e-tat / digital wasteland

Monday, July 31, 2006

Breaking Bonds

Some salient bits from a NYT story about joblessness
To be honest, I’m kind of looking for the home run,” said Christopher Priga, who is 54 and has not had steady work since he lost a job with a six-figure income as an electrical engineer at Xerox in 2002. “There’s no point in hitting for base hits,” he explained. “I’ve been down the road where I did all the things I was supposed to do, and the end result of that is nil.
His father is his standard. At Mr. Priga’s age, 54, “my father was with Rockwell International designing the fiber optic backbone for U.S. Navy ships,” he said. “He got a regular paycheck. He had retirement benefits, medical benefits, all of that. I’m at that age and I don’t see that as even possible. I’ve kind of written off the idea completely. I’m more like a casual laborer.”
No federal entitlement program is growing as quickly, with more than 6.5 million men and women now receiving monthly disability payments, up from 3 million in 1990. About 25 percent of the missing men are collecting this insurance. The ailments that qualify them are usually real, like back pain, heart trouble or mental illness. But in some cases, the illnesses are not so serious that they would prevent people from working if a well-paying job with benefits were an option.
This same trend is evident in other industrialized countries. In the European Union, 14 percent of men between 25 and 54 were not working last year, up from 7 percent in 1975, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Over the same period in Japan, the proportion of such men rose to 8 percent from 4 percent.
“What happens to a lot of guys who become unmoored from family life, they become unmoored from everything,” Ms. Edin said. “They are just living without attachments and by the time they are 40 or 50 years old, the things that kept these men from falling away — family and community life — are gone.” (Kathryn Edin, sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania.)

Monday, June 19, 2006

A Fenciful, Fencival Charrette

Prunings Twenty-One
Affencive design:
Apropos fifty fences, perhaps Kenna would be interested in snow-draped fences along the USA-Mexico border. Some ten million of them would fit in the 1,951 mile stretch. One suspects, however, that these little snow fences are not what planners have in mind. The New York Times sees it differently, and asked ten designers to come up with alternatives to the sheet metal and wire standard. (Thanks, as always, to Anne)

This is reasonable, given the cost estimate for extending the existing style of fence, some forty billion dollars. If the State Departments figures are pertinent, the standard fence will equate to 60 days worth of cross-border trade. But how much of that can be diverted to pay for the project? Perhaps the smart alternative is to get the fence to pay for itself. A couple of respondents to the NYT indicated as much. But I suspect that they have barely scratched the surface of what it might mean to develop a national barricade as a self-sustaining economy. For one, it might be necessary to expand the permiter to include the boundary region, and think more comprehensively about how that might be affected, and integrated into the design.

So perhaps it's time to open a design charrette for constructing a national boundary. Something more sustained than that of the NYT charrette, some on-line studio for the presentation and consideration of design functions and elements. How might such a thing get started? Have any design schools taken it up already? Through a competition to design a 1,951 mile long carpet, perhaps?

Of Design and Diplomacy?

Brilliant! So many opportunities for intervention, for querying the state of things, for making relationships manifest. There are so many potential 'people of the fence' that one could run an ongoing workshop to take in the multitude of views and aspirations. What is a fence to the displaced of New Orleans? Or to the people who fly over it on holidays? To the people on the 'inside'? Contrast this with the Berlin Wall and the Israel/Palestine wall, and ask whether those walls performed as intended; to enhance socialism on the one hand, and preserve national identity on the other. Such barriers are never simply about keeping people in or out: they are meant to serve - or preserve - social priorities.

I also wonder if this is a return to the cordon sanitaire, the liminal space between states, a space of passage, or of blurring the distinctions between one side and the other? Could it be designed in such a way that those inside are welcome to stay indefinitely, as an alternative to living in the departure lounge of an airport?

If the space can assume utopian qualities, can it also function as the dystopia both nations require? Is the fence meant to keep people in as much as it's meant to fence people out? Could the wall be a prison, to an equal or greater extent than it is a place of passage? Perhaps designers should be asking about what the fence is meant to express on behalf of people either side of it. Should the northern side appear welcoming, open, transparent? As indiative of peace and freedom? Or should that be the face of the southern side?

Slum Design

Of Cities and Slums
"All interesting, but I'm left wondering when "urban" and 'city' become synonymous with 'slum'?"

Perhaps the term reflects planners' despair at the prospects for planned cities. Perhaps they've given up on the dream of an orderly urbanity and their disappointment comes through in nihilistic language.

Just guessing. But have been thinking along somewhat similar lines the last day or so.

Also, regarding Vancouver, here's an interesting post.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Urban form as an expression of poverty

After the spate of posts about the futures of urban architecture, the development of peri-urban settlements, squatter cities, and changing perspectives on urban density, I am wondering what future high rise buildings have as an architectural and planning response to poverty. Put bluntly, is the architecture of poverty abandoning the high-rise in favour of the gecekondu and shantytowns?

I think a significant part of the argument (pro or con) revolves around issues of density, where some cities find that high-rises work well (Hong Kong somes to mind) and others find that towers are invariably spaces of abjection. With urban squatters increasingly taking matters into their own hands, there is also a question of whether fornal urban renewal schemes can expect to provide more than a fraction of housing needs, whether such schemes will be abandoned in favour of the DIY approach, and what the architectural expression of urban poverty will look like.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Comments while Blogger is broken

Blogger comments have been busted of late, so I've posted comments here while waiting for things to get fixed. I've also subscribed to Haloscan, but haven't pointed it anywhere just yet, so cannot direect anyone there.

The surface of the earth, transformed into objects

"the theory that biology itself - life itself - is geology pursued by other means."
This sounds like a good contender against ID. Give the rocks some agency and they'll be brewing up humans in no time! Trouble is, if humans have been developed in relation to a particular geological project, we are eitehr doing that project very well, as intended, or we have fucked it up something awful. What will the rocks make of that?

"Theory in/to practice"
Entirely off the cuff and after spending too long in the sun, and breathing too much of the fumes from someone else's badly lit barbeque, I'd say that both of you feel a bit put out by the appropriation by the military-commercial complex of ideologies you're fond of. But Debord was clear on this point. The spectacle consumes everything, including its own critique. So there's no future in any given critique. It means that the military and capitalists cannot always be depended upon to be the enemy.

"Networked things and the old/new objectivism"

Moi? I'm not sure I follow Phil's line of thought. Maybe after I find some time to think about it again.

I know I had a question about this phrase: 'what it means to manipulate words, to shape things'. It's ambiguous.

I also meant to say that the remark about being aggressive sounds like the kind of thing someone would say to you in an underhand attempt to be manipulative. Or out of confusion. I would take a remark like that with a large crystal of salt.

Meanwhile, let me mix things up a bit by referring you to this and this with the hope that they will entertain and possibly inspire some other thinking about objects.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Can't Get There From Here

while producing geology from objects...

Inspiration strikes again in the form of a comment that's a bit too long, in response to this BLDGBLOG post.

If McPhee were to take in this earlier post, he might find that Bishop was once part of Bingham Canyon, or that Nigeria was in Canada, so that some parts of your television might have been joined in some other fashion a long time ago. The exception would be those nails from the Mesabi Range, because we know that the Upper Peninsula has been untroubled since the Early Pennsylvanian era when Spain, Florida and Morocco were all within walking distance of each other.

The continents have been bumping and grinding along like dancers in a packed nightclub, and on more than once occasion have left various bits of themselves with their various partners. So we might consider that today's televisions are merely returning to their roots, their places of origin, in some sense.

An interesting alternative is to think about things and places that don't move much at all cf. those that travel a lot. What are the 'object' equivalents of the Upper Midwest, and what are the equivalents of the West Indies? What object always travels far, and which almost always stay near home?

And speaking of travel, here is an interesting isochronal map of rail versus car travel times from Cambridge to everywhere else on the island. The most interesting thing is that there's an island of inaccessibility. Hawick, about 50 miles south of Edinburgh and 40 miles northeast of Carlisle, cannot be reached by public transport/taxi in less than one hour from the nearest train station. This is a relative inaccessibility, of course, but prompts the thought that there must be such islands of each place in relation to another, and of each place in relation to an object. How many goods in Hawick have never left town, and as McPhee is indicating, how many goods have been assembled from the most diverse number of places and gone travelling around before alighting, or passing through, Hawick?


Sunday, May 14, 2006

Subliminal Gardening

Where is it written that gardening is a form of subliminal activity? That the organisation of space on an experiential, sensory basis proceeds from desires that verbalisation cannot satisfy? Where is an acknowledgement of gardening as the effort to convey, or better yet, to satisfy some undercurrent of feeling?
If we approach gardening this way, as the effort to arrange a scene, whether a still life or a bit of pond life, then this is my latest gardening exercise.
What it leaves unexplained may or may not be of consequence. But for people who want their gardens to mean something, I can offer two possiblities. One, that this particular effort exemplifies the sub-liminal; it is a garden exploration of the not-quite conscious. Two, that the topic is still being excavated, and will find an explicit meaning in time, as the various elements interact.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Remedial Landscapes

These are visualisations of a discursive landscape, but they could equally be visualisations of micro-medical terrain, in which case the idea of remedial landscapes shifts to a heretofore unexplored site: the body. This then, is a discursive form of medical imaging, which has recursive implications for geomorphology/ordinary landscapes.

Some terms of reference:

Bioremediation can be defined as any process that uses microorganisms or their enzymes to return the environment altered by contaminants to its original condition. (1)

Medicine is the branch of health science and the sector of public life concerned with maintaining human health or restoring it through the treatment of disease and injury. It is both an area of knowledge - a science of body systems, their diseases and treatment - and the applied practice of that knowledge. Medicine practice is not just a science, it is an art. (2)

Implications for the geomorphic landscape include new ways of thinking about the surgical removal and classification of specific terrain, e.g. the histology of landscape.

Landscapes are to be diagnosed as healthy or parlous; designated as holistic or quarantined. The terminology of mining will be replaced with that of surgery, and the terminology of war will be replaced with that of medicine, such as in the following example.

The margins of a biopsy specimen are also carefully examined to see if the disease may have spread beyond the area biopsied. "Clear margins," or "negative margins," means that no disease was found at the edges of the biopsy specimen. "Positive margins" means that disease was found, and additional treatment will be needed. (3)

Distinctions between the body and landscape will be blurred in the new practice of geomedicine and the related science of medical geology. Spa treatments and garden retreats will be internalised, with microbiotic centres of horticultural therapy (also). Conversely, parallel or complementary practices of landscape surgery, medicinal gardening, pharmo-remedial therapies and other site-specific modes of treatment will be established and treated as symbiotic aspects of whole-person medicine. Patients will inhabit the relevant landscapes, and the landscape will be subject to regimes of health, cure, and where relevant, mortality. Consequently, existing medical procedures will have to take on the symbolic aspects of geography: transplants will be regarded as relocations, with attendant vehicle hire and organisation of removals; surgery will be regarded as an exclusion or death in the family, with attendant funeral services; and, routine checkups will be regarded as terrain mapping exercises, bringing us back to the images above, and their implication for the discourses and practices of remediation at previously unexplored scales.


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Friday, February 17, 2006

What's a permalink?

Over the last few days I've had to fiddle with my Firefox config, so, in addition to a slip in attribution, I decided I would look into options for finding permalinks, copying URLS, and pasting them.

Turns out things aren't quite as straightforward as I'd hoped. Permalinks are not just a matter of pasting a URL into a comments field. The URL has to be in a particular format. In addition there are the questions of how to copy, format and paste the URL.

First, permalink is a reference to a format, not the fact of copying and pasting a link, nor even to the idea of acknowledging sources. Permalinks come in a variety of formats, such as this one used with Word Press: http://<site-specific prefix>/<4 digit year>/<2 digit month>/<2 digit date>/<article name>/, but some are quite a bit different to this.

Here's the nub:
Permalinks typically consist of a string of characters which represent the date and time of posting, and some (system dependent) identifier (which includes a base URL, and often identifies the author, subscriber, or department which initially authored the item). Crucially, if an item is changed, renamed, or moved, its permalink remains unaltered. If an item is deleted altogether, its permalink cannot be reused.(via)

The point here is the permanence of the URL, in which the format is secondary.
For example, if you look at the URL for this page, you'll see it's in permalink format, but is slightly unusual because it's got '#comments' tacked on at the end. So if I were to simply copy the URL and post it somewhere, the link brings me to the post page, but at the top of the comments rather than the top of the post. That's a trivial thing to deal with, given that Pete's posts conform to a permalink format, whereas the vast number of webpages will be in some 'chaotic' format, which defeats the secondary aim of 'permanent' access.

The issue here is whether the URL is in a stable format, which is not something I have control over - unless I copy the page to my own archive and link to the copy. Not a great scenario for interactive things like blogs..

Second, my Firefox context menu (right-click) doesn't include a 'copy URL' function. I'm not sure why. Maybe there's some extension I need to get. So even when the URL is in the correct format I have to mouse over to the address bar to copy the link. Again, not a big deal, but it would be sweet to have a function that did it from the context menu or keyboard.

Third, once I've got a clipboard copy of a correctly formatted URL, I need to tag it with HTML, by embedding the URL in a (<a href="">via</a>) tag. This is actually the most time consuming and annoying part, particularly when trying to use the small (~300px) comment fields in many blogs: the link itself is usually wider than the field, which means it's easy to make formatting mistakes. So if anyone were to develop an extension or context menu function that simply added the URL to the 'via' tag shown above, it would ease the entire process and probably facilitate a lot more acknowledgement of sources.

Another thing to keep in mind is that unformatted URLs can take up a lot of space, and can even distort the blog they've been posted to. So it's a matter of etiquette to keep the link short, either by using TinyURL or by using the HTML tagged format as above. So there are two good reasons for this step of putting the link in an HTML format. But if it's time-consuming and error-prone, how many people are going to bother? Easier to leave the link unattributed.

Fourth, I need to paste the thing. If I were simply dropping unformatted URLs into a comments field it would be trivial. But if I'm trying to be considerate and doing the HTML tagging, then it's a question of editing the tag, then copying and pasting it.

That's it. Four steps, but how many individual actions? How many mouse clicks, how many routines or applications to open for cutting, pasting, editing, cutting and pasting again?

It looks to me like it's worth putting into script or extension form. But do I have a clue about what's involved? It's not straightforward. I haven't come across an extension-builder, a wizard that'll do the job for me. Handcrafting links is also not straightforward. And there's the issue of whether the URL is truly permanent or not, or whether permalink has two meanings: one for the format and one for the practice of acknowledging sources.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Highways of Death

See Pruned and Roadside Memorials for details of what prompted this.


From Wikipedia
The Highway of Death refers to a road between Kuwait and Basra on which the retreating Iraqi army was attacked by American aircraft during the Gulf War, on the night of February 26/27, 1991.

From CNN: Sri Lanka reopens 'highway of death'
"The road from Colombo to the rebel stronghold of the northern Jaffna peninsula is about 400 kilometers (250 miles) long. The media here dubbed it the "highway of death" because more than 3,500 soldiers and rebels died along the road while fighting for its control."

From Unexplained Mysteries.com
One of the best recorded examples of strange phenomena concerning car crashes, occurred directly after the construction of a new motorway section in Germany in 1930. The section was a completely straight area of flat roadway, on the side of which was a small stone kilometer marker known as kilometer marker 239. During the first 12 months of the roadway's existence, over 100 cars crashed on the carriageway near the jinxed marker. An extreme example of this occurred on a very clear dry day in September 1930, when a total of 9 separate cars left the road right next to the accursed marker.

US of A

New Hampshire
New Hampshire Route 101
"Most of the eastern section of Route 101 used to be super-2 until the mid 1990's. This highly travelled road had numerous accidents, prominently advertised on large signs at the start of the super-2 segment between Exit 5 and 6 in Raymond; "XX Highway Deaths next XX miles." Locally this road was known as the "Highway of Death" for the unusally high number of accidents and the sign"

Highway 22, Polk County, Oregon
"Simple crosses of white, surrounded by flowers and stuffed animals, stand as silent sentinels to the memory of loved ones who have died along its path. School bus drivers and combine operators cringe as they attempt to cross its narrow lanes and dodge the high-speed traffic headed west to the Oregon Coast."

Wyoming, Highway 287
(October 2004) Nearly three years ago in Laramie, Wyoming, eight student-athletes from the University of Wyoming were killed in a head-on collision while driving on U.S. Highway 287, a two-lane, 24-mile roadway between Laramie and the Colorado border. This accident was one of many fatal crashes that has haunted this stretch of highway that some refer to as the "highway of death".

Rawlins WY Haunted House -> Bighorn Medicine Wheel
Rawlins: Dean/Summer house. This innocent-looking duplex was the scene of a terrifying haunting in the 1970's.

Medicine Wheel
One of North America's most sacred places is located here, but no one knows who constructed it. The eighty-foot-diameter medicine wheel has been used as a site of worship for hundreds of years. Crow Indians say it was built "before light came." Shoshone legends say it is at least twelve thousand years old and attribute it to a race of Little People. The state of Wyoming calls it their most baffling unsolved mystery. The wheel is made up of hundreds of limestone slabs and boulders laid out in a circle with twenty eight spokes, which is the number of ribs in a buffalo, and the number of day in the lunar cycle. Buffalo skulls on the projecting slabs face the rising sun. Five holy cairns that stood over six feet tall are said to reach down to bedrock mark the center and four directions of the wheel. A sixth cairn located just outside the circle is intended for sacred ceremonies and rituals.


There are several trajectories here. One is the road as battlefield eventually transformed into a way of peace. The Kuwait-Baghdad highway and the Jaffna highway may in time become peace parks. There's a good argument to be made in favour of roads as peaceways, but there's also an interesting peculiarity in the presence of so many roads commemorated as places of war and suffering, from the Seminole Trail of Tears to the Iraq highway of death, but little or nothing in terms of such roads rededicated to peace and co-existence. Peace parks exist in a variety of forms and for a variety of reasons, yet no roads are included in their number.

Another trajectory is the highway as a metaphor for paranormal and spirtual experience. The German marker, the Wyoming haunted house and the Bighorn medicine wheel each reflect some aspect of life, death and spirituality to places on or near highways. As Trevi says, "we should definitely reinstitute the ancient practice of siting cemeteries along traffic arteries, the celebration of death again a part of daily life". But we can also use the iconography and architecture of the recent past, the roadscapes of America to accentuate the relationships of life, death and the highway. We can use these as points of departure for thinking about re-engaging travellers with the landscapes they move through. Specially-constructed landscapes addressing the spiritualities and mortalities of motorists are one way of developing a dialogue between the particulars of locality and the reflective contemplation of passers-by.