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Jens Martin Skibstedt explains that everyone understands that cars are killing us and that bikes are much, much better, but still people prefer to drive. Skibstedt looked at cars and bicycles from a design and lifestyle perspective to try to understand what cars have that bikes lack. Basically, cars make it possible for people to make a more nuanced statement about themselves than a bicycle does. A car has an identity. Bicycles communicate less about who you are. A car, made of hundreds of little components and pieces, is understood as a single object, while bicycles show their parts and even brand the parts independently one from another.

He showed one really great slide depicting a grid of cars all photographed from the same angle and all painted white. I would never be able to tell the name of even two bicycles standing side by side or explain what they mean as status or design objects. But every one of the white cars was both recognizable and full of meaning and connections.

Skibsedt set out to design bicycles which would overcome these shortcomings. The company is called Biomega (watch out, the website makes noise). Here's a picture of one the bikes they designed.

Notes from the talk:

We have known that cities and cars are incompatible since the 1950s. Our cities were not designed for the quantity of cars that we have in them and urban traffic will triple in the next 50 years.

Lifestyle and design are hugely important to people, despite how frivolous we may think that is. All human societies have used design and lifestyle to express themselves. It's as close as we get to mating dances. It's all about how to get laid.

Cities are not only about life but also death. Air pollution kills more than malaria.Copenhagen sees the bicycle as a solution to this problem.

Steve jobs refered to the personal computer as a bicycle of the mind, referring to the fact that a human on a bike is one of the most efficient movers in the animal kingdom. Bikes are 40% faster than cars at peak hours in the city.

Why do cars still dominate most major cities?

Lifestyle and design. Prestige. Bikes can tell you something about a person (soccer mom, courier) but has nothing to do with brand, doesn't really express who you are. There are 30 kinds of 4x4, which are all functionally similar but they represent very different lifestyles. (Hummer vs Jeep vs Land Rover)

We need to have that for bikes. It's not about function, it's about design.

These are the four areas where bicycles need to be improved to compete with cars: Visibility, Drivability, Integration, and Durability.

Visibility: Bikes basically all look the same.

Driveability: Cars are easier to deal with, less fiddly. Less complicated for the user. You don't have to wrangle a U-lock before you can get into your car. Make bikes simpler and more drivable.

Integration: When you see a car it looks like one thing, but on the bike, you see many different things. Different brands on every component. It's a multiple object.

They took inspiration from the typical Copenhagen bike, nimbus motorcycle, mountain bikes, and principles from cars.

These principles can be used for any industrial design object.

We can also do this with busses and trains, communal transport. Think of the London bus, Paris metro entrances.

How do we build a mythology around bikes like we do around cars.

Michael Schindhelm used to manage Berlin's 150 million-euro Opera budget. Then he went to Dubai and led the cultural council there. I might read his book, Dubai High. Now he is in Hong Kong helping figure out what to do with this 40-hectar hunk of undeveloped land called West Kowloon.

I learned that opera has the biggest cultural budget in Berlin. I'm not surprised.

Schindhelm explained the context of Hong Kong a bit and told us about the project, then gave us the four things he learned from this experience. This talk was partly about the role of culture in urban planning, but also about how to play that role once you understand that it exists and is needed.

My favorite thing that Schindhelm articulated is the idea that it is a mistake for a city to try to build its cultural identity as an international hub. Go Local. Be true to the identity of the city you are. For new cultural developments, appreciate the local culture and talent. Use what is there. I think that this is true not only of big urban planning projects like the ones he works on, but for anything. I felt that Krakow was doing a good job at this. Portland, Oregon the same.

Consider scale thoughtfully. Don't start too big.

Adjust speed. Take your time. Culture takes time to grow. Think about the development of talent and culture and community before the development of buildings, which are fast and easy to build in comparison.

Go Public. Talk to the citizens. Consider the human dimension.

Schindhelm explained that architecture's impact on the culture of a city should not be underestimated. Architects were among the first designers to go global. The Sydney opera house (40 years old) and Bilbao's Guggenheim are examples of cities using architecture as a kind of branding tool. This is absolutely true. The second I see the Guggenheim building I think, "Bilbao."

Architecture is the tangible part of urban planning. Culture is more intangible. It's easy to build a museum. It's harder to figure out what to put in the museum.

Hong Kong has about 7 million people. It used to be predominantly Cantonese-speaking but more are more the city is becoming Mandarin speaking now. Half of HK is a special economic zone. The metro area has a population of 53 million. The city is economically mature and it's huge and growing. China is building a train network which will bring 40 million people a year to downtown Hong Kong. Yet Hong Kong lags far behind other cities culturally, meaning that it has fewer arts venues, museums, galleries, and artists than New York or Paris.

The city is dense and expensive, but there are 40 hectares of unbuilt land called West Kowloon. 3 billion dollars has been given to cultural development for West Kowloon. 40% of Kowloon will be a park. 40% of the 60% of the land which will be built up will be for museums and culture.

Schindhelm worked on the culture master plan with Rem Koohlhaas. As part of the project, they conducted interviews over many months with 40 people in the city to hear their concerns and ideas.

Originally the plan was about consuming culture, not creation. This evolved sot that studios and rehearsal spaces and schools were added to the plan.

They also looked to the local culture for inspiration. The local flavor. Every city started as a village. HK as well. There are 800-year-old walled villages within HK. The way these walled villages form part of the city served as an inspiration to their work. They also looked at the landscaping of the surrounding countryside and the vibrant street life is an essential part of this particular city.

Cantonese and Mandarin culture had to be considered. Cantonese opera (video link) is popular but underfunded, housed in crappy venues, and has not been modernized. One goal of the project is to change this.

80 public presentations of the proposal were done before the gov't made a decision. Now the master plan development is done and the first competitions have started to design the buildings. The Cantonese opera will be the first one built.

HK has more freedom of speech than the rest of China. The city wants to become the most important center of Chinese contemporary art. The museum's exhibit will be based on the collection of Uli Sigg, who is the biggest collector of contemporary Chinese art in the world. Herzog & de Meuron from Basil will design the museum.

Priya Prakash, Changify (link is a video)

Priya Prakash used to be the design lead for the Asha device, which is a pretty cool little phone designed specifically for emerging markets. She has since left Nokia and is working on a project called Changify.

The basic idea of the project is... well, it was actually kind of complicated to understand. Neighborhood citizens use the app to take pictures of problems they see in the neighborhood (dog poop, vandalism, potholes, whatever) and discuss ideas for solutions with other regular citizens. When a solution is thought of, you can take that and create a project. Other people can like your project and contribute to it. Contributions can include money, time, space, materials, etc.

On top of that, local businesses and city councils are sold subscriptions to the service so that they can contribute money to these projects and participate in local loyalty advertising campaigns.

If you finish a project, you get points which can be used as money in the local businesses which participate.

Positioned in the same ecosystem as Kiva and Kickstarter and Indie go go

They hold events to teach people how to use the app, use a "community engagement toolkit" and put together neighborhood loyalty program around their points system with local businesses.

Goal:"Create better neighborhoods."

Inspiration for this project: Payday loans brokers The Brixton pound Victor Papanek--how to design for the real world Air BnB A Pattern Language Christopher Alexander and others talks about the city as a collection of patterns The Great Wall of China funded by lottery

This is the text of the talk I gave at the Beagle Symposium last summer.

It niggles

I listen to a lot of popular science podcasts and I read a lot of popular science books. Over the past few years, the free will topic has been popping up pretty regularly.

Being a successful human, I like the idea of free will because it means I can take credit for my successes and (more importantly) feel superior to people who fail to overcome similar or lesser handicaps and hurdles than I have.

Consequently, as I heard these stories about the mounting body of evidence against our traditional notion of free will, I mostly ignored it. It wasn't that I took a position on one side or the other, I just didn't think about it too hard. The topic kept coming back via this article or that radio show. Every one of these explained how the idea of free will was eroding and none were in defense of the idea. The free will question sat in the back of my mind stewing, until I read a short review somewhere of Sam Harris's book Free Will.

The review said two things about the book.
1. It is short.
2. It redefines how we think of free will.

"Great," I thought, "just what I need. A short book to help me redefine how I think of free will so that I can continue to believe that I have it."

Well, the book is short. And if "redefines how you think about free will," means "makes you face the fact that you seriously cannot defend its existence in any way," than the number two point is also true.

The Illusion of an Illusion

I am not going to try to convince you that free will doesn't exist. I am am going to tell you why it's not very important one way or another. I'm asking you to at least meet me at "what if free will did not exist." Still, I do think it is a good idea to quickly clarify what exactly we are talking about. Free will. The idea that at the precise moment where you do one thing or a different thing it would have been possible for you to do the thing that you did not do.

Serendipity's darling

The thing that really pissed me off about being forced to admit that free will is not real is that, frankly, I put a lot of energy into doing the right things. I make pro and con lists. I take time… but not too much time. Making good decisions is one of the main things I get paid to do at my job. I even give brilliant advice to help other people make their own excellent decisions. I love to make decisions! And I am really, really good at it.

If the real reason I am a successful maker of decisions is first that I am lucky to have been born with the right kind of brain for this activity and secondly that I've been pretty lucky in who and what I came into contact with when… if, at the core of it all, I am serendipity's darling, then I don't deserve any credit for all that agonizing hard work I do. I do it because I could not do differently. I'm no better than a person who goes through life making dumb choices or worse, a person who goes through life choosing not to make choices. I am just more or less fortunate.

No fair, right?! Luckily, it doesn't matter.


Effort is real. When you have a big decision to make, you still have to go through all the trouble. You just don't really decide whether you will or not. Either you are the kind of person at that moment who will make an effort or you are not. Maybe you are the kind of person who would prefer to be different than you are. If so, maybe you will become different because of the influences this desire brings into your life. Your success or failure to change is not your responsibility, but the effort you put into it is still effort.


Influence is real. Punishment & reward are still useful. If a society rewards what it values and punishes what it deems undesirable, isn't that enough? Is it so terrible to punish the action without despising the person?


Inspiration is real. What you do does matter. You just don't deserve any credit for it.

Personal responsibility

OMG! If all this is true, then personal responsibility as we know it is a hollow sham!

Correct. So what?

Personal responsibility, like many things which are not precisely real, can be felt deeply. This is good! This is one of the most fun and interesting parts of being a human: our ordinary schizophrenia. We know that it is impossible to truly communicate with one another, but we feel connection everywhere. We know that our individual lives are insignificant and ultimately without meaning, but we are filled with passion. Similarly, we know that we deserve no credit for our successes and no blame for our failures, but yet we strive and strive. This is the wonderful awful human condition.


Religion is not a prerequisite for a sense of morality and ethics. Free will is not a prerequisite for a sense of personal responsibility. A moral sense and a sense of personal responsibility are adaptations of the social animal. We need them because we need each other, not because there is a God and not because we have free will.

Free will doesn't exist. Who Cares?

Now that I am out of the magnetic sphere of Kenneth Goldsmith's rhetoric, I do have a couple of critical thoughts about his talk.

His criticism of the derivative and even plagiaristic quality of contemporary literature hinged in part on the Booker prize descriptions of the works. The fact that the same description applies to a contemporary coming of age story as well as Romeo and Juliet and To Kill a Mockingbird doesn't speak inherently to the evils of Literature as an art form so much as it speaks to the evils of marketing writing, which is an evil that I believe most authors submit to as a victim. Using the marketing copy written to sell a book to analyze the originality of the work is a little dose of bad faith.

Then, later, during the Q&A session, someone brought up the fact that there is not much new going on in uncreative writing since Quenau and Goldsmith exalted in the interestingness of the spiral of the same experiment being performed again and again in new technological and historical contexts. Why doesn't the same apply to conventional literature? Why doesn't this renewal spiral apply to the coming of age novel? Romeo and Juliet have a different historical and technological and political story than To Kill a Mockingbird which is different to whatever coming of age contemporary novel I'm not reading now or to Lena Dunham's Girls series. Why doesn't conventional literature benefit from the same  mechanism?

I am moved by the idea of humans acting like machines, but I am also moved by machines acting like humans. There is a pathos to how crappy they are at it.

Other than that, though, great talk. Artists, like the rest of us, are allowed their contradictions. Just because you stand up in front of an auditorium does not mean that you have to have everything figured out. I hope I get a chance to buy Kenneth a beer before he leaves Berlin!

Looking forward to this one!

Kenneth Goldmith is the founder of Ubuweb. Respondant is Florian Cramer.

The book Uncreative Writing is available from Amazon.

Googlism introduction is very cute.

In Germany there are only 2 programs for creative writing. In the US there are 375 graduate programs for creative writing. The notion of creative writing has been controversial. Linked to realisms of various forms (Tolstoy, Balzac and still contemporary Western mainstream lit).

Brian Geis said, "Writing is 50 years behind painting" and that was 50 years ago! Joyce wrote Finnegan's wake in the 20th century, but did it really change anything?

Pluto is a figment of the modernist imagination, its stint as a planet coincides nicely with the span of what we consider modernism. There was no post modernism for literature.

When alphanumeric language becomes digital, text becomes material material. The demonstration of dumping text into images and altering them is impressive. Code is language. All media is now created from "words." This was not true back when Pluto was a planet.

Words aren't used in digital world to convey emotion, but more as a brick. Digitized language is more fluid and multi-useful than pre-digital language. The web is a writing machine. Most of that is machines talking to other machines.

The internet of things will bring more machines online than humans. This will be another data explosion on the web. Armies of refrigeraors and dishwashers are steps away from literary production readable only be other machines. Invisible to human eyes and bypassing humans all together. Robopoetics. (Literary Future, Books).

Why not start writing drone poetry for our future robot overlords now?

On the web, text is not read. It is skimmed, archived, liked, shared... Archiving is digital quilting. It is folk art. Collecting is creating. Writing on an electronic platform is inseparable from archiving.

The mp3 requires everyone to become a librarian. Copying, organizing, backing up. Listening to music has become exhausting.

The writer is producer, editor, publisher and distributor. The whirr of a hard drive is the palpable evidence of the creation of literature.

The discovery and re-distribution of an object is more important now than the object itself (This is starting to make me feel guilty now!) The new writing is pointing.

He tells us about downloading Schwarz's document cache from the pirate bay. The documents are a mess, poorly scanned, useless old old science papers. So what was Schwarz doing, really? The act of moving the information is more important than the content. He lacked the filtering. Why?

In the future, the best writers will be the best filterers.

Some examples of the new writing. Conceptual, uncreative writing. Automated writing. Taking Oulipo farther with the natural tools of the digital reality. "This is all done by hand, it is very beautiful" says Goldsmith of a piece he is showing. But how funny to have that instinct when standing before us to convince us of the beauty of the future of digital automated literature.

A lot of these are available as print on demand books. Interesting that the printing part seems to be important. Why would that be so?

What is wrong with creative writing? Research into the Booker prize. In 2011 the 6 shortlisted books were not very creative. We don't think of them as uncreative or plagiarized, even though they are undeniably derivative. Half of them have the surprise arrival of a letter as an element. Four of 6 have a murder in them. The exact same description for one of these coming of age novels was used to describe exactly tons of other previous coming of age stories. What is original and what is creative? There is more creativity in non literature than in literature.

Maybe the best authors of the future will be programmers of language.

Finally managed to get out to the HKW and am ready to listen to my first panel of the festival.

Moderator Rose White
With: Francesco WARBEAR Macarone Palmieri Staphanie Rothenberg Jeff Crouse Isaac Leung 
Stephanie and Jeff will perform as part of the Laborors of Love.

Stephanie Rothenberg's presentation: There were 97 billion dollars in porn revenue in 2006 but the porn industry has gone into a major decline since then. 4cam, YouPorn, etc even regualr social media is used by sex workers to promote their work. Porn is looking for a new business model. Jeff and Stephanie had a sweatshop in real life and in second life. The virtual sweatshop made real Double Happpiness brand jeans. More info behind this link. Another new business model starting up at the same time was the Mechanical Turk by Amazon. HIT=Human Intelligence task, which is the Amazon terminology. Artificial artificial intelligence is when something looks automated but is not. Labors of love--why not stimulate the economy while stimulating yourself?

Presentation by Jeff Crouse The Labors of Love site is launching here at the festival. This is an interface for sending your sexual fantasies to Mechanical Turk for the making of videos. So, mechanical turk workers find videos and the site automatically montages them together. You can then see a map of where people are looking at your request and the status of it. The whole process takes 40-60 minutes. They are interested in what kind of creative license the Mechanical Turk worker takes. Mechanical Turk has a ten-minute limit for completing a task. (This moderator says um a lot.)

Francesco too many names presentation This is a hip dude. Pluto is a queer entity. It's identity makes us uncomfortable. How do we know that Pluto wants to be identified? Barbara Degenevieve did "the hot bods of queer porn." Her manifesto goes like so: Porn is made to get people off. This requires objectification. Embrace the need to fetishize and be fetishized. What is netporn? by Katrien Jacobs is a media studies professor and netporn conference organizer. Netporn is defined as an interzone. Altporn. DIY ethics. Alternative channesl, etc. An authenitc body is uncontrolled, unprofessional, etc. Real Core--Sergio Messina. Real Core was born in photo-based discussion groups in the early 90s. Happy, authentic porn. Mostly at home, mostly normal people in normal life. The feeling of trespassing into someone's privacy is part of the thrill. But really, authenticity is a product. Authenticity is fake.

Isaac Leung presentation Isaac researched sex machines. He showed an interview with an artist whose name I didn't catch. "Americans are inventors..." of fucking machines. He looked at three kinds of machines. Garage culture fucking machines is one kind. Many of them are not even used, the pleasure is a lot in the building of it. Second type is Teledildonics, which is a mediated sex via phone and internet. Often takes more than one real human. For example, connecting a dido to a videogame controller, Thrill Hammer, Sex Machine Cams, essage, oh my bot. Third type = sex robots. First Androids in Nuremberg makes complicated sex robots.

PLEASURE VS DISCIPLINE Michel Foucoult Chastity devices have evolved into sex toys.

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