Archive for the 'Ubicomp' Category

No More SMS From Jesus

September 27, 2006

Gumption presents a nice digest of Genevieve Bell‘s (cancelled) Ubicomp presentation, “No More SMS from Jesus: Ubicomp, Religion and Techno-spiritual Practices:”

The title derives from a Reuters headline announcing the demise of a Finnish mobile service that offered text messages from Jesus, in response to prayers received from subscribers. Genevieve goes on to highlight a range of other techno-spiritual practices, including

Genevieve notes that “religion shapes ideas about time, space and social relationships” (very much in line with obserations Brenda Laurel made in her closing keynote on day 3 of UbiComp regarding the influence of art and music on our understanding and representation of time and space in nature), and the importance of ritual and magic in many primitive religions (calling to mind some of Bruce Sterling‘s condemnations of magic on day 1 of the conference). (Gumption)


Predestination: Loca and mobile surveillance

September 23, 2006

Imagine that you are walking down the street when you hear a beep from your phone.  You see a message reading:

“You were in a flower shop and spent 30 minutes in the park; are you in love?”

The thing is – you were in the flower shop an hour ago and then you did go to the park for half an hour!

How would you react to this message? How would it make you feel? (

Well, I’m not sure how I’d feel. “Creeped-out” comes to mind. But as soon as I found out that these strange stalker-like text-messages were part of a city-wide art project, I’d probably feel pretty cool and want to learn more.

Loca, “an artist-led interdisciplinary project on mobile media and surveillance,” uses a network of Bluetooth nodes scattered around the city to track the movements of anyone with a Bluetooth-enabled device. The tracking data is fed into a database, which is then parsed according to “urban semantics” to make guesses about what the tracked individual is up to. The system then sends a potentially relevant message to the subject, such as the “are you in love?” question above.

See also: John Krumm‘s talk at Ubicomp 2006, “Predestination: Inferring Destination from Partial Trajectories” (.pdf).

Ubicomp and Social Science

September 21, 2006

The Mass Observation meme just won’t go away in these parts. While browsing various roundups of Ubicomp 2006, I came across this post on Pasta and Vinegar:

…the most interesting part (to me) was the discussion about the bridge between qualitative and quantitative methods. Yahoo/UC Berkeley’s Marc Davis advocated for a new “computational social science” that would use mixed-methods (quali-quanti), aka “the new social science of the 21st century”. His point was that we have access to an incredible quantity of data (ranging from interview to logged actions) that would allow us to gain information about different layers: from micro scale cognitive insights to large group processes (social groups, national issues…).

Unlike Anne which states that “quantitative methods are still being trotted out to save qualitative methods from their perceived inadequacies, a.k.a. “Real Science To The Rescue!”“, I haven’t felt that. Given the fact that the conversant were largely qualitative-data oriented, he tried to summarize the advantages of bridging both qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis:

  • Large datasets can enable us to know who to talk to (who to interview, or with whom to deepen the study with ethnographic methods): who are representatives (or not) in the groups
  • It can allow to reveal unconscious behavior (that users cannot state)
  • A nice avenue of research they’re pushing forward in his team is to compute visualizations (based on quantitative data) and then get back to the users to discuss with them. This is exactly what I am doing with CatchBob! visualizations of coordination as well as presenting the players a replay of their activity. This provides a basis for the discussion about “what they did” and “why they did it” (with of course some different “epistemological levels”).
  • Qualitative analysis can also allow to redesign the sensors and the logged information that would be better suitable/more interesting. (Pasta and Vinegar)

And you thought Sim City was fun…

September 14, 2006

Over the past few years, urban planners, architects and engineers have been exploring the use of game engines to visualize everything from individual structures to the evolution of entire cities. But with the current explosion in ubiquitous computing, such visualizations are moving away from pure simulation to embrace real-time tracking of urban components such as public transit, taxis, utlities and even individual citizens. At this year’s Venice Bienale, MIT’s SENSEable City Lab presented Real Time Rome, an incredible synthesis of these technologies that points to an urban future that will be defined by the aggregation and dynamic analysis of an ever-increasing supply of surveillance feeds:

In today’s world, wireless mobile communications devices are creating new dimensions of interconnectedness between people, places, and urban infrastructure. This ubiquitous connectivity within the urban population can be observed and interpreted in real-time, through aggregate records collected from communication networks. Real-time visualizations expose the dynamics of the contemporary city as urban systems coalesce: traces of information and communication networks, movement patterns of people and transportation systems, spatial and social usage of streets and neighborhoods. Observing the real-time city becomes a means to understanding the present and anticipating the future of urban environments. In the visualizations of Real Time Rome we synthesize data from various real-time networks to understand patterns of daily life in Rome. We interpolate the aggregate mobility of people according to their mobile phone usage and visualize it synchronously with the flux of public transit, pedestrians, and vehicular traffic. By overlaying mobility information on geographic and socio-economic references of Rome we unveil the relationships between fixed and fluid urban elements. These real-time maps help us understand how neighborhoods are used in the course of a day, how the distribution of buses and taxis correlates with densities of people, how goods and services are distributed in the city, or how different social groups, such as tourists and residents, inhabit the city. With the resulting visualizations users can interpret and react to the shifting urban environment. Real Time Rome respects individual privacy and only uses aggregate data already collected by communication service providers; also, it is hoped that the exhibit will stimulate dialogue on access and responsible use of such data. (Real Time Rome)

Come Out and Play

September 7, 2006

New York’s first annual Come Out and Play Festival is an opportunity for people in the NYC area to try out a variety of ARGs and street games. The fest is a major event and likely to be a fixture on the scene for years to come. Many of the games don’t require registration, so if you’re just hearing about this now and you’re able to get to Manhattan, check it out. After all, who wouldn’t want to try going to spy school or playing Space Invaders on the wall of a building?

The festival’s four featured games are offerings from some of the best designers in the business. In addition to the second playtest of Jane McGonigal and Ian Bogost’s Cruel 2 B Kind (see my earlier post), here’s what else tops the bill at COAP 2006:

Manhattan Story Mashup

Approximately 250 players will move around Manhattan, taking photos which match a given target. Targets are words from stories, written by visitors on the Manhattan Story Mashup website while the game goes on. The resulting illustrated stories are shown on large public signs in Times Square in real-time and on Manhattan Story Mashup.


Identity is a large-scale social game of secret organizations, covert intelligence, suspicion, trust, cooperation and betrayal. Over the course of three days, five teams will compete for world domination. The goal of the game is to discover which players belong to which team, without allowing your own allegiance to become known.


Plundr is a location-based game of piracy and black market trading. Start out as a bilge-spewing land-lubber in a leaky tub, explore the real world in search of riches and infamy, upgrade your vessel into a mighty warship and amass a fortune in ill-gotten goods. Arrrrr! (Come Out and Play)

Cruel 2 B Kind

September 5, 2006

Innovative and fun-loving ubicomp/this-is-not-a-gaming guru Jane McGonigal’s latest project, Cruel 2 B Kind, “the game of benevolent assassination,” was playtested earlier this week in the Bay Area’s Mission Dolores Park, and from the sounds of it, a good time was had by all:

Overall, it was a great day. Ian and I learned lots, and it was a delight to see the creative strategies invented and deployed by the testers. And the feedback at the assassins’ picnic afterwards was tremendous.

My favorite story was related by the winning team, who staged a successful final attack that began by recruiting a trio of parkgoers to distract their targets… and ended with the whole team “charging up a hill like Teddy Roosevelt at San Juan”… while blowing kisses. Fantastic! (

A little more about the game (from the rules at

Cruel 2 B Kind is a game of benevolent assassination.

At the beginning of the game, you and a partner-in-crime are assigned a secret weapon. To onlookers, it will seem like a random act of kindness. But to a select group of other players, the seemingly benevolent gesture is a deadly maneuver that will bring them to their knees.

Some players will be slain by a serenade. Others will be killed by a compliment. You and your partner might be taken down by an innocent group cheer.

You will be given no information about your targets. No name, no photo, nothing but the guarantee that they will remain within the outdoor game boundaries during the designated playing time. Anyone you encounter could be your target. The only way to find out is to attack them with your secret weapon.

Watch out: The hunter is also the hunted. At the beginning of the game, you and your partner will also be assigned your own secret weakness. Other pairs of players have been given your secret weakness as their secret weapon, and they’re coming to get you. Anything out of the ordinary you do to assassinate YOUR targets may reveal your own secret identity to the other players who want you dead.

As targets are successfully assassinated, the dead players join forces with their killers to continue stalking the surviving players. The teams grow bigger and bigger until two final mobs of benevolent assassins descend upon each other for a spectacular, climactic kill.

Will innocents be caught in the cross-fire? Oh, yes. But when your secret weapon is a random act of kindness, it’s only cruel to be kind to other players… (Cruel 2 B Kind)

More playtests are coming up and the designers are looking for benevolent assassins to play a game on September 23rd in NYC. You can register here.