The Book of Japans

I've been ranting and raving about the Sternberg press 'Solutions' series for months now. This said, until now I've only actually read one - Finland: The Welfare Game by Martti Kalliala. 

Purely on the basis of the raw brilliance of that first one I went and bought the entire series, and have now finished the second, based on the recommendation of a friend - The Book of Japans by Momus. Momus is someone I've heard about a lot but never directly encountered. His particular brand of surreal, abstract futurism has never really attracted me in the same way that more thoroughly-researched and analytical works do. 

The premise is simple if uniquely Japanese in style: 12 'idiots' from Wales travel through the anus of cows to see visions of future Japan. When they begin to achieve some notice, a panel of experts is hastily assembled to test their method, place their predictions and confirm or deny their idiocy. One of the experts is our narrator, a noted Japanophile while others are futurist, social scientists, historians and so on all with a specialisation in Japan.  

The experiment to see the future fails, and so the panel sit down to hear the visions and discern a time (usually with remarkable accuracy) that the idiot might have visited.  The visions pay homage to various aspects of Japanese culture - video games, novels and movies while often satiring aspects of it's society, work ethic and bureaucracy.  The real heart of the stories lie however in the wonder inherit in them. The idiots' exotic visions contrast sharply with the experts' logical extrapolation and the frustration at this dialectic is where Momus makes his case. For most westerners, Japan is already a place of wonder, and yet when we think about the future we bring us and Japan closer together - more screens, more shiny, more colour, tech and urbanism. Momus pushes Japan of the far future further away and restores our wonder at the strange and different.

Stereographic Google and North Korea

Have you seen this? One of the better Google Maps hacks I've ever seen. Stereographic photography never really took off beyond the covers of dodgy punk albums and the occasional skate video. Now you can summon up bespoke novelty photographs of your own house for an iPhone background or living room conversation piece. More than anything, it's testament to the colossal advances of Google's mapping service since it's tentative birth all those many moons ago.

Stereographic google

All this fashionable sterography shines a stark contrast in the quality and depth of the data available in a city like London on say a city like Pyongyang, where Google comes up a little bit short on the mapping data front. North Korea's retentiveness of its data security and extreme privacy make it an island of the unknown in an era of paramount search-ability. Google only has access to geographic information which leaves a sea of off-white punctuated with man-made polygons of waters and jagged-edged inclines and canals, adorning the landscape with a look even more alien than it often sounds.
Pyongyang :(

China, though not as super-isolationist as North Korea, still holds qualms about letting Google access its physical geographic data which results in Baidu (China’s most popular search engine) holding the monopoly on digital mapping. (Not that Google weren't invited, they just refused to comply with the censorship laws.) So, Baidu made a beautiful Sim City-esque 3d map of Beijing, arguably better than anything Google has come up with on the 3d mapping front.

Perhaps the residents of Pyongyang have some equally incredible mapping visualisation software? No, there's only a fraction of the web available to the limited number of government officials with access to the Internet. There's only about 100,000 telephones in Pyongyang as well.

My fascination with North Korea is parallel to my love of artifacts of extinct power; everything from the architecture of the Soviet Union to branded Enron stationary. North Korea presents a contemporary hidden treasure, an unknown empire where rumours emanate akin to descriptions of deep Africa during the Age of Exploration, two-headed serpents and cannibals a-plenty.

So, probably not in actual response to the rumours of serpents, North Korea's Foreign Language Publishing House have released a guide to Pyongyang entitled Pyongyang Architectural and Cultural Guide: A potent demonstration of the inextricable link between state-power structure and architecture. In a twist, the book is released in the west with a second volume of critical studies, essays and comment on Pyongyang from critic Phillip Meuser where apparently the 'real meat' of the book is. At a handy £30, it's no where near breaking the cliche of pricey architecture guides but I'm looking forward to it anyway.

Latent City

Latent City is an incredible MA Architecture Thesis project from Yaohua Wang. His other work is equally as sci-fi startling and has been featured in various things. The 'Beijing House' in particular, which attaches itself to buildings, is fascinating. All of his projects seem to be uniquely Chinese - highly atuned to social issues and the impact of business on life in such an accelerated nation. Latent City stands out for the depth and power of the storytelling, at times the film feels clunky, but it's revealing and original. Not only are there beautiful renders of his future city, but the graphics complement the discussion in a lively way, avoiding the usual dull infomercial voices of architecture films. In fact, if anything, the film, the city, the systems, the secret government plan, the visuals and everything are a wonderful homage to the finest Anime traditions.

Data Flow(s)


I bought both volumes of Data Flow together. Like all well designed sets of books there's a real obsessive need to keep them together since they fit so perfectly. Although they're more expensive than the smash-hit Information is Beautiful, the best-selling sweetheart of infographics for the last few years, the Data Flow books are far superior in content and quality.

For a start, the content of Information is Beautiful was mostly tailored form the blog to the book so it's often out of date. There's a reissue coming in October, but the current one is full of data from early 2009. Secondly I would challenge anyone to hold a Data Flow book next to it and be convinced that Information is Beautiful  is better looking.

Data Flow have summoned some of the finest, most innovative and most intricate designers to the call to produce graphics that represent notable works in themselves while Information is Beautiful mostly considers itself a platform for alternative data visualisation, in this respect it might be better shelved next to general knowledge than design.

The detail and intricacy of some of the most stunning work in Data Flow presents its own problems, in that often it's unreadable and sometimes being in German doesn't help. Yet again however, this underlines the point that it's not about the actual information so much as a showcase for incredibly beautiful imagery with a raw data heart.

Planetary Boundaries

There's some interesting feedback in the New York Times from the Transition to a New Economy Conference that recently took place at Harvard University. The article underlines a well-known but largely ignored dialectic between the established political economic thinking and what current researchers, students and more popularly accessible economists work at.
We had around 140 attendees from universities around the country. Many of us study in mainstream neoclassical economics departments where interdisciplinary ecological-economics, and the questioning of G.D.P. growth as a primary (or, depending on who you ask, desirable) objective, is still very much fringe thinking. I don’t attempt to speak for all of my peers, but I know that many of us share an enormous frustration with the way in which our supposedly leading institutions teach us about the economy in a way that is myopic, ahistorical, and devoid of nearly any critical conversation about sustainability or human well being. This is particularly troubling as we regularly see our schools accredit future leaders in business, finance, and government, sending them into a world of 21st century problems with a 20th century toolkit.
Trying to undermine the establishment in current thought is going to require the next generation to fill the roles of power that the currently inhibit the system and drive it endlessly into a cycle of boom and bust. It's interesting to see that the ideas of zero-sum growth and steering a national economy away from the relentless pursuit of GDP growth is gaining foothold amongst individuals who will one day decide policy. It remains to be seen if these same trappings of power will cloud their vision and divert their attention to self-interested pursuits.

The US of course is absolutely the last place we'd expect to see this kind of 'transformative economy', that is, a recognition of a need for an entire change of policy and a new model that more accurately represents contemporary problems and requirements. To this end, and following on from my previous mention of The Predicament of Mankind a lot of the new thinkers make reference to the Nine Planetary Boundaries.

These boundaries actually present environmental issues in the framework of economics and human systems. The point being that human activity has a safe 'operating space' within these boundaries and beyond that, the environmental factors will begin to limit our ability to live in the means to which we are accustomed.

Essentially, our own systems have rely on the very stable environmental and climatic conditions that have been present in the Holocene period of the last 10,000 years. Our environmental impact puts us on a tipping point ready to throw these systems into chaos unless new systemic models can be introduced that have a holistic awareness of how they impact the environment and hence themselves.

New (Old) Tumblr

I've rejigged my tumblr to use for scrapbook style things. I used to just put them on flickr and then copy and paste a few here but there are copyright issues hidden there that I might one day encounter and I think this should be used for more analytical, in depth work and writing and not just copy and paste aesthetics.

Battleship Island

Hashima Island was briefly occupied for coal mining operations until 1974. Now it is just one of the 500 or so islands of the Nagasaki prefecture to be uninhabited.

Hashima Island (postcard view)

At it's height, the island was home to almost 5500 workers and their families, many forcibly relocated from other parts of eastern Asia during the Second World War. The operations were run by Mitsibushi Corporation from the 1880's in an aim to try and utilise Japan's undersea coal mines to aid the state's late industrialisation policies.

Hashima island

It's grey, concrete profile gave it the nickname of 'Battleship Island.' In fact, the resemblance was so striking to US Naval officers in the Second World War that they decided to launch torpedoes at it.

With the use of petrol outstripping the applicable usage of coal, the island's operations simply became to expensive to maintain in such an isolated condition, the island was abandoned and travel there was banned until 2009 when it was briefly reopened only to be deemed too unsafe and curtailed again.

Trade Reports

Arktika Trade Report

This is the financial trading report for the period. The Arktika's movements mean that a day can be a minute and a minute can be a day. With time and space so broken from each other, the ARktika uses new units of measurement. Instead of trade or profit per minute for instance, it's trade per degree. The time periods of the main exchange opening hours are laid out and their locations are plotted on the time/space map along with the relative local time it spends at various points and the amount of trade that takes place in each one.

Ideally the line showing presence and trade volume should be aligned. If the volume is below the line then the boat is essentially 'wasting time' there. The other way round, and it should be spending more time there.

Chart screenshot

Below is a navigtaion map for the period, showing the Arktika's movements and some basic stats about it's performance in that time.

Arktika Navigation Report

Boat Schematic

Arktika Schematic V.1

Boat schematic version 1 completed. Click to zoom. Be warned, there's a lot of zoom.

The ship carries on its back two layers of trading floor and a server center as well as data management facilities and accommodation for the traders doing two to three weeks on board at a time. It's bare and simple but the trick here relies on the trader's chemical addiction to the risk involved in their work. Being on board is like an intense hit for them, a unaccountable free ride on a roller coaster, away from the trappings of everyday life. Afterwards, they must go to rest and rehabilitate for risk of causing permanent damage to their minds.

Boat Schematic closeup

Propulsion anterior part, two turbines and main transformer battery.

Boat Schematic closeup

Some crew quarters, deck crane, crew mess, crew lounge, crew kitchen, simple engineering.

Boat Schematic closeup

Nuclear reactor.

Boat Schematic closeup

Server control room, some servers, trading desks.

Happy hundreth birthday, Leonid

Happy birthday to Leonid Kantorovich, the man who nearly made the Soviet centralised economy work. He applied principles of linear programming in early computation to the economy in an attempt to ensure sustainable, consistent growth in the chaos of an anti-competitive system.

The guy was something of a radical in Stalinist Russia, who just managed to avoid being disappeared or arrested at every turn. Not through any guile or cunning, by all accounts he was a typically good-humoured but bumbling academic, but simply luck. He was once booed out of a meeting of Jewish academics for being too young minuted before it was raided by the secret services during the waves of state-sponsored anti-semitism in the thirties.

He was a certified genius - the only Soviet economist to win a Nobel prize. He almost single-handedly took economics from a group of ideologies to a set of mathematical models in the wake of the computer science that tore through the USSR in the late fifties. But the computer, like his theories were undervalued by the Politburo and by the mid-sixties a policy of literally reverse engineering and copying whatever IBM produced was adopted, forcing them significantly behind.

Mainly, his work was never made policy because it relied on assigning a value to product based on it's scarcity and demand - a capitalist principle and something he called 'shadow value' rather than the value of the labour and the materials that go into it as Soviet economics since Stalin had dictated. As a result his ideas were never fully adopted and the economy continued to sink until the discovery of the oilfields in the seventies.

But here was the guy who almost - just almost - made it all work and today he'd be one hundred and perhaps be living the Soviet utopia of his dreams. Happy birthday Leonid Kantorovich.

Recent Photos

Portugal edition.

Berardo Museum




Peniche Prison

Peniche harbour defences

More on flickr, obviously.

Megacrisis Systems

In 1972 a group of world and business leaders, economists, political thinkers and academics called the Club of Rome commissioned the publication of the Limits To Growth. The paper was based on the World3 computational global model consisting of 5 interacting parts and around 1000 equations for predicting future resource models. As a think-tank, the Club of Rome went on to publish other papers, revising it's predictions in Beyond the Limits: The 20-Year Update and Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update as well as later making several notably accurate projections about the need for a common enemy among developed nations.

Fundamentally the model argued, perhaps for the first time, that continuous growth was unsustainable and that the upper limit on growth would be reached with diminishing resources, resulting in a near total collapse of society and economy. The authors heavily ciriticised growth models that failed to take into account the increasingly exponential use of resources and took static values to make utopic predictions. For instance:

Under the standard static model of consumption of Chromium which estimates a total of 775 million tonnes of raw material and 1.85 million tonnes a year being consumed the resource will last for 418 years.

But, taking into account the 2.6% growth in the use of Chromium...

The authors in turn were criticised almost straight away for creating what many viewed as a bleak doomsday scenario and some critics pointed out that with continuing growth, technology would be developed that would allow resource scarcity issues to be overcome. As time progressed, more recent reviews of the last decade have begun to show correlation with the predictions made. A 2008 comparison paper showed that the predictions made were largely accurate and on schedule particularly in respect of peak oil and environmental problems.

But Limits to Growth went up against another paper for publication and syndication by the Club in 1972 - The Predicament of Mankind. This paper outlined 49 key Continuous Critical Problems that were at the root of humanity's problems:
1) Explosive population growth with consequent escalation of social, economic, and other problems.
2) Widespread poverty throughout the world.
3) Increase in the production, destructive capacity, and accessibility of all weapons
of war.
4) Uncontrolled urban spread.
5) Generalized and growing malnutrition.
6) Persistence of widespread illiteracy.
7) Expanding mechanization and bureaucratization of almost all human activity.
8) Growing inequalities in the distribution of wealth throughout the world.
9) Insufficient and irrationally organized medical care.
10) Hardening discrimination against minorities.
11) Hardening prejudices against differing cultures.
12) Affluence and its unknown consequences.
13) Anachronistic and irrelevant education.
14) Generalized environmental deterioration.
15) Generalized lack of agreed-on alternatives to present trends.
16) Widespread failure to stimulate man's creative capacity to confront the future.
17) Continuing deterioration of inner-cities or slums.
18) Growing irrelevance of traditional values and continuing failure to evolve new
value systems.
19) Inadequate shelter and transportation.
20) Obsolete and discriminatory income distribution system(s).
21) Accelerating wastage and exhaustion of natural resources.
22) Growing environmental pollution.
23) Generalized alienation of youth.
24) Major disturbances of the world's physical ecology.
25) Generally inadequate and obsolete institutional arrangements.
26) Limited understanding of what is "feasible" in the way of corrective measures.
27) Unbalanced population distribution.
28) Ideological fragmentation and semantic barriers to communication between
individuals, groups, and nations.
29) Increasing a-social and anti-social behavior and consequent rise in criminality.
30) Inadequate and obsolete law enforcement and correctional practices.
31) Widespread unemployment and generalized under-employment.
32) Spreading "discontent" throughout most classes of society.
33) Polarization of military power and psychological impacts of the policy of
34) Fast obsolescing political structures and processes.
35) Irrational agricultural practices.
36) Irresponsible use of pesticides, chemical additives, insufficiently tested drugs,
fertilizers, etc.
37) Growing use of distorted information to influence and manipulate people.
38) Fragmented international monetary system.
39) Growing technological gaps and lags between developed and developing areas.
40) New modes of localized warfare.
41) Inadequate participation of people at large in public decisions.
42) Unimaginative conceptions of world-order and of the rule of law.
43) Irrational distribution of industry supported by policies that will strengthen the
current patterns.
44) Growing tendency to be satisfied with technological solutions for every kind of
45) Obsolete system of world trade.
46) Ill-conceived use of international agencies for national or sectoral ends.
47) Insufficient authority of international agencies.
48) Irrational practices in resource investment.
49) Insufficient understanding of Continuous Critical Problems, of their nature, their
interactions and of the future consequences both they and current solutions to them are generating.
Further, it organised these problems into a tier system of interaction that showed root causes and connections between them. A 2004 retrospective paper of Predicament went on to visually represent this:

The paper also talks about how the growth of individual problems would mean that they become overlapped and indistinguishable from each other such that a model like the one used by World3 was far too simplistic to take into account the myriad complications and interactions between individual actors.

Despite the accuracy of Limits to Growth it's still important to bear in mind how much the confirmation bias holds sway over these models. Even the most holistic but thoughtful predictions can tell that the competitiveness and individuality fostered by Cold War consumerism would not be able to continue without resistance from mother Earth. As the authors of Limits to Growth note, what is important is not the validity of the prediction but the recognition that a larger system of interaction is at play beyond the individual or corporate consumer and that these things effect a system that plays out over decades, perhaps even hundreds of years on a global scale.

I Died For A Minute

That moment...

My friend sent me a link to this article this morning and I almost collapsed like a shivering wreck to the floor at the sight of the glaring truth: they were really doing it. And they're doing it further; going into space. Turns out it's April fools and in many ways I'm heartened by this. It means that the subject of banks and their power is timely enough to be used in sinister jest and that others have drawn a similar logical conclusion although without the depth of research. But, on a sadder note: why haven't I considered space? Why would they set up in the Arctic and not go all the way to space?

Aesthetically it isn't as interesting - we know satellites and we are all familiar with them and they're activities so they don't really present an interesting visual and theoretical challenge to our expectations of how these things work. Perhaps as an afterthought it's worth mentioning a progression into space, or perhaps a supporting infrastructure but even as a joke, the article is pretty timely and telling of the world's views of the power of finance.

Minute later...

Moments later I come across this link from The Pirate Bay. We've known for a while that they've been investing in drone technology as a platform for operations but here they've speculated on being sold Greek airspace to carry out their activities. Although an obvious April Fool (see sentences like 'Greece is one of the few countries that understand LOSSes.') it's again showing a real relevance and interest in the subject of how physicality and corporate structure and demand interact.