Bright Green Dystopias

Posted by on November 24th, 2013

We’ll come back to this at length. For now, just some basic arithmetic.

This is the city of Fox’s new spec fic show, Almost Human.
the world of Almost Human

From WIRED –  Software is Reorganizing the World:

Machine translation of signs, text, and speech brings down language barriers and facilitates ever more cross-cultural meetings of like minds. Immersive headsets, input devices, and telepresence robots further collapse space and time, allowing us to instantly be alongside others on the other side of the globe. Mobile technology makes us ever more mobile, increasingly permitting not just easier movement around a home base but permanent international relocation.

Technology is thus enabling arbitrary numbers of people from around the world to assemble in remote locations, without interrupting their ability to work or communicate with existing networks. In this sense, the future of technology is not really location-based apps; it is about making location completely unimportant.

But could everything really become that mobile, that portable? What about transportation, infrastructure, food, shelter, the clothes on our backs?

Consider transportation first: Car ownership is already declining, and the combination of Uber, Lyft, their public-transportation analogs, and new shareable car fleets will greatly reduce traffic and emissions. On-demand rental will ultimately become more convenient than the burden of outright ownership, especially in an autonomous car world, and will make us vastly more mobile as a result. And many more things can be transported on-demand once we have the on-demand car.

With respect to infrastructure, projects from neighborhood pothole repairs to bridge changes are being crowdfunded or driven through private-public sector partnerships (in fact, entrepreneurs built roads for most of American history). And with autonomous cars coming, technologists are going to need to reinvent roads again. Google’s Vannevar is moving construction to the cloud, much of shipping logistics and the supply chain is going there as well, and robots can already build small buildings and operate autonomous mines. The net result is that both core infrastructure and many of the mechanisms for building and funding it are becoming computerized, and thus deployable in new locations.

And from the road we turn our eyes to the sky: next up will be a carbon-friendly computerized infrastructure for safer air traffic control, to guide the emerging fleets of drones doing everything from photography to surveying to delivery.

As for the physical items used in daily life — the present, let alone the future, is already a time where everything from food to shelter to clothing to transportation to your very wallet and keychain can be accessed on demand from your mobile phone, in more cities every day.

So when it comes to the constraints on mobility imposed by the physical world, the rule is simple: when goods themselves can’t be digitized, our interface to them will be.

The benefits of such high mobility are much more than convenience to the people who supply these goods. For example, with online food ordering, an owner of a small restaurant is finally able to prepare meals in batch, order ingredients in bulk, and reach repeat customers without wasting valuable, limited resources in guesswork. With the advent of mobile microtasks, we are seeing the emergence of new digital assembly line jobs that offer greater flexibility, less risk of injury, and hourly wages comparable in some cases to those of new hires at GM. And with autonomous mines, workers can extract needed minerals without risking black lung disease.

This is why location is becoming so much less important: technology is enabling us to access everything we need from our mobile phone, to find our true communities in the cloud, and to easily travel to assemble these communities in person. Taken together, we are rapidly approaching a future characterized by a totally new phenomenon, the reverse diaspora: one that starts out internationally distributed, finds each other online, and ends up physically concentrated.

What might these reverse diasporas be like? As a people whose primary bond is through the internet, many of their properties would not fit our pre-existing mental models. Unlike rugged individualists, these emigrants would be moving within or between nation states to become part of a community, not to strike out on their own. Unlike would-be revolutionaries, those migrating in this fashion would be doing so out of humility in their ability to change existing political systems. And unlike so-called secessionists, the specific site of physical concentration would be a matter of convenience, not passion; the geography incidental and not worth fighting over.

Today, one of the first and largest international reverse diasporas has assembled in Silicon Valley, drawn by the internet to the cloud capital of technology; in fact, an incredible 64% of the Valley’s scientists and engineers hail from outside the U.S., with 43.9% of its technology companies founded by emigrants.

But the geocenter of this cloud formation is only positioned over Silicon Valley for historical reasons, as the semiconductor manufacturing that was made easier by the temperate clime of the South Bay has long since moved away. Nothing today binds technologists to the soil besides other people. In this sense Silicon Valley is nothing special; it is best conceptualized as just the most common (x,y) coordinates of a set of highly mobile nodes in a social network whose true existence is in the cloud.

And this global technology cloud truly stretches over the whole earth, touching down at various locales both in the U.S. — at Sendgrid in Boulder, Tumblr in New York, Rackspace in Austin, Snapchat in L.A., Zipcar in Boston, Opscode in Seattle — and outside it — at Skype in Estonia, Tencent in Shenzhen, Soundcloud in Germany, Flipkart in India, Spotify in Sweden, Line in Tokyo, and Waze in Israel. Cultural connections forming between people in this cloud are becoming stronger than the connections between their geographic neighbors. Palo Alto’s Accel invests in India’s Flipkart, Estonia’s Skype is folded into Seattle’s Microsoft, Israel’s Waze is merged into Mountain View’s Google, and the SoundCloud engineer on a laptop in Berlin builds a deeper relationship with the VC in New York than the nearby Bavarian bank.

Today, the geocenter of the global technology cloud is still hovering over Silicon Valley. But in a world where technology is making location increasingly less important, tomorrow the reverse diaspora may well assemble somewhere else.

Meanwhile, Palo Alto Passes New Ordinance To Criminalize Homelessness

There are more than 400 homeless men and women who live in Palo Alto, according to a 2010 estimate, and as many as 50 of them currently find refuge in their cars. If they don’t find other accommodations or leave town in the next six months when the law goes fully into effect, they could face six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Palo Alto first considered banning people from dwelling in vehicles in 2011, but opted instead to try to mimic a program used in other cities where homeless residents can park and sleep at local churches. That plan failed to take hold in Palo Alto, Sheyner notes, “after staff failed to find participants in the local faith-based community.”

Even before Monday’s vote, Palo Alto had developed a reputation for cruel treatment of its homeless residents. In 1997, the city passed a “sit-lie” law, which prohibits people from sitting or lying down on downtown sidewalks. The ordinance effectively outlaws homeless people from asking for donations or even spending time downtown; as a result, homeless residents are pushed even further to the margin of society.

Many cities in the Bay Area have already outlawed sleeping in one’s car.

A future heading in two, interconnected, directions. Look at the city again above. Do you see the shiny buildings and infrastructure, or the wall?

The Many Posthuman Aspects of PacificRim

Posted by on October 22nd, 2013

Or: the candy-coated man/machine rescue mission.

Pacific Rim is many things. Many shiny, spectacular, immersive, self-aware, monster genre mashing, robot smashing, crowd pleasing, city destroying, heroic dancing things. But apart from its surface appeal, it’s also the delivery system for some incredibly out there, subversive, challenging ideas. This may just be my reading of it, and that’s fine. But I suspect Guillermo Del Toro is guilty of being a clever, clever human and knew exactly what he was doing with this blockbuster movie.

Allow me to explain my thinking here. This is not a review. It’s a “User Guide for Humans”, from barely opened, posthuman eyes. This is an analog mind-meld, I mean drift; an English language sequence as slow-boot brain update. Are you ready to accept Singularity?

Want some Candy?

Taken at face value, Pacific Rim is… completely absurd. And if that wasn’t immediately apparent from its premise, it’s clear by halfway through the film that’s it’s winking hard at you. And shouting at you with Idris Elba’s mandatory “the apocalypse is cancelled” speech at the climax, that amazing actor barely containing the joy on his face in getting to deliver an epic line like this. Pure man-child bliss… just the kind you might expect to find in a mech suit vs kaiju fightfest.

Now those of the Otaku-bent might want to do a detailed analysis of the origins and influences and details of Pacific Rim, and that’s exactly what this post on has done, if you want it.

I’m not anti-Otaku. Hell, I raced home as a kid to watch Robotech, and collected what Transformers I could afford. When I toured Japan in ’09 I stumbled onto the Mobile Suit Gundam arcade game and played it every day I was there. I clutched my pilot card when I walked into the preview screening of Pacific Rim, and wore the pirate Neon Genesis Evangelion tee I picked up in a store in Akihabara.

I have been absolutely psyched for this film, and its complement Elysium, all damn year.

What I am saying is there’s a lot more going on below the surface of Pacific Rim. Just don’t expect it to cohere into a logical whole.

Go Borg or Stay Human

First we have the “dance-dance pilot systems”. With its shiny video game aesthetics, and drama engine device, it is first and foremost pro-Borg; celebrating the union of more than one human conscious into a greater whole. There’s been a lot of Borg-hate going on since Google Glass dropped into the world, and I’m looking mostly at Stop the Cyborgs.

Mind you, I walked into this movie with my head having been resident inside in Ramez Naam’s Nexus’verse for a good month. One of the elements of that future world is human hate of anything group-mind (not unlike the linear future world of the Star Trek-verse’s Federation), following various terrorist attacks and cult fiascoes.  So to immediately recognise that there were Borg heroes, front and centre in this film was yet another joyful moment.

Then we have the Robo/Borgsexuality.

Posthuman Gender & Robosexuality

It’s fair to say there are fans going into this already fetishising being inside giant robots…

…which brings us to the giant confusion of posthuman gender. Because what does that even look like from a human perspective? Maybe it’s two buff guys in shiny suits merging through a shared childhood to form a union with a rocket punching, sock’em bot? Maybe it’s also some weird, ritualised staff fighting sequence that isn’t a romantic, courtship sequence… because that would make the two brothers incestuous and homoerotic and is anyone else getting uncomfortable thinking deeply about this?

Let’s cut to the heroic scientist “drifting” with a random chunk of giant alien brain… why on Earth would a Kaiju fanboy ever be turned on by humongous glial cells of extra-dimensional origin?

Chief prosecutor for the homoerotic subtext of jockeying flightsuits argument, thinly fictionalized Quentin Tarantino, explains:

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you want subversion on a massive level…


Those of us raised on Robotech also obsessively watched Top Gun as teens. Hell, my gaming nick was Maverick for much of my youth. So the reconciliation scene at the end of Pacific Rim, the begrudging acceptance of the owner of worst Aussie accent ever and our hero… totally recapitulates Top Gun.

And if you’re still not convinced, you haven’t been watching True Blood; same actor, explicitly homoerotic mind-meld:

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Message received collective unconscious!

Make what you will of the fact that I really hope we get to see the bulldog don a mech suit and borg it up with friendly, genetically engineered Kaiju in a sequel. Plot that on your human linear Kinsey scale!

Move over Seven of Nine, the new borg sexiness is definitely here.

Posthuman Battlesuits

Once you’ve accepted that, the “city as a battlesuit [Matt Jones guest post on io9]” is a not a stretch of the brain meats at all. The mech suit as embodiment of the merger of humanity and its infrastructure; the champion of the Anthropocene. Especially visible when you’ve got ships being used as baseball bats and “Gipsy Danger [using] shipping containers like brass knuckles”.

Each Jaegar is built to defend a city, but really, it’s manifesting its surrounds, even merging with them.

As Matt Jones quotes from a British architecture journal:

While Batman’s Gotham City and Superman’s Metropolis largely reflect the character of the superheroes who inhabit them (Gotham is grim, Metropolis shines)

And as he compares to a hero of The Authority:

“Hawksmoor defeats the giant, monstrous sentient city by wrapping himself in Tokyo to form a massive concrete battlesuit.”

Posthuman defense systems with local characteristics.

And while we’re stretching that long bow of your mind, let’s add that you can argue that its also a recapitulation of one Earth’s oldest tales: Marduk the City God vs the Serpent. The Jaegar as the city turned God-like, and if the Kaiju aren’t the contemporary incarnation of the “monster of primeval chaos”, than what is?

“It’s not Posthuman without going Post-State”

It’s not a posthuman tale without things going post-state. The foolish, political human types gripped by their illusions of control decide that building a giant wall trends much better in the polls, and it’s within that construction effort that we find our hero lurking at the film’s commencement. Kaijus walk right through megastructures dramatis (or thinly disguised metaphors at the political penchant for building barriers to keep out unwanted arrivals). Anyway… our pragmatic, military leader, Idris Elba (TV’s Luther), unencumbered by the requisite trope of giant wall of video-screened suits ordering him turns to… “extra-legal funding sources”, continuing the rescue mission by any means necessary.

In this case, dealing with a bizarre caricature of a bad guy with great shoes; the hybrid Spy Kids enemy / Bond Villain. (Ranking the film just above Contact on someone’s “Top 10: Projects funded by an absolute Bond Villain?” list)

But let’s not miss the metaphor of the real villains; the Kaiju themselves. Thomas Hobbes described the State as a Leviathan. And what better way to portray the entities that have really destroyed the climate of this planet for their own ends, what more apt depiction of rogue geoengineers than as giant monsters?! It’s definitely how the various manifestations of corporate-democratic empire looks to the rest of the world.

And this is the most subversive element of all snuck into the subconscious of the audience for a gigantic popcorn flick by a Mexican director. Perhaps no surprise then that the film did terribly in the US, but made serious bank globally.


Maybe it’ll take the US a decade or so to appreciate it, as critics are just now accepting Southland Tales, but when you’re watching Elysium wondering why augmented super soldiers are battling with swords and chainsaws over the rights of a breakaway civilisation to exist, remember that Ron Perlman probably said it best in the post-credits scene:

where is my other shoe? -^

When will it drop?

Disproving its antecedent film on things that lurk in the cracks of the earth, beneath the waves, The Abyss: “They want us to grow up a bit, and put away childish things. Of course, it’s just a suggestion.

With Del Toro it’s posthuman man-children dancing off to the rescue, and that’s just super by me.

I’m here to see the wizard

Posted by on September 4th, 2013

I'm here to see the wizard

From ~EvidenceE~’s flickr stream.

Mass Effect 3 copies tied to weather balloons and sent aloft

Posted by on February 17th, 2012

EA is using one of the coolest marketing gimmicks I have ever seen to promote Mass Effect 3. The company has taken copies of the game, attached them to weather balloons, and then sent the weather balloons way up into the Earth’s atmosphere. The balloons will be launched in New York, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Berlin, London, and Paris.

If you’re in those cities and can find the balloons once they come back to earth, you get keep the copy of the game. How bad would it suck if you found the balloons only to discover it was the wrong format for your console? Each of the games has a GPS tracking device and the fans can track where they land using the Mass Effect website and then go find a copy.

Via SlashGear

Earth 2.0: Initialization

Posted by on October 9th, 2011

EARTH 2.0™ – Re-establishing a harmonious relationship between humanity and nature, using art, science and digital creativity.

Despite their need to trademark the phrase Earth 2.0, and the heavy post-production, the content in the following videos is spot-on. To soften the blows a bit further, I’ve added some matching quotes from my own unfinished writings on these subjects.

What our cities need today to survive in the midst of climate change and increasingly heavy weather is Aikido Infrastructure.

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Any sufficiently advanced engineering is indistinguishable from nature.

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Adam Greenfield’s Cognitive Cities keynote: On Public Objects

Posted by on March 18th, 2011

Here’s Adam Greenfield‘s excellent, thought-provoking keynote at the recent Cognitive Cities conference in Berlin – On Public Objects: Connected Things And Civic Responsibilities In The Networked City


A City (Untitled)

Posted by on March 13th, 2011

Via OM2 Photography’s photostream.


Posted by on February 23rd, 2011

Source: Unknown. Mike Hedge. Click through for higher resolution.

Your Infrastructure Will Kill You

Posted by on February 16th, 2011 the provocative title of another interesting talk from 27c3.  It does a great job breaking down a lot of the problems we’re facing and, while I don’t agree with all the conclusions and suggestions, there’s definitely some pragmatic ideas in there that are food for thought. It does get very technical in a few places, but don’t let that dissuade you.

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Background Material – it’s hard to go past Jared Diamond’s book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. There’s a condensed version in his Long Now talk or an even further condensed version in his TED Talk.

Further readingJohn Robb’s blog Global Guerrillas, in particular his posts on: Resilient Communities, decentralized platforms, and self-organizing futures.

If you want a preview of life in New York after an apocalypse, check out this manual just released for the legal system, with the rather sedate title Public Health Legal Manual.

Lastly, the title says it all: Cities and Resilience: The Year Climate Started Hurting Politicians.

December Skyline

Posted by on February 9th, 2011

Via OM2 Photography’s photostream. Special thanks to Chris “Ruz” for the link!


Posted by on February 3rd, 2011

Via Digitalyn’s photostream.

The Real Life Civilization-Building Kit

Posted by on February 2nd, 2011

Making these machines, the group explains, is 8 times cheaper than buying them from manufacturers, on average. And in a world where resources might be scarcer than we anticipate more quickly than we anticipate, their ambitious project could prove to be a vital one. They’re publishing the full schematics and diagrams on their Wiki, so anyone can use them once shit goes Mad Max. If the internet still works, that is. OK, maybe you should print them out now just to be safe.

Via Gizmodo.

China To Create Mega-City With Population of 42 Million

Posted by on January 31st, 2011

City planners in south China have laid out an ambitious plan to merge together the nine cities that lie around the Pearl River Delta. The “Turn The Pearl River Delta Into One” scheme will create a 16,000 sq mile urban area that is 26 times larger geographically than Greater London, or twice the size of Wales.

The new mega-city will cover a large part of China’s manufacturing heartland, stretching from Guangzhou to Shenzhen and including Foshan, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Zhuhai, Jiangmen, Huizhou and Zhaoqing. Together, they account for nearly a tenth of the Chinese economy.

Over the next six years, around 150 major infrastructure projects will mesh the transport, energy, water and telecommunications networks of the nine cities together, at a cost of some 2 trillion yuan (£190 billion). An express rail line will also connect the hub with nearby Hong Kong.

“The idea is that when the cities are integrated, the residents can travel around freely and use the health care and other facilities in the different areas,” said Ma Xiangming, the chief planner at the Guangdong Rural and Urban Planning Institute and a senior consultant on the project.

Via disinfo.

Detroit Lives

Posted by on December 4th, 2010

Check out this inspiring short documentary about the rebirth of Detroit, filmed by Johnny Knoxville.

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Posted by on November 30th, 2010

Jason Tester finds Utopia in the remains of Detroit.


Golfstromen: QR cloud project

Posted by on November 29th, 2010


The QR cloud project is a recent temporary installation by the amsterdam based design group golfstromen. The project began in july 2009 and is still running in the west end of their city. the project consists of embedded QR codes in the urban environment, linking to pieces of artwork. the project features seven large QR codes that when photographed on a web-ready cell phone link viewers to small stories, poems or proverbs by dutch writers and poets. Each written piece was commissioned for the project as a short inspirational message to users. The QR codes were placed on a soon to be demolished building and focus on making the public aware of QR codes in contexts outside advertising.

Picture and words from DesignBoom.

National Geographic shows us our beautiful world

Posted by on November 23rd, 2010

The following is a selection of photos taken from National Geographic’s annual photo caption contest. Actually it’s a sub-selection of the photos’s The Big Picture ran.

Regardless, it’s our world and if you frame the photos just right, it’s an amazing place.

A supercell thunderstorm rolls across the Montana prairie at sunset. (Photo and caption by Sean Heavey)


The Serra da Leba Road near Lubango (Huíla, Angola). This is Serra da Leba, a landmark in Angola. A road built in the 70′s, it’s been in the country’s postcard images for decades, but all shots were taken by day. I wanted something different and tried a night shot. But it seemed impossible: pitch dark, foggy, altitude of 1,800m (5,000ft). I wanted no more than 60sec of exposure, max, to avoid digital noise. But a car takes a few minutes to climb or descend this section of the road. The fog was dense and blocking the view! Suddenly the fog cleared, a few cars went down, others went up, they met in the middle in under 60sec… Painting done! (Photo and caption by Kostadin Luchansky)


Pure Elements. I drove my 4×4 over rivers to get a view of the Volcano eruption at “Fimmvorduhals” in Iceland. It was a full moon and strong winds gave me problems standing still outside the truck. I had my camera with me and zoom lens but no tripod, suddenly there was a magical moment, I was experiencing a display of nature rarely seen by man. I found my camera with the zoom lens, rushed out of the truck, trying to fight the strong wind. I pushed the camera on to the hood of the truck trying to stand still, holding my breath, I shot 30 frames, and only one shot was good. (Photo and caption by Olafur Ragnarsson)


Lightning Crashes. A lightning bolt strikes the antenna of The Center building in Central Hong Kong during a storm on September 13, 2009. (Photo and caption by Michael Siward)


Cloud and ship. Ukraine, Crimea, Black sea, view from Ai-Petri mountain. (Photo and caption by Yevgen Timashov)


The archipelago of Fernando de Noronha, Brazil is considered a wildlife sanctuary, but today, even in this isolated archipelago dolphins are victims of the bad habits of consumption. (Photo and caption by João Vianna)


Liquid Planet. Another picture from the Liquid Vision Series, which shows a different point of view of waves. An angle that people are not used to seeing. (Photo and caption by Freddy Cerdeira)


Thomasons – the scars left on buildings by progress

Posted by on October 13th, 2010

Thanks to Bruce Sterling’s twitterfeed we now a have a word for those things we see around us on a daily basis, but couldn’t concisely describe.

Thomasons: Stairs leading to nowhere. Protruding pipes and tubes connecting to nothing. The silhouette of an older building left in the one that consumed it.

It’s how the past haunts the present.

The name is taken from this Flickr pool:

I’m curious. What, if anything, have others previously used to describe this?

The future is more unevenly distributed than scientists originally predicted

Posted by on October 11th, 2010

How about a selection of takes on the future, seen from completely different angles – a few general takes, two very specific ones and one bonus survival guide.

General looks ahead:

  • Douglas Coupland’s A radical pessimist’s guide to the next 10 years:

    The future isn’t going to feel futuristic

    It’s simply going to feel weird and out-of-control-ish, the way it does now, because too many things are changing too quickly. The reason the future feels odd is because of its unpredictability. If the future didn’t feel weirdly unexpected, then something would be wrong

  • PARC attempts to look 40years ahead with The best way to invent the future is to predict it:

    …this next set of predictions takes the next, huge leap: from interaction, to seamless integration between humans, machines, and information. Enter neuro-bio-bionic-whateveritscalledthesedays computing.

    Some of the predictions involved synthetic biology and simulating the human brain, but most of them were focused on various means for direct inputs, cybernetic implants, and neural interfaces to the human brain – including “augmented perception prosthetics devices that you attach directly to your nervous system to provide data about your surroundings at the touch of a thought”.

  • The Institute for the Future’s Map of the Decade (9MB PDF):

    The future is a high-resolution game. Never before has humanity been
    able to explore the emerging landscape in such detail, to measure the
    forces of change at such vast scales, and to fill in the details with
    such fine grain. But this high-resolution grid is not complete. It
    challenges us to envision and build the future we want. As both gamers
    and creators of the game, we will fill in the grid over the coming

Specific looks ahead:

  • The Future of the Televison Industry – My provocation to Channel 4: TV in a low-carbon, meaning-rich, networked era by Pat Kane, author of The Play Ethic:

    If we move beyond our consumerist identities, what are the opportunities for ingenuity, for learning new skills, for developing new lifestyles, for finding pleasure in other people in new ways?

    …can that be done while your business model depends on super-fantastic car ads and sofa promotions between the shows, stoking up exactly the same kinds of escapism-through-positional-goods that caused the problem in the first place? Or in concert with the industry, will you have to also start rethinking entirely the very function and purpose of advertising itself? What kind of information about products and services should people have in a post-consumerist society?

  • The Future of Friendship – as seen from kids in “violent crime neighborhoods” – Chicago Kids Take on Bunker Mentality, No ‘Friends’:

    …they found that a kind of “bunker mentality” held sway at both schools, even to the point that the children, both boys and girls, routinely tested their peers and were conducting “background checks” to see whether they could be trusted, cross-checking their dependability with classmates and watching them for months and years.


Augmented City 3D

Posted by on August 23rd, 2010

Another great Augmented Reality concept video from Keiichi Matsuda, the maker of Domestic Robocop.

Note: requires old school blue/red 3D glasses for optimal viewing pleasure.

The architecture of the contemporary city is no longer simply about the physical space of buildings and landscape, more and more it is about the synthetic spaces created by the digital information that we collect, consume and organise; an immersive interface may become as much part of the world we inhabit as the buildings around us.

via BLDGBLOG | Chris Arkenberg