The Big Distributed Salon on Infrastructure and Land

1 year ago

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Today, my first feature in my life as a writer again came out. It's about what I learned spending a week walking around and flying over (!) the border wall. Why did I do it? In an election powered by feverdreams, I wanted to to study the actual world, the things, the infrastructure. Keeping contact with reality feels like a political act right now.
N.B.: I asked everyone to send me their thoughts about what had changed over the last two years in tech. I'm rounding up those responses and will send them out tomorrow in a special edition.

1. I can't stop thinking about maps and satellite imagery right now.

"Burrington tells The Creators Project that some of the images in Reconnaissance are screenshots of Google Maps and Mapbox satellite imagery, stitched together, while most of them originate from the United States Geological Survey’s EarthExplorer website. The composites also feature artifacts such glitches and intentionally obscured areas of the images, as can be seen in the photographs of Volkel Air Base and De Peel Air Force Base."

2. Which are neither map nor image, but both.

"The Universal Texture Recreated transforms a flat satellite photograph into a 3D dimensional image, reconstructing images from Google Earth using the low-tech medium of domestic furniture. A webcam puts the image back online, cropping the image so that it is indistinguishable from Valla’s previous series Postcards from Google Earth. These are based on images captured from the screen while traveling through the Google Earth interface. This collection of pictures emphasizes edge conditions, the result of an automated process that fuses aerial photographs and cartographic data. As the source imagery is culled from different periods and vantage points, anomalies in wrapping the 3-D projection model appear."

3. How big is Google Earth's database?

"So our final estimate for the total size of the Google Earth database is 3,017 TB or approximately 3 Petabytes! Compare that to this post from 2006 at which time the estimate stood at 150 TB. How accurate is our estimate? Given that the bulk of the size comes from historical imagery for which we simply do not have very accurate data, our estimate could easily be a long way from the true figure. In addition, the method used for determining how much data each imagery type requires was not particularly accurate. We have also completely ignored the old type of 3D buildings, and all the street and mapping data or layers. We have considered Street View to not be part of Google Earth as it should really be considered more of a Google Maps product or a product in its own right. We believe that overall it is a significant underestimate and the database is actually quite a bit bigger."

4. Think of what it used to take to see the world from above.

"In 1906, George R. Lawrence took oblique aerial pictures of San Francisco after the earthquake and fires (Figure 8). Using between nine and seventeen large kites to lift a huge camera (49 pounds) he took some of the largest exposures (about 48 x 122 cm or 18 x 48 in.) ever obtained from an aerial platform. His camera was designed so that the film plate curved in back and the lens fitted low on the front, providing panorama images (Figure 7a). The camera was lifted to a height of approximately 2,000 feet and an electric wire controlled the shutter to produce a negative. Lawrence designed his own large-format cameras and specialized in aerial views. He used ladders or high towers to photograph from above. In 1901 he shot aerial photographs from a cage attached to a balloon."

5. May I recommend @vruba's very occasional newsletter for more on these topics.

"There’s the big distributed salon on infrastructure and land. For me a lot of the most interesting intellectual work today is happening here. I’m thinking of John McPhee’s writing on human and physical geography. I’m thinking of Séverine Autesserre on land ownership as a driver of peace and conflict, and James C. Scott on hiding, and Walidah Imarisha, and Katherine Sammler. I’m thinking of Eric Perramond’s stories of the gothic complexity, bureaucracy, guile, pragmatism, and regional variation of water use in New Mexico – the special masters; the “first in time, first in right” principle; how as-sāqiya and its norms of communal maintenance came to Iberia with al-ʼAndalus and thence to Nueva España as the acequia, where it hybridized with Pueblo irrigation practices; big-city negotiators growing out their mustaches to woo smallholders; the Fordist production of local water codes. I’m thinking about the refugee crises and the world of borders. The way we teach geography now, that’s how a lot of us see the world: as puzzle of countries."

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The Big Distributed Salon on Infrastructure and Land

5it by Alexis Madrigal
Fairview Park Oakland, CA 94618 USA
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