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Integrate the Vertical Super-Surface
James Balog

Perhaps just for a moment today, completely forget all your worries on the datum and go climb a tree, for today is International Tree Climbing Day! You flâneurs, drifters and urban explorers in your subterranean playgrounds: “liberate the horizontal and integrate the vertical super-surface.” You ramblers, hikers and vagabonds: forget those Norwegian show-offs and make your own DIY pop-up lookout platform. Burn those Winter reserves away and sweat the Spring into action.

The Soldier Field That Wants To Be A Park
Lara Muñoz Martinez

The Soldier Field that wants to be a park shall be topped off with ribbons of “bioclimatic and aesthetic skin.” Layered on top of the futuristic spaceship snuggled in its neoclassical nest, this “false topography” shall provide an occupiable space without disturbing the program below.

Lara Muñoz Martinez

A member of the para-speculative wing of the Forever Free and Clear Lakefront Movement, Lara Muñoz Martinez shall embed this camouflaging system with a Trojan code. When the Daley Politburo and Pritzker Comintern are out to lunch, her fellow members shall hack in and re-activate the ribbons, which shall then smother the parking lots to the south, as well as parts of Lake Shore Drive and adjacent railyards, resulting in a vegetated membrane connecting Lake Michigan and the barricaded neighborhoods to the west. Propagating further south, the ribbons shall also devour another icon, McCormick Place, disfiguring its facsimile of a flat Midwestern prairie into the second peak of what shall become an artificial mountain range. As before, or perhaps even more so, the views of picnickers, strollers, marathoners, tobogganeers and cross-country skiers shall be spectacular.
Mapping Ancient Algorithms for Artificial Weather and Atemporal Seasons
Ancient Merv

Ambient Minor Infrastructural Disaster Detection Network
Pothole RSS

A speculative Ambient Minor Infrastructural Disaster Detection Network is informed by the brutal fact that cities will have to make do with the rotting infrastructure that they've got. While they wait for their tax base to recover from economic and population collapses, and the wait will be a while, their coffers will remain too paltry for major overhauls. Funds from state and federal governments will trickle down slower than molasses, that is, if there's the political will in slash-happy legislatures to dole out the necessary earmarks. Even if some budgetary miracle is divined, competing interests from every private and public sector will torpedo any hope of realization.

One component of this network, then, might be what we prefer to call as Pothole RSS, despite the absence of a web syndication. “Several cities,” writes Popular Science, “have developed apps that allow citizens to report things like downed tree branches, breaches of city ordinance, or potholes in roadways, but the city of Boston is trying to take the human out of the process. An app called Street Bump will take advantage of smartphones’ GPS data and accelerometers to automatically report potholes to city authorities without the user having to raise a finger.”

Other components are yet to be imagined. By our readers. In the comments. Thus saving us time.

For Hyperculture, Rael San Fratello Architects and Ga-Ga bought a plot of land in Iowa normally cultivated for corn and by turning it into an “interface” present alternatives to the monoculture of industrial agriculture.

Using the same digital tools that produce straight rows of corn, we create an overlay of imagery organized by polyculture. These images change appearance at different “zoom”s, when viewed from above using Google Earth. At altitude +20 km, an image of a chimerical plant appears – not a logo, but a figment composed of multiple species: wild garlic, winter rye, vetch and corn. Zooming in closer to +2 km, each 40-acre parcel breaks into a more abstract pattern of diversely planted rows. Closer still, the rows are tagged with information and a photo of the crops. The Google Earth interface and earth interface unite at this moment, as satellites both direct and mediate food production.

In what sounds like a digitally ornamented CornCam or FarmVille but with a real-world terrestrial component, you control the workings of an actual field. In counter-hyperlocalism style, you program a cadre of farm machinery to till and manage a more variegated crop list using a web interface. It's agriculture informed by digital fabrication, whereby new ecological forms are printed using computer aided techniques.

Perhaps Hyperculture can be reconfigured into a social network game. The whole of Iowa is parsed into small parcels, and each one can be cultivated virtually through an interface on Facebook or with a standalone app. What gets farmed and the quality of the harvest will depend on how much “farm gold” the gamer has to spend on machinery, seeds, water and gasoline. The plot of land can turn out to be an Edenic garden, a recreation of the Dust Bowl or somewhere in between. If one tires of it, then the farm is considered abandoned and allowed to turn feral; given enough time, it might fully revert back to its pre-settlement condition. If a system error occurs, nudge the resident Farmer-SysOps to reboot the gamespace.

(Im)possible Chicago #8
ChicagoMrs. Blumenthal, 55, of Florida, has been driving around the city for hours now. Since landing at O'Hare, she's taken in the fleeting sights of the northern and western neighborhoods. This afternoon, she'll barrel along the inexorable super-linearity of Western Avenue all the way down to the city limit before making a U-turn and returning to her hotel for the night. Tomorrow and for the rest of the week, she'll make the same perambulations.

Meanwhile, at a cavernous control room in one of the buildings at the Illinois Medical Super-Complex, doctors and technicians have been monitoring her driving through a mesh network of surveillance cameras scoping for the early tell-tale signs of a neurodegenerative disease. Every micro murmuration, every nano-flux, every subtle correction in her navigation is being recorded. Every speed, every acceleration, every direction — indeed her every reaction to this city turned diagnostic tool will be plotted. Then her medical tour of Chicago will be data mined.

At the end of the week, she'll be given her diagnoses report, although her consultation with the doctors will be a little hurried, as the FBI will be taking over the network for their annual probe for pederastic and terrorist behaviors.

Writing The City With CCTV
Image to Text Framework

Last year, we read in Technology Review that “a prototype computer vision system can generate a live text description of what's happening in a feed from a surveillance camera. Although not yet ready for commercial use, the system demonstrates how software could make it easier to skim or search through video or image collections.”

With this image to text system, one could easily search for specific content in a video without relying on the surrounding texts, which, if they are even there to begin with, may or may not be relevant to the video. It has the potential to become a powerful forensic tool. For instance, instead of watching hours of video footage of relentlessly boring urban spectacle of a boring urban intersection to find out when a red car important to your criminal investigation might have sped through, you type in “red car” in the search field.

Perhaps an incredibly more robust system equipped with a specialized database could be used to analyze urban spaces through all hours of the day and all seasons, conceivably in a multi-year project annotating and cataloguing every mundane happenings. William H. Whyte meets Andy Warhol. Set it up overlooking a new neighborhood park, and what it spits out after two years of observation gets published in Landscape Architecture Magazine. Landscape criticism by CCTV.

Alternatively, it could be submitted to Poetry magazine. The final summary reports are written in natural language, if prosaic, but the preliminary descriptions are oddly poetic, as if written in some esoteric metric, which it might as well be to the non-computer scientist.

Land_vehicle_359 approaches intersection_0 along road_0 at 57:27. It stops at 57.29.

Land_vehicle_360 approaches intersection_0 along road_3 at 57:31.

Land_vehicle_360 moves at an above-than-normal average speed of 26.5 mph in zone_4 (approach of road_3 to intersection_0) at 57:32. It enters intersection_0 at 57:32. It leaves intersection_0 at 57:34.

There is a possible failure-to-yield violation between 57:27 to 57:36 by Land_vehicle_360.

One wonders how the lines might read for a major disaster. Or how the system might have summarized the events at an intersection in the Chicago suburb of Elmhurst when a man tossed a puppy from his car.

Smart Forest
Smart Forest

A few years ago, in a patch of California forest, researchers were “linking up more than 100 tiny sensors, robots, cameras and computers,” giving them “an unusually detailed portrait of this lush world, home to more than 30 rare and endangered species.”

Wireless motes, cameras and other sensors track the nesting habits of birds, the life cycles of moss and the carbon dioxide uptake of various soils. Robots move along wires strung from tree to tree, lowering sensors to take temperature, humidity and light-level readings at different levels.

So when a tree falls in the forest, they will hear it. Always. In real-time. And over the internet.

If you allow us to indulge ourselves for a moment, we're reminded of that scene in Red Planet (2000) in which Val Kilmer, stranded in the extraterrestrial wilderness of Mars but incredibly near the Mars rover Sojourner, used parts of the robot to construct a makeshift radio to communicate with a fellow astronaut still in orbit. A rescue plan is hatched, after which he has some run-ins with a rogue robot, stumbles into a swarm of oxygen-excreting native Martian insects, and saves the Earth because of that discovery.

Stranded in the terrestrial wilderness of the forest but again incredibly near a smart patch, Val Kilmer will again cobble together a makeshift radio but this time out of dormant tiny robots to communicate with a fellow hiker still at the trailhead. A rescue team is dispatched, after which he has some run-ins with a rogue treebot belaying and gliding from treetop to treetop, stumbles into a swarm of climate change data saved by but not downloaded from the network, and saves the Earth because of that discovery.

Returning to the first smart forest, when it was being implanted with sensing devices, “the field [was] young.” There was “an emerging world of very large networks that combine motes and portable gear with larger technologies to improve the depth, duration and range of monitoring.”

Among these very large networks was the $200-million EarthScope, planned to comprise of “3,000 stations that are to track faint tremors, measure crustal deformation and make three-dimensional maps of the earth's interior from crust to core. Some 2,000 more instruments are to be mobile - wireless and sun- or wind-powered - and 400 devices are to move east in a wave from California across the nation over the course of a decade.”

Another one is the $500-million National Ecological Observatory Network, or NEON, which then envisioned to include “15 circular areas 250 miles in diameter, each including urban, suburban, agricultural, managed and wild lands.”

Each observatory would have radar for tracking birds and weather as well as many layers of motes and robots and sensors, including some on cranes in forest canopies. If NEON gets a green light, construction is expected to start in 2007 and last five years.

One goal is to track invasive species, which cause more than $100 billion in agricultural losses each year. Another is to forecast changes in the biosphere that may accompany climate shifts so planners and government officials can make better choices about land use and restoration.

One wonders to what extent these networks were implemented over the years. How much of the $1 billion the National Science Foundation saw itself spending on these ecological projects did it actually dole out? Are there now, together with Charlie Sheen's global-spanning blanket of missives, layers upon layers of eco-data giving us a totalizing view of the entire planet?

Perhaps there's a list waiting to be made.

Smart Dust
Dust Storm Gobi Desert

Among the directives outlined in China's new five-year defense plan is the creation of a smart dust surveillance network. This will be comprised of speckle-sized devices that can sense environmental conditions, such as light, temperature and humidity. More importantly, they can gather civilian and military intelligence. Their tiny dimensions mean they are difficult to detect and can squeeze through the narrowest of gaps in doors, windows and walls. They can communicate with each other wirelessly, as well as transmit data to a nearby command center or remote satellite.

Dust, already pervasive and a nuisance to allergy sufferers and the obsessive compulsive, will become even more intrusive, as invasive as sand in your crotch. They'll gather on tables and floors, collect in corners and in your hair, where they'll rest silently listening for aberrant civility. In such a domestic space relinquished to the state, dusting, vacuuming and other quotidian chores turn into political acts of subversion.

Meanwhile, for cross-border espionage, artificial weather stations in the Gobi Desert will churn and whirl up massive dust storms. It'll simply be a matter of turning on the spigot. Hit the switch, and the earth will reach out with vaporous tendrils. When these have nicely thickened, a liberal sprinkling of smart dusts will be added to create a heady stew, which in a day or two will paint vermillion skies over Beijing before crossing the seas and choking the cities of the Koreas, Japan and, much further afield, the Pacific coast of the United States.

This is impossible to confirm at the moment.
The Maras Salt Mine
Maras Salt Mine, Peru

At first glance we thought these landforms were travertine terraces formed from geothermal springs. The most spectacular examples are invariably referred to as Wonders of the World, attracting intrepid tourists until they are destroyed by the same geological forces that created them.

Edgar Mazo and Luis Callejas, two-thirds of Paisajes Emergentes, pointed out that they are in fact evaporation ponds carved out of the mountains. Located near the town of Maras high in the Peruvian Andes, about 40 km north of Cuzco, they remind one of the Banaue Rice Terraces in the Philippines, but here salt is cultivated and harvested.

Maras Salt Mine, Peru

The salt mines, we are also told, have been in operation since at least the Inca period. Numbering in the thousands, the ponds are supplied with water diverted from a subterranean stream through a system of channels. The water is then drawn out through natural evaporation, leaving behind the salt to be collected and later sold at the market.

Maras Salt Mine, Peru

According to Wikipedia, “The salt mines are available to any person wishing to harvest salt. There are many unused salt pools that are available to be farmed. Any prospective farmer need only find an unoccupied pool to start working.”

Maras Salt Mine, Peru

Rather than work on an existing pool, why not hollow out new ones? Carve out thousands more and turn the entire valley into a giant outdoor amphitheater, perhaps in imitation of the nearby Inca ruin of Moray.

Moray, Peru

The entire surface of which will be encrusted with salt, so when the sun shines fully on the valley, the effect will either be magically mesmerizing or blindingly overpowering. Most of the ponds will still be used to gather salt, but a few — those seemingly propped up by pillars of stalactites, the Rococo paw feet of a crystalline tub — might be used for “therapeutic” saline bath by weary travelers.

Liverpool Tornado
Anthony McCall

As part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, artist Anthony McCall will be spinning an artificial, mile high tornado in Liverpool. Called Column, this swirling micro-climate will be created “by gently rotating the water on the surface of the [River] Mersey and then adding heat which will make it lift into the air like a water spout or dust devil.”

Outside with the “[in]coherent convection” of the elements and without the controlled environment of some cavernous atriums, no doubt McCall and his engineering team will encounter some complications. But we're hoping the final piece will look as legible as the image, or at least on favorable days.

Instant Wi-Fi Cloud of Cyborg Fauna
European starlings

According to SciDev.Net, “swarming micro air vehicles” might soon be deployed over disaster areas to set up emergency wireless networks. Developed by scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, these flying robots will be “emitting a wireless signal” to establish “temporary radio or mobile communication networks to coordinate the search for survivors.”

“To distribute the vehicles effectively above a designated zone,” the article goes on, the research team “took inspiration from the way ants leave chemical trails to guide colonies to sources of food. Some of the vehicles hover in small circles linked to the location of rescuers and the other vehicles navigate around these markers.”

Elsewhere and earlier, we learned from Wired that, should dictators cut off their country from the internet, there are ways to restore connectivity to the populace. The U.S. military, for instance, has converted a cargo plane into an “airborne broadcasting center,” which “hypothetically” can boost Wi-Fi bars in bandwidth-denied areas to full strength. Any of the military's aircrafts can be converted into “cell towers in the sky” by attaching cellular pods to their wings or bellies.

To this arsenal, one can supposedly add the above flying robots. When the switch is turned off, they'll be released from their roost to swarm over revolutionary spaces to churn up an electromagnetic storm of Facebook schedules, retweets and Anderson Cooper's adoring visage.

European starlings

But instead of hovering over disaster and conflict areas, how about urban and rural dead zones or in even more remote locales? And instead of drones and toy airplanes, you conscript pigeons, starlings and other flying weeds into a wi-fi network of cyborg fauna?

This network needn't be online all the time. The birds, after all, need some rest. So you simply let them loose, say, during rush hour to temporarily augment the network.

One imagines urban homesteaders converting a water tank into an aviary for their robo-starlings, next to their urban apiaries, urban chicken coops and urban farming tool shed. When they need to communicate with other urban homesteaders, either nearby or in another Detroit-like ruin pornscape, they only need to open the hatch. It's an artisanal wi-fi for networked off-grid living.

In order to lessen e-waste, each starling is equipped with a homing beacon, which will signal home should the animal die in flight. The homesteader simply has to trace the electronic beeps to collect the carcass and its outfittings. In the meantime, the beacon will be powered by the decaying organic matter.

Pruned v3.0

By the bye, we've redesigned yet again. We took the plunge and finally gone single column, though considering the vast majority of our audience read our posts via a feed reader and hardly come here for a visit, we could have plunged the opposite way and gone on our layout. Maybe later this year.

Meanwhile, above is a brief clip from one our favorite films of 2000s (if not our favorite) by one of our favorite contemporary directors (if not our favorite), Jia Zhangke's Still Life (2006). We're reposting it here in much larger dimensions, simply because we now can.
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