Monthly Archives: March 2009

GIS and GPS for Dangerous Environments

A colleague of mine recently pointed me to SAIC’s IKE 504, a GIS-integrated encrypted GPS targeting and data capture device. IKE captures the GPS coordinates and other geospatial data for any target from a safe distance (up to 1,000 meters) and provides a verifiable digital image of the target. To this end, IKE can be used for specialized mapping.


Patrick Philippe Meier

LIFT09: Vint Cerf on InterPlaNetary Internet (IPN)

Google’s Vice President and Internet Evangelist Vint Cerf gave the closing talk of LIFT09. The topic? Nothing too ambitious, just “The Future of Information and Communication Technology.” Vint touched on a number of issues ranging from mobile technology to inter-cloud communications. “For most people in the world, their first experience with the Internet will be through mobile technology.”

On inter-cloud communication, Vint highlighted the following key questions:

  • How to refer to other clouds?
  • How to refer to data in other clouds?
  • How to make data references persistent (unlike urls)?
  • How to protect Clouds from various forms of attack (inside, between clouds)?

He argued that we need a global agreement about privacy issues as we shift to cloud computing. He compared this with the Law of the Sea agreement. But what he really wanted to talk about was the InterPlaNetary Internet (IPN).


“The objective of the Interplanetary Internet project is to define the architecture and protocols necessary to permit interoperation of the Internet resident on Earth with other remotely located internets resident on other planets or spacecraft in transit.

While the Earth’s Internet is basically a ‘network of connected networks’ the Interplanetary Internet may therefore be thought of as a “network of disconnected Internets”. Inter-working in this environment will require new techniques to be developed.

Many elements of the current terrestrial Internet suite of protocols are expected to be useful in low-delay space environments, such as local operations on and around other planets or within free flying space vehicles. However, the speed-of-light delays, intermittent and unidirectional connectivity, and error-rates characteristic of deep-space communication make their use unfeasible across deep-space distances.

It is also anticipated that the architecture and protocols developed by this project will be useful in many terrestrial environments in which a dependence on real-time interactive communication is either unfeasible or inadvisable.”

For further information, see the project website here.

Patrick Philippe Meier

LIFT09: LifeStream Data Visualization

I hope the team behind LifeStream uploads their official visualizations video very soon. LifeStream takes a design approach to visualizing large quantities of information. LifeStreamer Jan-Christoph Zoels explores how “design information visualizations make what is hidden, unhidden.” When visualized in certain ways, data moves from information to knowledge and knowledge, and knowledge to wisdom.

“The representation stage is the single most important stage in a visualization project,” add Jan-Christoph. Why? “Because decisions made at this stage can necessitate a rethinking of decisions made at earlier stages.” Lifestreaming is not finished once the data is visualized in an engaging and clear way. The next important step is to “add methods to interact with the visualization, to manipulate and control the visible features.” (Incidentally, this is also critical for crisis mapping).

The team previewed their very neat visualization video at LIFT09 and below is a copy filmed by Mark Krinsky during the presentation.

In sum, Lifestream is about shaping new paradigms in user interface design; “paradigms that will allow us to see and handle more information than traditional interfaces by combining different aspects or perspectives.” The team at Lifestream concluded their superb presentation by sharing their thoughts on what makes the best visualizations so appealing. In their own words, visualizations need to be “Natural, Engaging, Flowing, Climactic, Seamless, Accessible, Forgiving, Multi-Model/Sensorial and Enjoyable.

Patrick Philippe Meier

LIFT09: Visualizing City Dynamics (Updated)

There were two neat presentations on data visualization of communication dynamics in urban environments. The first, by Stéphane Distinguin from UrbanMobs, included the following visualization of text messages sent throughout Paris during World Music Day:

The visualization below is of “mobile phone calls in Barcelona during the European Football Championship 2008 final and the day after the victory. You can easily notice the different game phases: kick off, half time, goal, end of the match and celebration of the Spanish team victory.”

Carlo Ratti from MIT’s SENSEable City Lab also gave a really neat talk on dynamic visualizations within cities and the patterns that arise.


Carlo showed engaging visualizations are a series of cities. Take the Real Time Rome project which aggregated data from mobile phones over different periods in Rome. The video represents the communication patterns across Rome during a Madonna concert.

Time zones influence the global rhythm of communications. In the video below, international calls between New York and 255 countries are visualized over a 24-hour period. “Areas of the world receiving and making fewer phone calls shrink while areas experiencing a greater amount of voice call activity expand.”

Carlo also showed an animation of “The Water Pavilion” located at the entrance to Expo Zaragoza 2008. Carlo and his team wanted to convey the sense of water in digital terms and therefore designed an interactive building made of water. Think of digital water like an inkjet printer on a large scale but with water instead of ink.

Patrick Philippe Meier

LIFT09: Collective Action and Technology

Ramesh Srinivasan and Juliana Rotich spoke about how technologies have changed collective action and solidarity over the past 15 years.


Ramesh recalled the story of an Indian fishermen who was far out at sea when the Sumatra seaquake launched a tidal wave of Biblical proportions. He had never seen anything like this in his lifetime and used his mobile phone to warn family and friends near the shore and thereby saved many lives. He himself was far enough from the coastline and survived.

Ramesh shared other stories on technology and solidarity. He spoke of  a community-based digital video literacy project in India. In his own words, the project enabled “mobility, dissemination and documentation, claim-making based on documented evidence, community, social capital and kinship,” and “stimulated dialague beyond the focus group.”

In another project, Ramesh explained how the website “Public Grievances & Redressal” designed by the eGovernments Foundation allows Indian citizens to file pubic complaints. Complaints are posted online and only removed when both the plaintiff and designated government official agree that the issue has been resolved. The length of time a complaint remains on the website impacts  future funding for the respective branch of government.

As for the future impact of technology on collective action and  solidarity, Ramesh is concerned that design is being coopted by usability. He also pointed to the growing “mismatch of ontology between the policy world and the local,” which reminded me of James Scott’s Seeing Like a State. Indeed, one of the prinicpal questions that guide both Ramesh and James is: “How do we build websystems that show differences?”

Take Google, for example. While simplicity is a hallmark of the company’s successful websystems, if you Google “Africa” the first link directly relevant to Africa appears only after the second page. This is worrying since the vast majority of web users hardly browse beyond the first page of Google results. Search online is no longer about using the intellectual expanse of the mind but about what what you can find.


My friend and colleague Juliana presented her work with Global Voices and Ushahidi. She spoke about globalism, mobile technology and the Cloud from the perspective of Africa, which was particularly refreshing.

The mobile phone is becoming increasingly important for Africa and, in my opinion, Africa is becoming more important for the world, For example, some 80% of the BBC‘s mobile traffic originates from Africa. Juliana also pointed out how Kenyans now use a free text message service that allows users low on credit to text another person so they can call them back, something called “flashing” or “beeping.” The only catch is that the text comes with a short ad.

Patrick Philippe Meier

LIFT09: Where did the future go?

If you haven’t been to a Lift conference before, I highly recommend doing so, especially if your background—like mine—is not in design or the arts. This was one of the most alternative and thought-provoking conferences I’ve been to yet; which leaves me somewhat “blogless” since I’m unsure how to reflect on three mind-bending days.

The experience reminded me of my time at the Santa Fe Institute (SFI) since I was exposed to completely different ways of seeing the world. So I will share in a series of blog posts some of the highlights, images and videos responsible for some of the mind-bending.

Gracing the Scene

The theme of the conference was about the future. Why are most predictions about the future way off and how can we better understand how foresight works? The reason I found LIFT so refreshing was that the answers were addressed from the perspective of design, technology and human-machine interaction. For example, the issue of cloud computing came up in a number of ways, not least in the form of the conference chair on the LIFT stage—not even TED has one of those!


Stay tuned for highlights, images and videos from LIFT 2009!

Patrick Philippe Meier