Car Shenanigans

My ute is getting repaired after being hit in the rear quarter panel. I have been car-less for half a week, but today I am off to pick up a Ford Fiesta Econetic from Ford. It is one of their media cars. I am grateful that I’ll have some wheels again!

It should be interesting driving the Econetic as it is literally one of the next generation of vehicles. By that I mean there is a forthcoming tipping point where most cars on the road will be turbo diesel (like the Econetic or Mini D), hybrid (Prius or various Lexus models) or extremely small kei-class type vehicles (like the Alto). It will be my first experience properly driving one of the next generation of vehicles. The last time this happened involved a long process in the mid to late-1980s and it involved the shift from leaded petrol to ULP, archaic pushrod engine design to overhead cam, a shift in aesthetics from a large, squared off body shape to something more aerodynamic. When you go shopping for a vehicle now you are choosing between two iterations of the automotive market before choosing between vehicles within the respective markets.

This can be represented in the vehicles I have owned. Here is a late night photo of me working on my 1981 Ford XD Falcon:

It has a 5.8 litre V8 engine, four speed Toploader gearbox and 9in differential. I’ve owned it for 12 years.

Next is my 1994 Ford ED XR6 that I just sold:

It has a 4 litre OHC straight six cylinder engine and drove far nicer than my XD.

Next is my 2006 Ford BF XR6 ute that I bought last year:

Drives very nice, interior is ultra modern and it has a twin overhead cam straight six cylinder engine.

The XD made about 220kW at the wheels. The ED made about 116kW at the wheels. The BF would make about 140kW at the wheels, although it has never been run on a dyno so I don’t know. At the engine flywheel the Econetic makes 66kW. Not much, but not bad from what Ford call their ‘Duratorq’ turbo diesel 1.6 litre four cylinder engine. The kicker isn’t the power out of the Econetic, but the torque. It makes 200Nm from 1750 revs. That is some crazy shit. It is hard to explain to non-car people exactly how this much torque this far down in the rev range changes the driving experience. It will feel zippy down low and it will keep on pulling. I’ve noticed that Ford has selected far taller gearing for the diesel because it has heaps more torque than the other Fiesta models.

Anyway, there is the low-down torque I can’t wait to experience and the six-speaker stereo that allows me to plug in an iPod. Excellent :).

hacking the (bar)code

Here are some results from links and ideas various people have sent from my post to the cultstud list and blog several weeks ago. Here is another post. The reason I am posting this to my blog now is because Google Android’s mobile operating system has received some positive critical comments regarding its barcode scanning application (see end link below).

David Silver let me know about Microsoft’s endeavour to produce a Windows Mobile Media (WMM) based application for scanning barcodes with mobile devices and sending phones to urls, the Advance User Resource Annotation System (AURA). Senior Research Sociologist leading the Community Technologies Group, MarcSmith, on the system. An interview with him on CNET. Paper by Smith. A video where he explains the logic behind the system. As the above video attests ‘bringing people together’ means bringing ‘consumers together’, but because of the capacity to collectively annotate any barcode, it doesn’t just have to be ‘consumers’. A paper on a field test of the system. Here is a forum post by someone who explores how to actually use AURA as part of the test beta.

Beyond the Microsoft horizon there are many other interesting devices and systems that had been developed. There was also the Cuecat system (and fiasco!). Bryan Behrenshausen pointed me in the direction of http://www.nearfield.org/ which seems to be a group of Nordic researchers investigating the design potential of RFID systems. Bryan writes “I like the Touch project because it’s run by a collective with such varied backgrounds — computer science, sociology, anthropology, design, communication studies, etc. Consequently, the project can examine the history of touch, embodied practice, design directions, and social consequences of/for these new technologies.” He also pointed me towards the Barcode Battler, which is not a post-human rearticulation of the aspirational Australian lumpen proletariat, but a game that involved collecting bar-coded playing cards and using this proprietary reader to ‘battle’ (like a precursor to Pokémon or something).

Machine readable codes have a long history. Ted Striphas sent me an article of his on the function and history of code-based ISBN technology in the ‘back office’ of the publishing industry. He observes that the gradual introduction of the machine-readable coding technologies intensified the productivity (or, in Marxist terminology, increased the production of surplus-value) of logistics workers in the mega-bookseller companies such as amazon.com. It transformed the character of the industry from one that was slow and full of logistical redundancies to one that was streamlined by databases. The barcode becomes a literal representation of the exploitation of workers in an intensified Taylorist enterprise where workers are continually assessed by overseers for efficiency in the rate of logistical processing and dispatch. Ref: Ted Striphas “Cracking the Code: Technology, Historiography, and the “Back Office” of Mass Culture” Social Epistemology Vol. 19, Nos. 2-3, April-September 2005, pp. 261-282

What I am imagining is an inversion of this process. Not to sabotage the logistical chains of contemporary consumer culture, but a repurposing of the barcode and the database. Deleuze writes about code as the numerical language of control:

In the societies of control, on the other hand, what is important is no longer either a signature or a number, but a code: the code is a password […]. The numerical language of control is made of codes that mark access to information, or reject it.

For anyone who has grown up in this culture, and especially those who have worked in the service industry, all this is obvious.

Erik Hermansen discusses the logics behind ‘push’ versus ‘pull’ uses of barcode readers. He describes barcode readers as the killer app that will get people using the new feature laden smartphones:

Cell phones will start pulling information off the internet about products and companies. And nobody will be able to control it except the people doing the pulling. Who wins or loses when everybody gets the information they want to make spending decisions?

The consumer wins. Obviously. Dramatically. How many bad decisions have you made with no greater input than a price tag, product packaging, and the advice of a 19-year-old wearing a tie and sneakers? No more, my friend. Head into those flourescent-lit aisles armed with knowledge.

The mobile manufacturers win, because technology-assisted spending is the killer app that will finally cut through feature apathy. People are buying these sophisticated machines that they don’t really understand, so they mainly just use them as phones. Most people have figured out SMS and ring tones by now, but beyond that, the non-geeks don’t care much about all the bells and whistles. To make people truly interested in what mobile devices can do, a “gateway” feature with real-world value is needed. Save money on your shopping bill–everybody gets that, so lead with it!

Tipping point?

From The Australian newspaper:

CRIMTRAC’s planned automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) system could become a mass surveillance system, taking as many as 70 million photos of cars and drivers every day across a vast network of roadside cameras.

State and federal police forces want full-frontal images of vehicles, including the driver and front passenger, that are clear enough for identification purposes and usable as evidence in court.

Are question of privacy going to be the issue that shatters the illusion that the system of automobility is a system of freedom?

The system of automobility relies on the tight control of users down to the level of the very perception of the system itself. One of the triumphs of latter day governmentality is that drivers perceive the road and traffic system through the lense of road safety. Other perceptions include the environmental cost of subsidising automobility as a form of personal transport. In most cases, the road system is perceived purely in terms of mobility and access to that mobility.

By introducing questions of privacy, so that all every journey could potentially be tracked and logged in photographic databases, the implicit, embodied forms of control are rendered explicit. I wonder if this will be the beginning of the end for automobility? Or will the strong attraction for believing in personal freedoms (produced through systems of control) mean that the invasive tracking of individuals through digital recognition will be wholly accepted?