Augmented Irrationality

by Sally Applin

It isn’t much of a surprise that Augemented Reality (AR) is gaining traction. In the past 7 months that I’ve been following it, AR developer software has been getting more robust, more distributed and there are more and more people using it, and talking about using it to develop applications. In a way, layering information over the world through a visual field to bring contextual information to people can be a great thing. It enhances reality with the data that can support a more contextually and/or historically relevant enriched experience.

Yesterday I was in San Francisco and walking on a pier. A very run down pier. The infrastructure had begun to collapse and parts of it were sectioned off with warnings advising of certain peril. Then, merely a foot away, there were no warning signs and no troubles. It was not hard to imagine what had happened to the pier that it had caused its decay. Cuts in services? No budget for repairing infrastructure? I found myself wanting know true “why” of what had happened to the pier. This was partly out of curiosity, and partly out of a sort of “architectural sadness.”

As I walked along, there were things about the pier that I wanted to identify and couldn’t. It occurred to me, and not more than once, that “An AR app right about now would be great.” It would easily reveal to me the history and significance of the pier and its uses throughout the years. It would tell me why the pier was curved, what purpose it had served in the past, what the best spots on it were for taking photographs of the Golden Gate bridge and Alcatraz Island, and the even the history of The Dolphin Club of San Francisco and why that man was swimming along side it in freezing water without a wetsuit.

Then I thought about it.

Would it?

AR might be an easy way to get at that information, but to get at it, I would likely have to look at advertisements, graffiti, people’s messages to one another, catalog ads, bot profile “suggestions” and who knows what else. (I was already negotiating skateboarders, casting fishermen, segulls and other pedestrians.)

Do I want the sanctuary of my body space, which I now augment with eyeglasses, clothing, and a mobile phone, to get another layer…..of advertising?

“Oh, but AR is transparent!”

AR is touted as a semi-transparent layer over existing data and one of the buzzwords that seems to have been going around for the past few years is “transparency.” It was one of the Obama campaign promise platforms and has come up over and over again in my research. What is “transparency”? Who wants it? In some ways, people are demanding it. In others, the mere fact of getting it–and seeing what is really underneath, is frightening.

In parallel, the world has been getting more, well, cryptic. Opaque. Last night on the Twitter feed, @bruces wrote:

9-11, Enron, Iraq, Katrina, mortgage crisis, bailout, euro crisis, climate crisis, oil spill — we’re led by liars and sleepwalkers. Every major event that hits us is a fake, a fraud, a provocation, a panic or an organized denial — never anything we foresaw or averted. We’re way past the point of rationally managing events and into a business and politics of “lemming retention.”

How much is data augmenting a distraction? If we derail ourselves from the world at hand, we won’t have to see what “piers” are crumbling. The more we are distracted, the more those who remain opaque can, and will continue to practice their opacity.

The disasters that Sterling refers to aren’t happening to those who are building and shaping AR.


The people with good jobs in the computer and data industry who are on the edge of the next technology wave are employed, as people are rushing to build and deploy AR software, entertainment and advertisements. For them, Augmented Reality will enhance reality in the same way that I wanted to just simply “learn more” about the pier. That said, for those whose reality has just been augmented without choice, through disaster or corporate or political oversight, (or hey, all three) it creates almost the opposite experience.

My questions:

How much do my brain and body want to fight it out?

Would money be spent to describe the history of something rather than actually preserve its usefulness?

If my brain continues to be “enriched” what is the cost to not only my body, but to the collective bodies of all of us and the space that we inhabit?

Trend: AR is on its way. For now, it will be your choice whether to augment your reality, or to look deeper into what’s left standing and determine how to augment that, instead.

©2010-2014 Sally A. Applin. All rights reserved.

Walt Banksy and Magic Mister Brainwash

by Sally Applin

“Exit Through the Gift Shop” is Banksy’s confession about commerce. Most people who see the film know that Banksy is behind Mister Brainwash. This is an attempt to understand why.

The basic plot of the art film is about a Thierry Guetta, a French videographer, with a OCD video disorder that compels him to film everything.

Guetta films the “Street Art” scene, following it for 10 years, which culminates with his meeting the reclusive artist Banksy.

In the film, Banksy encourages Guetta to make the Street Art documentary that he had talked of making for the past 10 years. When Guetta finally does make the film, Banksy dismisses it — referring to it as something like “a basic channel changing ADHD nightmare.”

As a result, Banksy encourages Guetta to become a street artist on his own and to have a show, while Banksy makes the documentary.

“Exit Through the Gift Shop” is the film that Banksy made about Guetta’s pursuit of a “career” as a Street Artist.

Guetta hocks his possessions and hires talented graphic designers, artists, set-builders and others to create art for him. In doing so, Guetta creates a post-modern Warhol factory–churning out an inventory of pop-art manifestos. The pieces are described as the end result of Guetta’s imagination running wild.

Piece after piece of art emerge in the worst mash-up of all commerical styles: there are classical paintings with gas masks, pop-figures depicted as Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe, giant matchbox cars, paint cans, a boombox and tomato soup cans (but in a “spray”) in the style of Warhol’s Brillo Boxes, and other paintings–all baring the distinct style of the artists that Guetta has followed–particularly Banksy, and Banky’s idol: Andy Warhol.

The end-product of all this manufacturing is a giant art show, where Guetta, who has now renamed himself “Mister Brainwash” or MBW, makes his debut.

The Street Artists and Banksy are interviewed and react with amazement that with no real training or talent, Guetta was able to create more pieces than anyone else, faster than anyone and to mount a massive art show that is a commercial success.

The thing is about all of that, is, well, it’s a story. A fantasy. From Fantasyland.


The pivotal point in the film isn’t when Banksy takes over the camera.

The pivital point is when Banksy and Guetta go to Disneyland during the mounting of Banksy’s big show in Los Angeles, two years before.

In 2006, Banksy came to LA to prepare for a warehouse show of his art. (In the film, he claims to leave during the mounting, but it was a few months before the show.)

Banksy took some time off to visit Disneyland and while there, installed a “Guantanamo Bay detainee” in the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in Frontierland. Guetta accompanied him.

When Banksy and Guetta first arrive to the park, Guetta inquiries if Mickey Mouse is there. The ticket agent says that Mickey Mouse is in the park, in Fantasyland–and will be there all day.

Banksy installed his art and Guetta filmed and photographs the installation. While Banksy is changing clothing, Guetta notices he is being followed and tries to leave the park–and is subsequently caught.

As the Disney security interrogates Guetta in their own “Guantanomo Bay,” the film repeatedly cuts to photos of ‘It’s a Small World,” in Fantasyland.

After Guetta’s interrogation, Banksy says in the film that after this episode, he had no trouble at all deeply trusting Guetta.

It is at this point, that Banksy realized that Guetta could also potentially be the “front” for Banksy wanting to sell his art more commercially.

Banksy makes Guetta the “Mickey Mouse” to Banksy’s “Walt Disney.”

As the film continues, we return to Mister Brainwash and his show. The public laps it up and thinks MBW is a genius.

The real genius is Banksy, who knows that if he were to suddenly start selling greeting cards, coffee mugs and posters, the value of his identity as a “Street Artist” would plummet. So Banksy invents the character “Mister Brainwash” who creates and sells the art for him.

(A note about Disney: Walt Disney dreamed up the Disney characters and Disneyland, and yet, when political or ethics movements make a play at mocking corporate America, they avoid the artist of Walt Disney, and instead use his character of Mickey Mouse to take the rap.)

“Exit Through the Gift Shop” is about commerce. A large-scale advertisement for Banksy’s Mickey Mouse:  Mister Brainwash. It’s a way to sell the MBW themed items through the giant gift shops that are the worldwide installations of the Mister Brainwash exhibitions.

Trend: Scapegoating for profit! Everybody’s doing it–from Guantanemo Bay to Disney to…….Banksy.

Now! NOW! Now! How do you like it? How do you like it? Now! Now! Now! How do you like it? How do you like your NOW?

by Sally Applin

Lately, I’ve been thinking about advertising.

The web model has been advertising and more advertising. Now its more advertising plus geo-location so its “extra targeted” advertising.

The thing about advertising, is that it doesn’t need to have legacy. In fact, it isn’t about history at all–its about now.

I follow a mix of people on Twitter–some my age, some about 10 years older, and some quite a bit younger than me.

The younger ones–have no sense or interest in history. It appears to be irrelevant to them. The consulting work that they do, is to create a better and more profitable “now” for their clients. That “now” could be a UI, a strategy, or anything else, but its focus is about the “now.” Not two years from now and not about two years ago. Now and now only.

When do their clients want it, by the way? NOW!

There isn’t a sense of planning, longevity or meaning–and there might not need to be.

If media commerce is advertising based, then the only thing that really matters in that world *is* now.

(Unless, yanno, society needs to actually prepare for something.)

Trend: All now. All the time. Now with a side of NOW, please. Oh, and can you do it NOW?

Trend: More Grasshopper, less Ant. (If this puzzles you, read the fable. Aesop wrote it sometime between 620-564 BC.)

©2010-2014 Sally A. Applin. All rights reserved.

Crisis Camping

by Sally Applin

Preface: Before I write anything further–I want to acknowledge and appreciate that all help in a crisis is valuable (virtual and bodily) and that my thoughts are with those who are currently suffering in Haiti.

The earthquake in Haiti has had a tragic impact on that country and its inhabitants. For those in other countries, there has been a desire to help. Millions of dollars have been raised from generous individuals and organizations to help the Haitian recover effort.

That said, there has also been an interesting development of others wanting to help–those in the technology community.

“Crisis Camp” is the name given to a group of technology types (programmers, software engineers and architects, UI designers, geographers, data miners and other such types) who gather in meeting spots in different cities, for a full day/night to work on the “data crisis” for Haiti.

On the surface, it may seem unnecessary: the people of Haiti need medical assistance, food and water, how can people in a room on computers help them?

The Silicon Valley Crisis Camp had a charter of the following:

Project Proposals for CrisisCamp Haiti
Base layer map for Port Au Prince: This project would create a new collection of imagery and a new base map for NGOs and relief agencies. Post available imagery to share with the public for open source applications.
Family locator systems: Uniting efforts of interested technologists, developers and communications experts to provide technical assistance.
Tech Volunteer Skill Matrix/Volunteers: Create a role of volunteer as well as
Managing News Aggregator: Provide content channel management to coordinate data feeds
Defining the Collective: Create what we are and why we are doing this. Coordinate and post historical timeline/archive for the CrisisCamp efforts.

In a way, this is terrific. It addresses needs that the infrastructure needs to become more efficient and to communicate more clearly in a crisis. It also assists with helping those on the ground (and the big assumption is that there is power, internet, cell towers and all else there) find and aid others. It helps family members outside of Haiti connect with the rescue effort and to potentially locate their loved ones.

Another great thing about the Crisis Camps is that they are being passed around different locations. The first one was in DC, then Silicon Valley, now Portand and other cities. In this way, as one group gets fatigued, the other can build on what was done before and continue.

The trend that is interesting to me here is the new way of helping. The Crisis Campers are people who are talented and have resources to give in what they do and like other types of dontation collection–its all happening remotely.

The people in Haiti seriously need: doctors, blood, blankets, medical supplies, water, food, shelter–the physical things that sustain human life.

The Crisis Campers are donating time, expertise and mental effort, but are almost cyborg in what they are doing. The Crisis Camps aren’t collecting supplies for the Red Cross, nor even blood. They are connecting by brain, and their bodies work with the machine to solve the problems. They are safely and remotely working very hard, but completely detached from the body: theirs and those in Haiti.

I find I’m in a conflict about it: on the one hand, all help is valuable. On the other, shouldn’t the Crisis Campers be donating blood, blankets, spare clothing, etc, as well?


Crisis Camping: no tents, no bugs, no dirt, no blood, no blankets, no medical supplies

Crisis Camping: plugging the data holes that are problems in a crisis and helping to facilitate communication during a crisis.

Trend: Hard to put my finger on. I’d say its helping while remaining detached from the body.

Its the new kind of help in a new kind of merged world.

©2010-2014 Sally A. Applin. All rights reserved.


by Sally Applin

Last year I wrote that I thought that Africa and all things African were going to make a comeback.

Here we go:

Trends: Trends was on Trend!

©2009-2014 Sally A. Applin. All rights reserved.

~Happy CONtrails to You, Until we Tweet Again~

by Sally Applin

People working in the social application space seem to be interested in contrails.

The Wikipedia definition for vapor contrails:

Contrails (short for “condensation trails”) or vapour trails are basically artificial clouds, visible trails of condensed water vapour, made by the exhaust of aircraft engines. As the hot exhaust gases cool in the surrounding air they may precipitate a cloud of microscopic water droplets. If the air is cold enough, this trail will comprise tiny ice crystals.

Contrails are the comet tails of our digital world. In maps, they are the records of the paths that we take in physical space, represented digitally. They look like lines of paths that one has travelled.

Why are they interesting?

My informal poll shows that they are interesting as an archive of memory. People want to remember where they went, and feel that a contrail map can remind them of the paths they took through the planet at any given time.

I don’t buy it as the entire story. If multiple movements are saved over multiple days, the patterns of data can reveal behaviors about a person’s habits, patterns and places that they travelled.

I think CONtrails are super data rich traces of information.

Its turbo crazy spy wear! Its a trojan horse! Its voluntary participation in a turbo crazy spywear trojan horse!

CONtrails turn a person’s life into data. Clinical output to be measured. A census. A CONcensus. A CONtrail.

CON because–one is conned into thinking on the front end that they are recording paths they’ve been — travel trips, map routes and the like–are just in that moment. Not that they are being recorded and measured against others and other trips one takes and archived. CON because that data is analyzed.

Put it this way: you don’t lose privacy with a paper map.

Trend: the CONcensus is that there are going to be CONtrails. Tread carefully. Decide if you really want to be tracked in the GPS space, for how long, and during what activities. Its coming. Prepare yourself for your Golden Years of looking at line patterns and reminiscing about the good old days before GPS when we used maps and took photographs!

©2009-2014 Sally A. Applin. All rights reserved.

C-N-C….In the House!

by Sally Applin

The Makerbot CupCake CNC machine from Makerbot Industries is on the market. The kits are now available for home hobbyists to build their own CNC machines.

For people who might not know, the Makerbot CNC is a 3-D printer, or for lack of a better analogy–an EasyBake™ “CupCake” oven for geeks.

CupCake CNC
I am an open, hackable robot for making nearly anything.
The basic structure of a MakerBot is:

A 3D positioning system.
A toolhead that does work.
Electronics to drive it.
As the CupCake CNC is a MakerBot, it contains all of these elements. The 3D positioning system is a standard cartesian (X,Y,Z) system. In our particular configuration, the build platform moves in the X and Y directions and toolhead is mounted on the Z stage which moves up and down. The X and Y axes are belt driven, and the Z axis is screw driven.

The owner has to build the CNC from a kit, and each kit comes with all the parts that are required, minus tools:

This particular kit comes with:

* The lasercut parts to assemble a CupCake CNC machine.
* 3 x NEMA 17 motors to drive your machine
* The nuts, bolts, and various hardware to assemble it.
* The belts and pulleys for it to move things around.
* All the bearings to make your machine nice and smooth.
* The highest quality precision ground shafts for the X and Y axes we could find.
* Fully assembled 3rd Generation Electronics to drive it better, faster, and stronger.
* A magnetized, detachable build platform to make removing your finished prints easier.
* A pinch-wheel Plastruder to make things in plastic with.
* 1lb of ABS plastic to get you started printing.
* Allen keys to make it easy to put together

The “Deluxe Kit” adds the following for $200 US more:

Additionally, we include lots of extras to make your kit building experience easier:

* a USB2TTL cable to talk to it
* cat5e cables to wire things up
* a standard ATX power supply
* a tools kit with all the hex keys, wrenches, and other bits you need to construct it.
* a full 5lbs of ABS plastic so you can print your heart out (in addition to the 1lb of ABS)
* an extra acrylic build surface, and a spare build platform
* SD card to buffer your prints

The basic process to print a 3-D object is:

1. Find or design a 3D model (.STL) of your thing.
2. Use Skeinforge to convert your STL into a GCode file.
3. Use ReplicatorG to run the GCode and build the thing.

At the moment, the CupCake CNC requires some specialized skills, though there seems to be a lot of supportive posts and papers available as resources.

There is even a “Bluetooth to Serial” kit that can be adapted so that the maker can just “print” in 3-D.

What I wonder about is:

  • What will it be making?
  • Will everything be made out of plastic?
  • Plastic is a petroleum product. The globe is currently on a “conserve” mode with petroleum. Is this a problem?
  • 5 pounds of plastic costs $60.00 US.
  • Will it be affordable?
  • Will it be affordable environmentally?
  • What will it be like to have most objects be either black or white plastic?
  • Is the plastic safe?
  • Is it toxic?
  • Can it be recycled?
  • Can a maker buy recycled plastic for it?
  • I have more questions but I feel kind of overwhelmed by them at the moment.

    Summary: CNC CupCake in your house. You can now, with about a 1k investment, make your own plastic things.

    Trend (from The Graduate):

    Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
    Benjamin: Yes, sir.
    Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
    Benjamin: Yes, I am.
    Mr. McGuire: Plastics.

    ©2009-2014 Sally A. Applin. All rights reserved.