This and That

Often, when people ask what I’ve been up to recently, I reply “You know, this and that. Not much. Life,” and shrug my shoulders. But looking back on the past year, things have actually been a little less boring than that makes it seem.

More for my own memory than anybody else’s entertainment, some brief and selective highlights over the past year.
Almost a year ago, I started work at frog, and so far, so good.
I’ve worked on some interesting client work (albeit, as ever, wrapped up in non-disclosure agreements): ranging from getting deep into archives and large libraries of long text and hypertext and metadata to helping clients better understand potential industrial applications of networked sensors. I’ve also been fortunate to continue working on some urban-related projects, both for clients, and winning a design award from the City of New York for a project a team of us worked on to reinvent the Payphone. In a similar vein, I helped plan and facilitate a workshop as part of an event organized by Poptech and the Rockefeller Foundation at BAM’s incredible Harvey Theater, titled The City Resilient.


City Tickets Boston at the BSA

Away from frog, I spent several weekends in Boston this summer. I was excited to be contacted by Scott Burnham earlier this year, who had recently taken on a role as a curator at the Boston Society of Architects, who asked if I would be interested in adapting City Tickets for Boston for his first show at the BSA Space, “Reprogramming the City”… and whether, if he could get hold of a multi-space parking meter from the City, if I would be interested, willing, and able to somehow prototype it for real – reconfiguring not just images of the concept or the surface of the machine, but the working innards as well. Boston was especially well placed for this proposal: not only was the City generous enough to lend Scott and myself a machine and give us permission to appropriate and replace it’s guts, it also has the data from its citizen responsiveness system, the Mayor’s 24hr Hotline and Citizens Connect apps, available through an API. So following the original Copenhagen version, and the New York instantiation created for the MoMA Show, together with two great collaborators in J.D. Hollis and Brian Del Vecchio, I set about doing just that. And, despite the short timeframe and my physical distance from the machine itself, we got it to work, and it was great to see a real meter spit out a real thermal-printed ticket with real reports, still fresh from the City’s data store. Full documentation of the Boston iteration of this project to follow soon.

Do I need my Umbrella?
Also with J.D., and co-incidentally also thermal-printing related, I created a Little Printer publication to answer a simple question: Do I need my umbrella? Rather than give a general weather forecast for the day (as you can see in the photo above, that task was well taken care of by the weather publication), we focussed purely on precipitation, and on one location (here) and time (for the next hour). It was fascinating to think through the meaning and use of time in a medium that was networked and immediate in the sense that it connected to real-time APIs, but much more unpredictable in its subscription model and printing schedule (the publication is generated at a specific and user-set time, but is then only printed when a button is pressed). Print is both fast and slow, and that was fun to play with. We spent a lot of time thinking through the language and syntax as it adjusts to varying weather conditions (now) and forecasts (soon), trying to make sure that it was at once logically accurate, sufficiently fuzzy given the time/immediacy issue, and that it felt like a genuine answer to the question, rather than the result of carefully analysed data.

Thoughts of various sorts and of various origin have been slowly fermenting in my head, and fingers crossed I’ll finally make good on my longstanding promise to myself to write more. Perhaps, if I succeed at that, I won’t be stuck with writing another yearnote in October 2014.

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