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Friends of Onkalo

Over at Friends of the Pleistocene, they have an interview with Michael Madsen, director of Into Eternity. That film is a feature documentary on the world's first permanent nuclear waste repository, Onkalo.

“At the core of Into Eternity,” write Elizabeth Ellsworth and Jamie Kruse, “is an attempt to imagine communicating to humans hundreds of thousands of years into the future (the film is structured as an address to the future). We talked with Michael about why he chose this mode of address and how he hoped audiences of today would respond to it. We also discussed how the circumstances that necessitate the building of facilities such as Onkalo demarcate a fundamentally new chapter in human history.”

Friends of the Pleistocene: Over the course of working on this project, did you sense your own ability to project your imagination into long spans of time increase?

Michael Madsen: Well, I have to say that there is an element of the scientific disease.

While in the tunnel, I was of course looking at notes written on the walls. There are these different tracings measuring cracks and how much water is dripping in. I remember looking at it and thinking if this place is ever opened, which I think it will be, these notes will be the cave paintings of our times. But what will it mean to the persons looking at it? This was strange to think about.

Even if the cave is never marked in any sense, it will be a sign itself. The very construction will be a sign. Deep into time, even the canisters will be gone, but there will still be the scars in the bedrock. The bedrock will still have this hollow, spiral, triangular entry. There will be these symmetrical deposits of high-level or radioactive material. So, any intelligent entity in the future will be able to discern that there is symmetry in this area. Symmetry, I think, does not appear in nature as a natural phenomenon except perhaps in crystals, which are different. So any creature in the future will understand that this has been made. In this sense it will always be a sign.

To see if it's showing in a city near you, check out the schedule here.


While at Friends of the Pleistocene, also check out the first report from their recently initiated long-term project to create a typology of debris basins. Not many can arouse us more than landslide mitigation structures.
Agro! Agro! Agro!

There's now a central hub from where you can browse through all the posts generated by last week's Food for Thinkers blogfest at GOOD's relaunched Food section. You can read about eating rocks, teaching transgenic food, prison food, growing mushrooms in disused railway tunnels, and many more, all collated into a very filling 16-course tasting menu.

If you have room for a 17th course, we offer our periodic agro-o-rama. Enjoy!

1) Thanet Earth and the Crystal Palaces of the Coming Salad Crisis Era.

2) Soil Maps of Africa: mapping future agro-conflicts.

3) PostNatural Organism of the Month: BioSteel™ Goat.

4) Permitted Habitats: a map of test plots approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for field experiments of GMO crops.

5) Crater Garden: a victory garden flourishing in a blitzed crater in London.

6) Edible Geography: the blog; plus college courses on agro-veillance.

7) Bovine Subway: subterranean highways for livestock.

8) Conflict Flowers: perishable symbols of beauty and romance farmed under economic inequity and environmental exploitation.

9) Foodprint Toronto: an interview with Sarah Rich and Nicola Twilley.

10) Levee Farm: combines two of our most prolific memes: agro-scapes and the littoral edge

11) Distributed Bureau of Agricultural Crime Investigation

On agro
On Agro Redux
Supernova Early Warning System
Supernova Early Detection System

Last week Tim Maly tweeted, “I live in a world where I own a machine that chimes whenever a new planet is discovered.”

But how about a machine that alerts you to an impending supernova?

There's already the Supernova Early Warning System (SNEWS), a network of five subterranean neutrino observatories, two of which we've covered here before: Super-Kamiokande and the recently completed IceCube. Neutrinos are produced in huge quantities before a massive star explodes into a supernova, and are blasted out in advance of the visible light. Since these “ghost” particles travel very close to the speed of light, they can reach us hours before we see the explosion.

The proposal here, then, is to create an app that will vibrate mobile devices when SNEWS sends out a supernova alert. Fuck making the invisible hertzian rain visible. It's just the pitter-pattering of @justinbieber's followers. Physicalize and spatialize an interstellar neutrino super-hurricane instead. Tell us when trillions and trillions and trillions of neutrinos, birthed by one of the greatest shows in the universe, are passing through us, though very rarely, if ever, does even a single one of those particles hit an atom in our body. When telescopes finally see the star's spectacular death, we hear a melodic chime.
Distributed Bureau of Agricultural Crime Investigation
Distributed Bureau of Agricultural Crime Investigation

Food writing can begin with swimming pools...

Specifically, Greek swimming pools. We are always reminded of them now whenever we hear news of the financial crisis plaguing Eurozone member countries. Every time, without exception, news of property market bubbles, sovereign debt, IMF bailouts, governments collapsing and violent street protests, including pipe bombs set off by domestic anarchists, not only from Greece but also from Ireland, Portugal and Spain — they inevitably conjure up Suprematist images of shimmering Aegean exclaves.

This is because, as reported by Spiegel last year, Greece has been using creative ways to boost tax revenues and lessen the country's crippling government deficit. These include using Google Earth to find the swimming pools of tax cheats.

Using police helicopters, Greece's financial crimes squad “fly over Athens' affluent suburbs and make films of homes owned by doctors, lawyers and businesspeople. They use satellite pictures by Google Earth to locate country villas, swimming pools and properties. And these tactics have revealed that the suburbs didn't have 324 swimming pools, as was reported, but rather 16,974.”

Distributed Bureau of Agricultural Crime Investigation

...which can abruptly make a detour to George Clooney...

If you haven't already heard, the Hollywood superstar contracted malaria while on a trip to Sudan earlier this month. He was there to observe the voting for independence in Southern Sudan and to draw attention to any humanitarian abuses that might arise during and after the referendum. He has since been cured.

No doubt a far less physically taxing way to draw attention to any conflict is through another George Clooney initiative: the Satellite Sentinel project.

A collaboration between Google, the UNITAR Operational Satellite Applications Programme (UNOSAT), Harvard University and celebrity-backed NGOs, the project hires private satellites to monitor signs on the ground that could indicate impending violence, such as troop buildup and movements. The images gathered by the satellites are being made public to let would-be aggressors know that the world is watching them.

“We are the anti-genocide paparazzi,” says Clooney.

Distributed Bureau of Agricultural Crime Investigation

...and further deviate halfway around the world to the Amazon rainforests...

Last year we read about the efforts of the Surui Indians in Brazil to protect their land reservation. “Almost three times the size of New York City,” their patch of the Amazon rainforest is constantly threatened by farmers, loggers, ranchers and gold miners from all sides. They've lost some of their forest to deforestation, but managed to save the rest.

In order to protect what's left, they've teamed up with Google to capture high resolution satellite images to better spot illegal activities on their land. Every inch of their forest will be mapped and displayed on Google Earth.

Distributed Bureau of Agricultural Crime Investigation

...before getting to the topic at hand: food.

Tax collectors, tech-savvy indigenous tribes and George Clooney aren't the only ones using remote sensing and GIS applications to monitor and catch acts of criminality. There are also the crop cops at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Aerial Photography Field Office.

Farmers may seem like trustworthy people, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture is taking no chances. It's spending tens of millions of dollars to create an enormous computerized map of every farmer's field in America. The program is intended to make sure farmers are doing what's required to earn their government subsidies.

It's an enormous task, keeping track of those subsidies. They add up to billions of dollars each year and they go to more than half a million farmers, scattered from Maine to California. Some farmers receive payments for protecting streams and wetlands; others, for growing specific crops. In each case, the payments depend on accurate information on the amount of land involved. So the USDA has resorted to a program of overhead reconnaissance — something akin of spy flights.

We mentioned this program, called the National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP), a couple of years ago when food prices were at record levels. Because farmers could earn more money by growing cash crops, they started converting the protective greenbelts back into croplands. In the fall of 2007, according to The New York Times, farmers “took back as many acres as are in Rhode Island and Delaware combined.”

Then came the global financial crisis of 2008, and food prices declined. But that decline, reports Guernica, “seems to have been an anomaly.”

The December 2010 index of global food prices compiled by the U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) hit a record 215, one point higher than in the spring of 2008. In fact, some food products, including sugar, cooking oils, and fats, are now trading substantially above their 2008 levels; others, including dairy products, grains, and meat, are inching perilously close to record levels.

So we'll we see more conversion of greenbelts into croplands? And will there be that one farmer who's going to keep their plump subsidies, courtesy of foreclosed and unemployed taxpayers, while plowing yet even more riches from destroyed wildlife habitats?

Distributed Bureau of Agricultural Crime Investigation

But what's a post without a (regurgitated) proposal: The Distributed Bureau of Agricultural Crime Investigation.

The problem with the National Agriculture Imagery Program is that there's just too many farms and too few analysts. Actually, we don't know if there are in fact too few analysts to pore through all those maps. It may be that just one cartographer is that's needed to comb through all the maps of Kansas and can do it in a couple of days.

But why not crowdsource it? Why not release the maps (that is, wikileak them, as they aren't in the public domain due to privacy matters) to the internet wilderness of distributed grid computing, data pornographers, meme-hungry social networking sites, open source virtuality and web-savvy eco-guerrillas?

It'd be like Einstein@home, a citizen science project which last year discovered a “disrupted binary pulsar” that may be the fastest-spinning of its kind. But instead of surveying the universe for distant remnants of supernovas, the teeming Web 3.0 masses use their collective clicking power to survey much nearer terrains. Imagine thousands of Google Earth addicts as citizen crop cops panning through digital screens in search of horticultural counterfeits, hours on end trying to spot cornfields where there should be reconstructed prairie or wetlands. This may even be the only time they get to interface with that other wilderness beyond the urban periphery — with Nature — for an extended amount of time.

Protecting your tax dollars while saving the environment — and enjoying the outdoors.

This post is part of Food for Thinkers, a week-long series organized by Nicola Twilley for GOOD’s newly-launched Food hub. On Twitter, follow #foodforthinkers.
(Im)possible Chicago #7
A forest was allowed to grow and blanket the city after its roads and parking lots were depaved, its houses and skyscrapers carted away.

While the process of ecological succession took a while, the desired climax community was reached in record time with the use of expert wilderness management strategies.

Encircling this 145,400-acre urban park is the successor city, thickly encrusted on a thin but continuous band of annexed suburban territory and sand nourished coastline. Separating the two is the new Michigan Avenue, still flower-potted and Art Nouveau-lighted but serviced with the longest subway line in the world. This grand boulevard has been tasked with the monumental job of stopping the city's sheer, vertiginous cliff-like streetwall (a mile-high in some places) from creeping into the woods.


Within are cabinets de verdure, or “rooms” cut into the woodland; the big cultural events take place here. They are all connected together by a network of allées, which are lined with topiaries of unrelentingly unvariegated design.

Beyond these formal clearings are hunting grounds, orchards, wildlife refuge areas, camping grounds and even an experimental Pleistocene Park. One can still detect the outlines and landforms of the old park system, but they're now mostly bramble patches dotted with the ruins of fountains.

All forms of dwelling are strictly prohibited, not even housing for park rangers on duty. However, the homeless and the hermits occasionally manage to avoid detection. When they are discovered, the homeless are swiftly evicted, their hovels razed to the ground. On the other hand, the hermits merely get a warning, because their authentic hermitages have become fashionable landscape accessories again.

Carnivorous Domestic Entertainment Robots

Check out this set of five predatory cyborg furniture by James Auger, Jimmy Loizeau and Alex Zivanovic.

Carnivorous Domestic Entertainment Robots

There's the mousetrap coffee table. By placing crumbs on top, perhaps left there during a canape-laden soiree, mice are attracted to climb up the hole in its over size leg. When sensors detect that a mouse is standing on the trapdoor in the center, this door opens. The unfortunate critter then falls into a microbial fuel cell housed underneath, where it gets digested and converted into energy to power the table's electronic parts.

Two kinds of infestation battling it out here: conspicuous consumption and vermins. And since there might be hundreds of rats hiding behind the walls, we really shouldn't feel sorry for the rats decomposing in the table's innards.

Meanwhile, there's also the fly-paper clock, which is powered by insects captured on its flypaper roller and digested by its own microbial fuel cell.

Carnivorous Domestic Entertainment Robots

Carnivorous Domestic Entertainment Robots

Another one is the fly stealing objet d'art, which you could hang on that central space on your wall reserved for an LCD jumbotron or a flea market-bought watercolor. Like the rest, this, too, is powered by a microbial fuel cell, which churns up dead flies picked up from a web spun by its resident spiders.

One wonders if, rather than bringing spiders to it, you could just bring it to the spiders, at whichever corner of the house they may be. In other words, you'll have an excuse to rearrange or even refurnish your entire living room to match the relocated mobile. Domestic boredom feeding on itself.

Carnivorous Domestic Entertainment Robots

One also wonders about trapping larger preys that intrude on the domestic sphere, like wildcats and alligators that regularly stumble into the backyard of houses abutting their home range. In such cases, one could turn swimming pools into carnivorous pitcher plants. When a coyote climbs down to drink from its shallow water, it closes its tarp cover and drains the water along with the animal down to its microbial fuel cell. While this pool provide a similar form of dark entertainment as its interior counterparts, it ensures a more basic domestic need: a bubble of habitability amid the wilderness. It'd be perfect for a jungle homestead.

As protection against the feral, augmented trees snatch avian flu-infected birds using their cyborg branches.


“This is Botanydome. Death is listening, and will take the first plant that screams.”

Outdoor Furniture

Rethinking the Chicago Emerald Necklace
Chicago Emerald Necklace

Here's the brief of the just announced international competition organized by MAS Studio and the Chicago Architectural Club.

Proposed by John S. Wright in 1849, the system was envisioned twenty years later when the State Legislature established the South, West, and Lincoln Park Commissions. Also referred as the “Emerald Necklace” since the 1893 World Columbian Exposition, it is composed by a series of streets and parks, some of them designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and William Le Baron Jenney. After the mid-twentieth century, the lack of proper funding, the split of management of the system as a whole (parks would be managed separately from the streets) and the migration of residents to the suburbs were some of the circumstances that accelerated the deterioration of the system. While portions of it, such as the Logan Square Boulevards District (an official city landmark district since 2005) still maintain the original character, other parts have just become underutilized areas and oversized streets that act as barriers within neighborhoods.

That is where we are now and this competition asks you to envision where we can be in the near future. These are some of the questions that we are asking ourselves and we want you to think about in your proposal: What if the system becomes a new transportation corridor in the city? What type of transportation would that be? What if the open space becomes an active layer and not just a passive one? What if this system provides activities that the city as a whole is lacking? What if the system becomes a tool for social cohesion? What if the system has a strong visual identity? What if it becomes an economic catalyst for the neighborhoods? What if the system is all of this and more?

Participants are asked to look at the urban scale and propose a framework for the entire boulevard system as well as provide answers and visualize the interventions at a smaller scale that can directly impact its potential users. Through images, diagrams and drawings we want to know what are those soft or hard, big or small, temporary or permanent interventions that can reactivate and reset the Boulevard System of Chicago.

Submission deadline is Monday, February 21, 2011.

Hopefully by predicting that we'll be seeing entries proposing the ubiquitous urban farm and alternative energy generating field, we won't actually be seeing too many of those.

(Im)possible Chicago #6
Unrivaled by even the demographic upheavals seen during the Great Migrations of earlier eras, almost overnight the Muslim community of Chicago grew from a tiny minority to 99.9% of the city's population.

Augmented Organs and Everywhere Ecology

Here's two more to add to yesterday's blog list. First is the Institute for Augmented Ecology. What exactly is “augmented ecology?” Well that's what the Amsterdam-based group will try to find out.

Basically it's an exploration of the field before it gets to be defined and/or narrowed down by convention. For now it looks like a one year research-period starting Jan 2011 investigating the possibilities which the field of AR offers for connecting people to their direct environment, trying to propose tangents to explore and perhaps prototype new practices or technologies.

From their most recent post, we discovered Google Earth Engine, Planetary Skin and the Living Earth Simulator, three projects that aim to collect, analyze and simulate everything about the whole planet.

Simone Ferracina

Second is Organs Everywhere by Brooklyn-based Simone Ferracina.

Organs Everywhere refers to the post-human condition of the disembodied human being, a cybernetic assemblage that challenges traditional notions of time and space. The aim of each issue is to imagine and explore ways for the technologically enhanced men and women of the future to socialize, play, design, domesticate and inhabit. The blog is a live platform where ideas from the zines are allowed to grow and evolve in conversation with academics, activists, film makers, technologists, economists, artists, futurists and designers.

On Twitter, they are @IforAE and @oeverywhere.
Bloggers with wings emerging from their buttocks, a face on their torsos and the head of a serpent, standing in a landscape

Since it's been awhile, here's an extended list of blogs and sorta-kinda-maybe-like-blog blogs we've added to our links page in recent months, the first group being this month's additions.

DEMILIT / Near Future Laboratory / BAUFUNK / Kept Ephemera / Compleat Wetlander / fabric | rblg is our favorite reblog.

Check out CyArk Blog for the latest in digital preservation and laser scanning. / Words in Space / Design Culture Blog / Magical Urbanism

Vanishing Point / Fritz Haeg's Wikidiary / Manystuff / Parchment and Pixel / One of regular web haunts is Circle of Blue WaterNews. / We also check out Green Prophet several times a day. / BI Blog / entschwindet und vergeht / Observers Room

Into The Loop / Naught Thought / Sociolography / OUTR Blog / Breakfast in the Ruins / Markasaurus / Architecture for the End of the World

Rejectamentalist Manifesto / Landscape Suicide / Greg Lindsay is the co-author of the forthcoming book Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next. / Spéciale'Z Blog / Shrapnel Contemporary / Centre for Aesthetic Revolution / paesaggiocritico / Drawing on the Land / Bad at Sports / Cryptoforestry

Department of Small Works / This Big City / Resonant City / Spatial Analysis / A Barriga de um Arquitecto / Spatial Sustain / Spime

More next month.
Giant Urban Swings
Büro Wehberg

Now for a different sort of swing, something less ominous than the Congressional variety and more likely to induce squee: Büro Wehberg's giant swings.

There's three of them, and they've been installed every summer at Autostadt, which is a kind of theme park devoted to cars located next to a Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg, Germany. Surely streets everywhere could use one of these. Instead of swinging (that is, if you can call swaying mere inches back and forth swinging) in cramped bus stops and subway trains, you fly between skyscrapers, above bumper to bumper traffic, and perhaps plunge into a lake or river right at the end. And it should be a permanent fixture, not a temporary hack. Have a cooling ride during the scorching heat of summer, and a few months later, an even more invigorating ride after the blizzard of the century has emptied out the streets.

Büro Wehberg

Now how about giant see-saws?

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