Archive for September, 2005

Kammanné nam

Strangers in the Night

The most dynamic urban reconfigurations in Bratislava is occuring around Kammanné nam, the large open space & circulation region in front of the city center Tesco. Economic and social systematic collision sprayed out across architecture in years of slow motion change.

Kammanné nam, Bratislava

The square lies just outside the old city center, adjacent to the main arterial traffic and tram junctions, fringed by decaying Communist blocks. There is loads of foot traffic. This place feels like it has centuries of utilatarian importance, an unstructured zone outside the constricting walls. Perhaps they used to hold markets here, I’d love to know the history.

mapy Bratislava

The visual advertising clutter rivals anything anywhere. There’s just no regard for it. In case you lose sense of where you are, there’s sky high mapping ads to help you.

hotel kyjev

Slovaks don’t really seem to mind or take notice; they’ve seen so many waves of new regimes and rulers, they seem to greet Capitalism and EU with a sceptical shrug, moving as usual. What was a huge complex of Communist shopping, is now a huge complex of economy-of-scale Tesco, with chaotic stock in every conceivable retail sector. Towering above it all is Hotel Kyjev, the old Intourist hotel now the ginormous billboard for Orange mobile.

Time for Coffee?

The communist town clock plays automated tunes. This summer, unexplained, “Strangers in the Night” rang out every hour. The clock was recently joined by this coffee loving lady. She loves to wear her lingerie, listen to Sinatra, and drink coffee — any time! Now I have actually seen older woman visibly shudder when trying to ignore such huge displays of flesh.

Hammer and Sickle Relic

Look closely here, and you’ll spot a Hammer and Sickle. Not every Soviet monument has been removed in Slovakia; usually they are black marble and gold monuments fallen Soviet soldiers in the liberation from Nazi Germany. This one dates from 1977, commerating …? Mercifully in this shot, the monument blocks view of a Cow Parade cow. I hate the Cow Parade.


Across the Danube sits Au Park, a more modern retail flavor, highly styled Shopping Mall and all-in-one Entertainment destination. There’s a spa and playgrounds and bowling and and and. All summer, huge Sin City posters of toungues, guns and strippers in blood red draped across every entrance and blank space in the mall. You had to walk through Rosario Dawson’s mouth to go shopping. Now I loved the film, but I have absorbed years of culture in preperation for seeing it. How do the conservative minded Slovaks, more used to images of John Paul II, react to the bequeathment of commercial public space and graphic sex and violence? What unconcious role does murder and nudity play in encouraging people to conspicuously spend with their new Visa cards?

Tesco Self Portrait

I’m eager to see what architectural and economic wave rolls through in another 25 years time, how old and decrepit the current order will look then.


Wiki at the UNDP

Wiki at the UNDP

We have developed and produced perhaps the first wiki in use at the United Nations Development Program. Editing is restricted to internal users, but the wider web is welcome to take a look at the WaterWiki.

This is a pretty new approach for the UNDP, but the signs at this early stage are already positive. The start is purposefully small, just people focused on Water Governance; if it’s successful, the hope is for organic growth into different working groups (rather than top-down dictations of appropriate technology). There’s been intranets and workspaces and complicated initiatives galore, yet the primary way collaboration occurs is within word documents attached to email! We’ll be watching to see how it develops over the next few months; at this point, what the wiki becomes depends on the organizational culture shift.

In devising this cultural virus, we primed the wiki with quality content collected from direct assessment of the users. So, immediately the wiki has a lot of value .. enough so that the community sees this as the place to direct their knowledge activities.

I can say one thing about Wikis — Wikitext sucks and Wikis are too complicated! It is the single biggest barrier to adoption, and it’s hubris to expect non-geeks to learn it or even just work around it without being freaked out. We need WYSIWYG on Wikis.

We started with MediaWiki; with the support of Wikipedia, future development and developers is assured. It’s still very Wikipedia specific, so a lot of my work was in simplifying the wiki interface and the wiki text; you should get a lot more formatting in WaterWiki, without complications. Sections are transcludable, giving the Wiki a lot more possible structure than when articles are the primary “nugget”. Uploading works more like an attachment.

Squeezed some mapping into this as well. The main page features a worldKit map of all the countries in the region, borders ala vmap0. The geoRSS feed is produced directly in wikipedia, a new xml output action; the content is transcluded from each “highlights” section on country pages.

I’m pretty happy to be involved in this. Distributed, bottom up intiatives have advantages, but so do organizations with resources and experience. The need is to engage with traditional organizations, to dissolve their legacy structures just enough to free up their incredible capacities. Thanks go to my wife and the team here for bringing me on board.


MGeocoder: Google Maps Extension for Geocoding

MGeocoder: Google Maps Extension for Geocoding

I had a need for better integration with and in Google Maps. Inspired by the idea of javascript api extensions in Xmaps and TPhoto, I developed the MGeocoder extension. This extension integrates free geocoders directly into Google Maps.

Still under development, but ready to use.


Is Anarchy the Key to Knowledge Management?

Is Anarchy the Key to Knowledge Management?

We are wrapping up a summer’s work at the UNDP, a pilot Wiki project. And getting ready for a couple presentations next week. Here’s the poster, perhaps things have gotten out of control in more than one way…





I turned 30 this week. Anna brought me to the airport and onto a plane without telling me where we were going. Hours later we were in Croatia, on Hvar, which is just about paradise by most definitions. A very gentle and enjoyable introduction to my 30s.


Eating Bratilsava

Eating Bratislava

Self-eating Hot Dog

My summer in Bratislava is coming to an end. I haven’t written about it, it’s been intensely interesting, and now the challenge is to find a place to start. Restaurant Reviews is the archetypal application of all technology prototypes, the locative-microcontent-web20 Holy Grail. And eating, finding a place to eat, and discussing places to eat has been the most popular activity. So there’s a start.

15 years out of Communism, and 4 years to the Euro, Bratislava is a good place to eat. It’s so cheap that we can eat out pretty much every meal, and we do cause we’re lazy and shopping at the hypermarket Tesco’s is not for the timid (fine quality of food, just intensely stressfully busy). The traditional fare is pretty stably good. Bread dumplings and pork, pepper steaks, potatoes, onion soups. Geographically consistent. Places like basement Communist chic of Apetit, or cosy old town moat of Prashna Bashna. Umelka is a huge beer garden with the best bad music and loads of barbequed meats; the photo above from the Praque Spring (in Bratislava) was taken just outside (it’s unclear if he visited Umelka before this action). The biggest distinction in my experience is that every item has a precise weight measurement listed in the menu. Cabbage Soup (200g), Ketchup (15g), and Wine sold in 10g units. Well to be precise, this practice is shared with Velvet Divorcee Czech Republic, and maybe other places in Eastern Europe I haven’t researched. We reckon Ketchup is a relatively new condiment, judging by how much people slather on perfectly good pizza.


A crop of new restaurants are establishing themselves, invasive species blowing in from the west and finding an environment conducive to their growth. Ukraine Orange is very popular on the streets (as are all sorts of citrus clothing combinations), and the most Western of establishments like Pizza Mizza and Coffee and Co local Starbucks clone are bright slathered in Orange. This hue, signifier of change, people power free from corruption, is being quickly adopted as the color of Capitalism. I rather precitably, have spent many mornings in Bagel and Coffee Story trying to read Slovak newspapers and getting sucked into Sudoku, while eating a reasonable anti-kosher bacon bagel facsimile topped with both cream cheese and the more solid type.

The view from Novy Mast Men's Toilet

Paparazzi is the place to go for a nice meal. Or U.F.O., the UFO-ish looking bridge called Novy Mast. Though these places aren’t cheap, we constantly play the game “how much would this cost in the UK” and come out feeling pretty good. Paparazzi does some pretty nice Italian food, and U.F.O. is slanted towards Asian Fusion, with ice cream the common condiment. It’s goooood. Ice cream is everywhere in Bratislava, low fat and very flavored; it’s eaten for breakfast and why not? The pic above is the view towards the Petrezalka section of Bratislava from U.F.O.’s toilet. It’s among the densest housing in Europe, and is a bizarre landscape for sure. Novy Mast enters the Old Town right through what used to be the Jewish Ghetto, and its approach continues to bisect the core of the town. There’s now a black marble very somber memorial to the Jewish section, underneath the highway.

Bratislava as a Coke Bottle

Here’s all your Bratislava favorites in one Coke machine.

Underground Passageway near Presidential Palace

The Communists were extremely fond of passageways, through buildings and under roads. Despite the tendency for these kind of spaces to degrade, there’s plenty of commerce .. fresh produce every day and the smell of pastries wafting from Fornetti.

Pivo in the TV tower on the hottest day of the year

One day we decided to walk to the other usual architectural stamp of the Soviet era, the architecturally interesting TV tower with restaurant. On the hottest day of the year, so here we are deliriously enjoying Zlaty Bazant (Golden Pheasant), the national beer of Slovakia. It’s so good and cheap, in a parallel world Zlaty emerges directly out of mountain springs. Unlike Novy Mast, the facilities at the TV tower had not been renovated and still had a sweet socialist feel. The bar at the base seemed to be a local gathering place for gangsters, with muscles and expensive sports cars and gangsta rap far away from the intrusions of town. The restaurant upstairs did actually revolve, the tables laid on a tacky off color track.

Despite all these options, the day I write this we ate at home the whole day, having discovered Vasterbottensost (northern Swedish cheese) and Risgrinsgrot (rice porridge) in the fridge, bounty brought back from the last trip to Sweden.




What can be said that hasn’t been said already somewhere else. Another reaction among multitudes, all genuine, all searching for something to do or some idea that makes the situation better. Well I’ll talk to myself in text, rather than circulating through my thinking. It’s so often these days that events are so dramatic and overwhelming, the futility of operating according to standard procedure. But there are slow motion and fast motion events, and modes of attention, sometimes you have to come up to take a good look around, and sometimes you have to heads down get on with it.

I’m absorbing media, messages ideas, experiences. To people here in EU, it’s another humanitarian disaster, notable for being in the developing world, in the US. Perhaps similar to the 2003 heat wave in France with over 15000 fatalities. The tsunami kicked all these thoughts out before, and here it comes again. Otherwise there is a struggle everyday to help refugees from natural and manmade calamities. Some play out almost invisibly in slow motion. This event pulls so many things sharply into focus: the ecological destruction of wetlands, global warming, poverty, race, the iraq war, the dissolved social fabric of the us, and the confused dismantling of functioning gov’t.

What I do is build software, sometimes useful, sometimes wowfactor geeky, sometimes just encoding an idea. Loads of similar folks wonder what they can do, sitting on their asses remotely from the computer screen. Can ad-hoc distributed collaborations actually perform functions useful to these kind of situations? I think so, but there are hard limits to what these method can directly accomplish. Gov’t and agencies with clear access to physical resources will always be necessary — I don’t think distributed networks can respond physically in a rapid manner. Not sure if anything like Burning Man, the antimatter, mirrorworld of New Orleans this week, could possibly mobilize. Information in New Orleans is only useful if it is acted on. No doubt, information harvesting and decision making is extremely hampered by traditional organizational structures. Collaborative cartography and opengeodata blurs the boundary of these structures, supplementing their capabilities, and sometimes transforming the operating mode. Wiki’s have performed standout functions .. the cheap flexibility of wikis seem to make them ideal for quick collaboration. Distributed data entry and radio frequency monitoring, wow. The trick will be to get underfunded relief organizations to embrace the initiative and methods of the cheap, flexible web. Could UN reliefweb harness the Google Earth community? Could FEMA use a wiki? The challenge for hackers is to engage with these organizations — they are more vital than ever and need inventive thought and energy to help dissolve legacy structures and transform into positive agents of change in a ever more complex world. Similar and more organized thoughts from Jaron Lanier.

I’m just reminded of E-Sheep : The Spiders, the alternate history of the Afghanistan War, if Gore had won the 2000 election. Small disposable robots self-organizing, swarming over the desert landscape, each connected to the web, a person performing human pattern recognition in the search for “that bad man”.


Yahoo! Weather/Yahoo! Maps

Yahoo! Weather/Yahoo! Maps

Yahoo! is publishing Weather in geocoded RSS.
And their Mapping API builds annotations from geoRSS.
So I connected them together.
Here, the weather feeds for your zipcodes are merged together with Magpie RSS and submitted to Yahoo! Maps.

Geocoded RSS rocks!