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Psychogeodata (3/3)

cemetary random walk

The examples of Psychogeodata given so far have used properties of the geodata graph and of street names to guide generation of Dérive. There are many more ways that Psychogeodata can be processed, some as simple as those already discussed, some much more complex.

General Strategies

There are some general strategies that most of the following techniques can be used as part of.

  • Joining the two highest or lowest examples of a particular measure.

  • Joining the longest run of the highest or lowest examples of a particular measure.

  • Joining a series of destination waypoints chosen using a particular measure.

The paths constructed using these strategies can also be forced to be non-intersecting, and/or the waypoints re-ordered to find the shortest journey between them.


Other mathematical properties of graphs can produce interesting walks. The length of edges or ways can be used to find sequences of long or short distances.

Machine learning techniques, such as clustering, can arrange nodes spatially or semantically.

Simple left/right choices and fixed or varying degrees can create zig-zag or spiral paths for set distances or until the path self-intersects.

Map Properties

Find long or short street names or street names with the most or fewest words or syllables and find runs of them or use them as waypoints.

Find all the street names on a particular theme (colours, saints’ names, trees) and use them as waypoints to be joined in a walk.

Streets that are particularly straight or crooked can be joined to create rough or smooth paths to follow.

If height information can be added to the geodata graph, node elevation can be used as a property for routing. Join high and low points, flow downhill like water, or find the longest runs of valleys or ridges.

Information about Named entities extracted from street, location and district names from services such as DBPedia or Freebase and used to connect them. Dates, historical locations, historical facts, biographical or scientific information and other properties are available from such services in a machine-readable form.

Routing between peaks and troughs in sociological information such as population, demographics, crime occurrence, ploitical affiliation, property prices can produce a journey through the social landscape.

Locations of Interest

Points of interest in OpenStreetMap’s data are represented by nodes tagged as “historic”, “amenity”, “leisure”, etc. . It is trivial to find these nodes to use as destinations for walks across the geodata graph. They can then be grouped and used as waypoints in a route that will visit every coffee shop in a town, or one of each kind of amenity in alphabetical order, in an open or closed path for example. Making a journey joining each location with a central base will produce a star shape.

Places of worship (or former Woolworth stores can be used to find using linear regression or the techniques discussed below in “Geometry and Computer Graphics”.


The words of poems or song lyrics (less stopwords), matched either directly or through hypernyms using Wordnet, can be searched for in street and location names to use as waypoints in a path. Likewise named entities extracted from stories, news items and historical accounts.

More abstract narratives can be constructed using concepts from The Hero’s Journey.

Nodes found using any other technique can be grouped or sequenced semantically as waypoints using Wordnet hypernym matching.


Renamed Tube maps, and journeys through one city navigated using a map of another, are examples of using isomorphism in Psychogeography.

Entire city graphs are very unlikely to be isomorphic, and the routes between famous locations will contain only a few streets anyway, so sub-graphs are both easier and more useful for matching. Better geographic correlations between locations can be made by scoring possible matches using the lengths of ways and the angles of junctions. Match accuracy can be varied by changing the tolerances used when scoring.

Simple isomorphism checking can be performed using The NetworkX library’s functions . Projecting points from a subgraph onto a target graph then brute-force searching for matches by varying the matrix used in the projection and scoring each attempt based on how closely the points match . Or Isomorphisms can be bred using genetic algorithms, using degree of isomorphism as the fitness function and proposed subgraphs as the population.

The Social Graph

Another key contemporary application of graph theory is Social Network Analysis. The techniques and tools from both the social science and web 2.0 can be applied directly to geodata graphs.

Or the graphs of people’s social relationships from Facebook, Twitter and other services can mapped onto their local geodata graph using the techniques from “Isomorphism” above, projecting their social space onto their geographic space for them to explore and experience anew.

Geometry and Computer Graphics

Computer geometry and computer graphics or computer vision techniques can be used on the nodes and edges of geodata to find forms.

Shapes can be matched by using them to cull nodes using an insideness test or to find the nearest points to the lines of the shape. Or line/edge intersection can be used. Such matching can be made fuzzy or accurate using the matching techniques in “Isomorphism”.

Simple geometric forms can be found – triangles, squares and quadrilaterals, stars. Cycle bases may be a good source of these. Simple shapes can be found – smiley faces, house shapes, arrows, magical symbols. Sequences of such forms can be joined based on their mathematical properties or on semantics.

For more complex forms, face recognition, object recognition, or OCR algorithms can be used on nodes or edges to find shapes and sequences of shapes.

Classic computer graphics methods such as L-sytems, turtle graphics, Conway’s Game of Life, or Voronoi diagrams can be applied to the Geodata graph in order to produce paths to follow.

Geometric animations or tweens created on or mapped onto the geodata graph can be walked on successive days.

Lived Experience

GPS traces generated by an individual or group can be used to create new journeys relating to personal or shared history and experience. So can individual or shared checkins from social networking services. Passenger level information for mass transport services is the equivalent for stations or airports.

Data streams of personal behaviour such as scrobbles, purchase histories, and tweets can be fetched and processed semantically in order to map them onto geodata. This overlaps with “Isomorphism”, “Semantics”, and “The Social Graph” above.

Sensor Data

Temperature, brightness, sound level, radio wave, radiation, gravity and entropy levels can all be measured or logged and used as weights for pathfinding. Ths brings Psychogeodata into the realm of Psychogeophysics.


This series of posts has made the case for the concept, practicality, and future potential of Psychogeodata. The existing code produces interesting results, and there’s much more that can be added and experienced.

(Part one of this series can be found here, part two can be found here . The source code for the Psychogeodata library can be found here .)

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Psychogeodata (2/3)


Geodata represents maps as graphs of nodes joined by edges (…as points joined by lines). This is a convenient representation for processing by computer software. Other data can be represented in this way, including words and their relationships.

We can map the names of streets into the semantic graph of WordNet using NLTK. We can then establish how similar words are by searching the semantic graph to find how far apart they are. This semantic distance can be used instead of geographic distance when deciding which nodes to choose when pathfinding.

Mapping between these two spaces (or two graphs) is a conceptual mapping, and searching lexicographic space using hypernyms allows abstraction and conceptual slippage to be introduced into what would otherwise be simple pathfinding. This defamiliarizes and conceptually enriches the constructed landscape, two key elements of Psychogeography.

The example above was created by the script derive_sem, which creates random walks between semantically related nodes. It’s easy to see the relationship between the streets it has chosen. You can see the html version of the generated file here, and the script is included with the Psychogeodata project at .

(Part one of this series can be found here, part three will cover potential future directions for Psychogeodata.)

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Psychogeodata (1/3)


tl;dr Psychogeographic Geodata using OpenStreetMap in Python. Download here.

Psychogeography is a set of techniques for defamiliarizing the landscape, particularly the urban landscape. It is a way of resisting and critiquing the historically, culturally and politically imposed reality of the built environment. Starting with Guy Debord, psychogeography has since followed the rest of the Situationist‘s techniques in being recuperated by society. But as Christine Harold points out in “Ourspace”, this can be redressed by intensifying the strategies of Situationism into new forms.

The town and tube maps used by previous psychogeographers have been replaced in modern experiences of the landscape by Geodata, a mesh of points joined by the lines of streets and accompanied by tagged information describing them for human and machine use. Combining Psychogeography and Geodata gives us Psychogeodata.


Geodata is tied to the logic of Googlization, of making the world rational and tractable for machines within the economy. Its positioning between commerce and consumer makes it ideal raw material for Situationist-inspired ironization. And Geodata, like other forms of information, can be made free. OpenStreetMap is a very successful project that does so.

Taking the inhuman logic of Geodata as the basis for Psychogeography allows us to use Graph Theory to examine the landscape mathematically. Graph Theory is also used in Social Network Analysis, and in discussions of the topology of the internet. It is a powerful mathematical abstraction.

The randomness, unfamiliarity and conceptual slippage that this provides us with can intensify historical strategies of Dérive. In order to do so we need Geodata (from OSM) and software to manipulate and present it. The software that I have written for Psychogeodata is in the Python programming language. It operates on graphs using the library. And the output is rendered using the OpenLayers Javascript library.


The first scripts written using the Psychogeodata library concentrate on the mathematics of graph theory. Click on the name of each script to open an example of its output in a new tab or window (which your browser’s popup blocker may warn you about):

(Disclaimer: This software currently generates paths that may or may not be safe or practical to actually follow. Use your discretion and common sense in choosing which ones to actually travel.)

derive – Generates random walks and non-self-intersecting random walks.

derive_degree – Generates journeys between high-and-low-connectivity nodes.

derive_loop – Generates circuitous journeys based on cycle bases

derive_tags – Generates paths between nodes with particular tags.


To download the software and for more information, see:

(Part two of this series will present some scripts based on semantics, part three will cover potential future directions for Psychogeodata.)

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A Balloon Dog Print

Here’s a picture of the Balloon Dog printed on a Makerbot:

I love the “nose”.

Thanks Lunpa!

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Source Code

The part of my review of “White Heat Cold Logic” that seems to have
caught people’s attention is:

“for preservation, criticism and artistic progress (and I do mean
progress) it is vital that as much code as possible is found and
published under a Free Software licence (the GPL). Students of art
computing can learn a lot from the history of their medium despite the
rate at which the hardware and software used to create it may change,
and code is an important part of that.”

I have very specific reasons for saying this, informed by personal

When I was an art student at Kingston Polytechnic, I was given an
assignment to make a new artwork by combining two previous artworks: a
Jackson Pollock drip painting and a Boccioni cyclist. I could not “read”
the Boccioni cyclist: the forms did not make sense to me, and so I was
worried I would not be able to competently complete the assignment. As
luck would have it there was a book of Boccioni’s drawings in the
college library that included the preparatory sketches for the painting.
Studying them allowed me to understand the finished painting and to
re-render it in an action painting style.

When I was a child, a book on computers that I bought from my school
book club had a picture of Harold Cohen with a drawing by his program
AARON. The art of AARON has fascinated me to this day, but despite my
proficiency as a programmer and as an artist my ability to “read”
AARON’s drawings and to build on Cohen’s work artistically is limited by
the fact that I do not have access to their “preparatory work”, their
source code.

I have been told repeatedly that access to source code is less important
than understanding the concepts behind the work or experiencing the work
itself. But the concepts are expressed through the code, and the work
itself is a product of it. I can see a critical case being made for the
idea that “computer art” fails to the extent that the code rather than
the resultant artwork is of interest. But as an artist and critic I want
to understand as much of the work and its history as possible.

So my call for source code to be recovered (for historical work) and
released (for contemporary work) under a licence that allows everyone to
copy and modify it comes from my personal experience of understanding
and remaking an artwork thanks to access to its preparatory materials on
the one hand and the frustration of not having access to such materials
on the other. And I think that awareness of and access to source code
for prior art (in both senses of the term) will enable artists who use
computers to stop re-inventing the wheel.

If you are making software art please make the source code publicly
available under the GPL3+, and if you are making software-based net art
please make it available under the AGPL3+ .

Art Free Culture Projects

Balloon Dog

My 3D printing art project “Balloon Dog” is now available as part of Collaboration and Freedom – The World of Free and Open Source Art. Furtherfield commissioned it as a sequel to Urinal.

balloon_dog2.pngThe model was created by Bassam Kurdali, and it’s available under a Creative Commons Attrubution-ShareAlike 3.0 unported licence (as with Urinal’s modeller Chris Webber, Bassam holds the copyright on the model). 

I submitted it to Boing Boing and Thingiverse, where there have been some interesting comments, and is already being used for purposes other than 3D printing, which is great to see.
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Free Licencing For Art

Free Culture is primarily a synonym for free speech. In art, free speech is generally referred to as free expression. Artists face limits on their freedom of expression from various laws that limit their freedom to depict the visual environment, notably copyright law and trademark law. A successful strategy for tackling the restrictions of copyright on computer programming has been the use of “copyleft” licences that ironize copyright law in order to promote rather than restrict individuals’ freedom to use and adapt copyrighted materials.

Copyleft protects the freedom to use any materials that it covers wherever an individual may encounter them. It is inalienable and indivisible freedom. Weakening copyleft weakens this, and doing so should only be considered as a tactical last option.

Legal documents such as licences, however simple, can always have unintended consequences. Copyright law is complex and licences should always be drafted by lawyers familiar with the area. But this isn’t to say that alternative copyright licences should be motivated by lawyers or simply follow the faultlines of copyright law. They should be expressions of principle made rigorous and enforcible.

Software copyleft licences are tailored to the demands of writing and using software. But software is very different from other media covered by copyright, so this does not mean that other artifacts covered by copyright should have their own medium-specific licences. Culture is a dialogue, and much contemporary culture (including much contemporary art) is multi-media, or is adapted from or refers to work created in other media. A single-medium cultural licence would limit freedom of expression rather than protect the coherence of the medium.

It is possible to use non-copyleft “permissive” alternative copyright licences as a means of making irrational economic gifts of works to other individuals. The use of these gifts may support an individual’s freedom of speech. But this does not protect freedom of speech in general as the work they create using those resources need not be licenced to respect the freedom of its audience in return. Copyleft therefore protects freedom of speech more generally than permissive licencing.

Given all this, the licence that I believe should be used by individuals committed to artistic freedom of expression is a legally drafted general-purpose copyleft licence for cultural works. This excludes software licences (like the GPL), documentation licences (like the GFDL), and non-copyleft cultural works licences (like CC-BY and CC-NC-SA). It also, for reasons I will explain, excludes the FAL.

Free Culture Projects

Collaboration and Freedom – The World of Free and Open Source Art

A collection of artworks, texts and resources about freedom and openness in the arts, in the age of the Internet. Freedom to collaborate – to use, modify and redistribute ideas, artworks, experiences, media and tools. Openness to the ideas and contributions of others, and new ways of organising and making decisions together.

This non exhaustive collection is intended to inspire, inform and enable people to apply peer-to-peer principles for making things and getting organised together. We hope that all art lovers, makers, thinkers, organisers and strategists will find something for them from this set of imaginative, communitarian and dynamic contemporary practices.

Curated by Furtherfield: Ruth Catlow and Marc Garrett with additional texts by Charlotte Frost and Rob Myers.

1 What You will Find in this Collection
2 Essays & Interviews
3 Radio Interviews
4 Artist Projects
5 Open Source Resources
– Open source services
– Organisational models and strategies
– Guides and how-tos
– Licensing
– Glossary for Beginners in FOSS Art

Can be found at the the Foundation for P2P Alternatives

And at ACE/Thinking Digital

Commissioned by Arts Council England for Thinking Digital.

It will also be presented at the FLOSSIE (Women in FLOSS) conference in
November 15th. London.


Furtherfield commission ‘Balloon Dog’ by Rob Myers.

A downloadable freely licensed 3D model of an artwork to print and remix. 2011 Furtherfield commission.

Balloon Dog forms part of a series of shareable DIY ‘readymades’ for an era of digital copying and sharing. Iconic objects from the history of appropriation and remixing art are recreated as 3D-digital models. Users can then download and send the digital model to 3D printers via the Internet to receive their own physical artwork through the post at a scale of their choosing.

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The Urinal Is In A Show

The Urinal project is being presented as part of a collection called:

Free Yourself?

Curated by Furtherfield, in:

International Art in Village Halls
Penryn Town Hall
Private View: Friday April 15th
6.30pm – 8.30pm

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An Aesthetics Of Disappearance

I stumbled over this anti-face-recognition project again and, post-“world’s ugliest t-shirt” from “Zero History” I enjoyed it even more:

This technique can work in reverse, causing false positives and misdirected automated actions:

And it can use objects other than faces, operating on sensors other than 2D cameras:

When more and more human activity is being structured and quantized to make machine processing easier, aesthetics can disrupt this.

“…the opacity of the aesthetic offers some much needed resistance to the kinds of transparency increasingly demanded…”

An “Aesthetics Of Disappearance” and of false positives

[Via Netbehaviour]