Cedric Price and an OC Fun Palace

As I wind up my research here at Microsoft Research, I’m shifting back toward the other part of my thesis research: Cedric Price and his characterization of mobile, social space. On that note, here are a few things for you. First, my position paper, “The O.C. Fun Palace,” accepted for Ubicomp 2006’s Exurban Noir workshop. Organized by Ken Anderson, Anthony Burke, Eric Paulos and Amanda Williams, the workshop promises to be an interesting few days.

I’m giving a talk on Monday night at the Center for Knowledge Societies on Cedric Price, Archigram and Superstudio, as architects who characterized mobile, social space. I’ve always enjoyed introducing more architecture back into the world and think it will be fun.

Then, back to my MSR research for the final stuff: what will likely be 40 interviews of people across class lines and their mobile phone sharing habits. It’s yielded different results than I’ve expected, which makes me even happier.

One week left! Then, I head to London, Düsseldorf, and Amsterdam from the 14th till the 21st. On the 21st, I go to Minneapolis for a week. Finally, on the 27th, it’s back to New Haven for the beginning of school on September 6.

bangalore, slums and people

so begins the last week of my time in india. for those of you not reading the other girlwonder, i've been in bangalore, india for the last 6 weeks, working with microsoft research india, though i never had expected to find myself working at microsoft (i am, after all, a former netscape person), it's been wonderful to be here. i have always wanted to go to india but began getting interested in it from a research perspective last spring.  a lucky conversation at the social computing symposium with someone from MSR india (and me being cheeky enough to ask if i could come to bangalore) had me on a plane a month later.

being here is having a pretty profound impact on how i see things. it's hard for that not to be the case. the picture here is from our visit to bangalore's largest slum, where 2000 families live in a tiny area. we visited and interviewed three families, sitting on the floor in rooms the size of a small walk-in closet (that were the homes of families of five to seven people). we talked to women who never really completed school and so are functionally non-literate. we talked about children and food and education and when exactly am i going to get married? despite india's segregating class system, muslim and hindu women mixed easily with each other, joking that the only contract is that they have three children (they each did). in the mornings, they are domestic workers (and members of the domestic workers' union). effectively, they are cooks or housemaids in middle class homes.

bangalore relies on its slums. many of the auto rickshaw drivers live in a slum; many of the domestic workers do. and yet these private parcels of land will be developed and the people sent away. they're fighting to stay. where would they go, when they've lived here their whole lives? yes, they want better housing, but what happens if the entires social fabric disintegrates? the women we visited weren't only friends–they rely on each other when things go wrong, when school fees need to be paid and there's a problem in a family. their children go to school together. to dismantle that seems a bad thing. the kind of help they need is systemic and massive. i want to help. but what and how?

slums don't exist the same way in the US–this is a developing world phenomenon. this week, i've been reading slum city, the new mike davis book.

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English curry!

English curry!

Originally uploaded by maximolly.

We made a visit to Bangalore’s biggest slum. There’s more to share about that whole experience and the conversations I had with the women we spoke to. But in the meantime, there’s this amusing picture. We had just finished visiting one family and were about to go to another family’s place. Gautam, my research assistant (you can see him way on the left hand side in navy blue) said, “Your appearance is causing a stir.”

All of a sudden, kids everywhere. We were all laughing. I asked if I could take a picture. More kids appeared. Then more. “English curry!” they yelled. We took a few pictures. Unlike tourist areas, where children demand pens and 10 rupees, here, we just took pictures and looked at the viewer together.

A few hours later, after visiting another group of women, more yelling. “English curry!”

Some Fables on the Unstable Oscillation of Uniformity: Abhishek Hazra

A couple of weeks ago when Aditya and I first met up, we went to see Abhishek Hazra’s exhibition, Some Fables on the Unstable Oscillation of Uniformity at GallerySKEThe show was extended and I returned with Archana, her friends and visitor Ramesh Srinivasan (from UCLA). Afterwards, I’d had plans to meet Aditya and some friends
of CKS. Right in the middle of the group? Abhishek! Very convenient. It was good to have the opportunity to not just see his work twice, but to ask him about it. (We also talked about Bruno Latour, Jacques Derrida, Doors of Perception–which he is involved with— and being Bengali).

The show displayed six large scale UV prints on aluminum composite panels, as well as a sound installation with accompanying visuals, and projections of other pieces. He uses a vivid palette on many of his pieces, like my favorite, With the matrix in the car, Chitralekha drives down to all the galleries in the itinerary and displays the matrix as her only exhibit, the printing method he used made the images even more luminous–they gained something that the projections didn’t provide.


Abhishek is interested in graphic design, algorithmic generation and painting as fine art. These pieces, he said in conversation, are 80% painterly and require that level of hands-on work. This is particularly interesting to me, as he plays with the boundaries of these media and methods. His work also plays with the boundary of representation and abstraction, not settling for one or the other: a pile of clothes presents a void with is it a mouth, suckers, breasts? That said, my favorite pieces
are the more abstract ones. Narrative bridges these representations and abstractions, with fable and storyline guiding his work. Did the titles generate the work? How much are stories in our own heads? I didn’t ask him where the fables come from or how he created them… I think I like it better that way.


Diving deep down into the river, Kujjhatika ferrets out the sturdiest pillar of the bridge.


New Yo La Tengo!

Soon, a new Yo La Tengo album and tour! I still love this band so much and hope to be in the right place at the right time for their tour. The album’s called I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass. Matador has made the first single available, “Pass the Hatchet” —  a really nice mix of all eras of Yo La… not super soft, a little dark, not silky, nicely groovy. Yo La Tengo: yay!

Everything will change

After reading my lament about not knowing what I wrote a year ago when I moved to New Haven, Tom Carden sent me a year of Girlwonder from Bloglines. Thank you so much, Tom!

So this is what I wrote while I was flying to New Haven. And this is my post from July 26, 2005, 4:32 p.m:

I’m somewhere over the western third of the United States, on my way to Chicago. It’s hard to believe that I boarded the plane this morning at 6:20 a.m. that would take me away from the San Francisco I love so much. But this is where the transition starts, where the next part of my life begins to happen.

Maybe I mentioned it elsewhere, but I never really said goodbye to SF before when I left it. I’ve left twice before: first, I went to Munich, and thereafter Chicago, and then in 2003, I went to Italy. I may have known I’d be back. Okay, I’ll be back because it became my home, because I love it.

But this time, I took care to say farewell. Yesterday, I went to Ritual for the last time, where one of the owners, Eileen declared it was drink-all-the-coffee-you-can day (I finished two beautiful medium lattes and a double macchiato — I exuded caffeine out of my pores the rest of the day). I had meetings at Six Apart for the freelance work I’ve been doing with the company, and had beers with Jay. When I went home to pack up, Angie, Anita and Jeremiah (who will be a schoolmate in a couple weeks) came by, as Bryce entertained my now former upstairs neighbors and two future, potential roommates).

That was just today. There was another amazing going-away party — John hosted it on Saturday night. We enjoyed

food, company and soft, lovely twilight. There were shared tables at Ritual with my new buddies there, hoisted glasses at the Latin American Club, daily wanderings through the Mission, voyages downtown and to the Lower Haight.

This all feels grounded (despite the fact that I couldn’t sleep last night — I had to get up at 4 to go to the airport),

than other moves I’ve done. As I started writing this post, I was listening to Postal Service sing “Brand New Colony

“Everything will change.” It brings tears to my eyes, it makes me feel big and small at the same time. A new part of my life begins right now. I loved the old part of my life, too, and I can’t yet imagine what this new one brings. I can’t quite believe it’s finally here.

I left my heart in …

On July 26, 2005 I pulled my suitcase out the door of the flat at 24th and Guerrero for the last time. The cab rushed me off to San Francisco International Airport early in the morning. With that, I began my move to New Haven and began my leaving of San Francisco.

I expected to be back more this year, but instead I only spent three days there in December. The entire 12 years I’ve orbited the city, I’ve never spent so much time away from it. Now, looking at pictures of friends who’ve recently landed there, I miss the light and air, I miss people I lost touch with a few years ago.

I wish I could link to what I wrote about it a year ago, but Girlwonder’s archives aren’t back online. So I don’t recall exactly what I thought, just that I knew everything would change. The changes have been wonderful and my life rich. I’m doing things I wouldn’t have imagined a year ago, whether in my research, with the person I want to spend my life with, or my summer research in Bangalore. I needed to take on the next part of my life for these things to happen.

And yet, I miss everything about SF. It kills me to be away sometimes and I don’t know that I’ll ever have the chance to be back.

Off to Hampi tonight

Off this weekend to see something of India! A group of us is going to Hampi. Built in 1336, Hampi became a  flourishing city and trading community, boasting a population of 500,000 at its height. In 1565, a series of Deccan raids brought the city to its knees, destroying Hampi’s temples and markets. From the photos I’ve seen, it should be wonderful. Until a few months ago, it was a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is no longer, which is of concern–how
will it be treated?

It’ll also be the first time I’ve left Bangalore since I arrived! With the exception of the school year, I don’t usually stay in one place this much, particularly if I’m in a foreign country. I’m excited for the travel.

More Monday …

An everyday life museum about East Germany

Berlin has opened a DDR Museum: a museum of East Germany. It’s right next to the Palastruine, the ruins of the Palast der Republik. A perfect location, and easier to get to than the Documentation Center of GDR Everyday Culture (Dokumentationszentrum Alltagskultur der DDR) on the Polish border.

The New York Times gives a favorable review, saying it focuses on items of everyday life but also the negative things that surrounded them. For example, there is a replica of a DDR apartment that is also bugged. (Visitors can hear the conversations thanks to the sensitive microphones placed).

I’m happy to hear the museum is taking the approach of displaying the everyday. This includes exhibitions on things like East Germany’s love for naked sunbathing, but also product and object biographies. Says the Times:

The museum’s display — 600 objects will be on view at any given time — maintains a balance between the political and the everyday. It portrays the Trabant, for example, the little car that was the epitome of East German consumerism, with a sort of wry affection. It was no Mercedes or BMW, surely, but the unpretentious and serviceable Trabant got people around in East Germany, and they appreciated it.

The red telephone sitting on a table in the living room comes with a recording: “You won’t believe it, but I have a telephone!” a man says, reflecting the fact that it often took a couple of years or longer for East Germans to get one.

The telephone example demonstrates the museum’s approach. When I was writing about Ostalgie (nostalgia for things East German), which was my thesis topic till this spring, it seemed the only fair way to stop fetishizing the GDR was to focus on the everyday, to explore the biographies of the objects without being judgmental, to do so in the voices of GDR residents.

I wish I were going to be in Berlin again soon. I spent six months researching GDR objects and design culture. It’s nice to see them in an open forum.

Access in India blocked to Blogspot, Typepad

UPDATE: Indeed, logging on from home, we can’t get to individual Blogspot pages.

In response to Melissa’s comment, it’s not just people in the tech community but particularly bloggers because they have a means of publication and voice in their own hands: they are media participants. It’s not a matter of making people feel safe, but cutting off a means of organization and network for the people they believe are behind the bombings. What’s at issue here are two things: 1) censorship and 2) a heavy-handed and rather uneducated approach to the ban– where the Indian government says there’s a problem with 12 radical sites (demanding its people explain why they need to view these sites), not realizing or caring that these sites are platforms that power millions of blogs, most of which have nothing to do with organizing attacks, or even India. Comments on some blogs liken it to analogies like this: “terrorists drink water–let’s cut off the water supply for everyone.” I might say it’s like blowing up the house to kill the cockroach.

Via my colleague Udai and Boingboing:

In the wake of last week’s attacks in Mumbai and reports that the Students Islamic Movement of India (which is believed to have been involved in the attacks) uses blogs to coordinate, it appears the Indian Department of Telecommunications has issued directives to ISPs to block access to twelve sites. Among these sites are major blog platforms and
hosting services, including Blogspot, Typepad and Geocities.The ISPs following the block include the most major telco conglomerates like TATA and Airtel. (There doesn’t seem to be a ban at our offices. But in our flat, our ISP is Airtel. I’ll check tonight and see what I find.)

Reports the Hindustan Times:

Officials defended the decision saying, “We would like those people to come forward who access these (the 12) radical websites and please explain to us what are they missing from their lives in the absence of these sites.”

The problem’s been coming to light since the weekend. Dina Mehta and a number of others have posted about it on their respective blogs. Jace gives a good description of the situation, According to Jace, CERT-IN (Computer Emergency Response Team-India) is the only body that can block websites but the DoT routinely hands off lists of URLs to block.
There are comments on some of these blogs stating that it’s an “operation” and all will be back to normal by the 19th. But finding out information hasn’t been easy — a CERT official, once reached, was not exactly polite to one blogger.

Finally I managed to get through to Dr Gulshan Rai. He was downright rude. He said he couldn’t understand what my problem was, and in any case he could not solve it on phone.

Me: “So should I send you an email?”

Gulshan Rai: “Do whatever.”

So that’s that for now.

Information about the ban is being culled on one hand by bloggers, who update information on the Bloggers Against Censorship wiki– this includes ISPs blocking sites, workarounds, press coverage, blogs protesting the ban. (Some bloggers in India may be getting kicked off these wikis).

Particularly interesting to me is the fact that the ban (or “blackout,” or “operation”) is not affecting all of India, but apparently, just urban areas. People outside cities aren’t necessarily experiencing these blocks; one source says certain rural areas are not included.

Very sad that India is conducting such a blanket ban without considering that these “12 sites” might power millions of blogs. Even if this “operation” ends soon, what is the aftermath?