Friday, August 2nd, 2019
Monday, April 15th, 2019
New Ways of Seeing considers the impact of digital technologies on the way we see, understand, and interact with the world. Building on John Berger’s seminal Ways of Seeing from 1972, the show explores network infrastructures, digital images, systemic bias, education and the environment, in conversation with a number of contemporary art practitioners.
Friday, March 15th, 2019
Monday, March 12th, 2018
What was once a rich selection of blogs and websites has been compressed under the powerful weight of a few dominant platforms. This concentration of power creates a new set of gatekeepers, allowing a handful of platforms to control which ideas and opinions are seen and shared.
Tim Berners-Lee on the 29th anniversary of Information Management: A Proposal.
Two myths currently limit our collective imagination: the myth that advertising is the only possible business model for online companies, and the myth that it’s too late to change the way platforms operate. On both points, we need to be a little more creative.
While the problems facing the web are complex and large, I think we should see them as bugs: problems with existing code and software systems that have been created by people — and can be fixed by people.
Thursday, July 20th, 2017
It’s all very admirable, but it also feels a little bit 927.
Friday, May 12th, 2017
Ben points to a new product aiming to ease the pain of connected devices bumping up against the harsh realities of shearing layers:
By exposing the ‘hardwiring’ of our electrical systems, Conduct emphasises how much we rely on existing systems to power our ‘new’ technology – the rate of change and advancement in our traditional technologies moves at a much slower pace than our mobile app-based world and there are physical limitations as a result of this hardwired legacy.
I am—unsurprisingly—in favour of exposing the seams like this.
Monday, May 1st, 2017
A documentary by Matt Parker (brother of Andy) that follows in the footsteps of people like Andrew Blum, James Bridle, and Ingrid Burrington, going in search of the physical locations of the internet, and talking to the people who maintain it. Steven Pemberton makes an appearance in the first and last of five episodes:
- What is the Cloud vs What Existed Before?
- Working out the Internet: it’s a volume game
- The Submarine Cable Network
- How Much Data Is There?
The music makes it feel quite sinister.
Tuesday, April 25th, 2017
Is the emergence of a technologically advanced civilisation necessarily contingent on the easy availability of ancient energy? Is it possible to build an industrialised civilisation without fossil fuels?
This thought experiment leads to some fascinating conclusions.
So, would a society starting over on a planet stripped of its fossil fuel deposits have the chance to progress through its own Industrial Revolution? Or to phrase it another way, what might have happened if, for whatever reason, the Earth had never acquired its extensive underground deposits of coal and oil in the first place? Would our progress necessarily have halted in the 18th century, in a pre-industrial state?
Monday, March 6th, 2017
The conference starts tomorrow so I’ve had a day or two to acclimatise and explore. Seeing as Google are footing the bill for travel and accommodation, I’m staying at a rather nice hotel close to the conference venue in Tribeca. There’s live jazz in the lounge most evenings, a cinema downstairs, and should I request it, I can even have a goldfish in my room.
Today I realised that my hotel sits in the apex of a triangle of interesting buildings: carrier hotels.
Looming above my hotel is 32 Avenue of the Americas. On the outside the building looks like your classic Gozer the Gozerian style of New York building. Inside, the lobby features a mosaic on the ceiling, and another on the wall extolling the connective power of radio and telephone.
The same architects also designed 60 Hudson Street, which has a similar Art Deco feel to it. Inside, there’s a cavernous hallway running through the ground floor but I can’t show you a picture of it. A security guard told me I couldn’t take any photos inside …which is a little strange seeing as it’s splashed across the website of the building.
I walked around the outside of 60 Hudson, taking more pictures. Another security guard asked me what I was doing. I told her I was interested in the history of the building, which is true; it was the headquarters of Western Union. For much of the twentieth century, it was a world hub of telegraphic communication, in much the same way that a beach hut in Porthcurno was the nexus of the nineteenth century.
For a 21st century hub, there’s the third and final corner of the triangle at 33 Thomas Street. It’s a breathtaking building. It looks like a spaceship from a Chris Foss painting. It was probably designed more like a spacecraft than a traditional building—it’s primary purpose was to withstand an atomic blast. Gone are niceties like windows. Instead there’s an impenetrable monolith that looks like something straight out of a dystopian sci-fi film.
Brutalist on the outside, its interior is host to even more brutal acts of invasive surveillance. The Snowden papers revealed this AT&T building to be a centrepiece of the Titanpointe programme:
They called it Project X. It was an unusually audacious, highly sensitive assignment: to build a massive skyscraper, capable of withstanding an atomic blast, in the middle of New York City. It would have no windows, 29 floors with three basement levels, and enough food to last 1,500 people two weeks in the event of a catastrophe.
But the building’s primary purpose would not be to protect humans from toxic radiation amid nuclear war. Rather, the fortified skyscraper would safeguard powerful computers, cables, and switchboards. It would house one of the most important telecommunications hubs in the United States…
Looking at the building, it requires very little imagination to picture it as the lair of villainous activity. Laura Poitras’s short film Project X basically consists of a voiceover of someone reading an NSA manual, some ominous background music, and shots of 33 Thomas Street looming in its oh-so-loomy way.
A top-secret handbook takes viewers on an undercover journey to Titanpointe, the site of a hidden partnership. Narrated by Rami Malek and Michelle Williams, and based on classified NSA documents, Project X reveals the inner workings of a windowless skyscraper in downtown Manhattan.
Bruce widens our horizons with this in-depth look at where and how people are accessing the web around the world.
In this article, we’ve explored where the next 4 billion connected people will come from, as well as some of the innovations that the standards community has made to better serve them. In the next part, we’ll look at some of the demand-side problems that prevent people from accessing the web easily and what can be done to overcome them.
Friday, March 3rd, 2017
World of Concrete: Inside the Industry That’s Building Trump’s America Brick by Brick - The Atlantic
Fear and concrete in Las Vegas: a great piece of infrastructure reportage by Georgina.
Thursday, February 12th, 2015
Brewster Kahle’s short presentation at NetGain.
Friday, January 9th, 2015
I have to admit, my initial reaction to the idea of providing free access to some websites for people in developing countries was “well, it’s better than no access at all, right?” …but the more I think about it, the more I realise how short-sighted that is. The power of the internet stems from being a stupid network and anything that compromises that—even with the best of intentions—is an attack on its fundamental principles.
On the surface, it sounds great for carriers to exempt popular apps from data charges. But it’s anti-competitive, patronizing, and counter-productive.
Wednesday, July 16th, 2014
A look at the architectural history of the network hubs of New York: 32 Avenue of the Americas and 60 Hudson Street. Directed by Davina Pardo and written by her husband Andrew Blum, author of Tubes: A Journey to the Centre of the Internet.
These buildings were always used as network hubs. It’s just that the old networks were used to house the infrastructure of telephone networks (these were the long line buildings).
In a way, the big server hotel of New York—111 Eight Avenue—was also always used to route packets …it’s just that the packets used to be physical.
Sunday, January 12th, 2014
A great analysis of how centralised hubs are the easiest attack vector for bad actors like the NSA and GCHQ:
How did we get such industry concentration? Why is a network famously based on distributed processing, routing, and peer connections characterized now by a few choke points that the NSA can skim at its leisure?
Saturday, June 15th, 2013
Google’s plan to bring internet connectivity to remote areas by using balloons wafting in the stratosphere.
Considering that Google seems to put as much time and effort into its April Fool’s jokes as it does into its real projects, you’d be forgiven for assuming this was a spoof.
Friday, April 26th, 2013
A beautiful piece by James on the history of light as a material for communication …and its political overtones in today’s world.
What is light when it is information rather than illumination? What is it when it is not perceived by the human eye? Deep beneath the streets and oceans, what is illuminated by the machines, and how are we changed by this illumination?
Tuesday, April 16th, 2013
A lovely description by Paul Ford of the Hypertext Transfer Protocol.
That simple handshake is the firmament upon which we have built trillion-dollar cathedrals and bazaars, the base upon which we construct other protocols and networks.
Saturday, June 30th, 2012
After speaking at Go Beyond Pixels in St. John’s, I had some time to explore Newfoundland a little bit. Geri was kind enough to drive me to a place I really wanted to visit: the cable station at Heart’s Content.
I’ve wanted to visit Heart’s Content (and Porthcurno in Cornwall) ever since reading The Victorian Internet, a magnificent book by Tom Standage that conveys the truly world-changing nature of the telegraph. Heart’s Content plays a pivotal role in the story: the landing site of the transatlantic cable, spooled out by the Brunel-designed Great Eastern, the largest ship in the world at the time.
For all the talk of the placelessness of our digital age, the Internet is as fixed in real, physical places as any railroad or telephone system ever was.
Now there are more places I want to visit: the nexus points on TeleGeography’s Submarine Cable Map; the hubs of Hibernia Atlantic, whose about page reads like a viral marketing campaign for some soon-to-be-released near-future Hollywood cyberpunk thriller.
I’ve got the kind of travel bug described by Neal Stephenson in his classic 1996 Wired piece Mother Earth Mother Board:
In which the hacker tourist ventures forth across the wide and wondrous meatspace of three continents, acquainting himself with the customs and dialects of the exotic Manhole Villagers of Thailand, the U-Turn Tunnelers of the Nile Delta, the Cable Nomads of Lan tao Island, the Slack Control Wizards of Chelmsford, the Subterranean Ex-Telegraphers of Cornwall, and other previously unknown and unchronicled folk; also, biographical sketches of the two long-dead Supreme Ninja Hacker Mage Lords of global telecommunications, and other material pertaining to the business and technology of Undersea Fiber-Optic Cables, as well as an account of the laying of the longest wire on Earth, which should not be without interest to the readers of Wired.
Maybe one day I’ll get to visit the places being designed by Sheehan Partners, currently only inhabited by render ghosts on their website (which feels like it’s part of the same subversive viral marketing campaign as the Hibernia Atlantic site).
Perhaps I can find a reason to stop off in Ashburn, Virginia or The Dalles, Oregon, once infamous as the site of a cult-induced piece of lo-tech bioterrorism, now the site of Google’s Project 02. Not that there’s much chance of being allowed in, given Google’s condescending attitude when it comes to what they do with our data: “we know what’s best, don’t you trouble your little head about it.”
It’s that same attitude that lurks behind that most poisonous of bullshit marketing terms…
What a crock of shit.
Whereas other bullshit marketing terms once had a defined meaning that has eroded over time due to repeated use and abuse—Ajax, Web 2.0, HTML5, UX—“the cloud” is a term that sets out to deceive from the outset, imbued with the same Lakoffian toxicity as “downsizing” or “friendly fire.” It is the internet equivalent of miasma theory.
My friend @substitute suggested replacing every technobabble instance of “cloud” with “the Moon” and it’s changed my life— Pinboard (@Pinboard) January 6, 2012
Death to the cloud! Long live the New Flesh of servers, routers, wires and cables.
Sunday, September 25th, 2011
A great piece by James on the architecture, aesthetics and perception of datacenters.