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City of gold

In 2012 the architectural firm FR•EE proposed a master plan for a generic high tech city they immodestly called FR•EE City. The firm was founded by Mexican architect Fernando Romero. “Envision a place where residents are guaranteed security, healthcare and education, a city where access to information is unrestricted and innovative technologies are fully integrated…More

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Bitcoin City

In 2021, the the president of El Salvador in Central America declared Bitcoin legal tender. So businesses had to accept the digital currency as well as US dollars. The country had already abandoned its own currency, the colón, in 2001. By many accounts, the move to Bitcoin has not gone well. Vendors are reluctant to…More

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A useful world

It matters little for the survival of an organism (plant, animal, human) whether we have an accurate or “true” understanding of the world around. It’s more important that our understanding is useful to us. That’s according to neuroscientist Anil Seth in Being You: A New Science of Consciousness. We don’t perceive the world as it…More

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The hallucination machine

Imagination is a commonplace idea. To imagine is to form an image in the mind, to contrive, devise or represent something. Most would affirm that a vivid imagination is an asset, a function exercised by competent designers, poets, artists, authors and inventors. Here I am continuing a theme from an earlier post Creative cognition. Now…More

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Exaggeration (revisited)

I’ve just returned from Dubai, a city subject to analysis across many dimensions (smart city, meeting of cultures, diversity, development, opportunity, entrepreneurship, particular labour practices). Not least, it is a city of exaggerated dimensions, scales, shapes, social dimensions, politics. Here are some images that confirm that exaggeration, followed by something I wrote in 2016 in…More

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Cultures of the desert

I’m on holiday, but this is a good chance to revive former reflections on desert life, at least from the viewpoint of the tourist philosopher. See posts: Infinite souq, Chasing the line, Don’t go into the crypt! and The twist of the pen.More

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Creative cognition

As I’m reading about brains and cognition again, I thought I would revisit an article I penned some time ago that tried to address the issue of creativity. Coyne, Richard. “Design reasoning without explanation.” AI Magazine 11, no. 4 (1990): 72-80.  At the time there was a debate between two schools concerning how human reason…More

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Hallucination everywhere

Perception of the world is a “controlled hallucination.” That’s one of the main propositions of the recent book by neuroscientist Anil Seth, Being You: A New Science of Consciousness. For me the idea that the things we perceive in the world are conditioned by what we imagine, or project into it, accords with the phenomenology…More

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“Blockchain for architects” revisited

In 2017 the editors of arq (Architectural Research Quarterly) approached some of us to contribute articles for an anniversary issue to celebrate the journal’s twenty-first year. The invitation was to reflect on the past, or future, 21 years of architectural research. With co-author Tolu Onabolu I decided to beat the drum for blockchain and the…More

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Phenomenology and data

In 2013 a group of us published an article describing our early attempt to use head-mounted mobile EEG to gauge people’s emotional (affective) responses to spaces while on the move. Aspinall, Peter, Panagiotis Mavros, Richard Coyne, and Jenny Roe. “The urban brain: Analysing outdoor physical activity with mobile EEG.” British Journal of Sports Medicine 49,…More

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Permaweb

Data objects are different than physical objects. Data files can be fragmented and distributed across storage locations, then re-assembled instantly as needed. Even on my laptop, files are stored in different parts of a hard disk (or flash drive) as fragments. Networks of personal computers can also host distributed file fragments. The most recent innovation…More

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History is my witness

Independent Russian news website Meduza has operated in Latvia since 2014. It aims to provide independent reporting and commentary about Russia for Russians. It is inevitably critical of Putin’s government. Since launching its attack on Ukraine the Russian government blocked Meduza in a raft of measures to silence criticism. Meduza is blocked from its main…More

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Primary research

Researchers in the humanities and social sciences like to compare, contrast, synthesise, critique build and dissect theories, ideas and preconceptions. We attempt to formulate compelling arguments and narratives, drawing on relevant literature, reflections and insights from our intellectual communities. We sometimes encroach across borders between communities and frameworks to encounter otherness that challenges our own…More

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Wordle secrets: from CAULK to CYNIC

There’s a pleasant sociable aspect to the online puzzle Wordle. Every day there’s a new word challenge, where you have to guess a new hidden five letter word. Every player has the same secret word to guess. So the puzzle encourages low grade rivalry and serves as a conversation starter amongst players — as long…More

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Advise, advocate, lobby, conspire

Terms people associate with the intellect are often grounded in the material world of everyday experience: sight, sound, space and breath. Terms that contribute to communicating truths are no exception, as a browse through the ever-accommodating online Oxford English Dictionary (OED) attests — supplemented by excursions into http://www.etymonline.com. Advise To advise is to offer an…More

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The advocate

It is common in professional life to advocate on behalf of a client (student, patient, customer, group, special interest, idea). I recall as an architect in practice advocating for planning permission for a white corrugated iron clad holiday home. Whereas the local council wanted “natural” colours (olive green and brown) to blend in with the…More

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It’s just a performance

However much I disagree with the sentiments, I think I get political conservatism: putting high value on the status quo, small government, individualism, minimally regulated free enterprise, nostalgia for a reconstructed past. I’ve read Ayn Rand. Beyond that it’s performance: as Laura Ingraham and other Fox News Channel media presenters scoff, look bemused, chuckle, deride…More

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Designed to confuse

The article “The Dark (Patterns) Side of UX Design” by Colin Gray et al provides a compendium of techniques designed to induce online consumers to make purchases, commit to regular subscription payments, pay more than the initial price, prevent consumers from considering competitor offerings, and that enable platforms to use consumers’ private information or monitor…More

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Dark patterns

Most design practitioners think they are on the side of the good. Design training typically elevates positive values. Architecture for example harbours a strong sense that it is supporting the public good. It is never comfortable if aligned with enabling corporate greed. HCI (human computer interaction) and UXD (user experience design) are disciplines similarly founded…More

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Hash blogs

Hash is a prominent term in computing and cryptography, according to the OED, “so called because it consists of small pieces of code arranged in an apparently jumbled and fragmented way.” See posts tagged hash. To hash is to chop up, to hack, a term applied readily to food (recooked and chopped meat), narcotic dried…More

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Hiding messages in DNA

DNA origami is predicated on various tropes of hiddenness: nano-scale locked “boxes” made of folded DNA strands to conceal active molecular agents (enzymes, drugs, active DNA material) from their immediate environments where they may be harmed or cause harm. Nano-objects are in any case hidden from direct view, detected via sensing apparatus such as electron…More

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Nano-origami

Using techniques I alluded to (briefly) in my previous post, genetic engineers fabricate, isolate and deploy a class of short DNA strands (20 or so DNA base-pairs) known as staples (oligonucleotides). There are techniques for inserting these staples into long DNA strands at specific locations to cause the strand structures to fold. So the double…More

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DNA cryptography

Developments in biotech impact on the spatial implications of cryptography. DNA involves sequences of just 4 molecules connected in pairs in a double helix configuration. These nucleotide molecules are adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G), and thymine (T). The DNA in a human cell is made up of about 3.2×109 of these pairs, normally tangled…More

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How to make up words

ETAOINS are the 7 most commonly used letters in the English language. See post: Counting letters. Perhaps we could communicate with just those seven letters. https://unscramblex.com is a website that provides all anagrams of up to 15 characters. There are 178 anagrams of ETAOINS. If you want include words where letters occur together (EE, TT,…More

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Codes and legals

Code is a useful term, not least as it has several meanings: rules, laws, computer programs, hidden messages. You can code and decode messages. The terminology around cryptographic ciphers is more restricted. It invokes meanings related to hidden writing. According to Simon Singh in The Code Book, “A cipher is the name given to any…More

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Urban cryptography

I’ve been investigating city life through the lens of cryptography. Here are some of the claims I think I can make on behalf of an “urban cryptography.” The most obvious contribution is that cryptography (digital encryption) addresses and resolves challenges of securing data and information flows in the city. But there’s more. Cities rely on…More

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How the Meta(verse) stokes division

The release of the trove of papers (“The Facebook Papers”) by whistle-blower and former Facebook employee Frances Haugen in 2021 suggests that Facebook manipulates and displays its content to polarise opinion and keep people engaged, if not “addicted,” in their social media news feeds. Social media platform developers configure their systems to encourage controversy. At…More

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Life in the metaverse

Technology companies such as Facebook have committed to developing the “metaverse.” According to a Facebook report the metaverse is “a set of virtual spaces where you can create and explore with other people who aren’t in the same physical space as you.” Facebook’s parent company is now called Meta. Skeptics say this is an excuse…More

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Greening the blockchain

While the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference COP26 takes place in Glasgow this week, attention turns to the energy waste of cryptocurrency transactions. A substantial part of the cost resides with the “proof of work” (PoW) process by which validating nodes on a blockchain compete to solve a numerical puzzle the solution to which…More

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Urban affordances

The term affordance was invented by the psychologist James J. Gibson (1904-1997): “The affordances of the environment are what it offers the animal, what it provides or furnishes, either for good or ill” (1979, p.27). He introduced the concept by referring to the relationship between the non-human animal (water bugs and bears) and its environment,…More

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“Smart city” claims

A “smart” public transportation network is one where schedules and real-time data are delivered on demand to smartphone users. Such an effective and “smart” system enables a traveller to transition from bus to train to tram without having to wait due to missed connections. The system adapts its information flows to the traveller’s changing needs…More

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Cybersecurity at the front

The Cybersecurity Bible by Hugo Hoffman encourages anyone who would be a cybersecurity specialist to “think like the enemy” (604). The guide counsels vigorous defence against potential attackers: purveyors of phishing attacks, de-authentication attacks, man-in-the-middle attacks, etc. Cybersecurity inevitably associates with defence, conflict, contest and war. Surface vulnerabilities Concepts of cybersecurity instil a sense of…More

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Ethics and feature detection

Automated feature detection within images (described in my previous post) deploys “machine learning” techniques. A machine learning algorithm scans thousands of “training” images that are pre-labelled with relevant feature descriptors. The algorithm adjusts the parameters in its network data structure to reproduce those same labels when presented with the same images. It thereby “learns” to…More

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Feature detection: Cows, cars and red motorcycles

Automated feature detection in images is big business. Amazon offers a service for businesses to identify features in large collections of images. According to their website at aws.amazon.com/rekognition the service provides automatic labelling of elements in a picture (e.g. this is a person on a bike, here is a mountain peak, etc). You can identify…More

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Algorithms and ethics

I’ve noticed amongst some digital scholars and critics a renewed interest in algorithms, e.g. people worry that Facebook’s “algorithm” skews what we read online towards the controversial and hence colours people’s politics. The concern is mainly over algorithms that “learn” from large amounts of data about us — in other words machine learning algorithms. A…More

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Cities as media

I’ve been searching for a way to transition from alien communications (as an exercise in cryptography) back to earth-bound cities. (See previous post.) Shannon Mattern’s interesting book Code and Clay, Data and Dirt: Five Thousand Years of Urban Media helps. It includes an aerial image of a geoglyph figure in the Nazca Desert (Peru) of…More

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Alien moods

The quest for communication with extraterrestrial intelligences teaches us more about human culture than we are likely to learn from putative aliens. Inquiry into alien communication leads inevitably to speculations about such communications as presented in plays, films, sound works and video games. Alien movies The composer John Williams has scored several films about aliens.…More

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Music and aliens

Music, or at least pitch, rhythm and note combinations, feature prominently in attempts to communicate with extraterrestrial aliens. Acoustic phenomena have a ready home in putative alien encounter. I think of the tuneful greeting to the alien spacecraft in Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) or Kubrick’s use of György Ligeti’s Requiem for…More

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Polarity minus

The composer and musicologist Ernst Levy (1895-1981) touched on architecture in an essay on the proportions of the southern tower of Chartres Cathedral. Unoriginally, he appealed to the proportions of the Golden Mean as the cathedral’s guiding principle. His theories hold greater significance in music however. In his book Theory of Harmony, first published in…More

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Negative substitution

Cryptographers substitute one symbol for another following a system, so that the recipient who knows the system (and/or a decryption algorithm) can reverse the substitution process to recover the original symbol sequence, i.e. the plain text message. Substitution is a common operation in mathematics, symbolic logic and computer programming. At various times it’s also informed…More

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The sky alphabet

A quick google image search on “things that look the same” reveals not just how similar to each other rocks, fruit, trees, animals, food, buildings and people can appear, but how sharply tuned is our propensity to find similarity wherever we can. The philosophy of the French scholar Jacques Gaffarel (1601-1681) exemplified a pre-modern understanding…More

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The secret machine

There are at least three touch points connecting the Baroque mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716) with secretiveness. 1. A cryptographic machine Leibniz invented and built a mechanical calculator. But less well known is his unbuilt model of a machine for encrypting and decrypting messages, using the poylaphabetical encryption method. In his account of Leibniz’s…More

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Cryptography and the Baroque

I’m on the hunt for references to cryptography by recent philosophers. In his book The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, the philosopher Gilles Deleuze states. A “cryptography” is needed which would both enumerate nature and decipher the soul, see into the coils of matter and read in the folds of the soul (228). Deleuze elaborates…More

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Useless encryption

I described ascii stereograms in my previous post. Playing about with secret messages hidden in text images seems scarcely relevant in the high stakes game of serious data security. What’s the use of investigating cryptographic methods that have no apparent practical use? Experts classify cryptographic techniques on the basis of how secure or insecure these…More

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ASCII stereograms 101

In the 1990s, text email (without pictures) was the main channel for person-to-person communication. Mimicking early text printer graphics, arrays of evenly spaced characters could serve as simple pixels inside an email. Imaginative emailers followed this method to adorn their messages with emojis and ASCII pictures. Amongst such text-based imagery you can find ASCII stereograms,…More

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What ever happened to autostereograms?

I recall the craze in the 1990s for Magic Eye posters and books. People would gaze and squint at these multicoloured, seemingly random, patterns to discern 3d images of dolphins, elephants, temples, and spaceships. The method of display was a variation on what I experienced as a child, as I gazed at my bedroom wallpaper…More

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Secrets of the overhead projector

All transmission of data across digital networks now involves encryption. It’s interesting to read articles from the 1990s in which cryptography was applied usually to messages only requiring high levels of security. A seminal 1995 article by Moni Naor and Adi Shamir began “In this paper we consider the problem of encrypting written material (printed…More

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Truth, lies and architecture

Do buildings lie? The UK Trade Descriptions Act prohibits sellers from circulating false or misleading descriptions of their goods and services. Legislation across most countries echoes the spirit of the UK Act. Informal reference to the challenge of false trade descriptions circulates amongst professional and consumer stakeholders within retail, education, health, and the built environment.…More

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Key exchange: It’s a wrap!

In an earlier post (Elliptic trapdoors) I did my best to explain addition and multiplication along an elliptic curve. The diagram showed a point P doubled to produce 2P, then added to itself to produce 3P, and added again to produce 4P. The dotted lines indicated the mirror reflection operation to arrive at the final…More

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Elliptic fields

One property of algebraic equations is that you can perform the same simple arithmetical operation on both sides of the equation and the equivalence still holds for the same x and y values, e.g. y = 2x has the same values if both sides are multiplied by the same number e.g. 6y = 12x. The…More