Archive for the ‘gallery or event viewing’ Category

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Last thursday I caught a flight from NYC to SFO to attend “Mapping and Its Discontents” at the David Brower Center in Berkeley, California. As a day long symposium the event focused on critical and counter cartography. It was sponsored by the Global Urban Humanities program, a collaboration between University of California Berkeley and UCLA. I was drawn to this symposium not only for the theme (obviously) but also for the map contest the event held titled “See Through Maps: Maps That Lay Bare Their Point of View” as well as a range of speakers including Rebecca Solnit, Dennis Wood, Laura Kurgan, Annette Kim, Zephyr Frank and Katherine Harmon. The day flew by as each presenter drew me into well formulated discussions about the history and symbolism of cartography, their personal work and philosophies with a summary and criticism from a respondent following the presentation of each speaker. 

Dennis Wood, known for being a well accomplished artist, writer, cartographer, intellectual and former professor of environmental psychology and design at the College of Design at North Carolina State University opened the symposium with a talk on the origins and symbolism of power inherent in maps. In his talk Wood stated that prior to ~1500 a.d. mapping as a professional / state tool did not exist. From ~1500-1700 there was an explosion of sporadic map making across the globe from Japan to Russia to Spain; an activity that coincided with the formation of the modern nation-state. Wood argued that although maps had been created prior to 1500 a.d. their role was not as important. What this means is that maps became an artifact that assisted in constructing the nation-state, or in his words; “as maps affirm the state, the state affirms the map.” Despite the map’s evolution in modern times and its appropriation for allegorical methods as well as artists, Dadaists, Situationists, and modern day activists and data-viz the map still remains a tool of the nation-state. For example we currently are witnessing fighting over school and election districts mapping; two areas that greatly influence the lives of everyone in the United States.

Both Laura Kurgan and Annette Kim gave presentations about their work in cartography and spatial thinking that encompassed the realm of counter-cartography. Kurgan, a professor at the Graduate School of Architectural Planning and Preservation at Columbia University, director of the Spatial Information Design Lab and co-director of the Advanced Data Visualization Project spoke about being the first artist to appropriate de-classified government satellite imagery during the mid 1990’s. The work she created from the imagery included photographed landscapes that are unusually a single color but represent uniquely critical or contested spaces. Two were a completely white area that was part of the ANWR (Artic Wildlife Refuge) in Alaska, a controversially planned oil well drill site, and a completely blue area representing 0˚ Latitude and 0˚ Longitude, the point of origin for Cartesian plotting all geographic data. Kurgan also created a very powerful map of Brooklyn, NY that thematically represented the amount of money being lost from each census block due to prisoner incarceration. This map provocatively reframes the prison debate by demonstrating that a large amount of capital is being taken away from poor neighborhoods within inner cities.

Annette Kim, a professor at MIT’s department of Urban Studies and Planning and director of the MIT research group SLAB spoke about developing methods for Spatial Ethonography and critical cartography . Kim’s projects involved mapping sidewalk life in Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam in order to progressively influence that city’s planners. Her approach actively seeks to change the current swath of similar looking data-visualization that has gained growing popularity in the past decade. Her methods included creating non-euclidian and cinematic maps of parts of Ho Chi Minh city. As street vendors face constant harassment and persecution from police Kim sought to bring the lively and highly networked sidewalk life to the planner’s attention with success; she was able to get the planners to step back from their maps and actually walk the ground of the city to make qualitative observations that would influence the planning process. Kim’s work is provocative in the sense that it asks us the question who are using maps? In Ho Chi Minh city it appears to be the city planners, construction companies and tourists but not the people living there and participating in sidewalk life. Thus she asks us to consider how as cartographers we can humanize our work through doing research on the ground instead of only relying on data.

There were many other speakers I would like to mention more about but the main take aways from the conference I saw were as follows:

  1. Cartography needs to become more democratic, potentially this means that it evolve into a form beyond cartography to escape it’s legacy and association with the nation-state. To this I would add that the practice of cartography needs to become more inclusive.
  2. Designers, researchers, and cartographers must make our maps more humanistic through the use of qualitative research performed on the ground, often in a participatory nature.
  3. Maps are not necessarily the best method to display information or data; consider using spatial thinking to create forms of visualization that are photographic, cinematic, or diagrams.
  4. We should consider the power relations at work when it comes to maps. Rebecca Solnit speaks of how a paper map empowers the user while relying on Google Maps implies a sort of obedience of the user to accept the information Google is providing such as directions to a place. Additionally, what are maps choosing to depict and what are they not? We need to question this when looking at this is important for identify a map’s hidden intention(s).
  5. Maps exist as arguments or propositions and are not objective. They embody the biases of the map maker. This can be a good thing for maps have the potential to make the “invisible visible” as with counter-mapping. 
  6. Similarly, data is never objective or inherently “raw”. It has always been created with a bias and as such we should never treat it as unbiased or entirely true.

Maker Faire observations

Posted: September 23, 2013 in gallery or event viewing

Despite having a head cold that is making it seem like I’m living in a dream like state during my waking hours I managed to make the trek out to the New York Hall of Science in Queens for the 2nd(?) NYC Maker Faire. This will have been my fourth time attending Maker Faire, the previous three having been in San Mateo, CA.  The first project I noticed was in the Microsoft tent and was called ‘Project Spark’; a new concept for creating worlds, characters, and plots in a role playing game WHILE PLAYING THE GAME! The graphics and UI were amazing, a Ginormous screen with a touch interface allowed very elegant control with extremely responsive play. Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo as it was so crowded, but I did get a couple of these amazing robots that would box each other. They were being controlled by two kids standing in front of Kinects who were boxing into the air. Their movements controlled the robots punches, needless to say everyone was amused.

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The Kraftwurx 3D printing service, which is global and gives the client 83 materials to choose from including metals, plus the 3D scanning technology for highly customized, wearable, 3D printed fashion was off the hook.  I can’t imagine the possibilities these technologies are bringing to a global audience, they’re simply incredible. However what really blew my mind was a robot someone made that automated the pour-over style of coffee brewing that has become trendy at high-end coffee shops:


I’m sure all my barista friends back in Oakland will get a huge laugh out of this.  I can’t tell you how many hours they spend doing this at coffee shops and farmer’s markets for blue bottle. Speaking of coffee someone also made an arduino controlled coffee roaster, I believe the device controlled the temperature and rotation of the beans:


My favorite project I came across was one from a group of Young Makers from San Jose (I think) who made a huge gaming board inspired from the mobile-app game Flow. Toddlers and kids absolutely loved running around this thing and interacting with it. The people who made it envision using it for an educational tool that teaches children about team work, what a great idea!

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Finally, I came across a project called Mannahatta; a web app in the works from Wildlife Conservation Society (local non-profit that manages the NYC Zoo’s and does international work as well!) that is a scientific modeling tool for predicting NYC’s climate by the year 2409 (no idea why this date was chosen). This app is absolutely incredible because 1. it involves an interactive web map as a platform / interface for visualizing future land-use data, and 2. the GUI let users ‘paint’ small squares of land-use data on the map in a sim-city style fashion. The user could decide if a block would be grass, buildings, have a green roof, solar panels, a backyard orchard, etc.  After editing an area, say a block or several blocks, the model could be run and the user would see how the changes to the built environment they made would influence NYC’s climate in the future while comparing it with today’s climate and prior the invasion of western Europe. This is an educational service open to scientists as well as the public with a supposed launch date in December of this year. WOW!  I’m currently trying to talk the main person who created this app into giving a talk at the Geo NYC Meetup, we’ll see…


Once again Maker Faire, you did not fail to impress me, definitely worth the ~2 hour subway commute each way and money spent on the ticket. Truly inspirational and exciting.