... in cuba

Computer Science is the Science of the Future [and more pics from Cuba]

07 Dec 2008 | 333 words | future cuba photos technology education

So i finally finished uploading my pictures from cuba to flickr [see here and here]. among them is one more series that deserves special attention. it consists of a number of photos of an abandonened boarding school building that we found along the road from Bayamo to Las Tunas in eastern Cuba. The soviet-style prefabricated builing stands at a stark contrast with the surrounding countryside. When we first stopped there we had no idea what the building was. While exploring the building it became clear that it used to house a boarding school (there is a former boarding school head’s office next to the former communist party of cuba’s office) on the first floor of one of the wings.

I would guess that the building stands empty for at least 5 years or so. Based on this it is in remarkably good condition: Everything that can be reused (such as the window panes or the threads of the second staircase) has been taken away, but for the rest the building is remarkable clean and the walls are still covered with propaganda slogans promising support for Fidel, Raúl & the Revolution.

Most interesting were a number of rooms that seem to have been used as computer science labs. There are two rooms in the vast building that have inscriptions in a programming language (basic?) painted on the walls: In one – otherwise empty – room the inscription on the wall reads:

INPUT [“mensaje”] , PRINT [] OPEN “dispositivo:nombre” FOR AS [see picture here]

and in another room the inscriptions on the wall read:

PRINT [] DIM , INPUT [“mensaje”] , IF-THEN-ELSE IF THEN [else ] [see picture here]

Another wall in the same room also has ‘La Computacion es la ciencia del futuro’ (‘Computer science is the science of the future’) written on on it. What has obviously been intended as a motivational slogan for the pupils now stands in an almost absurd contrast with the surroundings. Guess the future happens elsewhere these days…

Cuban recycling art: beautiful self made race-carts

03 Dec 2008 | 289 words | art cuba improvisation photos urbanism

Cubans are probably the global kings of recycling [not in our spoiled western meaning of the word though, they will happily leave their sandwich wrappers and cigarette boxes lying next to a natural pond in the middle of a national park]. it appears that they can prolong the active life of pretty much any vehicle by decennia using a welding gun and some imagination. The many custom build taxis and busses based on 1950’s american cars are the prime example of this, but there are many other examples that do not appear on you standard postcard [such as containers or chairs]. One particular area where these recycling skills are applied are children’s toys:

In a number of cities we have seen boys racing down small hills (or other slopes) on self constructed carts made from scrap wood and industrial ball bearings:

These carts are extremely beautiful in their simplicity and the kids we saw playing with hem exposed great skill in navigating them down the pothole ridden streets of Havana and Santiago de Cuba. The carts are all variations on a basic design, that consists of a wooden rectangle used as a frame. at the back of the frame there are two ball bearings on an axle and above them is a small plank to sit on. the third wheel is attached to a piece of wood that is attached mid-way to one of the sides of the wooden frame with a singe nail or screw. the piece of wood extends beyond the frame on the other side and the carts can be steered by moving the extended part of this ‘front axle’ forwards or backwards.

More images of carts and kids riding on them on my flickr account.

Big brother in Havana

26 Nov 2008 | 319 words | cuba technology surveillance urbanism

Spend the last two weeks on vacation (and totally off-line) in Cuba and have begun uploading pictures to flickr. will try to give a bit of context to some of the pictures here in the next couple of days…

The fact that cuba is one of the last remaining ‘communist’ one party states becomes immediately obvious once you arrive there: The most visible trace of this is an abundance of propaganda murals, hoardings and references to revolutionary heros (including pre-revolutionary, bourgeois independence fighters like José Martí). The next thing you notice is the almost complete absence of modern communication tools from public life. almost no-one (except taxi drivers and fire fighters) uses mobile phones in public and internet is available only through a handful of state licensed communication centers (this situation makes for an excellent vacation).

Predictably though it appears that the cuban authorities do have access to the newest technologies when it comes to controlling the population. Some urban neighborhoods seem to be completely covered with CCTV cameras. While strolling through Centro Havana (a predominately residential neighborhood) on our last day, we noticed 360 degree field of vision CCTV cameras on every 2nd intersection. Given that Havana Centro has a grid layout this means that the entire neighborhood is covered by these remote controlled cameras and makes it clear that somebody is methodologically watching the neighborhood. The fact that this somebody bothered to figure out exactly how many cameras are necessary to have a view of the entire area makes this arrangement much more chilling that the chaotic abundance of CCTV cameras in many places of the UK which seems to lack the methodological zeal exhibited by the Cuban Big Brother.

Also these cameras – being the most shiny things in public view – make a nice visual contrast to the decaying environment of Havana Centro:

CCTV camera on a street corner in Havana Centro.

more here …

Berlin, Alexanderplatz

09 Oct 2005 | 176 words | berlin cuba public spaces

Cycling past Alexanderplatz i noticed a group of people standing around a table in an otherwise deserted area on the northeastern side of the place. I stopped to take a closer look and it looked like they were playing some kind of game wile drinking and generally enjoying themselves on this unlikly location. When i approached them they told me that they where cubans and that they came to this very spot every day (as long as ‘the weather did not torture them’ as one of them expressed it to play domino, drink and be with friends. Asked why they had chosen this particular place they told me that this was because of the noise (it is right next to a mayor road) which would remind them of Cuba. Now i have always imagined cuba a bit different but if they say so i am fine with it. The whole thing somehow reminded me of my old mah jong set. guess i have to find someone to play with again…

domino players on alexanderplatz in berlin

meanwhile... is the personal weblog of Paul Keller. I am currently policy director at Open Future and President of the COMMUNIA Association for the Public Domain. This weblog is largely inactive but contains an archive of posts (mixing both work and personal) going back to 2005.

I also maintain a collection of cards from African mediums (which is the reason for the domain name), a collection of photos on flickr and a website collecting my professional writings and appearances.

Other things that i have made online: