profiles. This is important, as until now OECD data was mostly presented on national level, but the more profound differences are usually found within a country, or when comparing regions, not countries.

If you do such a comparison for Berlin, as shown in the pictures, you find out why Peter Rukavina likes Berlin so much: it is statistically similar to his home Prince Edward Island, just more urban and with a wider variety of things on offer.

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Berlin, with Prince Edward Island mentioned as similar region

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PEI, statistically similar to Berlin

The existing OECD Regional Well-Being Index is already a great and beautiful project. It moves away from ranking countries, as that has no real meaning (in the sense of scope of interventions or policy consequences). You can create your own set of important indicators, and your choice as well as those of other visitors is used again as data to improve the visualization of the project itself. The top layer of the index is playful, and doesn’t throw all of the statistics in your face at the beginning. If you want you can dig much deeper and get much richer detailed numbers.

For more OECD data visualizatons see their Data Lab. Also check out the dataviz portfolio of Moritz Stefaner, who created the key elements of the OECD visualizations.

Disruptive Data

Tariq Khokar, data scientist at the World Bank, while showing a range of practices of data collection, and new emerging methods and services of same:

There are plenty of ways to disrupt the way data gets collected and generated

(disrupt as innovate of course, not as in obstruction)

Or: how the sausage gets made

Re Publica 2014 Berlin

(during the data visualization session at Re:Publica)

Sketchnoting – Finding your inner 5 yr old

Yesterday I took part in a quick sketch noting workshop at Re:Publica.
Part of my approach for both the ThingsCon and Re:Publica conferences is to go to sessions I feel not immediately comfortable with. The ones that are a bit more challenging or outside my normal familiar topics. So starting RP14 with a sketchnoting workshop seemed the obvious thing to do, as it was the least obvious.

Sketchnoting is taking more visual notes of the presentations and sessions you are participating in. But it requires you to draw, and that can be a challenge.
The workshop taught some basics on how to draw, and to be pleased with the simple things. As long as they express meaning to you.

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Figures, faces and boxes.

The workshop had quick instructions on how to draw figurines, faces and emotions, using symbols, text, boxes to emphasize, lines to connect or divide, depict movement, shadow and effects, as well as structuring or pre-structuring how you are going to take notes. Everyone got to apply the instructions themselves while they were explained. Some 200 people drawing like when they were 5 years old again.

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Structure, lines and effects

There is a Sketchnote Handbook by Mike Rhode, if you want to explore further. I’m even in it, as one my talks got sketchnoted during SHiFT 2010 in Lisbon by Bauke Schildt. His inner 5 yr old is way more skilled than mine, quite obviously.

Shift2010_MakerHouseholds Sketchnoting handbook
My 2010 talk sketchnoted, and how they’re used as example in Sketchnote Handbook

[UPDATE: It turns out that one of the hosts of the workshop Anna Lena, sketchnoted my Cognitive Cities conference talk in 2012.]

Spice Up Your City

[UPDATE 2: The video of the session is now on-line]

Tactical Technology Collective – Internet Security

At Re:Publica I came across the Tactical Technology Collective (Info_Activism on Twitter), who do great work to teach journalists, activists and anybody else how to act more securely on the internet.

While for me, and possibly for you, a lot of what we do on the internet is currently uncontroversial (which in no way means we should not be concerned), for a lot of people around the world their safety, and lives, quite literally depend on knowing how to be more secure on the internet.

Upon a first internet search of safety measures you very quickly get to all kinds of arcane tech details you can’t really be bothered with if you’re not in the tech scene. Or you may simply lack the knowledge about what you should be aware of in the first place.

The Berlin based Tactical Technology Collective makes sure journalists, citizen activists and NGO’s do have access to the required knowledge. They make both the explanations and the tech instructions on what to do available in easy and beautifully designed ways.

I took a bunch of their leaflets and bought two of their internet security instruction kits for dissemination and personal use.

Why? Maybe not directly for myself. But there is something to be said to make sure that the ones who need protection do not stand out because they are the only ones taking precautions. That would make them targets by default. Privacy is not a crime, was a t-shirt I saw today at the conference, and that applies here. If only the ones who are under threat wear rain coats they are easy to spot. If more of us wear them, the cost of surveillance rises, and those that need protection have a bit of additional safety in the herd.

Re:Publica 2014

Deconstruction of the Smart Fridge

The deconstruction of the smart fridge is one of things I took away from Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino’s opening key-note at ThingsCon.

I think I have heard versions of the ‚smart fridge’ ever since I first went online 25 years ago, even before the web. Alex presented it as a typical ‚males who never use a kitchen dreaming up a use case for what they imagine (mostly) females do in there’ situation.
The current incarnation of the smart fridge is I think one with an iPad glued to the front of it. Or the one that has a proper place for everything so it can determine if you’re running out of milk. (A much better use for that is automatic charging for minibars in hotels, as I encountered in Stockholm, where indeed everything does have its place.)

as alternative, smart fridge

Slide from Alex keynote

It’s not about the fridge!” Unless its power got cut, it needs servicing, is about to break or explode, there’s nothing you need to hear from your fridge. It is about our behavior and the groceries we buy. The state of the food in your fridge is of course important, so Alex showed an app she prototyped, Pntry, as alternative that keeps track of when you last bought something. If you last bought milk 200 days ago and it is still sitting in the fridge, better have it removed by a biohazard crew, and not use it anymore. If it was a spice you bought 200 days ago, that’s fine.

In his talk later in the day, on a similar note, Matt Webb, discussed the ‚smart’ washing machine they hacked from a regular Zanussi. „We put it on the matrix, it still thinks it is a normal washing machine.” They added a button you press when you are about to run out of detergent etc. It only puts it on your normal shopping list, as it is at the washing machine you notice if you’re about to run out of detergent. Again it isn’t about the machine but your surrounding flow of behavior.

Unsurprisingly at Re:Publica, Germany’s largest annual gathering of internet techies, the smart fridge reared its ugly head this morning. This one was dreamt up to tweet its power usage to compare it with others of similar type. Not that tweeting that info is a good way to gather data, nor is adding more power consumption to measure the same.

On that note, can we now say goodbye to the smart fridge (and the washing machine), and not let it reincarnate yet again and again in the internet of things? Can we make this the Alex’ Law: whoever mentions the smart fridge as a viable use case first loses any argument about internet, of things or otherwise. Only to be met with “It’s not about the fridge!

Signal Loss

Yesterday at Re:Publica we came across a little booth to make your own signal blocking pouch for your mobile. In short: even if your phone is switched off, it is still traceable. By putting it in a Faraday cage, you render that impossible.

In this little DIY booth, you could make your own mobile phone pouch from a cloth with metal weave, thus creating a Faraday cage. The material is actually sold as a layer for beneath your carpets and behind your wall paper to reduce em-signals in your home.

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With a 10 minute effort, we cut the cloth, stitched it together with pins, and ran it through the sewing machine (a first for me ;) )

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L1020414

The guy behind the booth pitched it as “perfect for during your next protest march!”. So if I ever end up in one, I will know how to make my phone invisible to police monitors ;). And you can do the same! Find instructions at Killyourphone.com. I wonder if they will detect it at airport security.

Favela Chic Berlin

Berlin in the past days strikes me as very Favela Chic, Bruce Sterling style:

You have lost everything material, no job or prospects, but you are wired to the gills and really big on Facebook.

Sipping overpriced half-bad wine writing this in an uber-hip hotel in a reclaimed building with only reclaimed materials and laser cut lampshades. We’d call it a hostel back in the day (in fact next door ís a hostel looking eerily similar), but yet it feels strangely upmarket and it’s huge on FourSquare.

Visiting two great conferences looking towards the future, the first in a repurposed industrial revolution era machine factory, the other in a barely repurposed old freight train station.

Hungry Talents Slightly different. Is it enough? Berlin Berlin

Berlin is currently a very young city, judging by the people on the streets (and a quick confirming look at demographics), and it’s the EU’s 2nd largest. The city is going through shockwaves caused by the influx of money following its hipster and start-up image of the past years, which clashes with the low average income (15k/year in 2007) of its existing inhabitants. Hearing entrepreneurs complaining about office space rents rising above 300 Euro a month.

It is so very much along the lines of Reboot 11’s closing key-note by Bruce Sterling in 2009.

As Bruce Sterling put it then “Everything falls apart, but there are endless opportunities. You just didn’t think you’d dread them so much.

It’s attractive and exciting, yet repulsive at the same time.

Berlin Berlin 20140503_191753 Berlin

ThingsCon Opening Key-Note: Alex Deschamps-Sonsino on IoT

Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino gave the opening key-note at ThingsCon, in her usual thought provoking way backed up by conviction and active experience. There is much to take home from her presentation and resulting discussion in general, but much more so in particular which I will do in a few separate postings, to be able to connect it to other thoughts and take-aways from the conference. For now, here are the slides to her presentation.

Far too little key-notes do what they should: be a kernel for conversation and interaction, while otherwise not getting in the way of the same. This keynote was exactly fit for purpose.

Ai Wei Wei, Berlin Edition

As we are in Berlin this week, we had the opportunity to visit the Ai Wei Wei exhibition ‚Evidence’ in the Martin Gropius Bau, just off what used to be Checkpoint C.

We have seen Ai’s work in several places, but never a large collection as this. It helped understand much more of the layers in his work, trying to make sense as well as show the absurdity of the rapid societal changes China has seen in the past few decades, and this being an authoritarian country thus very much blurring the lines between political activism and art.

Ai Wei Wei Ai Wei Wei Ai Wei Wei

The police demolishes your studio, they previously invited you to build to help create an art scene in Shanghai? Turn the bricks and other remnants into a monumental installation and call it ’Souvenir from Shanghai’. Or exhibit the hard drives and usb sticks that were confiscated during a search of your home, with the ‚evidence’ stickers attached to them.

Ai Wei Wei

Want to discuss the shoulder shrugs caused by the destruction of ancient city neighborhoods in favor of new concrete tower blocks? Destroy and spray paint even more ancient vases to cause an uproar and point out the hypocrisy.

Is the government refusing to discuss how corruption that led to bad quality buildings costs thousands of deaths amongst school children during an earthquake? Collect the names yourself, and use 200 tons (!) of concrete reinforcement bars pulled from the rubble as material for your installations, or turn them into marble as a memorial.

Ai Wei Wei Ai Wei Wei

What also very much stood out for me is that the installations we see are merely the endpoint of a long process where the final work’s contours only emerge at the end. They are illogical as a sudden appearance but a logical outcome of the process involved. That process contains investigative journalism, diving into science and history just as much as reflecting on (western) art.

These glimpses of an artist’s process or his studio, the endless trying, the slow slog towards an object, is enormously fascinating to me. We can’t do enough to break the fiction that all the expressions and objects we laud as art are like Athena born ready made from the mind of the artist, but the result of time consuming exploration and hard work.

Thoroughly enjoyed this exhibition both as a window on how this particular artist works, as well as on China, of which we assume much but really know little.