Itty bitty robots demonstrate swarm behaviors.

A game of life, anyone?


All right, I’m in no way connected to steampunk stuff (although I have read a few of the authors). Albert was talking about the French postcards of the future I posted a few months ago, and I ran across this in FB. It looks like it’s happening this very weekend.

Now, I don’t even know this person, to be linking to their pictures in FB, but what I find so very intriguing is the coded uniformity of the costumes. Note the special goggles – steampunk is all about visions of an alternate future, usually starting from an actual historical past. Note the bullets – dangerous stuff, exploring new worlds.

Here’s a lovely way to spend five minutes thinking about the representation of data. Ben Greenman made a bunch of charts that question the function of charts. For example, here is a chart representing the ink left in the pen… he used to make the chart.

For our last official discussion, I’d like to propose a research project. We’ve talked about capture and surveillance,  simulations, representations and conceptualizations of space, dynamic systems, altered and augmented realities, performance and identities real and virtual. We’ve talked about the fuzzy line between reality lived and reality represented.  Our own attraction/repulsion for new technologies and our own negotiations of their impact on our daily lives has been a recurrent theme, a constant questioning of the role and identity of the individual within the context of a flow, a stream or a system.

I’d like to have each of us revisit a place from our past as it exists in the present online. It should be a place that has strong associations for you, a place about which you have a personal definition. Using google street view, wikipedia, google images, local web pages (monuments, historical society, photo archives, associations, tourist information), explore past/present definitions and representations of this location, before, during and after the time in which you lived there.

There are a number of art works online that provide a useful framework for thinking about this assignment. One of the most compelling is “Welcome to Pine Point” by Michael Simons and Paul Shoebridge. This site is a media essay funded by the National Film Board in Canada. It takes between 20 and 40 minutes to explore.

Jon Rafman and Michael Wolf are among a number of artists who have trolled Google street view for very temporal images; images  that map not only a specific location, but also a specific moment in time. Obviously this is true of all Google street view images, but Rafman and Wolf and others hunt down examples where it is conspicuous.

Rob Hewlitt and Ben Kingsley have taken a different approach to Google Street View; they’ve manipulated what is captured, rather than found what occurred spontaneously.

I thought this image was an interesting representation of the idea of capture. It’s a series of long-take pictures by Alexey Titarenko from the 1990s, an “army of shadows”.

More here.


I’m looking at Albert’s material and thinking about trains in the 19th century. Here are some figures and texts about early perceptions of the railroad. First, a few figures about how long it took to travel from one place to another in 1814 vs. in 1897. Then a poster advertising Paris-Bordeaux in 8 hours. Then finally a text (my translation) by an anonymous train traveller from 1837. Note the “blind men describing an elephant” aspect of the text – the observer is listing a series of definitions of what it means to be travelling that are overturned by this first experience in a train (i.e. speed comes only with effort or movement, travelling allows you to observe and interact with things and people you pass).

Similarly, we’ve talked about how technology has expanded the limits of what is “near” or “far” in personal relationships; that the people one interacts with on an intimate or daily basis may not even be in the same time zone.

Time to travel 1814 

(by stagecoach)


(by train)

Paris – Brest 

Paris – Marseille

Paris –Toulouse

Paris – Strasbourg

87 h 

112 h

104 h

70 h

11 h 14 mn 

12 h

12 h 05 mn

7 h 20 mn

M. Colton, P. Delfaud et alii, Nouvelle histoire économique. Le XIXè siècle, A. Colin, 1976.

In Bordas, Terres d’Histoire. Histoire. Cycle 3 CM, 1997, p. 99.

From Paris to Saint-Germain by rail: “Each of the travellers in our car was expressing their impressions after their own fashion. Over here, a fellow was expressing his astonishment that, despite such incredible speed, he had no more trouble breathing than if he were walking slowly; over there, a fellow exclaimed at the fact that he felt as though he weren’t moving at all, as though he were sitting in his room; another fellow observed that there wasn’t time enough to make out an insect the size of a bee, just a few feet away, or to recognize the face of a friend; yet another was delighted by the surprised look on the faces of the country people at the sight of this column of smoke and long line of wagons with no horses, gliding along with a low rumble, and disappearing almost at once in the distance. Other, more serious voices proclaimed incalculable the benefits of this invention. ”

En chemin de fer, de Paris à Saint-Germain: « Chacun des voyageurs du wagon où nous étions assis exprimait à sa manière ses impressions. Celui-ci s’étonnait que, malgré tant de rapidité, il lui fût aussi aisé de respirer que s’il eût marché sur terre à pas lents ; celui-là s’extasiait à la pensée qu’il ne sentait aucun mouvement ; il lui semblait être assis dans sa chambre ; un autre faisait remarquer qu’il était impossible d’avoir le temps de distinguer, à trois pas, sur le sable, un insecte de la grosseur d’une abeille, ou de reconnaître les traits d’un ami ; un autre enfin se réjouissait de l’attitude étonnée des gens de la campagne, au passage de cette colonne de fumée et de cette longue traînée de voitures sans chevaux, glissant avec un léger bourdonnement, et disparaissant presque aussitôt dans le lointain. De plus graves déclaraient incalculables les bienfaits de cette invention. »

Réflexions de passagers recueillies par un rédacteur anonyme dans un train de la ligne Paris – Saint-Germain (1837). From Nathan, Gulliver. Histoire. Cycle 3, 1997, p. 160.