Tag: infrastructure

Locating Servers, Locating Politics

When we think of servers, like web servers and Amazon servers, we don’t usually think of them as occupying physical space. We might think of a remote data center, thanks in large part to images that have been circulated by companies like Facebook and Google. But still, these only visualize unmarked buildings and warehouse rooms, showcasing a particular tech aesthetic of colored wires and tubes, and neatly assembled rows of blinking machines (Holt and Vondereau 2015). Such imagery is hardly meant to provide the public with a sense of where servers are actually located. For most day-to-day computer users, it often doesn’t matter at all whether servers are in the U.S. or China or Russia, so long as they work.     But server location matters, and many groups of people value certain material benefits and effects of the placement of servers and their own proximity to servers. It matters (read more...)

This House Harvests the Rain: Multiple Waters and Infrastructure in a Changing Climate

Seventy-five year-old Mary-Jean climbs up on a short ladder to clear the fruit from her rain gutters. “The gutter likes grapefruit, and they like to plug the little hole where the water goes,” she explains, referring to the opening between the gutters and the downspout. The aluminum downspout drains the rainwater that falls on her roof into an 1100-gallon plastic cistern sitting in her backyard. She has two cisterns, and in early September they are halfway full, fed by the summer monsoon rains. Her yard is sparsely landscaped with reddish gravel and a handful of native trees and succulents. If she were not collecting the rain, she would be sweeping the gravel from the street back to the yard after every heavy rain. “It really slows down the water,” she tells me referring to the runoff and pointing to her front yard and steep driveway. The grapefruit tree came with the house, so she kept it. To water the thirsty tree, she connects a hose to the valve at the bottom of the cistern. The hose has little holes on the underside, so she can leave it running. “It works like a slow drip,” she explains. In front of her house there is a small sign made by the city that reads: “This house harvests the rain.” (read more...)

Harvey, Vulnerability, and Resilience in Context on the Gulf Coast

There has been no shortage of rapid assessments in the wake of Harvey, many of which point to endemic vulnerabilities embedded within US gulf coast communities (risk of hurricanes, large at-risk populations and critical infrastructure, the role of a changing climate, energy infrastructure, vulnerable petrochemical processing plants, etc.). Harvey’s impacts have also led to a “rediscovery” of past reporting and analysis that foreshadowed many of the hurricane’s more devastating outcomes. (e.g. ProPublica’s series on Houston flood risk, (lack of) zoning, and rapid development in the Houston area). They have also shifted media coverage to heavily emphasize context in Houston and Texas gulf coast (e.g. the Washington Post article on Houston’s “Wild West” growth and expansion). On top of rapid urban growth and development in flood prone areas, the stochasticity of weather and the persistent trend of a changing climate also played key roles in how Harvey unfolded (and continues to unfold). A large high pressure ridge over the West had the effect of placing what amounted to an atmospheric wall in the path of the storm (Fig. 3). A climatologist colleague put it simply: “If we had a large sprawling ridge across much of the US like we often do in the summer, Harvey would have kept moving west-northwest and probably would have sheared apart and turned into a rainy day for New Mexico.” (read more...)

Infrastructure as New Life?

Today, logistics as the science and industry of cross-border transportation of mainly industrial products drives “revolutions” from energy to retail. As most world economies continue to accelerate their involvement with economic globalization, logistics continue to take over local economies in many regions around the world. Paradoxically, many states and sovereigns around the world are also looking (back) to logistics infrastructure as a panacea to curb the half-century-long devastating effects of deregulation of trade, finance and services on nation-state-centric political economies. One can observe this move both in countries of North America and Europe, where the post-1950s deterioration of public infrastructures has long been a problem. The Right’s recognition of this deterioration was at least partly responsible for carrying it into power, for example, in the U.S., although the Left has also occasionally touted this kind of infrastructure politics. In places like China, or Turkey, a country with which I am more familiar, economic development based on the infrastructure, transport, and construction sectors is much newer. This move toward infrastructure, though, at the same time may reflect the end of sovereign state authority, at least as we know it, and the beginning of a new kind of statecraft. (read more...)

The Heliopolitics of Data Center Security

From Cyberattack to Solar Attack The small-scale cyberattack, characteristic of the late-twentieth century, has long dominated discourses and practices of data center security. Lately, however, these fears are increasingly giving way to concerns over large-scale, existential risks posed by solar activity. Increasing numbers of data centers are going to extreme measures to protect their facilities from solar flares, solar energetic particles and Coronal Mass Ejections – collectively referred to as “space weather”. As data centers are put into circulation with what Georges Bataille famously called the sun’s “superabundance of energy” (1991:29), the act of protecting digital-industrial infrastructure takes on strangely mythical dimensions. In this post, I would like to briefly explore the business end of the mythical dispositif that arises from the surreal and distinctly Bataillean meeting of data centers and the sun. (read more...)

Driving in the Postcolony: Jennifer Hart on Automobiles and Infrastructure in Ghana

Editor’s note: In Ghana on the Go, Jennifer Hart tells the history of how being a driver in Ghana became a contested vocation. Today on Platypus, she talks with Ilana Gershon about her work on infrastructure and profession. They talk through how driving emerged as a profession in the context of British colonial efforts to strategically introduce transportation technology, and about how this history has shaped the current precarious and often stigmatized nature of the job.  Ultimately, Hart argues that the history of Ghanaian roads and motor cars is also a history of how integral human labor and labor conditions are to the development of infrastructures generally. Ilana Gershon: What is striking and possibly unexpected about your book is that to tell the history of Ghanaian drivers is also to tell the history of infrastructure.  Indeed, you make a very compelling case for how studies of infrastructure need to become far more conscious of labor history once we accept that humans are integral parts of evolving infrastructure.   If you were going to explain the arc of your book as a history of human infrastructure, what are one or two of the changes in Ghanaian drivers’ lives over the course of the twentieth century that you would want readers to know about? Jennifer Hart: We often write and talk about the culture of automobility as globally homogenous – an implicit byproduct of the technology of the motor vehicle. It becomes a sort of narrative trope. Paul Edwards called roads the “invisible, unremarked basis of modernity.” But the history of Ghanaian drivers highlights that this technological and infrastructural story was profoundly shaped by the people who use that technology and infrastructure. In the Gold Coast, early vehicles were imported by European administrators and import companies and used as symbols of political domination and control. Cocoa farmers, who used their profits to invest in motor vehicles and employed them to transport cocoa between rural farms and coastal ports in the 1930s and 1940s, created the foundation for a new culture of motor transportation in the colonial Gold Coast. African entrepreneurs, who purchased and operated motor vehicles, controlled this new form of automobility, using the technology to transport goods and people throughout the colony.  That autonomy and control over technology positioned drivers as respectable members of modern society, providing a public service for private profit. The growth of cocoa farming enabled Africans to purchase and deploy motor transportation to expand the economic, social, and cultural possibilities for a wide array of Ghanaians in the colonial and early postcolonial period.   (read more...)

Weekly Round-up | March 31st, 2017

We’re back to full steam on the round-up this week! Your editor’s brief paternity leave included the aimless stockpiling of dozens of partially-read tabs in Chrome, and we’ve got the cream of the crop for you here. As always, let us know if you’ve written, sculpted, recorded, or just stumbled across anything cool on the web for next week’s round-up. (read more...)

From Technocracy to the Anthropocene: 2016 in Review

#ALSIceBucketChallenge. Deflategate. Twins in Space. Animal Sex Work. The joy of working on Platypus since its inception arises from the many lively, timely, engaged posts that our team of contributing editors and authors bring to the blog each week. Sometimes funny, sometimes serious, often critical and reflective, the blog offers a look into up-and-coming research in anthropology, STS, and related fields on science, tech, computing, informatics, and more. As editor, I’ve delighted in posts that frequently turn commonsense assumptions upside down. For the past two years, I’ve summarized the major themes and highlights in a yearly review post, and have the pleasure of doing so for 2016. Two noteworthy themes threaded through many of last year’s posts: 1) reflections on technocracy, and 2) living in the anthropocene. By technocracy, I mean emerging regimes of data, algorithms, and quantitative living. Melissa Cefkin (Human-Machine Interactions and the Coming Age of Autonomy) opened (read more...)