The Urban Organism

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Video in TIB AV-Portal: The Urban Organism

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The Urban Organism
Hacking [in] Hong Kong
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This talk will engage the practises and protocols of hacking in the context of Hong Kong, drawing parallels from the stigmergic responses of the city (consensus network organisation) and the peer-production (or attempt) of the hackerspace, Dim Sum Labs. Perspectives on this will also draw from the publication, The Field Guide to Hacking ( TFGTH), a collection of (project and essay) snapshots generated from the hackerspace and its surrounding community.
Keywords Art, Culture

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[Music] so please welcome Michele about the urban organism in Hong Kong for a brief
background I'm trained as an architect but after about 10 years of corporate architecture I needed to kind of expand my technicals so now I build buildings to maintain that technical proficiency and I work in creative media which allows me to have more instant gratification and a more personal contact with individual people and I teach in the Faculty of design environment at a university in Hong Kong
so the metropolis I'm speaking of refers
to Hong Kong if it wasn't obvious already it is the city of contradictions a culture of pastiche of a colonial system Chinese traditions and with globalized modernity so if the city slogan Asia's world city it maintains itself as a entrepot or in other words the
intermediary between China and the rest of the world so before we were trading opium teets sugar textiles and which now
has transition to focus more on the financial sector so of cocaine insurance and stocks for many of those just
passing through Hong Kong which is frequent and obvious for anyone coming over to Asia there's several factors that make it such an exciting prospect so the hyper density here is always a fascination this is super relevant but the image on the left is from the Android Erlich it's called the room it's a surveillance camera mini server has cameras on one room and the other one there's just a position with our typical facades in Hong Kong so the exciting
prospects one is the proximity to Chinese manufacturers so it's close enough where you can hop over to Shenzhen so the manufacture hub for just a few hours so if you just take a day trip so if we have a MOSFET emergency you can run over there within an hour and grab everything you need to implement but we're also just outside of the Great Firewall we don't have any of those
issues or not most and it's culturally accessible there's number two you won't feel incredibly left out with no Chinese language skills you will still be a little bit left out but not completely
you can still function and operate there happily and then three stimuli as with any metropolis there's a factor of hyperactivity that has this distinct scent of infinite possibilities anything can happen and this is the difference that I feel most because you can make anything happen there if you're just willing to pay a little bit sometimes it's not a lot of money and I'll go into
this detail later actually
excuse me
so in this socio-cultural cornucopia what gives way to these contradictions and complexities there's a notoriously wide income gap the soaring costs of real estate and as well as the pressure towards commercialism the more we raise ourselves into the clouds exploring the limits of an upwards trajectory it also
creates wider separations from one another and in that segregation it creates uniformity the defining characteristics of any postmodern city
is how control is leveraged in the hands of the bureaucracy urban policy
especially in Hong Kong is a stringent arrangement serving only the private and the powerful and without going into the boring details but for the most part the applied label here is called crony capitalism so technological changes in
the quality of public space make it increasingly more evident that the urban
realm is a temporary experience that is imploded by the changes in the social
contract the enjoyment of public space
is normally governed by Authority public transportation parks and even the most
mundane section of the pavement some of the responsibilities of an organization
in this respect the city relinquishes itself as a homework collective space
but rather a temporary flow of people
information and commodities so did you
know the parks of Hong Kong is nothing
like the parks in Germany we have signs that say no smoking no drinking okay fine no busking no bicycles no skateboards no Hawking so basically no fun the pavements as well if you've been to Hong Kong where you see in the video where pavements are about 1.2 meters wide before you reach up with the facade of a
building next to you that's because they are keen on maximizing 100% site
boundaries which reach up to there that's why we're all closed in and because the pavement in front of every building is typically owned by the
business in front of it so that is actually their section of the pavement not yours but it's theirs so while each
technical retinal logical revolution
allows us to offset mundane tasks we've
also been offsetting the responsibility
of monitoring these machines to large-scale institutions technology has
been extension of ourselves for a long time but very few pay mind of what part of us it amputates the quote from Gary Taubes where he writes about sugar like candy the sugar it's a substance that
causes pleasure with a price that is difficult to CERN immediately and paying
in full only years and/or decades later
that's from the case of against sugar 2016 and if we consider cities moving more into the virtual realm into cyber urbanism with smart technology we're
heading into a world that is shackled by algorithmic conformity for one example by mass implementation of self-driving cars and within these networks of
organized complexities we were never
meant to be conquered in concrete boxes hovering in the sky hermetically sealed from one another for thousands of years
our genetic programming had us living in tribes and while the world seemed to
shrink in distance with steam engines airplanes and the Internet the space
with and between each other expanded even more so machines replaced our fingers and we no longer needed each
other to meet our needs but instead on a system
hopefully I've set the stage now for
this very dystopian Bladerunner of us give the city so a certain level of uniformity is inevitable and to me uniformity is not so bad if we can translate this to cooperation and to begin our detailed understanding of similarities before we implicate and find the changes within the cracks we have this inquire inherent quality in us as small children with such joy and
playing with switches and boxes pushing buttons and identifying objects as mine and yours but because of this innate desire to make changes to our environments and leave a mark in this world so our ability to make collective
two images disappeared as we saw our ability to be a collective and flexible cooperation in large numbers is our strength in this world and I mean that's why we're all here in this amazing event built by so many hands that are
sometimes organized and sometimes not together we're finding a balance between the ecological and the engineered or the organic versus the designed and to me the metaphorical link between the city and hackerspaces also have something in common with termites ants birds muscles and mold it's the experimental harmonic composition that arises from spatial self-organization
so it shows something that's difficult to miss once you cross their path it's a horde of termites and in my animating a still branch both building and destroying the physical environment at the same time and I enjoy observing termites and ants for their emergent complex cooperative yet primitive behavior and so in this line of thinking the macro and micro of our environments and that is one of the aspects that draws me to hackerspaces because they too are part of this greater concept of collective distributed action although parcel to
this very messy human factor called the hacker community
so dim some lives Hong Kong's first and only hackerspace he started off like most hackerspaces with a few people getting together and informal places to chat about all things geeky and then the official location was secured in 2011 with about 10 different co-founders in a commercial building in San Juan which is near the center so super convenient for people to access but also means there's a scarcity of space
it's kind of a funny name the red part means dim sum or dim sum touch your
heart literally but dim sum actually refers to a particular cuisine or an activity in Hong Kong where you can potentially spend hours nibbling on things but in bamboo steamer baskets and whatnot and when lots of people join together you have this very diverse opportunity to taste an experiment so many different things it's cute right why I lost another image so is the image
of dim sum and I'm going crazy now
okay so as I described earlier our proximity to China because of our limited space because of the context where money is king and we are fools in
this court it shapes the culture of our space in ways like affording ourselves really cheap equipment and components for example our laser cutter was four thousand RMB which is about five hundred euro and components so it's about a thousand resistors for half a year but instead we spend the rest of the money on rent instead and also what changes
the culture is very transitional atmosphere of people that move on to their journeys their hobbies or their lifestyle and in Hong Kong like the rest of the world outside of Germany hacking has a very different connotation than we'd prefer so as I define it it is the intellectual activity of exploring an object system or protocol beyond its intended means of course most people don't see it that way which is why Oh get out of here termites
okay which is why there is a book called
the field guide to hacking it's a handshake if you will to the greater community how can we encourage you how can we encourage others to hack if we without showing them how so the book contains a collection of projects in instructable mariner sort of essays and the snapshots of the activity in our nebulous community and is ordered into six sections each preface my essay by someone who can explain some peripheral topics of hacking it begins with a
foreword by Mitch Altman because if you're going to talk about community how can you not involvement and if anyone doesn't know who he is he also yearly organizes a hacker's trip to China so many of you have come to visit compound in some labs in Hong Kong which is amazing some of the projects we
start off with something very simple like a button badge that you can solder yourself with links to github repository
and all your components that you need to do it and potentially teach you how to solder it some projects are little more
functional this is the kilowatt counter that we have in our space where we monitor the use of electricity in the space and that also helps if we if someone has left the aircon on and it's empty so we know some of the products
are a little more polemic this is naomi sexy cyborg whoo she's quite well known if you follow her on Twitter and the if you want to check her Twitter you'll find out yourself and then some projects they're a little
more artistic so this is filled by me and Savio there's one here which maybe I'll show you later if I have time mine
is not very instructional but I teach you how to hack it and how it works which I suppose is more important and
then the essay is not only provide respite from the sea of projects but also a gesture for those who would like to know more about hacking but perhaps not participate into it participate in it physically so this is when I write a little bit about urbanism and surveillance capitalism this is from
dr. Daniel Hale who teaches a class on hacktivism at the school of creative media and the City University whose essay partners the relationship between artistic freedom and expression in Hong Kong and Scott Edmonds who found at the
Bohemia Genome Project he works on a different kind of code it's a four-letter code of DNA and while cultivating a stronger relationship between locals and Hong Kong's history by way of citizen science and on
inclusivity Sara Fox writes about technology and recognition with refugees with respect to the feminist space and
then we round it all off with Louis Philippe Morello who writes about this from an anthropologist perspective and empirically as a former member of dim-sum labs
so I hope that throughout this talk and the book that it provides some insight into the backdrop or some of the issues that face them some labs everyday it's not the easiest task to have people on
the other side of the world to have this empathetic sharing of our zeitgeist but you try so some of the things that I have been asked to me is where can I find the book so there's the website and there's the email the next question is actually can i buy the book well and just not really because I ran out and because the publisher is called dim sum labs Press which isn't just me so if anyone knows a publisher that would like to help me because right now I'm just printing it from taobao and if there's going to be another version I kind of need more content so if you want to be part of this in your kind of part of the
community please let me know contact is there
so this is not really a conclusion but I'm just going to assume it is Hong Kong has become part of this geopolitical experiment so we're on this precarious edge between maintaining its openness in the sense where individuals can maintain their cultural roots and our osmosis with Shenzhen or China a city where it
lives under the guise of China's rules and regulations but as well as breaking beyond his limitations in the physical and the social sense in Hong Kong the type of travelers that I come across
always have the same fascination towards the city this kind of magical wonder as one travels up the escalator in the center of the city leaning over the edge just to catch a glimpse of the sky that the towers are leaning towards each other it's amazing on one hand because it's a massive scale of structures that we built with this comparatively tiny hands and it's similar with electronics and whatnot we're in a capsule eating and embedding our perspectives within these artifacts that perpetuate around us but I also see it as relinquishing our Dominion we are complicit to our own demint complicit to our own detriment by not really addressing who our environments belong to so in all respects the physical the
temporal and digital strata that our streets are paved upon
that's it [Applause]
we have time for two days and I can see
that we already have one question from microphone number two I'm thinking of
how to say this number one you can just calm there's plenty of Europeans there you'll fit in right in number two there's I'll just tell you there's a way you can get your own visa because it's very easy to start a business in Hong Kong and then you can kind of hire yourself and give yourself a visa don't tell you when I said that just between you and
the internet and speaking of antenna do you have any questions from the internet signal angels there are no nods no so there are still two microphones and we have time for questions so please if you have it we have a question from microphone number one and it's for staff
so if you want looking for one I would
stress that one I did look at them I haven't gotten that far yet because as I pointed out kind of doing everything myself so but if you know a contact okay and microphone number two
culture the fundamental activity of hacking I
think is not that different as in we are all people trying to explore things what cool thing can we come out of the stuff around us um the difference I find most is how we spend our time and how generous we are with ourselves because if you live in a very commercial city that is dominated by this mentality of finance and money and how do I pay rent and whatever then your time becomes money and you do feel or you get the feeling that people don't want to extend so much because they're too busy with work whether you have to go to dinner or they just have better things to do than to basically volunteer in a space and question for microphone number one question how famous are hacker
communities in Hong Kong or the region in general so if I'll be looking for an alternative to the cosmic year Congress here what would I be looking for in Asia like if not Hong Kong and Singapore or doc you're like Asia can you rephrase
your question I've done so my question is if I'm looking for a hacker event in Asia what should I look for which city will event we don't have very ready an accurate event in Asia there is some in Singapore and I suppose the Tokyo makerfaire is pretty cool in terms of like artifacts and stuff but we don't have as much of this community because hacking is very much so a Western concept and the way a lot of Asia if we include China and the rest of it it's not necessarily considered hacking I mean if you understand the way Chinese do things if we bring in the concept of Shan Zhai they don't think that's hacking that's kind of just part of the culture that's what you do to make things work for yourself so it's a little more dispersed and is not under the umbrella term that is easy to find here well yeah Shenzhen Maker Faire is also really cool we have a question from room number two
you mean reaching the community outside of the hacker space [Music] so I'm hoping this that's the but the book accomplishes and since I have pushed it through a non-profit architectural design yeah nonprofit so that's reaching a different network unfortunately by doing that and same with architects and education hacking and hacker spaces is kind of this counterculture underground thing where it's cool now so that's another thing I have to negotiate because I don't want it to be just a trend or a toy that
someone says like your alternative version whatever but more as a you know way of life way of thinking type thing there is
a question from microphone number two [Music]
that's why if you say do you mean politically like just directly against China and Hong Kong then I wouldn't say so much because the current member base is not very local and they have their own politics to establish although if you consider politics as in open source then there are people that do that it's a very vague answer I'm sorry
I agree with that idea that it's very
big now to kids camps and coding and whatnot although I still believe that because you're introducing these kits to a child that you develop this and this is what happens that they still maintain that mindset and what I'm hoping is that they have they can change their thinking into what do I need this kit for when I can mix up all these other things that are outside of it so it's that idea is based on the educational system in Hong Kong as well where you know that it's mostly about regurgitation and less about critical thinking so that's what I'm kind of pushing them more towards in terms of actually doing it in education I try to do it with my students but I can really only do so much please don't
be shy there is still time for questions and I'm quite sure that Michelle has more more to offer you in terms of
dialogue so get up behind the microphones if you have any questions and also do we have any questions from the internet now no questions from the
internet you sure you brought along a thing uh that you have on the table do
you want to share it with us um this is just in case I talk too fast and then are like didn't finish my presentation then I have brought this thing so this
is the book that I was talking about it's covered in stickers because my copy so there's two pieces of copper on the
front of the limited edition version I'm sorry you didn't get one the limited edition version and on the back there supposed to be a PCB embedded into it so how it works is that as you draw a line with a graphite pencil connecting the two pieces of copper it changes the frequency of the sound that's coming out from the back PCB so
then this version was turned into a through-hole mount version so it can be presented at sonar Hongkong so this is the through-hole version so I guess I'm just gonna play with it for you and then you know it'll wind this up Oh also this was built because the dim sum Labs logo is at a Cu bow so our barbecue pork bun on a5 - timer so this whole
thing is built on based on the i5 5 just to be meta so this is volume then we can
change the pitch and then the rape and then we have switches I can change it from a continuous manner to a step fashion [Music] now that's kind of in this [Applause]
[Music] thank you very much Michelle and I think
we should give Michelle another round of applause for an excellent presentation [Applause] [Music]