Tuesday, November 28, 2006

gazprom/otion city

Mega-architecture with thumping statements vibrating like the presence of a triumphal-arch.

Gazprom City, a new business complex likely to be built in Saint Petersberg, Russia. It has much local opposition (including the local architects' union and the director of the Hermitage Museum). Some say its innappropriate. Some say it will even ruin the skyline. But Gazprom, the state energy company, has connections and support from up top.

A very interesting case of development, and a very interesting case of opposition.

The New York Times reports on it here: "Russian Window on the West Reaches for the Sky"

See more images here on the Gazprom website: http://www.gazprom-city.info/competition/projects

Personally, I really like Jean Nouvell's design. Makes me think of a climbing tower of babel mixed with Russion constructivism (hence reminiscent of the Tatlin Tower), and an air of transparency and elemental exposure relevant to the developing cultural narratives and themes of our time.

Monday, November 27, 2006

how to build an African middle-class

Sometimes it can be hard to appreciate knowledge one has already gained. If we look back at ourselves and our experiences, over time we find that whom we've become is inextricably linked to those experiences, those thoughts in our minds, those activities we've been engaged with, those people we have met, and those landscapes we have been part of.

If you have a college degree, like myself, let's try a little experiment. Try imagining what you'd be like if you hadn't gone to college. Would you be where you are today? I'm not simply asking if you would have had the same amount of opportunities presented (although that is also very relevant), but rather asking if you think that, as a thinking human being, you would be thinking and contemplating things the same way... would you?

I do not think I would be the same. It is comforting to say, "yeah, I could think (think as a verb) myself to where I am now", but consider all those classes you took, those projects and papers, and of course we can't forget those experiences where we become ever more aware of ourselves and of the world. Education has given me access to new ideas, to new views, to an appreciation of the diversity and complexity of views... and to the ability to question, revise, and rethink my own views and the views of others.

Education is power. Education is power to change, mature, evolve, take action, make new connections, and advance the mind into new realms of thought. Education comes in many different forms and is all around us in the world. One educates themselves, or allows others to educate. One can be educated consciously, subconsciously, spiritually, and physically. School, as a paradigm, does not necessarily equate education; but as an institution, it renders an environment where the formation of knowledge advancement through formalized education is paramount. But in all cases of education, it takes an investment from the student and the teacher, whomever they may be. And in most cases, formalized education costs money.

It is with all this said, that I am really impressed and awed by Martin Fisher, social entrepreneur, who produces the "Super-MoneyMaker" (a "one-person, leg-powered irrigation pump") and founded the non-profit ApproTEC. I read about Fisher today via a link on Chris Coldewey's blog to an SF Chronicle article written in 2002.
"The pump and other mechanical devices designed by Fisher have made 26,000
desperately poor Africans rich entrepreneurs, by the standards of their
homeland. Farmers whose annual income was less than $120 have increased it to an
average of $1,400. It has opened up their lives the way it would alter that of
an American who started making $110,000 a year instead of $10,000."
It is not simply the advent of the pump that is so amazing -- as one will find by reading the San Francisco Chronicle article about Fisher and ApproTEC -- but its application and where it has been applied.

Fisher has been interested in creating an African middle-class, and his work is a key. First employed in Kenya, the pump is a virtual money-generator and is bringing people out of poverty, and giving them the ability to shape their futures and afford education for their children. This is amazing -- a true investment and gift in the future of people.
"With Kenyan Solomon Mwangi, who is now their operations director, Fisher
and Moon worked on their new low-tech devices: a building-block machine that
uses soil and a bit of cement; a sunflower oilseed press badly needed in a
country that imports 80 percent of its cooking oil. But 90 percent of their
business comes from the micro-irrigation pumps based on a design by IDE, a
Denver nonprofit. IDE has used an approach similar to ApproTEC's to sell 1.3
million pumps in Bangladesh. Fisher redesigned the pumps to be portable for
storing inside at night (Kenyan farmers worry about thieves), to spray water
(Kenyan farmers -don't use ditch irrigation) and to have a shorter treadle
stroke (most Kenyan farmers are women who wear long garments and -don't want to
appear to dance provocatively on the machines).

"But anyone who focuses only on ApproTEC's gee-whiz low-tech machines
will miss the main reason for the nonprofit's startling success: Fisher and Moon
ask poor Africans what they want and need. They analyze the limitations under
which 90 percent of Kenyans live, in extreme poverty in areas with poor roads,
little transportation, no electricity and no telecommunication. They fashion
devices that are inexpensive to produce, buy and move around. They work with
factories to mass-produce high-quality devices. They use mass marketing and
distribution methods more characteristic of business than traditional foreign
aid. Then they closely monitor the results.

"And the system works. Today, ApproTEC has 65 permanent and 60
part-time staff, five offices in Kenya and Tanzania and a $2 million annual
budget. Janet Ondiak, Jane Mathendu and 20,000 others can hardly believe they're
living their dreams.

"When Ondiak's husband died, she barely kept her family alive on the
food she managed to grow on 1/8th acre of land. She owned 2 acres, but even with
all six children lugging buckets of water, they were able to irrigate no more
than a small area.

"One afternoon, she saw a demonstration of the Super-MoneyMaker
irrigation pump in her local village. She worked for six months to scrape
together $75 and bought the pump. Today, she has three full-time workers who
irrigate her entire 2 acres. Last year, she made $2,500 in profit from selling
vegetables grown on her land. She recently opened a small shop from which to
sell her food. She can now pay for all six children to attend school."
Read the full article: "Martin Makes a Middle Class: Stanford grad Martin Fisher has gone low-tech in search of solutions for Kenyan farmers". San Francisco Chonicle, 2002.

"walking in the city", images, wayfinding, and perception

Geoff Manaugh at Worldchanging writes an article "Walking the in the City" about Shanghai revising a vast amount of its street names and signs, and an architecture exhibition in London recommending the city standardize its sign-system to help people get walking.

I've been interested in wayfinding for a long time. I highly recommend the book "Wayfinding in Architecture" by Romedi Passini. I also highly recommend Kevin Lynch's "The Image of the City" in regard to thinking about how people compose cognitive maps of cities through experience.

I agree that mystery in a city is beautiful. There is nothing I love more than to be dropped in a new city by way of train or bus and then to find my way and whereabouts. And even if one has a map, the process of aligning the physical and real landscape with the coordinates and presumed organization of the map is an exciting experience.

Organizing a wayfinding system as a means to get people out into the streets is a good idea, with a kind and conscious social motive.

The discussion of wayfinding should expand to include new media mapping technologies, such as Google Maps and Google Earth, both of which, through use, augment the process by which we psychologically perceive the world.

Has anyone explored a city by way of Google Maps and Google Earth and then attempted to explore the same city in the real by way of 'memory'? It is a fascinating experience. I did it this past August with San Jose, California, a city I've always been geographically close to but quite far away from in my knowledge of its composition. I must admit, I was afraid at first that my exposure to mapping software might have corrupted my ability to wander into the unknown... but I was wrong, it simply added another layer to the experience... instead, I was confronted with assumptions based on an aerial and plan-aligned view. An interesting part of the experience was then how my mind -- with a rendering of the city from an aerial photograph -- imagined what it would be like to zoom-out from where I was standing in the urban fabric and see the city from above. Eventually, though, I find myself wandering 'off-map' and into areas not drawn to by visual cues in the aerial photography.

It is also fascinating to revisit locales discovered in the real world in mapping software. I was in the little village of Vytina in Greece a little over a year ago and hadn't known the place existed until my visit. A wonderous experience it is to then find the location in Google Earth, become lost beyond the known landmark, and then lost a-wandering into the periphery of one's memory.

A similar affect occurs when reading a city first through photographic images, artworks, and literature depicting particular views. One is exposed to an image of a place and is then placed in a position to position oneself within the image when experiencing the site in reality.

After having studied in Firenze, Italia last fall, and then returning home, my memories of my apartment and the streets of Firenze are very real in my mind. I can literally navigate and explore my kitchen via thoughts. But I have noticed an interesting situation when I situate my mind in the space: when passing my eyes across the counter top, the table, the floor, the ceiling, the cabinets, opening the refrigerator and seeing my cheese, and then turning to look out the window, at the moment of looking right out of the window, the experiential memory snaps to a photograph I had taken of the view out of the window. From the fluid and exploratory memory space to the rigid and flat image-rendered space. It is as if I am in a 3D environment and a life-size 2D image -- immersive in its own right -- has been stuck right before me, stitched to the ethers of air holding it in place.

It will be quite fascinating then to watch Photosynth develop as a tool for seeing the world. Photosynth compiles batches of digital photography (they could be collated from a site like Flickr) and then organizes them into a 3D environment where the exact coordinates of objects in each image are aligned with the coordinates of the environment; thus allowing one to explore a 3D world composed of 2D images! One also has the option to turn on identifiers which show exactly where within the space each photo was taken. Developed by Microsoft Live Labs and the University of Washington, Photosynth aspires to blend the real and virtual to a point of tangible convergence.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

EastSouthWestNorth reporting on Friedman's China visit

EastSouthWestNorth blogs a partial translation of an article about Thomas Friedman's visit to China from the Chinese-language "Observe East Weekly Magazine". Apparently Friedman was received with mixed results. The author also comments on Friedman's ability to simplify very complex topics to the point of obscuring the real core of the issue.

Excerpts from the translation:
"While Friedman's trip to market his book has raised his name recognition in the Chinese-language world, he was criticized by many commentators. China Daily writer Raymond Zhou thought that the book was repetitious because a single idea was being repeated a dozen times over two or three pages, and that Friedman's understanding about China was inaccurate...

"Friedman is a focused person. While chatting with him in the car, all the themes were driven by him -- he is not a reporter filled with curiosity. He seemed only to want the answer to the question, or even the answer that fits his globalization theory version 3.0. I have no right to speak about India, but if the Chinese were to read carefully the section about China in "The World is Flat," they would think that Friedman's China is really completely unrelated to the China that we are familiar with."

About a year and a half ago I attended the Institute of Reverential Ecology's 2005 retreat, "Creating a Sustainable Future: Ecology, Ethics and Design", outside Santa Barbara, and heard Vandana Shiva comment on Friedman's book "The World is Flat". Shiva, a published author, environmental scientist, and community activist in India, explained how the world is not flat as Friedman claims. Instead, global consequences actually are round. While a playing field of competiveness on a global-scale is flattening, American Corporations hiring the booming business of call centers in Mumbai can actually negatively impact other areas of Indian society and economy. To this she pointed to Indian farmers moving from rural countryside to urban cities to claim new, "better" jobs; Shiva expressed that the lives of city dwellers arn't as holistic as farmers and that once moving away they give up their ability to self-sustain in a localized community.

While I have to admit I don't agree with what came across as a "rural is better" sentiment, I think she has hit the nail on the head when it comes to inspecting some of the overlooked wrinkles caught inside the argument for a flattening world. Globalization does have global -- and thus interconnected and systemic -- consequences that can come full circle.

What I think of the Iraq War.

I do not support the Iraq War, or any war or any militant actions.

I do support the lives of American youth troops (our generation, our peers).

I know this is a simple message, but it needs to be said. What are your views?

Watch these videos...
"soldier crying for their life in iraq" - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPYmIQXZ-nk
"war crime in Iraq war Irak mosque cami ─▒rak america mosque" - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21rH_o5hsG0
"Iraqi People Speak - iraq the oil factor" - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_KvqRKZhZIY
"The Denial Machine", a CBC Canada Documentary - http://itsgettinghotinhere.org/769

Read these blogs written by people living there...
Lists of local blogs and blog portals: http://www.globalvoicesonline.org/wiki/article/Iraq
The same blogs are accessible inside the Global Voices Online blog aggregator under 'iraq': http://www.bloglines.com/public/globalvoicesonline

"Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering." - Yoda... someone whom I think we can all agree had a good head on his shoulders.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Worldchanging.com local: San Francisco bay area

I've just signed on as a writer for the SF bay area local edition of worldchanging.com. We are writing about tools, methods, resources, events, orgs, businesses, art, and people in the bay area that are changing the world to make it a more sustainable place.

Know of anything going on in the bay area region that is newsworthy and worldchanging? Please feel free let me know and I'd like to see if we can write about it.

Visit the blog at www.worldchanging.com/local/sanfrancisco

My first article is about the UNESCO DigiArts "Scenes and Sounds of My City" project observed at the ZeroOne San Jose /ISEA 2006 electronic arts festival and symposium. The project is really cool and had international youth using new media to record reflections of their home cities! Read it here.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

I have an idea for Gmail that I'd like to see implemented.

Tags.

Yes, those simple things that have become so popular. I'd like a text field under the message body text box where I can enter tags (words, phrases, links to other emails and sites, etc.) associated with that particular email.

I'd like this to be a separate text field outside of the main message body because sometimes I'd like to add tags that include words not include in my email; plus it's an easy and organized way to keep track of the data in my Gmail account. A tags feature also works well with Gmail's use of a searcheable archive.

You could access this text field by using a link-button similar to the new "Reply on top" link-button available for written messages.