Saturday, 29 August 2009

Time Passes in Photography

The book Ortszeit - Local time featured on the blog earlier as a method to investigate the passing of time. Time over a long period is really difficult to document and photography is just one of them, but probably the most widely used.
A similar effect achieves Danny Wills with his photographs. In this case it is not a direct comparison between two photographs taken at the same place at different times as in Ortszeit. Rather it is relying on the individual memory people have of something.

Image by Fantom - Mike Tyson vs. Peter McNeeley

The photographs are about Mike Tyson, more exactly about one of his abandoned house. A lot of people know Mike Tyson as the boxer shown above. A public celebrity with its ups and downs in his career. He has finally retired in 2005 after his comeback in 1995. He spent some time in prison and once bit an opponent’s ear of during a fight. Those are the events you might remember.
There is more to his live of course and there is a lot more time to it than just these highlights. From time to time Tyson is again in the news. Earlier this year he promoted the movie about his life, at one point there was the sad death of one of his young children in the newspaper.
Danny Wills does not show any images of Tyson but rather pictures of one of his houses. It appears do be empty now but still has some of its glory. It speaks of a different time, a time Tyson was on top of his career maybe. It also speaks of the time Tyson was not in front of cameras, the time we don’t really know what he was doing. Maybe there was some “real life” time in between the events?





Images by Danny Wils - Mike Tyson

Head over to Danny’s really nice page to see a lot more photographs of Mike Tyson’s villa.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Small World - The Making Of

London Small World was posted last week here on the blg. The 360 VR timelapse processing has been very tricky. Some result was on the blog earlier this month, but it was a complicated workflow and the result has raised some questions and eyebrows.
The main problem arises from shooting scenes with different zoom settings. At first the idea was to zoom right in to the mirror to allow for as much resolution of the focused 360 area as possible. This has become less and less important because of the fact that there is enough pixels anyway for HD use with 5mp capture settings and I also realized that the frame and the background, usually the sky around the mirror make for a good backdrop. The first trial was run on the bases of a cutout version of the mirror set in a white space. The HD dimensions did not really matter, later with the requirements of the background the dimensions and the proportions became important or rather defining.

Image by UrbanTick

Having this variety of zooms it makes it virtually impossible to get an insinc version out, using the current scenes. Solution, going out a shoot some more. It has to be seen as a go experiment and some conclusions have to be drawn from it. So, for me this means, think about the workflow and requirements of each step of the work flow first! And then go out and take pictures. Well it wouldn’t be fun anymore if we’d known everything beforehand, would it. The experiment is the exiting bit, isn’t it.
Anyway some more tests with a more elaborated workflow using FinaCut or AfterEffects to adjust and aline the image content.

2min15 London Small World from urbanTick on Vimeo.

The conclusion is basically that I will go out again and capture some more material. I will be using a more strict set of camera settings to make sure the raw material is easier to compile.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Adaptable Space

Bangkok train track market. How the railway line is used for a marked and adapts to the change as a train passes through. Brilliant use of space.


Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Toronto Storm - TimeLapse

A pretty timeLapse of a storm over Toronto on the 8 of August this year. With an exposure of 15 seconds these cntitions whre captures on a Canon 5D Mark II.

Toronto Lightning Storm from Sam Javanrouh on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

My World Mental Map Pool on flickr - update

The mental map pool on fllickr is very slowly collecting content. It is not like everyone is dying to add a map, but still there are some really good sketches uploaded. On the map it has dots on Europe and North America.
A text map of Dallas by Austrini. It was created for a tourist visiting Dallas and uses words to describe the lines and features literally. Combining the thought and spoken about with the shape and physical form of features.

Dallas Type Map
Image by Austrini

There are some sketches of London commuters traveling in central London using mainly public transport, where the main arteries of transport lines clearly start showing up. On the overall city sketches it is very interesting how the personal focus and experience shows through an information about individual memory is revealed.

Mental Map London
Image by Sung-Hyun Jang from GISplusAR

A cool clip of a map being drawn is put to the pool by Matthew Dance. It is the view of his journey from home to school in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, captures with a tablet as he was sketching it. It obviously gives a nice sequence that would speak about how he is remembering the space.

Clip by Matthew Dance from Wiser Path

Just to showcase a few. Hopefully the pool will be growing a lot more and new examples from a lot of different places will be added. Why don’t you add your city sketch and journey sketch NOW?

Monday, 24 August 2009

TomTom for the iPhone - update

TomTom announced its navigation software for the iPhone earlier this year at the WWDC. It was a blog post and it also was somehow exciting. It is only two and a half month later and the software is published but it is all not that exciting anymore. It might be a great software and with no doubt it works fine, but since the introduction of the 3GS at the same WWDC, so much has changed on the mobile gadget market. Only this month the introduction of the crowd sourced traffic platform WAZE was introduced in the United States and layar opened up AR layers for a broad range of uses. In fact AR has been the big topic for mobile phone platforms and Android is leading as an AR platform at the moment. TomTom has not yet announced anything for the Android platform.
Anyway, one software can not do everything we are well aware of this, but this now pushed the iPhone with its “can not run anything in the background” policy to its limit. If I ever will use the TomTom on my iPhone I want to have the WAZE live traffic update on top of it to give me up to date information and why not having some user generated stuff as AR blobs on the screen as well. For me all this fits together and will hopefully eventually merge into something I would more likely call a “navigation” software.

Augmented Reality Navigation from Robert Winters on Vimeo.

So navigation in the style of AR would be exciting, but the ever so normal (we now definitely got used to it) “after 200m turn right” TomTom is not exciting anymore, Nevertheless here is the latest TomTom clip to sweeten the waiting for the actual iPhone car kit.

The company has not yet announced the release date for this important element of in car navigation. In fact this is really funny but theoretically the software is somehow useless without the car kit. Of course some clever guys came up with a solution.

Found through GPSobsessed

Friday, 21 August 2009

Animal Tracking - Track Your Dog

Animals have featured on the blog before, in the area of tracking. It was about Frogs / Frogs, Birds, Ants / Ants, Dogs and Cats. This time it is about dogs again. Purely in a technological sense of tracking of course. About the breed of GPS dog tracking devices.
The new model developed by RomaEO has featured on several news sites in the past few days. It comes with a central device and collar as a sender. With the central device the collar is recorded. A maximum of two collars can be tracked at the same time.
The spatial limitation is 3 Miles. So for hunting a good distance, if you are more sort of a leisure dog type and your dog is not well trained and often runs off, this might not be enough. The device is “tracking” the pet as it is called in the description, but I doubt that it actually records these tracks. This is not mentioned anywhere in the description.

Image by RomEO

It comes at quite a price. The basic set of handheld and one collar costs about $280.00 and an additional collar is again $160.00. It is currently only sold within the United States because of radio frequency issues.
The company has a range of products for dog (pet) owners. They even showcase a, presumably (telling from the images), iPhone based software for pet tracking. We are looking forward to hear more about this.

Comparable tracking system by Garmin is the Astro 220. It can track up to TEN! dogs (animals) at the same time. The downside ere s that the collar transmits only up to every fie seconds. If you have a hunting dog, five seconds can be quite a distance. It does track the pack up to seven miles (depending a bit on terrain). It is also priced in a different liga at $500.00

Images by Garmin

So to conclude, the RomaEO is some everyday product for the general public, make some money, leaving some responsibility to technology type. You might find it fun for a couple of hours, but it probably wears out.
The Garmin Astra on the other hand is a hardcore outdoor gadget for the serious user. It is extendable, durable and costs a lot.

There is a whole market out there for the cheap pet tracking products and these companies are puling all the triggers to convince people they might need this and will be able to use it. Companies like Zoombak offer the whole range of tracking from pet, to kids, to partner. That is a service. If you are more in for the silly side of all this tracking this add might be for you.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Book - Ortszeit

A book about time is always something difficult. While time is passing the book stays, could be the metaphor.
The book I chose today is different. It talks about the passage of time and this not very quietly. But instead with a very loud bang although the photographs are very quiet and empty they scream - time.

Image by UrbanTick - Ortszeit - Local Time - Zittau, Store-House, 06/1990 and 09/2001

Ortszeit - Localtime is a photoessay by Stefan Koppelkamm with an essay by Ludger Derenthal. The photographer and designer Koppelkamm has after approximately ten years revisited sites he had photographed earlier. Mainly this is around 1990 for the first shot and around 2001 for the following up shot of the same scene or better location.
It is all about the vintage point. To access the same location again after such a long time can be quite challenging and some spot must have been inaccessible.

Image by UrbanTick - Ortszeit - Local Time - Potsdam, Park Babelsberg, view of the Gliencker Bruecke, 08/1991 and 04/2002

Portrayed are a number of key buildings from cities and towns of former DDR shortly after the fall of the wall. An obvious subject for a few people thinking ahead. And it proofs right. It is more than a book about photographs and time. It is a social document about the world we live in and not last about the city as a body. Germany struggled and still is with its history of separation and the reunion in 1989. THe process is long and multi layered, it is not only about time.

Image by UrbanTick - Ortszeit - locatime - Goerlitz, Gruener Graben, 06/1990 and 09/2001

On might expect that change over ten year would be dramatic and towards improvement. But while flipping tough the book it emerges, that actually the interesting images are not the ones that show progress from an economic perspective. Change lives in small details of materials and light. The photographer pays great attention to erase all trace of change of technology, especially in terms of the final product. This helps to focus on the scene and lets the image speak about what’s happened. Features in the images are talking. For example accessories such as cars transport a clear image with atmosphere. But on the other hand you get the funny scene, where everything has changed except from the spacial configuration and the bin on the street corner.

Koppelkamm, S., 2006. Ortszeit = Local Time, Stuttgart: Edition Axel Menges.

There is a section on the book’s website for photographs that are not in the book. Some brilliant images can be see there online. There is also a short interview, the author was interviewed by Christina Tillmann, Der Tagesspiegel.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

London Small World - Timelapse

Finally the new timeLapse animation is here. It was shot quite quickly in two days, while having reasonable August weather. The editing process was more of a problem, though. It is shot with a G9, some 1480 stills. While using the 360 VR this was quite an installation and there are issues with the zoom level. Because this has to be done manually it is different in each scene and this proofed a problem in the editing process. Photoshop is a helpful tool and without the batch function there would be no timeLapse, but for synchronizing the frame over different scenes it is quite tricky. I know video editing software would do the trick, but the rendering process would consume about the same amount of time.

Image by UrbanTick - StoryBoard

Anyway here it is, with eleven scenes from around central London (I know I should get out once! Any suggestions for places?) Funny enough I spent two days sitting underneath the tripod and studying the scenes. The angle of the VR mirror allows for sitting underneath so I dono appear in all the scenes, but still in a couple of them. In the empty Gordon Square I had to use some bread to attract pigeons otherwise it would have been a bit boring. Other scenes like the Millennium Bridge it as too crowded there was no need for intervention. Sorry for the shaking in this particular scene, but the bridge is in motion because of the crowd. If you sit (like me) or stand there for a while, you can feel it.
So the little worlds are up now, and maybe you spot yourself in the clip somewhere.

London Small World from urbanTick on Vimeo.

music by bradsparky at

Brightkite goes Augmented Reality

Brightkite has something to offer. This was already clear after last weeks post about the service. But there is more coming! Only two days ago they have posted a preview of their next step. As you might guess it is AR based, but it looks brilliant and, get at least me very excited.
To see all the posts on top of the real world through the lens of the camera phone will be a brilliant use of the technology. You could call it state of the art. A lot of services have been announced lately, but this will take social networking on a next level. At the moment unfortunately it is only Android based, but should soon come to the iPhone too. It looks like the revamp has also brought along some more colours and hopefully an extended length of messages, was a bit limited so far. Have a look at the clip.

Brightkite Augmented Reality from Brightkite on Vimeo.

We just need A LOT more people here in London to use it to make it a lot of fun! So get your iPhones and Androids out and start using Brightkite to generate some content for this AR application!
They have teamed up with Layar for the AR stuff. The company has just release an API for their AR browser. This has opened the competition to become the AR browser of choice, as there are other companies in the same market. At the moment it is Layar and Wikitude, you guessed it, a Wikipedia project, but soon other companies will make theyr own API available. One of the will be Mobilizy, sheduled for next week.
Layar has the potential to become a major player, as there is already a lot of content available. Check their blog for examples and pretty clips.

Found trough and Vimeo.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Time - an Additional Dimension

While thinking of cycles, time plays a very important role. A cycles always has a time duration associated with it. Actually time is the defining element of the rhythm. This opens the possibility to read a cycle disconnect from its spatial dimension. It is possible to have two or more cycles in sync in time but not in space.
But the problem to visualize time is a fascinating one. The simplest thing is often very complicated.

Clock by

Looking at some ways time is integrated as an option in services. I only recently came across he time option on the Google page. It is possible to search for key words or a combination of words and seeing the result ordered by the data. It is mainly meant to improve search results related to historic event or person. The only thing I found about the definition is that it shows the referred date. It i not really clear how things get lined up whether the data has to be in the text body or as a reference for a blog entry for example. The Google help is not very detailed.
I tried it with urbantick, but the result is not very exciting. Nothing show up in the timeline view, how sad. Only if tested in the experimental section it comes up with some decent results. Although here it becomes clear that the timeline responds to the dates integrated in the body of the text. Unfortunately Google has not et integrated the function for the general blog search. So we play with something else then. It works well for terms like London:

Image by UrbanTick - screenshot

On the other hand in the Google News section the timeline option is brilliant. Here it works really good as it is pretty clear what time and date mean and how it is used. In this context it is rather surprising that it did not exist from the beginning as news live on time. There are a number of setting that can be made, including user queries. Then the time span and time frame can be adjusted.

Image by UrbanTick - screenshot

Even with messages the aspect of time has become much more important. Looking at emails, they used to be a simple letter. The date sent was general ordering indicator. Only much later a sequence of correspondence with the same topic or same person became highlighted in some email programs. Googlemail has then introduced the conversation as an organizing criteria. Moving towards a proper chat communication with email messages shows the effort Google takes with the development of WAVE, the next generation of messaging application.
The same goes for the iPhone message board. It is no longer arranged by date and time, but by conversation, what a leap!

Monday, 17 August 2009

iPhone - Traffic update User Generated in Real Time

A new application is available for the iPhone and other mobile devices that provides traffic information (mainly aiming at individual car traffic) and at the same time records traffic conditions to update the information.
This commercial application is called WAZE and is at the moment only available in the states and Israel it seems. It is developed by Ehud Shabtai, Uri Levine and Amir Shinar. It is one of the first truly crowed sourced applications. The user data from GPS will automatically generate a live map. If the user moves slowly it will show as a red trail on the road and others can see that there might be a traffic jam. In addition users can also upload detailed information such a speed cam or accident and even record additional roads that do not yet appear on the map. A guided tour with comments can be found here. The WAZE fan page on facebook is here.

There are two questions that I allow to ask. One is the obvious question of how to verify the user generated data. Who can be trusted and who might just play whit he application. For example if I would be using it (I don’t own a car) and log data while walking there would be red roads where ever I go. So is there some sort of filtering and overriding feature built into the automatic live mapping?
The second question is one that I already ask myself while reading about the MIT user and especially mobile phone focused research in Carlo Ratti’s SENSABLECity team were they also claim for products that help individual car drivers to find better ways through the cit. Why would we want to develop and use something as old fashioned a this? Individual car traffic so 1920. And in this century still being trapped in this discussion about being fast and powerful and independent and so on is a bit sad actually. I don’t believe this can provide us with a global solution and is just another attempt to strengthen individual needs in a struggling urban environment.
But in this case a technologically advanced cool gadget for the cool gadget you already own so why not using it!

The MIT project is a bit older and called CarTel. It is a bit more complicated but essentially works the same way. The iPhone and Android option obviously is pretty hot. The graphic is a bit too playful and child like for my test and could be a tick more formal ad serious but there you go.

Image from - live map

Thanks to gisagents

Friday, 14 August 2009

SmallWorld - 360 VR Shots

Some still of the scenes I have been shooting the last few days. It will be an other London timelapse eventually, but requires some image processing that takes a bit longer. But anyway I thought they look beautiful even as stills.


Digital Tourist Navigation - teigo

Location based information and urban navigation on the iPhone. A project develop at Gobelins l'Ecole de l'Image as a diploma project by five graduate students, Damien Odet, Myriam Penot, David Miège, Léo Chéron and Adrien Felsmann. It is not sure when it is gona come out but it looks really interesting.
Already graphically it looks beautiful. It is built as a digital guide that gives you location based information in several different layers. The history layer might be particularly interesting. It is a very formal history layer at the moment with information taken from school books. But looking back at the post about virtual notes, an additional layer with user generated short term history could be very interesting. It would enable you to see what the “tourists” last week have spotted, local outsider knowledge could start building up.

Teaser Teigo from Teigo on Vimeo.

This is what the developers say: “Teigo is a new generation urban guide consisting of a mobile phone application, an interactive wall map and an internet site. It offers a cultural and fun way to discover or rediscover a city. The prototype was produced for the city of Paris, but versions for other cities are planned.
To relive the historical events of places you visit, Teigo leads you along thematic itineraries during which you will receive interesting tourist information including places to eat and local events.
Teigo is made for the curious - city dwellers and tourists anxious to discover or rediscover a city. The service is available on several mediums in order to adapt to the largest possible number of users, whether technophiles or not.”

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Out and About - VR Timelapse

I am out again today. This time with a new add-on to the camera. A 360 VR lens that we managed to fit on the G9. It takes a few steps to mount it. The Canon adapter for the G9 that will provide 58mm ring. On o this I found a step up ring in one of the Tottenham court road shops that takes it from 58mm to 67mm. The diameter for the VR module. I have to say the Canon adapter is plastic and is not very stable, especially because the VR is quite long. is is about twice the size of the camera body!
It creates these beautiful small world images through the centrical perspective, very much a visualization for the mental map, individual perception topic, but better than the gas advert.
A first test shot from this morning within CASA.

tlSmallWorld_CASA from urbanTick on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Virtual Notes in the Real World - iPhone

As promised with the last post on Google’s Latitude, I spend some more time on other options. And actually it can be said up front; Latitude is boring whereas other applications can be very exciting.
Sorry, I had to mention this.As discussed in a comment last week Latitude is probably not meant to be cool. I now understand it more as an additional data service Google provides. A service that especially targets a new market of location based information. I assume Google plans to get people to use it, but then to involve third party companies to “use” the location data to target them specifically. This will most probably include Google itself, for ad placements forexample.
Any way this is only speculation and others might be more of experts in this field. There is a huge discussion on this topic, including some horrific stories about privacy and stuff.
But this was about other options for location based interaction. From the iPhone based tracking, the step towards a web based tracking is not far and the set of additional options is enormous. Only starting from a simple message or chat tool right up to location based tags and content such as photographs. The limitations of gadget based tracking are obvious, it is as if you are talking to your self, a rather introverted and singular recording of spatial movement. The web based option on the other hand offers instant updated and interaction.
I have been testing Brightkite and MapMe the last few days and I am just blown away. Not necessarily with the interface, the options or the features, but more by what a location based social networking tool could be. Facebook is so 1957 compared to this. The exciting thing is probably that you can take it with you and that where you are actually influences what you see, on the little screen of course. On the other end the information you ad to the network has this same dimension too. So you get actually quite easily in touch with new people, if used on a mobile device, because you constantly come across in real space other peoples digital junk (positive).

Image by UrbanTick - Screenshot history page with timeline on the top

But to start from the beginning, how does it work, what can you do on how does it feel? First we look at the MapMe application. It is developed by John McKerrell. It is a place to store your location and share it with friends. Like Latitude it has a main page on which it shows your location on a map. This map is based on Open Street Map data. A big awful yellow marker has written on it “I am here”. Maybe “ME” would do it as the service is called mapME? The big problem is the colour full approach of the open street map. It makes it really hard, if not impossible to actually see the location dots other than the big yellow box. Have a try on the image above, can you spot the greenish-brown dots? At least in London this is the case, because it is so dense. Somehow the colours on MapMe appear brighter than on the original OSM page.
A number of sources can be used to feed the location into the application. Through email with FireEagle, Twitter, Latitude, RSS feed or InstaMapper. This variety is great, although some seem rather crude. Like email, but then you think, there might be some devices that update positions via SMS or email, if they are not based on the rather new concept of free unlimited data access, so yes, great option.
The second cool add-on here is the timeline, hidden in the history tab. It makes the past locations accessible in a timeline. It is based on the Smile timeline code on Google Code. It is an interface based on horizontal bands that each are based on time units. One is the year, then the month and then the day, even the hour can be added. By pulling the bands one can navigate in time. The location points are then displayed on both, the band (as dots or lines) and on the map. The two stay in sync while moving through time. Brilliant feature. This is probably the first feature you will miss on Latitude!

Image by UrbanTick - Screenshot MapMe

That’s about it on MapMe. Unfortunately I have not been able to find any of my friends on this network, as it only allows you to search by username and if you don’t know, you don’t know. So if you are on MapMe please ad me as a contact! Was just looking for a direct link to my profile, but could not find anything so search for UrbanTick.
The link page is actually the history page. So here is my link then - UrbanTick.
It is really not so much of a socializing tool as a personal recorder, for witch it works brilliantly. It actually offers and developer API to add to the existing application and also lets you access the recorded data. Information about this is on the mapme blog.

If we move over to Brightkite this is completely different. It is a fully grown social networking tool. It is like facebook having attached a different design. Surprisingly there is no map! Not that facebook would have one, but if the service is location based the first thing to think about probably is a map. In the discussion board, what a surprise, there is a tread about this and the reply by Martin May one year ago was “That's coming...the map is kinda clunky right now. We have great plans for it, but it will take us some time to get everything's beta, after all.” So there is still no map and it is still Beta, but it is still cool. You know maybe not having a map makes it more interesting. On the iPhone I have to say, there is the option to click on things and it would open the location in the maps application. There is actually the same button for the webtool. A map can be accessed through an individual post or location. It even embeds Google Street View to give you an image of the location beside the post.
Having said that there is one really cool feature that almost makes up for the missing map. It is possible to export the posted contents as a kml file to Google Earth or link it as a RSS feed. An it includes not only your stuff, but your friend’s posts as well, great. Guess you could simply put that feed into the yahoo pipes and have it on a map.
The really big thing here is it the location based information that you can access contend through. You can literally run into a comment or an image! The information filter is not only based on your friend network but also on the location, close 920m), block (200m), neighborhood (2km), area (4km), city (10km), metro (50km), region (100km).

Image by UrbanTick - Screenshot Brightkite web app distance filter

This becomes really interesting if we take the aspect of time into account. I thought about this when I posted a random picture of something I simply had in front of my lens, a construction site on the road. Now I am able to look at images other people have posted in the same location from before the construction started and people will pas by this location in the future and see my image of the building site even though the construction has long finished. Meaning that it builds op an immensely rich database of location based everyday information over location and time. A similar thing is the mobile flickr “around me” service. If you use flickr on a mobile device it will give you the option to filter contend based on your location, it is cool, but does not offer the control of Brightkite.
A specification of this is the save a location tool, where you can mark a location as special. It is a place mark and can be used to tag a restaurant for example. If you write a review or only leave a note how the meal was others can pick it up.
The iPhone app can be downloaded for free and is a must have. It is simple but offers a lot of features. There seems to be an issue with the bottom line links. On my phone the first instance shows two icons on top of each other but only one can be accessed. The “request“ button is somehow behind the ”I am ...“ button after I clicked on the ”more” tab.
So again if you are on Brightkite give me a shout!

Image by UrbanTick - Brightkite for iPhone application screen shorts

The only problem with these tools, applications and software really is the real space experience. I found myself in the last few days sunken into my iPhone and being kind of absent from the environment around me. Although I was in a way deeply involved in the here and now, the past and other users experience of the same place I would have sensed. My experience was not too different as looking at Google Street View from a remote location. A rather dull and emotion less consumption of something that is being sold to me as a real location while being a bunch of pixels.
It has a lot of qualities and interesting aspects hat are not yet explored to the limit, but there is a down side to it as that the mobile use takes you out of the real world into the pixel world and vie versa while the benefit is not quite clear.

London Rush Hour by Chris Searson

Just another London TimeLapse, this time with a focus on the London Rush Hour. Chris Searson has used a shutter speed between 0.3 and 2 s and a neutral density filter together this creates a strong sense of movement. It starts of really professional, sadly the ending is a bit of a fade out. But its beautiful, I especially like the shot on Millennium Bridge towards St. Paul’s with the evening sky in the background.

Rush Hour London from Chris Searson on Vimeo.


Monday, 10 August 2009

CitySensing - from High-tech Lab to Everyday Gadget

I recently put up a blog post about CirtySensing and ever since the topic is following me around town. Not only because of all the potential sensors I m carrying around with me, but probably also because I am more aware of the topic. I think the topic in general is closely related to the perception of space and in this sense to the mental map we all construct of the space we navigate. Our body senses are usually on high alert while walking down the road and the environment is constantly assessed. From the uneven pavement we adjust our balance, with our ears we can hear the squirrel in the tree above us, we can smell the oil and dust from the building site on the road, we see the red van on the crossroad ahead. To only list the senses that are “official” senses. Probably there is also a sense of some more embodied information such as mussels providing a sense of force and speed, the breath and the heart beat as an indicator of effort or the information about balance and body parts orientation. In short there is a lot of information.
For now I guess the technical sensing is probably simpler to describe, as the processing of the data into information is done by a chip and we can tell the chip what the output should be so it looks like a more straight forward exercise. The economist has put together an extensive list of sensing projects and its potential.
Never the less there are some really exciting technical CitySensing projects out there. For example a cooperation of five Universities (Imperial College, Cambridge, Leeds, Newcastle and Southampton) on the MESAGE project has investigated the use of mobile sensors in urban environments and a variety of applications. A short clip shows a visualization of the collected data. In an interview for “The naked Scientist” on BBC the researchers explain about the potential of the project and pod cast transcript can be found here.

Images from CamMobSens - Pollution monitored by pedestrians and cyclists with mobile devices sent directly to a website.

In Berlin, Germany scientist are testing a network of sensors that are installed in buses. A BBC documentation can be found here. The sensors cover the usual air and road temperature as well as humidity, pollution indicators, some cameras and of course GPS. So traffic information can be calculated. The data is wirelessly transmitted to a processing centre. A project website can be found here.
As a more everyday gadget based project the pathintelligence project is quite interesting. It is developed to locate the users of mobile phones and aimed at retail and shopping centers. The system is detecting the unique signal of each phone and can locate it with about 1-2m accuracy. The shoppers are tracked with a number of static sensors and the data is then used to derive information about flows and preferences of visitors. A demo can be seen here. For shopping centers there is a lot of pressure and competition so they are probably very willing customers for this kind of information. It is partly about offering a better service, but also about internal competition between the brands. For example the tenancy mix but also the optimization of rental costs are listed as benefits. Surprisingly this is only discussed in research circles and shoppers are largely unaware of the monitoring process. The Times had an article on the topic, which was then picked up by the spy blog.

Image by pathintelligence - screenshot of the data viualisation software

A pretty amazing CitySensing project is the sensity work by Stanza. The artist himself describes the project as “An artwork and visualization using data from around the environment. A wireless sensor network show emergent space as social sculpture”. The sensors used can monitor temperature, sounds, noise, light, vibration, humidity, and have a built in GPS unit.
These dynamic visualization scapes have been on show around the world and usually a show leads to another record, as the artist never travels without his equipment. So from London over Copenhagen to Paris and Texas to San Paulo the cities are sensed by stanza.

Image by stanza - sensing Copenhagen KLICK ON IMAGE FOR VISUALIZATION

Image by stanza - This mote is a MTS420 CC from Xbo without the GPS attached.and running in low power mode.

A more of a web 2.0 project relying on crowd sourcing is the lhrNOISEmap project by Ian Tout. He is currently finishing his masters in Geographical Information Science (GISc) at Birkbeck College. He is mapping the aircraft noise produced by an airplane approaching or leaving London Heathrow Airport. For this he has built an online map based on Open Street Map and uses the web platform AudioBoo and their free iPhone application to record airplane noise in London. The short clips can then be mapped, as they are automatically geo referenced. In a second step the data will be aggregated and the noise levels should appear on the map as a layer.
So if you have an iPhone and are somewhere under the flight path of London Heathrow give it a try and participate in this mapping project. A simple step-by-step guide can be found here. You can also follow the project on twitter.

Image by UrbanTIck - screenshot lhrNOISEmap project

Friday, 7 August 2009

British Gas - A Subjective World View

Following up from the topic of space creation and individual world views in yesterdays post on Mental Maps, an example of an ad campaign that takes these aspects to an extreme trying to make it look funny but probably render it ridiculous.
British Gas runs this campaign visualizing British households as individual planets floating around independently in space only connected by the British Gas service van shuttling between them. What exactly the story is, I am not sure. It must be something that persuades you to switch to the British Gas service. I am really not sure about the abstraction, especially the isolation. Advertisement is usually largely about stereotypes, but this stereotype of space here is a rather sad example.
A major aspect of personal space perception is indeed that the corporal center is placed on the individuals location, as it is a subjective perspective. The crucial point is where these different world views overlap and interact. To create the personal story of the day the interaction with external realities is an essential part of he narrative. Boiling it down to the British Gas service man is a bit cheep, but obviously the ad designer (this i probably CHI & Partners) thought it to be enough for this project.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Mental Maps - an Overview

In the UrbanDiary Interview I am using mental maps to get participants to express how they navigate the space in the city. Mental map in this context means that participants are asked to draw a sketch of how they remember and would describe the space they are using on a daily bases. In addition to the technical GPS record this personal view has the focus on perception of space based on memory, experience, personal circumstances and current concerns. The sheet is prepared with a title and a box, but is otherwise blank. Participants are completely free on how to draw a “map”. The only rule is not to copy it from a street map or image. In addition they are asked to comment on what they draw, to record the sequence the sketch of their mental images of space is drawn. See earlier posts on the UrbanDiary mental maps here and here.
On of the very famous studies using mental maps is “The Image of the City” by Kevin Lynch. It was carried out over five years and summarized in this 1960 book. Lynch says: “Every citizen has had long associations with some parts of his city, and his image is soaked in memories and meanings.” (Lynch, 1960, p 1) It is a fairly sweet and stereotypical description with a lot of implicit hints to society but expresses that there is some knowledge and meaning in each one of us about the environment we live in and have to navigate through. It is something that is not about North or South, exact distance measurements or overarching, objective descriptions. Rather it is about personal experience, judgment and what is physically and psychically important to the subject. Lynch said, “Most often our perception of the city is not sustained, but rather partial, fragmentary, mixed with other concerns. Nearly every sense is in operation, and the image is the composite of them all.” (Lynch, 1960, p 2)
As early as 1913, Charles Trowbridge commented on how people have different sense of orientation. He concluded two groups of navigators. Some people have imaginary maps in their heads centered upon the location of their homes. They are able to navigate a certain distance on familiar ground, but they would lose orientation in unfamiliar ground. The other group was more described as “egocentric“ and orientated to their own position at the moment. With a better ability to navigate in unfamiliar territory.

The map is just one form of expression of these personal memories and descriptions. But although it is called a map, it has two fundamental differences. It has no scale and no objective direction assigned to it. The drawing lives of its elements and may only stand in this context, e.g. there is no assumed direction pointing towards north unless the author of the map assigns it with an arrow. Nevertheless some features of a map can be borrowed by the participant, such as top down view, symbols, and so on.
Other methods can be a description in words, both as a text or an interview. The Lego Serious Play is an other creative way to expressing memories and perception and a more hand on approach. David Gauntlett from Westminster University is a researcher working with this method.

The instructions to draw a mental map are simple. The focus lies on the content and not the beauty of the sketch, there is no right or wrong. The key is that the sketch is not copied from a map or image but rather drawn from memory.
Lynch introduces the mental map to the participants as follows: “ We would like you to make a quick map of ... Make it just as if you were making a rapid description of the city to a stranger, covering all the main features. We don’t expect an accurate drawing - just a rough sketch.” Lynch 1960, p 141)
It is a rather quick exercise and does not require a lot of planning and thinking. In fact from my experience with mental map-making, there are three phases to the creation of the sketch. First is the skeleton phase, it contains most of the important information, objects, direction, names and paths. The second phase puts the flesh on by linking between memories with information and description. This will often trigger some more memories and makes the map rich and representative. The third and last phase is the beauty process, where no more important information is added, but rather the sketch is adjusted and critiqued.

sturgeonsstuff - there is also a podcast about a group of students discuss their mental map of the world and Image The New Yorker magazine - A New Yorker Mental Map, taken from tamibeikelboom.

Mental maps have been used in a variety of spatial research. On one hand there are studies such as Lynches with a focus on the built environment and a rather detailed perception description. On the other hand there are studies to focus on the quality of the environment more in terms of feelings such as desire, stress, fear or happiness. Such a study has been done by David Ley in Philadelphia in 1972 or a current similar project on fear in Los Angeles by Sorin A. Matei, 2003. From participants responds he was able to create a three dimensional surface to represent the amount of fear in the Los Angeles region. This is indicated with red and green colours. While working with children mental maps are also often used as a method of expression. For example in “Environmental fears and dislikes of children in Berlin and Paris” by Olga Nikitina-den Besten, 2008 looks at the absence of children in today’s cities and investigates the highly specialized urban environment from a child’s perspective of safety, fear and joy. The aspect of drawing should not be underestimated. With children, the reaction will ultimately be ok they like drawing so the method is appropriate, but adults often have more difficulties to draw even a simple sketch. Drawing is not something adults necessarily do very often, but children are expected to some drawing.

Image from Environmental fears and dislikes of children in Berlin and Paris by Olga Nikitina-den Besten - A boy, 10 years, from Berlin and a girls, 12 years, from Paris.

An investigation into peoples desire using mental maps is summarized in the book “Mental Maps” by Peter Gould and Rodney White. They are looking at where would people like to life. They asked people: “Suppose you were suddenly given the chance to choose where you would like to live - an entirely free choice that you could make quite independently of the usual constraints of income or job availability. Where would you choose to go?” (Gould, 1974, p 15) From the responses they generated a surface of desire for different areas in the world. Here an example of a 3d model of the UK, where the height indicates the desire. Clearly there is an increase from north to south (model viewpoint is in the north looking south).

Image by Peter Gould and Rodney White, 1974.

To a great extend there is a lot of information contained within the mental maps on how people perceive the space and ultimately how people create their space. The creation of space could be something very personal and through what the essence of mental maps is a very dynamic concept of temporal perception based on mood, concerns and circumstances. As a very abstract concept it could be compared to the creation of space in the virtual world as an orbit around subject in time and space. Space as in social space or individual space is probably not the same as Euclidean space, the way we think about space generally. If we describe space from personal perception and time point of view, the concept of space might be something very different from the space as a box concept.

To extend and intensify the research on mental maps you are all invited to contribute your own, very personal mental maps of the place you live. For this purpose is the flickr group MENTAL MAP at
It is an open group and you can ad your sketch of the environment you life in. The instructions are outlined above by Kevin Lynch.
You can contribute two types of maps, an overall sketch of the city, town or village you life in and a detailed description of your way to work and back home again. For both it would be great if you include a short description and it is necessary to geotag the image before adding to the group. Otherwise it will be rejected by flickr. The geotag is a rough location in the area of your sketch.
I am thinking about putting all the mental maps together in a publication as a summary of worldwide perception of people’s environments.

A map of all the posted Mental Maps can be seen here. There might not be much there at the moment but hopefully it will grow in the next few weeks.

Gould, P. & White, R., 1974. Mental Maps, Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Google Latitude on the iPhone - Location Based Social Networking

Google Latitude has featured here earlier; just short after it was launched earlier this year. Since then it has been rather quiet around the service, not only on this blog. There are a few comments after the launch and some first advise on how to use, implement and link it, but then that’s it. Regarding the users it is not quite sure on how many people actually use the service. There are probably more that have signed up for it, but do not use it regularly.
On the hardware side of it there are also a few problems and hurdles to take. On the iPhone it only runs inside the browser, as Apple has blocked the development of a standalone software in order to “protect” the Maps as the main navigation software. The other hurdle is that no software can run in the background on the iPhone.
On other handheld devices such as Android and BlackBerry, Google’s list here, it runs as a stand-alone application and can even run in the background.

Some services online now include Latitude in their signing up process, in order to provide the customers with accurate location based information. On of them is gps-tours, a website to share walks, hikes and climbing tours.

Since the launch of the service a lot of concerns have been raised. In general a large and loud group of people are very concerned about knowing or publishing a persons whereabouts. This not only includes Google Latitude, but location information in general. From GPS to RFID tags everything that could give away a person's location. An example from shows what the concerns a directed towards: “The dangers are obvious. Stalkers or violent husbands could surreptitiously find out someone's location by throwing a phone in their car boot, for instance. Jealous lovers could install the software while their partner is taking a shower. Employers could force workers to use a Latitude-installed phone.” The main problem is really, that our location is already in the system. It is not so much about this one product, but rather towards a recent development in technology. Google is just a good target because of its size and popularity, but there are a lot of companies that track our movement and habits on a daily basis. In London for example TFL, Transport for London, knows the location roughly of hundred thousands of people, or financial institutes trough the use of ATMs even internet providers know roughly where the computer is located you are logging in and there are many more examples and of course speculations. All these information’s are not made public to our knowledge. Compared to this with Google Latitude there is the option to share this information with others. Google seems to have given some thought to these concerns prior to launching the service. They have taken a number of measures to help prevent “accidental” use or the use trough a third person, mainly trough integrating it into the Google services and therefore protecting it from third person access. But also by implementing a number of steps that lead to the activation of the service.

Image by UrbanTIck - Google Latitude screen on the iPhone

How ever for now I have my position on the blog for everyone who is interested. I have given this some thought over the past four years and I am not too concerned about people knowing my location. While working with GPS and tracking every now and then people would ask and laugh whether my wife has access to the data. These sorts of jokes are not only funny but reveal peoples concerns, in this case as stereotypes, but still people are thinking about it. I myself have never really seen the location information as a potential risk factor. Perhaps very naive I usually think of it in terms of my project, but also very personally as a statement of activity, a memory of reality in my daily world of computer, blog and internet.

Image by UrbanTIck - Google Latitude settings on the iPhone

How ever these concerns are real and have to be addressed. On the other hand people also have to learn to live with the use of this technology and adapt to the new implications of security. I am not saying we just have to accept this as is, but find ways to improve the situation.

On the other hand the actual location information trough the Google Latitude service is somewhat crude. I am not sure if this is only on the iPhone, but it is not very accurate. It is very slow too, in terms of response to movement. By only using the browser based service, my location in central London is generally 200 to 500 meters of. I have found that if I first open Maps and define the location, this is usually very quick and gives a good accuracy (sometimes a bit off the street inside a building, but all right) and then switch in to the browser the pinpoint is much better. Of course this is partly down to the settings to implement some privacy while public (how complicated is this).

An in detailed Latitude critique can be read at As an opposition to the concerns raised on personal location information I would like to mention the large communities that are forming around the services to share location information. Google Latitude is by far not the only service available. There are a number of communities. And most of the applications are offering more option, control and supposedly fun than Latitude. In the earlier blog post services were Brightkite, Loopt or Pocket Life by Vodafone. They are still around and well used. Some offer now iPhone applications, but surprisingly some are paid apps. An additional service is the one of It does the same and it has a really cool time line feature, similar to the one in timemap developed at the MIT.
So to conclude there is a lot more out there than just the Google Latitude and I will have a closer look at these services soon.

Monday, 3 August 2009

How Different Groups Spend Their Day - Time Use Survey

The New York Times has published a graphic on how americans spend their time during the day. The data was collected in a large survey by the American Bureau of Labor Statistics. Participants were asked to recall every minute, as the Times putts it of their day.
The interactive graphic allows detailed access to time and activity and some control over the group. Different groups spend their day obviously different. There are differences between different races and ages, but the major difference is between the working population and the non working population, e.g. unemployed. This is the main interest for the US in this statistic because of the high number of unemployed people. It is at 1 in 10, a level not seen in 27 years.

Image from nytimes - left employed, right unemployed. Yellow represents time at work, dark brown TV and movies, the olive is household activities. Click on the image for the real flash based version.

The graph is not as sharp as maybe expected. There seems to be quite a large time frame for change of activity. Nevertheless the structure is quite clear, with large number having a very similar daily rhythm.
The American Bureau of Labor Statistics has a really detailed archive of time use data. It is all accessible through their webpage. The data is ready to download in different formats. They cover the time periods from 2003 on a yearly cycle. Beside the raw data also some processed data is available, including graphs.

you can compare to the UrbanDiary graphs from earlier this year here. It does show similar pattens, but is based on GPS records and therefor accounts only for movements.

A Life in Pictures - TimeLapse

A sort of a very special timeLapse animation movie produced by Olympus for the PEN camera. It is the story of a guys life literally in pictures with some great movement, both, in frame and out of the frame. Across he world of the table, down the leg f the road and along the floor of the beach in to marriage and beyond. It’s been shot in 60’000 pictures, from which they developed some 9’600 prints. The timeLapse is the shot in another 1’800 photographs. Details can be found at penstory.

The PEN Story from PENStory on Vimeo.