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October 6, 2007

Reviewing yesterday’s notes briefly, there were some interesting points made – and references I’ll need to look up – but overall the content was a bit less than I’d hoped for.

The first session on “pervasive and ubiquitous computing” had some interesting papers – particularly one from Anijo Mathew that stepped back from the details and focused a bit more on the poetics of computing. There was another paper on the training of visual-spatial skills which was on that level quite good and thorough – but the linkage between that training and the concept of “ubiquitous computing” was tenuous. Essentially, the goal is to use mobile platforms (i.e. cell phones?) to train students on visual-spatial skills. However, the justification for why this should be done on a mobile platform wasn’t clearly explained. Perhaps the print paper will make the link more clear.

The second session was more of a roundtable discussion where scientists from other fields were brought in to discuss their remote sensing efforts. Presenters included the Ocean Tracking Network, a scientist conducting satellite imaging of Earth, and a mechanical engineer who uses acoustic/electric/ultrasonic monitoring to detect structural failures. The final panelist was an architect/designer who made perhaps the most interesting point. Architects don’t invent themselves – they appropriate the inventions of others for new purposes. That tendency is, I think, seldom acknowledged but makes sessions like this extremely important. It both reminded us what “real” development looks like, and exposed us to the people who pursue it for possible collaboration and networking.

The final session, on “interactive & sensing digital sustainability”, was very short – only two papers. The first paper fell pray to a tendency that at least one other paper has hit, which is that the presenter spent too much time laying the ground work for the work and had to skip over the images and movies of the actual work itself. The second session was much better in that regard, and was probably the best paper of the day. Andre Potvin and others from the University of Laval have done research by strapping environmental sensors (think a headset with anemometers, thermometers and other gadgets sticking out from it) to researchers as they walk around cities. The resulting graphs give a detailed look at the process of moving between outside and inside environments and the attendant thermal shocks. I haven’t been to the site yet, but you can see more at

There were also two keynote addresses, from the Kevin Hydes of the World Green Building Council and Tim Druckrey of the Maryland Institute. They couldn’t have been more different. Hydes’ presentation was well structured and dripping with significance, and he challenged the audience about what they were going to do to further the cause of green building – talking about “when you’re drawing your lines on Monday morning”. As all true believers tend to be, he was passionate – but with enough detachment to not come across as too overbearing.

The Druckrey keynote, however, was a bit more scattershot. If you ignore the beginning of his lecture, which seemed to promise an overarching theme with talk of a “critical moment” in media development, the rest of his presentation was amusing – clip after clip of media art installations, each of which was interesting and resulted in a sort of sensory overload among the audience. My favorite was the Blinkenlights installation – which you can probably find on YouTube as well. As a whole, though, it never really rose to address any critical moments. It would probably have made a better gallery installation, where we can move between the video screens at our leisure and still have time to detach and regain our senses.

Today’s schedule promises to be a bit more grueling. We’ve got four paper sessions through the bulk of the day, concluding with a keynote from Roy Ascott and the ACADIA awards banquet. I’ll try to post a recap tonight or tomorrow morning.

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