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Sunday, June 28, 2009


Fifteen images of not so secret secret service buildings, a light-hearted round-up of the architecture of information. Related, "Everyone is becoming like a Stasi agent", Moolies on information technology and privacy: '.... anything out of the norm is ripe for being filmed, photo'd and commented upon. Each little cluster of social activity surrounding a slightly unusual event is somewhat akin to far too many people dialling 999 around the scene of an accident.'

This segues nicely into the introduction to Douglas Rushkoff's new book Life Inc. ('How the World Became A Corporation and How To Take It Back'). 'It's as if the world itself were tilted, pushing us toward self-interested, short-term decisions, made more in the manner of corporate share-holders than members of a society.' There's a link between this slow infusion of corporatism into every day life and way of thinking and the 'clusters of social activity' described above. One facilitates the other, providing the technological backbone that enables social technology, as well as the structures that shape our response to this information. On a global scale, the patterns that emerge through Zeitgeist or even the email logs of a multi-national corporation illustrate how easily the global unconscious is expressed through information. As a result, it's increasingly easy to audit cultural responses.

Also related (and much linked, for good reason), Adam Curtis's new BBC-hosted weblog, The Medium and the Message. The filmmaker has created some of the most powerful documentaries of recent years, with a breathtaking visual style that takes what at base level appears to be MTV-like cuts and reappropriations and flows them seamlessly into narrative and music so that pictures act as a narrative all of their own. It's very powerful stuff, and undeniably manipulative for it (although probably self-consciously so). You can see almost his entire back catalogue at Archive.org (scroll down for links).

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Random link round up. Mags McGinnis, formerly of Laika, makes candles, practices law and plays guitar in Wire / Being Tyler Brule, the man made weblog / M.Inc, a design weblog / Sam Haskins' photoblog (some nudity) / Don't be a coconut, a music weblog / Ryan's Neat Stuff Blog, mostly old comics and things / the Victorinox edition Airstream (via autoblog) / seier + seier + seier's flickr stream is notable not just for the beautiful architectural imagery, but for the extended and highly informative captions.

Owen Luder is now getting his Rubble Club deluxe membership fleshed out: Southgate Shopping Centre, Bath and the Tricorn Centre in Portsmouth / designing the friendly skies, an old aviation nostalgia-fest / the best 'boring postcard' ever? / Le Corbusier - Chapelle Ronchamp, Notre-Dame du Haut 1950-1955 / thank goodness for people with large, well-organised flickr streams, like Steve Cadman and Sandro Maggi.

If Famous Architecture Were Priced Like Paintings, a Le Corbusier Would Cost the Same as the Entire American GDP / go on, Fix Outlook / Heavy Metal of a different kind, photographer Anthony Oliver on tractor badges in Eye / more on Polaroid and a possible antecedent to the classic SX-70 camera uncovered by Mrs Deane.

Disappointingly small gallery of historic roller coasters (via, where there are better links) / Coast Modern is a new documentary about the modern house on America's West Coast. Should be interesting to see moving images of dwellings that have long been canonised through epic photography (Shulman in particular).

'Ghost village to be demolished', the story of Pollphail at Portavadie. Check the photography of this never-inhabited village, taken by Philippa Elliot. There's more about Pollphail at Secret Scotland / hive mind ADD. On 25 June 4 of the 10 top search terms were directly Michael Jackson related. By 27 June, Jackson had dropped to only two mentions in the top 50, the first at number 25.

We're looking forward to the BLDGBLOG book / Werner Aisslinger's Loftcube, a media celebrity project from a few years back, gets several more minutes of fame at PhotoshopDisasters / it's a shame that bad British Architecture isn't reeling off the vitriol on a daily (hourly?) basis - there's too much material there for it to stay idle.

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Thursday, November 08, 2007


If we were in charge of administering black budgets and ultra-secret projects, the current state of the world would offer enormous comfort. Rumour and speculation are rife in the 30 billion dollar world of covert technology, the likes and capacity of which we can only begin to imagine. But our imagination is the problem. Click past the respectable windows into the dark world of covertly funded projects, like the insight offered by the Federation of American Scientists, for example, and it's easy to lose track of what's real, what's imagined, what's proposed, projected or merely the paranoid ramblings of people who believe they're being kept in the dark. The whole black helicopter phenomenon is little more than a manifestation of collective uncertainty, a useful, if nebulous, thing to point the trembling finger at.

So when stories titled 'Are We Being Watched by Flying Robot Insects? enter the public realm (even in the Washington Post), they are received with a tone of scepticism, tinged with a bit of gee-whiz speculation (via Never mind the Black Helicopters, look out for the Dragonflies, where the mood is appalled, unsurprised and generally disdainful). Sure, the technology and the theory exists, but it's the applications that unsettle. A recent issue of Professional Engineering (Vol:20 Issue:16, subscription required) carried the story 'Spy copter debut passes over heads of festival-goers', quietly noting how police trialled the Hicam Microdrone at the V Festival, after earlier trials ('Police force tests airborne spy camera', (Guardian, Tuesday May 22, 2007). It was widely reported at the time, and the coverage has veered from admiring to alarmist. This Wired Gallery neatly summarises the current state and scale of (visible) technology, which ranges from military vehicles down to small(ish) companies like Schiebel and their Camcopter (and their rather elegant factory).

Miniature UAV's (or just MAVs) are high on the agenda at DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), as well as places like the University of Florida. It's not hard to imagine why such a thing might be needed, or why governments around the world are champing at the bit to get hold of MAVs, but by the same token one should assume that even if the quasi-legendary robot dragonflies don't exist, then something incredibly similar already exists. The Economist has run a couple of stories - 'Rise of the Machines' and 'The Fly's a Spy' - that posit believable near-future scenarios. 'The bigger worries are to do with privacy: some of these flying machines will be so small that they will be able to fly inside buildings, filming everything they see; heaven knows what paparazzi will do with them.'

Imagine a swarm of quasi-autonomous paparazzibots, programmed to relentlessly home in on Paris Hilton's iPhone or electronically paired with the Bluetooth transmitter in Prince Harry's Range Rover. Tomorrow's celebrities will be permanently accompanied by an unwelcome micro-cloud of buzzing devices, miniature versions of the news choppers that blight the LA skies, mimicking the fly-strewn perimeter of Pigpen from Peanuts. So disposable that they're released in their hundreds, all busy feeding streams of high resolution imagery back to their masters. If cell phones had to have an artificial shutter sound piped in to their cameras to sate privacy concerns, what noise will be regulated on the flying camera fleet?

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