¡Hola! Here comes the Micrashell pandemic futuresuit — a stage-designer’s computerised protective costume from Spain and L.A., … and cyber life’s next leap?

 

+++ Micrashell pandemic futuresuit ON DRAFTING TABLE postgutenberg@gmail.com

Miguel Risueño’s Micrashell half-suit — on the top half of the mannequin — is on virtual (software) drafting boards, somewhere between a concept and prototype-in-progress. This is a Production Club image interpreted by pG

There has been a blizzard of reminders lately that crises can jump-start social transformations — can, for instance, do what World War I did for the Suffragettes with whom the women’s movement began. Right or wrong, here is pG’s prediction for the biggest technology-mediated change in our everyday existence to emerge from this pandemic seemingly set to rage on and on, now that scientists interviewed by The Verge, CNN  and The Guardian are warning us that we may never get acceptably risky, or safe — or any — vaccines against Covid-19: Fighting this virus will bounce us to the long-expected next stage of the digital revolution — ‘body-borne’ or ‘wearable’ computing.

The Wikipedia credits the invention of computing attached to our bodies to a Canadian engineer, Steve Mann, in the late 1970s. We have already met some of its components, if we don’t own them, as smartwatches and fitness trackers. These could well be followed by a larger constituent, if not a whole garment — a ‘half-body’ suit called a Micrashell, now somewhere between a concept and a prototype dreamt up by a Spanish stage-designer in the entertainment business, Miguel Risueño. Search engines’ earliest record of its launch appears to be a post on 29 April on CDM.link ** — just four weeks after pG’s first post about a virus-shielding, one-piece, whole-body outfit tentatively named a flusuit.

Risueño is in charge of inventions at Production Club, which is a studio based in Los Angeles and Spain that specialises in creating ‘immersive experiences’ for the raver-clubber-gamer class in electronic music and dancing.  Explosive interest in the Micrashell among other specialists in imagining and aesthetics is clear in the excitement in posts on scores of websites everywhere, including one on Architectural Digest India noting that the pandemic ‘has inspired artists and designers all over the world to create avant-garde Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) not only for frontline workers, but also for the general population.’ 

Risueño and his team say that they will first be selling their idea to businesses, not consumers, because the Micrashell’s yet-to-be-decided price tag will be high —  like those of the first components of the internet and computer revolution, which were paid for by the U.S. military. The first buyers Production Club has in mind are concert organisers and promoters and other specialists in giant live events whose audiences have vanished in the lockdowns. Risueño envisages these companies renting his half-suits to concert-goers, and being responsible for sterilising them between rentals and events.

A childhood friend of pG who used to conduct experiments in telepathy with her younger brother, each stationed in a different room in their house, would end their tests hoping to create a record of segments of thoughts that they — on rare occasions — apparently succeeded in transmitting to each other. If telepathy had been scientifically confirmed as real, it might explain the following curious overlaps between the entries here about a pandemic-protective futuresuit and announcements by the Risueño dream factory:

GETTING PHYSICAL

Whereas most others speculating about how the pandemic will alter ordinary human life are focusing on virtual solutions — such as offices in the ether, and moving various branches of the performing arts online — the suit idea is about physical adaptation. Both pG and Production Club see it as a way to make social distancing more effective, but also of ending the suffering and harmful consequences of lockdowns, preserving familiar human connections and freedom of movement as far as possible.

ADDING COMPUTING TO CLOTHES

Both Production Club and pG — in the 1 April post here  — have in different ways described garments with smartphone capabilities and high-tech sensors to monitor the suit-wearer’s environment and safety.

INCLUDING A RESPIRATORY SHIELD

Both the pG and Production Club envisionings equip a futuresuit with an N-95-grade respiratory mask, although p-G’s is replaceable and Production Club’s includes a sophisticated system of air filtration.

USING AESTHETICS AND COLOUR FOR ALLURE

The startling resemblance between the photograph of the suit used to announce the Micrashell (above) and the image in pG’s second post about an anti-Covid-19 suit  — bright, vibrant colours against a black background — fit a shared recognition that aesthetic allure will make it more likely that young early adopters will want a futuresuit. Whereas pG pointed out that users would not necessarily have to look like astronauts and might be offered fitness-flaunting suits made of transparent materials, Risueño told NBC Los Angeles that his suit ‘is a little bit more of a fashion piece than something that looks like a medical device.’ 

There the similarities more or less end. Production Club’s version lacks pG’s disposable stick-on-strip-off double-gloves and soles for shoes, and suggestion of biodegradability as a bonus — but in all other respects, is a far more intricate and elaborate conception. It includes, for example, battery-powered sound and messaging systems described in detail in the comprehensive Globetrender report about it. It has provisions for eating and drinking by a suit-wearer, and anticipates that what goes in must eventually come out — the notorious loo-break nuisance of jumpsuits — which explains why it ends at the waist.

But a top-only half-suit like the Micrashell must inevitably sacrifice anti-virus protection to some degree and will surely have to be reconsidered. As thrilling as it is for the futurists among us, the Production Club prototype is bound to lose a few — probably, a lot — of its features to be manufacturable in the near future.

Something about Risueño is reminiscent of the spirit and pan-directional imagining of Steve Jobs — in conversations with him around 1980 — who emerged seemingly from nowhere to reorient the computer business for ordinary people. He paid unprecedented attention to elegant usability and fashion, giving these as much importance as technical minutiae in an era in which giant established computer-makers bored outsiders with jargon-laden droning about megaflops and ‘OEM’-marketing strategies (no, you really don’t want to know about those). 

Miguel Risueño could be an imaginer too far ahead of his time, which is just as problematic as being a laggard (and in this respect too, would be a pG fellow-traveller). His name could be forgotten even six months from now. Or he — or someone very like him, from somewhere no one is expecting — could be the first of the new guard in the next transformation of computing.

..

** A fact-checking post-publication Google search on 29 May has turned up a Fast Company report on 27 April.

A parallel in contraception for the mass-produceable, anti-Covid-19 garment we need to end the lockdown — with or without help from Silicon Valley — while waiting for vaccines

(2) from a photograph by postgutenberg@gmail.com (2)

The ingenuity and Aladdin’s Cave-like inventions of Silicon Valley belong, first, to the realm of the abstract and immaterial — far removed from the skills of builders and manufacturers

NO SURPRISE IN 2020: in all sorts of organisations, colleagues as far apart as polar bears and penguins at their separate poles are talking to each other in virtual meetings through services like Zoom that almost make them feel as if they are in the same room. Thanks to lockdowns, technology originally referred to as picturephones or videotelephony — waiting for take-off since a World Fair in New York in 1964  — has finally come into its own.

A VERY BIG SURPRISE IN 2020: almost everywhere, the people in charge have been shown up as incompetent by their inability to supply straightforward physical barriers  — clothing and equipment referred to as PPE — to protect doctors, nurses, and others falling ill and dying while trying to save lives on the frontline of the Covid-19 pandemic. This makes no sense. Human beings are estimated to have started wearing clothes somewhere between 200,000 and 50,000 years ago, and clothing made of highly adaptable synthetic materials dates back to the 1930s and ‘40s, when chemists invented nylon and polyester. 

As our days on earth are being reshaped by the all-pervading digital revolution, it has been natural to look to California’s equivalent of Aladdin’s Cave for ingenious technological solutions and magicians, since the pandemic began. But that has so far been pointless. The Silicon Valley investor Marc Andreessen has cast the blame for his country’s disastrous lack of physical virus-blockers and medical equipment elsewhere, on what he calls a collective failure to ‘build’ in America — in a recent post on the site of his venture capital firm. In that diagnosis being widely discussed, he says, ‘I think building is how we reboot the American dream.’ 

Andreessen has had nothing more specific to offer than evidence of his heart being in the right place. He certainly did not happen to mention or explain why we have no convenient, one-piece, coverall garment capable of blocking and slowing down the transmission of the virus — such as the tentatively-named flusuit sketched here on pG, a suggestion for a streamlined, not necessarily unattractive version of a biohazard suit with both immediately feasible and futuristic elements. That has turned out to have interesting precedents. A post-publication search on ‘flusuit’ produced links for, for instance, a flu-and-radiation suit modelled by a German family in a wintry Hamburg in a 1969 Reuters-British Pathé video clip.  

Flu Suit 1969 Reuters-Pathé postgutenberg@gmail.com

German family dressed in flu/radiation suits, Hamburg, 1969, British Pathé Collection

A month after pG’s flusuit post, finding some way of making a garment like that — a pandemic- or pando-onesie? —  a permanent part of our wardrobes is even more urgent. Hardly anyone appears to be discussing any remedy like it — which is odd for these reasons:

• The uncertainty about vaccines and cures Most experts do not expect a vaccine or vaccines (for different strains of the virus) to be ready and available in sufficient quantities before a year from now, even with clever genetic engineering, according to the latest information on the subject, from Scientific American. No old or new medicine or therapy has so far been confirmed as fully effective and available as a cure for the range of symptoms caused by the new coronavirus — as promising as this week’s news about remdesivir looks. 

• The contraception parallel For blocking the most commonly cherished form of new life — children — physical barriers, however crude and imperfect, have proved useful for centuries. There was a 400-year wait for sophisticated chemical forms of contraception, starting with the birth control pill (in 1951), after the first documented use of a condom in Europe (in 1564). 

Certain religions frown on birth control, but who is likely to object to physical protection from the virus as a first defence? We are already gaping at the range of improvisations being devised by desperate people. Last week The New York Times interviewed reluctant air travellers wearing anything ‘from plastic ponchos to laboratory goggles to biohazard suits,’ for insulation, and worrying about the possibility that the virus would attach itself to their hair. One woman in the report flew from New York to Beijing in a ‘a rain jacket, hairnet, a mask and goggles,’ accompanied by a mother carrying plastic shower curtains for possible use as shields from aeroplane seats. A man dressed in ‘a disposable protective suit and goggles’ twice changed the N-95 mask he was also wearing for his 13-hour flight from London to Hong Kong last month, and told the newspaper that he felt glad about going to such extremes when he was notified about five fellow-passengers testing positive for the virus two days after his journey.

Why talk about whole bodysuits when the world is struggling to make enough coverings for faces? Because no expert has any idea of when the pandemic will end — and the gap between having enough masks but still no vaccines could feel interminable. There are experts predicting second waves of infection, and evidence from Germany that their anxiety is warranted.  

The millions of people pushed by the unavoidable lockdowns into dire economic straits and unemployment deserve a range of innovations capable of letting them get back to work and feel secure, there.

So Marc Andreessen could do worse than concentrate on finding ways to ‘build’ — mass-produce — an anti-coronavirus suit that many of us must now want as permanent additions to our clothes cupboards, like rain gear, for possible use in the future, even in far less deadly epidemics. A protective garment with a replaceable respiratory mask that is, ideally, biodegradable. 

Will he or anyone else in Silicon Valley actually give us one? 

Although nothing is less welcome than pessimism about the pandemic, it has to be said that this seems unlikely. The clue is in the thought-capsule in the top left-hand corner of the Andreessen Horowitz web site, which reads: ‘Software Is Eating The World.’ In a text posted there in 2011, Andreessen explained the reasoning behind it: ‘More and more major businesses and industries are being run on software and delivered as online services.’ His list of examples included this one: ‘Today’s largest direct marketing platform is a software company — Google … joined by Groupon, Living Social, Foursquare and others … using software to eat the retail marketing industry.’

For decades, software has stolen sharp minds from projects related strictly to people and physical objects. It has devoured investment capital disproportionately, and been a gateway into the super-rich club for many more hundreds of thousands than old-fashioned businesses have. The technology superstars — Alphabet (Google), Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Netflix — are all actual or virtual software companies. Speculation about their future evolution has consistently centred on their plans for artificial intelligence — and what is that if not more complex software? 

None of these companies have so far shown any sign of replicating their success in that ethereal, immaterial realm on the physical plane — the domain of things. But how wonderful it would be if they could.

'I'm going to the store' starbiz.com

‘”Going to the store” coronavirus meme,’ starbiz.com 

for 12. 4. 2020

000 + Easter 2020 (1) EIed postgutenberg@gmail.com

In a light spring snowfall in mid-March, on the edge of a ponderosa pine wood, an Easter hare trying to think about preparations for her big day was interrupted again and again by fragments of frozen water drifting into her elegant long ears. What to do? Tilting her head, flapping and criss-crossing those ears like chopsticks or scissors, or whirling them about like helicopter propellors, did nothing to keep the annoying snowflakes out of them. She would just have to outrun them, she decided. Watchfulness, running and leaping, more gracefully than any dancer in the corps of the Kirov  or Bolshoi Ballet, are not merely the best but only defences of any hare or — if we must be formally accurate about her species — any black-tailed jackrabbit or Lepus californicus. 

She rose to her paws and took off … 

000 Easter 2020 (2) EIed postgutenberg@gmail.com PANEL 1 - 700H X 1339W

 …

000 Easter 2020 (3) EIed postgutenberg@gmail.com PANEL 2 - 700H X 1339W

 …

000 Easter 2020 (4) EIed postgutenberg@gmail.com PANEL 3 - 700H X 1339W

000 Easter 2020 (5) EIed postgutenberg@gmail.com

Will Covid-19 add a new occasional garment to our wardrobes — the flusuit, an equivalent of swimsuits and raincoats for lethal flu season viruses threatening to turn pandemic?

 

'CAIRN' Celeste Roberge, postgutenberg@gmail.com

Celeste Roberge has been surprised to find that her sculpture series that is, to her, a reflection on geological time, has been interpreted as The Weight of Grief by the many who have found comfort and catharsis in studying it.  This one, photographed by pG at the Nevada Museum of Art, is ‘Cairn’ (1998)

Who could have imagined that World War III would have a virus on one side and all humanity on the other? 

Not as an April Fool’s Day joke but because it is a question as persistent as an earworm  in this pG  head, will we all be buying flusuits soon — stylish versions of Hazmat garments for winter respiratory viruses that turn deadly? Each one equipped with a replaceable, high-grade respiratory face mask, two layers of gloves, and stick-on/strip-off covering for feet — because Covid-19 is being spread on footwear, carried from the floors of supermarkets, and public transport and toilets?

If we all owned at least one of these, the way most of us do a swimsuit and raincoat, there would be no need for lockdowns. Everyone could keep doing their jobs and keep things running. Doctors and other professionals dedicated to keeping the rest of us alive would not be dying at a more tragic, alarming rate than — we suspect — in any war of certainly the last hundred years. There would be no chance of what we are witnessing: crash-and-fail grand slalom attempts to steer the world’s most powerful economies through near-total shutdowns of economic activity.

A flusuit could some day be the emergency variant of garments designed for the everyday ‘wearable computing’ or ‘body-borne computing’  that technologists have been anticipating for decades — clothing embedded with all the functions of smartphones and apps today, and a great deal more:

Body-borne computing is already a part of many people’s lives, in the form of a smartphone that helps them find their way if they get lost, or helps protect them from danger (e.g. for emergency notification). The next generation of smartphones will be borne by the body in a way that it is always attentive (e.g. that the camera can always “see” one’s environment), so that if a person gets lost, the device will help the user “remember” where they are. Additionally, it will function like the “black box” flight recorder on an aircraft, and, in the event of danger, will be able to automatically notify others of the user’s physiological state as well as what happened in the environment.

The array of sensors that they are expected to incorporate could perhaps include a few dedicated to detecting the presence of known or possible pathogens and set off alarms when these are found on the surface of a flusuit. 

We wouldn’t necessarily have to look like astronauts. Gym rats could show off their assiduously sculpted bodies in mostly transparent models.

Which of us living through the extreme social distancing and shut-in living that went global, this month, would not welcome the chance to climb into and zip up a flusuit to be freed to go anywhere, and from endless handwashing and disinfecting chores that could soon be blamed by mental health experts for mass outbreaks of obsessive-compulsive disorder?

The scientists have been warning us for years that global warming would make pandemics more common. A 2008 paper on the subject by the U.S.’s National Institutes of Health cited, among other evidence, the research findings of Nils Stenseth of the University of Oslo:

Using data collected twice annually between 1949 and 1995 in Kazakhstan, a focal region for plague where human cases are regularly reported, Stenseth and colleagues determined that Y. pestis prevalence increases dramatically in its primary host, the great gerbil (Rhombomys opimus), during warmer springs and wetter summers (Stenseth et al., 2006). Rodent populations also tend to increase under these conditions and, along with them, the possibility that plague will be transmitted to humans. Analyses of historical climate variation, as reflected in tree-ring patterns, suggest that similar warm, wet conditions existed in Central Asia during the onset of the Black Death in the fourteenth century, as well as in the years preceding a mid-nineteenth-century plague pandemic. As Earth’s climate warms, warmer springs and wetter summers are expected to become more common in Central Asia (as well as in North America) therefore raising the possibility that plague activity—and therefore the potential for epidemic disease—will increase.  

Each country would of course have to build its own flusuit fabrication factories to wean the world of its over-dependence on China’s low-cost manufacturing, whose risks — including the inability, elsewhere, to manufacture protective equipment for medical workers, testing kits and ventilators — have been redlined by Covid-19 as nothing else has or could. 

In the meanwhile, here is pG’s recommendation for a fragment of song to hum (three times, slowly and defiantly) for the essential 20-second soap-and-water routine for decontaminating hands. It’s from ‘The Future,’ Leonard’s Cohen’s uncanny 1992 classic:

… And now the wheels of heaven stop

You feel the devil’s riding crop

Get ready for the future 

It is murder

Things are going to slide

Slide in all directions

Won’t be nothing 

Nothing you can measure anymore

The blizzard, the blizzard of the world 

Has crossed the threshold

And it has overturned

The order of the soul …