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.

Re Publica 2014 Berlin Re Publica 2014 Berlin
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.

Re Publica 2014 Berlin Re Publica 2014 Berlin
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.

Re Publica 2014 Berlin Re Publica 2014 Berlin

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 ;) )

Re Publica 2014 Berlin Re Publica 2014 Berlin

L1020410 Re Publica 2014 Berlin

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.

Some more notes on replacing Dropbox

Earlier I wrote about possible alternatives for Dropbox, that add one or more steps towards a better data protection and control environment. OwnCloud I mentioned as an option, which requires running your own server. In the comments Ole mentioned OwnCube as a way to making the ‚maintaining a server’ bit easier.

OwnCube lets you rent shared server space, in a data center of your choice. You can simply have an OwnCloud account with them on their server, or you can take an ‚admin’ package which means running your own server, with multiple user accounts etc. At 150GB it is the same rate as Dropbox, but in fact it is much cheaper, as disk space is abundant. With the 150GB account you actually get 1TB of diskspace, and by paying for a longer period of time I actually got 30TB (yes, that is thirty terabytes). OwnCube is an Austrian company.

I took their admin starter package, and now have the following set-up:
I registered a Swiss domain name (with a separate registrar), which points to the server with an OwnCube package. The server is located in a Swiss datacenter (I could choose from some 30 datacenters, across the world), which is under my control and configured to use encryption. The OwnCube package comes with an easy way to install OwnCloud.

OwnCloud is open source software and apart from the server software provides desk top clients, mobile apps etc. That makes it seamless across all my devices and essentially provides a better experience than Dropbox can. This, next to syncing and archiving, includes sharing folders or files, which can even be set to expire after a certain period of time, and syncing calendars and contacts. Also the diskspace is more than plenty enough to use it as remote archiving as well as the syncing service I was aiming for. It at the same time functions as remote storage for our NAS archives, as well as a sync for my Mac (next to using a Time Machine NAS at home). In the coming time I will see how this works out for me. Plenty of redundancy at low cost: off site back-up and archiving, seamless syncing and sharing.

Apart from a few apps that sync over it, I have moved everything out of Dropbox now (except for what others share with me there), and also deleted my Wuala experiment I mentioned in the previous post.
Next step is getting the calendar/contact syncing to work, so I can move that out of Google.

Also I will set up a similar arrangement on a separate server / domain / package for Elmine.

Designing Discreetness

How do you design applications that remove screens, and not add more rectangles of light to your environment? A lot of public screens are ignored, ‚banner blindness’ manifesting itself physically. Screens may get in the way even, distracting you, like some car UI’s.

At the first day of ThingsCon I attended a workshop Designing Discreetness by Sami Niemelä of Nordkapp, who invited us to explore with him ways of removing screens, and get to more discreet designs. Think of a butler who anticipates your desires, and is there at the right moment, but otherwise gets out of the way.

ThingsCon

Sami, the workshop host, described the workshop as “Our homes, workplaces and vehicles are being saturated with glowing rectangles, all competing from our attention. We augment ourselves with pieces of glass we carry, and we are at the dawn of an era where all the world’s data is accessible to us everywhere, all the time. There must be a better way. I believe the answer to cracking this is creating and experimenting with smart, connected things that are silent, behave well, and play nicely with others. How to approach connected physical objects and the attached services as a medium for something larger, instead of the thing itself? Join me in 90-minute workshop where we will discuss and sketch the new frontiers and behaviors for the post screen world ahead of us. Because someone has to.”

The workshop felt like a good fit for me, because Sami used the urban touch screens in Helsinki as a trigger. When we were in Helsinki 18 months ago I also noticed those screens and that they were unused and thus disfunctional.

Sami explained how with wearables and connected things we’re still very much in the innovators and maybe early adopters phase, and that robustness, natural language vs gestures, privacy vs proximity, and useful for mainstream vs niche experts are still aspects in need of a lot of attention.

He then took us through a work format, reminiscent of the Spimes workshop I did in Lisbon at SHiFT in 2008, and the open data workshops I do myself:

Choose one of the following to improve / brainstorm around:

1. ATMs
2. Car UIs
3. Public information screens
4. Shop transactions
5. Wearables
6. Something else

Pick one or more from each of the following:

What: private / personal / shared / common / public
How: haptics + screens + touch + voice + other = 100%
When: Now / next year / in 3 years / in 5 years or more

There was also a card game, again reminiscent of my open data workshop, that provided inputs, APIs and outputs, out of the combination of which you had to build an application.

Designing Discreetness Designing Discreetness

Then generate ideas for a different approach.
I was in a group that worked on public information screens.

Two notions came up early on. One, that these screens may be obsolete because of mobile phones, and are a digital replacement of earlier fixed info points like maps etc. So making them interactive etc may not actually be useful. Two, we treat them like adverts and ignore them, but those adverts are only there to pay for the screens, so if we find a different way to finance it we can do without adverts.

I shared the idea of a park or street bench that changes color according to air quality, pollen and/or particulate matter (which came up during an open data workshop once). The color signals if it is ok to sit there, and there is no need to actually share the underlying environmental information in much detail, so no screen needed.
If you can move the information into existing street furniture, you also bypass the financial constraints that necessitates advertising: all that street furniture has its own budget cycles.

We did see a need for more sensors, to be able to better contextualize information public screens share. E.g. if it is raining maybe adapt information shared towards indoor activities etc.

Moving away from fully public screens to e.g. more personal apps, we suggested that maybe info-apps could learn or recognize me as a repeat visitor. If I am in a new city, I may have a need the first day for information on how to get by metro from the hotel to the conference. On the second day I already know that, so maybe I want to hear more about things along the way, or an event that evening close to where I am. An application that helps you quickly establish a rhythm in your new environment.

Designing Discreetness Designing Discreetness

Designing Discreetness

I enjoyed the workshop, although I was pretty much out of energy at the end of a long day. The ‚recipe’ we used I will add to my thinking toolbox.

Update: Sami posted the slides and notes of the workshop