Another Dawn on Chryse Planitia
Chryse Planitia
Sunset on Gale Crater
Sunset on Gale Crater
Liberate the Horizontal and Integrate the Vertical Super-Surface
James Balog


A very quick reminder that today is the last Sunday of March. That means it's International Tree Climbing Day! Go out and find yourself a nice tree, or any tree for that matter, and shimmy on up. Go survey your city anew, replay forgotten moments from your youth, domicile with arboreal creatures for an afternoon, get splinters and bloody scratches, serenade below with songs passed down to us by our hominid ancestors. Don't forget to bring the kids!
Stormproofing Cities
New Orleans


Terreform ONE has released the brief for this year's ONE Prize Competition, challenging entrants to envision urban design strategies for coping with present and future “severe climate dynamism.”

How can cities adapt to the future challenges of extreme weather? The ONE Prize is a call to deploy sophisticated design to alleviate storm impact through various urban interventions such as: protective green spaces, barrier shorelines, alternative housing, waterproofing technology, and public space solutions. We wish to reinvigorate infrastructure and repurpose spaces towards environmental adaptation in order to put design in the service of the community.


Perhaps a network of smart dikes snaking through daylighted marshes and mangroves wherein retreating villages of soft pavilions inhabited by Ethel Mermans and Fred Astaires perpetually cycle through periods of colonization and diaspora? A city of a thousand and one artificial mesas?

The deadline is 31 August 2013, meaning you have plenty of time to develop your submission or multiple entries. There is also no registration fee.
The Bismuth Stepwell
Bismuth


One of the Marvelous detritus that Tumblr occasionally spits out is this large bismuth crystal. As with most things on Tumblr, no other information is given, especially whether this sample was found naturally occurring or artificially grown. It's most likely the latter, which would explain the highly pronounced stair-step lattice distinctive to hopper crystals like bismuth. This characteristic structure occurs due to the crystal growing faster along the edges than at the center. As more mineral molecules are attracted to the edges, leaving less and less to fill the interior sections, the crystal craters. As for its iridescent color, that is due to oxidation.

If you want to make your own bismuth crystal, there are certainly plenty of YouTube instructionals for that, including this. In fact, bismuth has a low melting point (271°C or 520°F) that you could probably use a regular stove and some old kitchen wares rather than a fully outfitted smelting lab.

Though perhaps the world needs a smelting lab dedicated solely to fabricating gigantic bismuth crystals. A fantamagical stepwell factory.

Stepwell


Out in the desert or deep in the rain forest or hidden in a mountain valley, pools of molten bismuth are allowed to cool and crater down into the mantel, spiraling as they excavate their own labyrinths, like divining rods probing the earth for water to fill their lidos in the making. Not the comparatively uncomplicated “inverted ziggurats” they are usually described as, rather these bismuth stepwells might be more akin to a cancerous mass of Borobudurs hybridized with fetus in fetu Ankor Wats, inverted.

And then the factory is dismantled and carted away, leaving these “deeply wrinkled surfaces,” as Mary-Ann Ray might put it, for travelers to discover. “Like pieces on a game board, travelers move around within and upon it, discovering possible relationships with other travelers, hiding, seeking, losing, finding, passing by, encountering, entrapping, nearly missing.”

Tarsem Singh eventually flies in to film his interpretation of Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth.
The Interactive Anthrozoo
Cuddlebot


“Scientists have connected the brains of a pair of animals and allowed them to share sensory information,” reports The Guardian today. This is a “major step towards what the researchers call the world's first 'organic computer.'”

The US team fitted two rats with devices called brain-to-brain interfaces that let the animals collaborate on simple tasks to earn rewards, such as a drink of water.

In one radical demonstration of the technology, the scientists used the internet to link the brains of two rats separated by thousands of miles, with one in the researchers' lab at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and the other in Natal, Brazil.


This is “[l]iterally an Internet of Animals,” tweeted Anne Galloway.

Among many projects, including Vanessa Harden's Mouse Assisted Interplay (2010) and its associated speculative Mousematch social network, I'm reminded of Anna Flagg's Cuddlebot project in which simulant pets are turned into multi-touch devices.




As you can see in the video embedded above, this “haptic creature” [pdf] is no mere gesture sensor. It can physically react. For instance, “when a gentle touch is sensed, the servo motor moves the fur calmly and slowly up and down, similar to a restful breathing. When the more playful touch is sensed, the servo moves the fur quickly and eagerly in smaller bursts of excitement.”

Cuddlebot


Two things interest me here.

1) Just like with the Botanicus Interacticus and, to bring it up from the archives, the Mud Tub, the Cuddlebot offers a sensual alternative to the machinic sleekness of the standard touchscreen. When fingers press down on those glass surfaces, skin and nerves seem to melt away. Wrists deaden, as if paralyzed with Botox. Human touch has evolved over millions of years, but all the fine tuning might just end up for naught. And who knows what else is being suppressed and eventually smoothed away.

Whatever we may be surrendering to the glass (and to the Kinetic void), perhaps turning our domestic bestiary into a multi-touch critter network — actual organic living creatures, albeit cybernetics, rather than completely inorganic toys — might mitigate the loss. This might come with its own cost, but surely it would be worth it if the benefit is we all become Tilda Swintons.



2) As with all technology stuff that I post here on Pruned, the technology itself is ultimately a secondary concern. My overriding interest is always their spatial effects: how they might form and inform spaces at all scales.

How might this envisioned form of cross-species relationship might physically manifest itself in the domestic sphere? Will this simply mean hoarding a litter of stray cats, augmented and networked, in your house or apartment? With a different species for each social network you signed up to, will our homes be biological hotspots as diverse as any zoo? All day and all night, the whole city will drone with an Amazonian din, convulsing like a colony of ants thickly carpeting the forest floor.

Where (and how) will the cloud nest otherwise?

You take your dog (or hyena) to the neighborhood park for a walk, and there it frolics with other beasts on the cybernetic meadow and through the ShrubPlugs. And pets are many-times cross-petted. Is everyone updating their Facebook timelines and flirting on Twitter?

You're on a stroll, but following you behind on the sidewalk and also hovering in the air, as though you were Snow White whistling a hypnotic melody, is the entire content of the zoo. You've got mail (and Tumblr updates, unread posts on Google Reader, new edits on Google Docs). You head into an Anthrozoo station, pick the cutest from the lot, and after a few rubs and caresses, it shivers its attached data packet in LOLmorse.

(“It has to be!”)
Airspace
With winter weather wreaking havoc in the airspace above Pruned HQ, Chicago, I thought I'd post a small portion of a VFR map that someone digitized and then overlaid on Google Maps. The map covers the continental United States plus Alaska and Hawaii, parts of Canada and Mexico, and a good chunk of the Caribbean.

VFR


Quoting the ever reliable Wikipedia, VFR is short for visual flight rules, which are a “set of regulations under which a pilot operates an aircraft in weather conditions generally clear enough to allow the pilot to see where the aircraft is going.”

As a brief aside, the super-density of the map reminds me of the “equations” inscribed at Waterfall Rocks in the Fox series, Terra Nova. A running mystery among the new arrivals to the Late Cretaceous, those sprawling rock glyphs, we fortunately learn just before the show's cancellation, were instructions on how to design two-way portals between the deep past and the far future. Given the near total indecipherability of the VFR map to my untrained eyes, its constellations of discs and polygons embedded in a fibrous mesh of vectors and cuneiforms could easily be mistaken by closet fans of the much maligned television show as instructions for trans-temporal travel.

Here's another portion of the VFR map showing the cluttered air territoriality around Los Angeles:

VFR


Surely the entire map could be marketed, perhaps in partnership with MyTopo, not as supersized wall maps but as wall paper. Specifically, use them to redecorate nursery rooms, daycare playpens and kindergarten classrooms into simulant Cubes and CAVEs to kickstart the visual acuity and muscle memory of the very young for an urban future hermetically sealed not in office cubicles but in immersive control rooms of the coming Data Totality.

In these Neo-Baroque rooms of blurred physical and virtual spaces, running crayons on the walls will be preparatory training for transiting information packets through omni-surveilled terrains.

Control Room


Or these same rooms could be the training grounds for an acting career in a future Hollywood of nonstop Prometheus perversions, learning long before theater schools the fine art of gestural swording.

The Interactive Garden



It was only a matter of time before someone turned household plants into a multi-touch interactive device, because now we have the Botanicus Interacticus.

Based on the sophisticated Touché sensing technology Botanicus Interacticus creates a magical experience through the non-invasive instrumentation of living plants. Aurora like particles are emitted around different plants, triggered and transformed by gestures and proximity between the human and the living organism. A range of plants such as a bamboo, an orchid, a snake plant and a custom build artificial one were explored, where each plant presented its unique interactive, visual and auditive character.


I'm utterly amazed at the possibility that soon I could be tweeting with orchids, even write blog posts such as this with maybe spider plants, their shaggy bodies and multi-plantlets collectively emitting a massive aurora with which you could manipulate with endless gestural patterns. Depending on how many social web accounts you tend to, your indoor garden might approximate a jungle.

But why simply turn them into mere keyboards and remote controls? Why not also turn them into “display” devices, thus opening up even more radical means of interaction and visualization, with spatial effects?




Each morning, you take a stroll in your back garden or hike up the fire escape to your roof garden past your neighbor's vertical garden or just get up of bed in your oxygen garden pod hurtling windowless through deep urban space (for this parallel world Botanicus Interacticus has turned every city into a jungle) to watch the foliage physically deforming and chemiluminescing the day's cluttered signals. You no longer pore over streams of text and images. Instead, you read landscapes.

It should be no surprise that due to their graphic qualities, parterres become fashionable again as landscape ornaments.

As always, you head over to the fruiting hedges, and see that a clump of berries has formed during the night. You've got mail. The tumorous looking ones have attachments, while the rotten ones have been flagged as spam. To open and read, simply pick them off. Pocket those you want saved; squish to delete.

The technology for interaction through taste hasn't yet been perfected, or perhaps such behavioral literacy still isn't widespread. As for smelling, that technology has matured. So, you stop by the rose bushes and smell the weather forecast. When a hurricane is on the way, the air has a certain pungency to it.

Before heading back in, you snatch one or two apples from your Netflix/YouTube/Bittorent orchard. (The fruit as data storage and cloud.) Slice or bite to begin play.

In the garden, then, is the future of ubiquitous computing, where the computer will be made invisible, made to disappear into the garden itself.

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