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Beyond averages: DCT graphics

The visual field is full of smooth curves. Shadows don’t have sharp edges but fade out. Colours blend, sometimes imperceptibly. At some level of detail, most things transition smoothly, but to varying degrees. The variation across such transitions is noticeable in a high quality digital photograph, i.e. a pixel image. Here is a random row … Continue reading

Urbanise rasterise

“Raster” is a suitably old fashioned term suggesting the scan lines of a cathode ray television screen. “Pixel” is more up to date. Pixel images have a privileged relationship with architecture. Much architecture is about the grid. Pixel images provide one means of depicting space, i.e. plans and elevations of buildings, zones, regions, city blocks. … Continue reading

Less is more: Signatures, cities and hash codes

In 1997, the Hubble Space Telescope’s Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) picked up the signature of a black hole. Instead of a vertical straight scan line, the STIS showed an S shape. Signatures point to the presence of something (a referent). But you see the thing only indirectly, i.e. you get to know that the referent exists, … Continue reading

Architecture post-COVID

What are the spatial implications of social isolation? Demonstrators arranged themselves on a social-distancing grid at the Athens May Day gathering, conjuring up a scenario of a gridded world, where citizens move about as if on a chessboard or an early version of SimCity. Architects gravitate towards extreme conditions as a way of unleashing new … Continue reading

Living with virions [and Ro]

Smartphones can’t yet take your temperature and diagnose if you are carrying an infection. But developers are designing smartphone apps to trace if you’ve been in contact with someone who has COVID-19. The most promising contact tracing apps enable smartphones to exchange short encrypted messages when they are within range of one another. That happens … Continue reading

The third great confinement

As I’m considering this for part of a future publication, I thought I should write the following in the past tense. I wonder if it will stand the test of time. I wrote most of this during the third great confinement, the global shutdown during the pandemic of 2020. Cities had to marshal their resources … Continue reading

China’s oceans of everyday data

A book by Kai-Fu Lee called AI-Superpowers outlines what’s needed for the current generation of artificial intelligence (AI) to succeed, and why China has the necessary ingredients to lead in the area. Lee is CEO of Sinovation Ventures, a firm that finances Chinese high-tech startups. Prior to that he was president of Google China, and … Continue reading

The future of prediction

Google and other digital masters have the capability to capture, store and process the content and meta-data of our communications, movements and interactions. At least, that’s according to Shoshana Zuboff’s argument about life and power in The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. Aided by algorithms that sort, categorise, and make inferences, Google can predict our desires … Continue reading

Surveillance capitalism and its discontents

Social psychologist Shoshana Zuboff’s book on surveillance capitalism reveals the perils and menace of the digital age. I’ve now read all 535 pages, or at least it was mostly read to me in urgent tones as an audiobook at 1.5x speed. The content was so useful to me as I contemplate the implications of the … Continue reading

The pleasures of the mouth

The soft human voice signifies comfort. Some would say that parental cooing and burbling sends babies to sleep. That affinity with the voice persists into later life. Thanks to telephones and mobile phones, the voice-in-your-ear is ubiquitous in contemporary life — compounding opportunities for the voice to do its work. The soft voice, breath, the … Continue reading

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