Steven Johnson’s talk, “The Urban Web,” at Yale

I’m listening to Steven Johnson talk about his new book The Ghost Map. It’s the first time he’s discussed it publicly. In this talk, he’s tying this work to Emergence.

Steven starts by talking about the John Snow map — if you’ve read Tufte, you’ve probably encountered it — the map of the 1854 cholera epidemic in Soho, London. But the primary tenets you’ve heard are false: Snow’s map didn’t solve the problem, it was instead Whitehead (I blanked on his first name) who had the local knowledge and the intimacy with people in the neighborhood. Snow and Whitehead were both amateurs and locals. This is the strength of the situation.
He then breaks down this mechanism into three functions: local knowledge, the swerve, and pattern recognition. For those familiar with webness, there are few surprises here. As an example of local knowledge, he talks about the blog boom (25 million blogs, compared to very few a mere two years ago)… and also, 311 in New York. The swerve is the serendipitous stroke, whether you’re in Jane Jacobs’ Greenwich Village or following a link on a blog. And finally, pattern recgnition: Google making relevance of all the possible search results. How do these translate back to the city? Steven asks. This, he sorts into another three aspects: face-to-face (Meetup), streetblogging (neighborhood information), and geo-tagging (ala Google maps).
These things are not news to me… and it’s amusing to see this talk a few weeks after our panel at South by Southwest on online/offline place. It’s also good that this is going to hit the mainstream. It’s certainly good to be hitting a group of architects who probably aren’t terribly familiar with blogging — and for Steven, it’s good that it’s not an audience of bloggers and geeks. For us here at Yale, when we’ve brought Eric from Stamen here last week, and Anne Galloway this week, I’m hoping we can discover how this affects our design and research into the digitally connected, information-rich world.
My messy notes follow below.

Continue reading “Steven Johnson’s talk, “The Urban Web,” at Yale”

My dream, only better, with hamsters

My last day in Texas, I woke up and told Enrique about the dream I had, no doubt influenced by the things I’d been doing over spring break. I made a point of remembering it. It went something like this:

“It’s Sudoku, only it’s done through Flickr, and it’s showing the posters from Flatstock.” I made a note to myself to remember it, and thought to myself, that’s really not a bad idea. I should blog that. Maybe somebody would know how to make it.

Today, as Eric was present Stamen’s work in my 21st Century Infrastructures class, I googled “Flickr mashups.” That’s where I found Hamster Sudoku. Apparently, someone read my mind, but instead of using fine-printed posters of rock shows, it was hamsters. A better idea, too.

To clarify, SXSW was wonderful, just way too big

First of all, let me clarify something — I had a wonderful time at South by Southwest. I always do. As I’ve mentioned previously, this was the ninth time I’ve attended and spoken, and look forward to my tenth year next year. I’ve always loved Austin during South By because it’s so personable. But the size made that a lot more difficult to find this year. Conversations with the team putting on the conference yielded unofficial information, like this was maybe 500% bigger than last year, that there were more panels than even the music conference. It proved harder to get into official interactive parties than to secret, cool, music parties. Since when was geekiness ever exclusive? A velvet rope for Break Bread with Brad?

I enjoyed meeting new people, seeing some of my favorite people that I don’t see enough, others I’ve met the last several years, reconnecting with people I should have been in touch with (also insert Max Whitney here as I can’t find a link for her) and catching up with old, old friends. A GIGANTIC shout out goes to the wonderful Justin Cox, who I met last year, and who offered Enrique and I his bedroom for a full six days, not far from the SXSW action. And the biggest of high fives to Hugh Forrest, who has led SXSW all the years I’ve known it. He does an amazing job.

Add to all of this the bonus of running into Andrea Troolin and Dan Connelly during Flatstock yesterday. Andrea and I met at a winter German language camp when we were in 8th grade. We went on to date the same Jasons in high school and college, and still have friends in common. She’s put out some of my favorite music. Dan? I babysat him. He was best friends with my brother Andy growing up; his brother Sean was best friends with my brother Ben. He’s now national director of radio promotion for EMI. Though I didn’t speak to her, Dan was walking down the street with Norah Jones and two others. Go Dan.

Final events before getting out of town: discovering it was Grand National that we were hearing at the Austinist party, and seeing the Go! Team at Waterloo Records (who rocked for a brief five song set, down to high kicks in tube sox, God, I love them). It struck me that you really could have an enjoyable time at SXSW without paying for a music wristband — you could just go to day shows and after parties.

We’re now back in San Antonio, attacking the heap of schoolwork that needs completing before we return to New Haven: a stack of blue books to grade, a book to finish for Gender, Territory and Space, a Perspecta proposal, and a paper for my theory class, which I’ll write on postmodernism, nostalgia, camp and memory. It shouldn’t be hard — I’ve been bouncing around the ideas in my head for a while. Enrique’s brother, Fran, shows up today as well — they are best friends and I’ve never met him. We fly back on Sunday. Maybe by then, I’ll have my voice back!

Final random thoughts? I feel like posting to my website for the first time in a long time. And it struck me that maybe, a video blog would be fun to do. I have a camera, the university has good mics, and I like my friends. Is this a crazy idea?

Laryngitic effects of SXSW

It’s been, as always, a busy few days in Austin, and it’s nice to have a day of coffee shop downtown with Enrique. I’m completely laryngitic and talking is proving difficult.
This year, SXSW Interactive exploded, and while I’m happy for its success, I don’t like that there were so many people. I’ve always loved wandering the halls of the convention center and seeing people I know, easily finding people at parties. But this time around, it was a lot more difficult. Moreover, so many of the panels seemed to be about the same thing: how to promote or grow your blog, how to promote your startup. I attended relatively few sessions as a result. It’s just not relevant to me. I’m not excited about blogging, it’s not changed my life, I don’t even read people’s weblogs, I don’t use an RSS feed reader. For me, the revolution happened a long time ago, and now I’m onto something different. But for a lot of people, this is all new. I’m happy for them, I’m glad they’ve come together. And yet, I hope that the conference next year will be more intimate. It was jarring, it was so enormous. I didn’t like that at all.
That being said, it was good to hear people like the DIY Media panel, Adam Greenfield’s Everyware session, and Bruce Sterling’s incredible annual state of the Internet of Things. Bruce, like me, has discovered dissident culture. Mine led me to do a thesis on East Berlin, his has come through his recent move to Serbia. He recited Carl Sandburg’s “The People Yes” and cried. He understands words, he may be deriving a new literary theory — that’s what he’s doing with spimes, his networked objects.
It’s time to go see some free shows. Given that Enrique and I are broke grad students, buying a wristband was out of the question ($150 a piece!). I still love Austin more than almost anywhere, would happily live here, would happily teach or go to school here. It makes me realize how dull New Haven is. Alas.

Limor Fried is cool

I’ve been loving the DIY Media panel at SXSW — I’ve just seen Limor Fried speak, and she is rocking my world. Go check out the amazing things she makes. She does open source hardware and really cool stuff.
For all the women blogger movements and panels and such I see (and I do appreciate: I think Jory DesJardins rocks, and I loved interviewing her), I have to say, I’d really rather see a really smart woman engineer speak about the brilliant work she’s doing — and not have to talk about whether or not women play a role in the field. She’s here, representing just by being here and doing her work.