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Partially Disconnected Wireless Experience

Well, we're in sunny (no, really) Helsinki now. And unfortunately there's a problem with the wireless connection - so I guess I'll blog this off-line for now and will then try to upload it later. Ironically, today's theme is 'wireless experience'...

 Sofas on Stage?The Lume Media Centre (part of the University of Art & Design Helsinki) where we are at the moment is a nice refurbished building, all built in typically efficient and user-friendly Nordic design. There's even a couple of sofas on stage for the panel sessions! (I'm taking photos and will try to add them to these blog entries when I get them developed. For next time, I really have to get a digital camera...

Geopolitics of Urban Landscape and Technologisation

We're now in the last session of the Tallinn section of ISEA2004. The first keynote is by Jussi Jauhiainen from the universities of Oulu (Finland) and Tartu (Estonia). Let's hope my battery lasts!

When Smart Mobs Collaborate...

We're on to the next panel. Trebor Scholz from SUNY makes a start, talking about Free Cooperation which was inspired by the book Gleicher als Andere by Christoph Speer - dealing with the question of setting up collaborative projects which involve a more equitable and non-hierarchical structuration of power.

Power Now, Power Wow

I'm really quite impressed with the battery life of my laptop (a Toshiba Portege provided by QUT), but even 5 hours aren't enough to blog a whole conference day without recharging.

Is There Life on Mars / in Serbia-Montenegro?

This next keynote session by Sarah Kember deals with the question of whether there is life on Mars - in a tongue-in-cheek way, though. In a roundabout way, the failure to prove the existence of extraterrestrial life has driven artificial life research as it is the only currently available avenue for biologists to study biological systems other than those found on earth - a-life as a kind of synthetic DIY biology. Life is essentially viral, and earth has been infected with it - the move to a-life is then a kind of sideways step, a jump of that virus from one host to the next. But much of this operates in highly categories ways, and Kember argues strongly for breaking out of these boxes.

Back to Wearables

We're now back to talking about wearable technologies, with a focus on embedded devices. Kelly Dobson from MIT makes the start. Some interesting work on human/machine feedback - e.g. a blender whose speed responds to the intensity of how a human operator growls at it. Some anthropomorphising of machines, or mechanomorphising of humans? She's also developed body extensions like a wearable bag called ScreamBody which a user can scream into (without being audible to anyone), thus recording their scream, and the later release the scream elsewhere, as well as HugBody (recording and recalling hugs).

Science / Art / Law

The second ISEA day in Tallinn has started. I'm currently in a panel on legal implications of avant-garde science / art projects. Mainly they're talking about the Steve Kurtz case - an artist in the US who was charged with bioterrorism offences when ambulance officers (whom he'd called following the sudden death of his wife) found bio-active substances which he was using in his art. While such charges have now been dropped, he's still being charged with mail fraud - not a minor matter in the US either...

Tallinn Reflections

Tallinn's WiFiedTallinn (and by extension, I guess, Estonia) is an interesting place. The rapid changes it's gone through over the last decade or so seem evident at every street corner - from the many new buildings and cars to the renovation work all over town to the English-language for sale/rent signs everywhere. This is also the first place I've ever seen an official city council WiFi hotspot sign!

City Hall under Surveillance?What's interesting is that any evidence of the past under Soviet rule is virtually absent. Russian language is nowhere to be seen, and is heard mainly as you walk past the building workers and the old women at the flea markets. On the other hand, the antiques and souvenir stores are full of discarded Red Army hats and medals, Lenin and Stalin busts, and Russian orthodox icons.

Last Wearables Round for Today

On to the next panel session now. Not sure I'll catch all the panellists' names... Barbara Layne of Hexagram is speaking at the moment. (Also, I have only one more hour of battery power on the laptop!) Barbara has done a project called Fault Lines which converted seismograph data into fabrics. Other work includes weaving LEDs into fabrics - this seems somewhat more pedestrian than the work shown in other presentations, but I suppose we're talking proof-of-concept here...

Also, this raises the question of whether sufficient quantities of materials (e.g. small-gauge wires etc.) are currently available at all. Another interesting point: Cirque du Soleil is a partner of Hexagram, which should open pathways to some imaginative applications. Finally also a live demonstration of a garment with text scrolling across it (as I waited for my connecting flight in Singapore, Inspector Gadget was showing on the TV screens, featuring a hat with scrolling messages - a strange synchronicity...

Wearable ISEA Panel

After lunch, we've now moved on to the second ISEA panel on wearable technologies. Some interesting discussions over lunch, too - someone pointed out that interestingly no-one mentioned nanotechnology at all! I'm also wondering to what extent wearable technology will be accessories (in a fashion sense - wristbands, necklaces, etc.) rather than garments themselves.

Katherine Moriwaki is now talking about her project Recoil which embedded strong magnets in clothes so that the garments would snap to metallic objects and others' clothes (with magnets themselves) as they walk past them. Interesting to see that this is a common theme to both presentations so far: clothes that act autonomously, without the wearer's involvement (also in reaction to body heat changes and other environmental factors, for example)... She's on to ad-hoc mobile networking (or more precisely, "a multi-hop dynamic routing ad-hoc network") now. This is very interesting: people wearing these devices essentially become mobile nodes in the network. Also of interest is how people might use, adapt their movements to, or even try to cheat the network parameters. Her umbrella.net (with Jonah Brucker-Cohen) project also adds a visual footprint for the network since the umbrellas which are the WiFi devices change colour according to their network activity. We're now on to Susan Ryan speaking about the genderedness of wearable technology - from fetishistic depictions of female cyborgs to deliberately asexual wearable tech garments to highly macho combat-style gear. Some interesting images of implanted wearable tech as well - here, for example, your 'enhanced' thumb would become your credit card...

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