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Monthly Archives: September 2005

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As seen on the Heathrow Express this morning.

I’m in Lübeck, Germany for the intriguingly-titled “Cognitive Design” conference, where Doors of Perception’s John Thackara will be giving the keynote tomorrow morning.>

I’m going to be giving a Post-Nintendo-Revolution remix of the talk Chris and I gave at Etech this year, with plenty of play in there.

In moving back to the UK, I forgot to bring any of the Nokia NFC phones with me. So unfortunately I won’t be able to demo them which is a pity – I’ll have to wave my arms about twice as much as usual.

There’s also a keynote by August de los Reyes of MSN / Microsoft on “The future of the PC” – which should be interesting given the very recent reorganisation of MSFT.

Some snippets from John Sutherland’s interview with Edward Castronova in yesterday’s Guardian:

EC: My professional interest is in what we can learn from this synthetic world. We’ve never had the opportunity to experiment ambitiously on a social level. We’ve never had the opportunity to say, “I’m Karl Marx and I have this idea called communism. Wouldn’t it be neat if I could set up five societies that have exactly the same population, exactly the same natural resources and at year zero and try it out?”

JS: We could field test communism without killing 60 million people.

EC: Exactly. We could do communism, we could do fascism, we could do America. You can experiment with any number of social designs. This is one of the futures I see for synthetic worlds in the university. I think in 15 years’ time when someone in social science writes a PhD thesis, they’ll be required to put their ideas to the test this way. Business schools are already moving in that direction. There are tremendous business applications. Universities should get very involved.

…I think the smart thing for the US state department to do today is build a game about Islam but make it a democracy. And set it up so that every 16-year-old from Morocco to Pakistan can go into that world when they get a computer. Not say anything overt about democracy but have them play – have them vote, for example.

And this quote I think is pretty interesting – in some ways it’s reminiscent of some of the ‘cyberspace’ utopian writing of 10 years ago, but restating it in more subtle, mixed-reality terms.

JS: What do you foresee in 10 years’ time? Is it going to plateau out, or keep going nova?

EC: There will be a plateau. People do have to have children. But the really open question is how much human time we will spend in cyberspace, using our surrogate characters, living through synthetic bodies. But soon people won’t notice the difference. Real and synthetic worlds will blur. I’m talking to you by phone but, psychologically, I’m just talking to you. I don’t focus on the technological interface. We’ll just move in and out of bodies and worlds without noticing. It’ll fade seamlessly into daily life. And there will be some very good things. The economy pulls people apart and makes them live separate lives, as units. Gaming brings them together in a pseudo physical environment.

I’d really like him to explain more what he means by this last part. Does he mean that ‘real-life’ will feature more and more sophisticated, technologically-supported ARGs or ‘alternate-reality’ games?

As ‘the technological interface’ to gaming becomes more spatial, more embodied and less-separate from the world, it’s certainly one possibility.

“But as the Game Cat says, Be careful, be very careful. This ride is not for the weak.”

» The Guardian G2: The ideas interview: John Sutherland interviews Edward Castronova

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Swordplay, revolution-style, originally uploaded by blackbeltjones.

The Nintendo Revolution controller has been revealed, and I am predictably overexcited.

It’s made me more convinced that embodied and tangible interaction has a big, juicy, interesting mainstream future.

The video of it in action [via Russell Beattie] is wonderful, especially the way that a wide-range of genres of gaming and play can be inferred just from watching people’s movements and hearing a bit of soundtrack.

Who needs HiDef?

Or as Gillen puts it:

“Either you want more polygons or you want the Future.

Choose a side.

“Revolution! Revolution! Revolution! Revolution!”

Also, go read Andy Losowsky’s imaginings of where the Revolution could take us:

“if it’s that depth sensitive, if you’ll be able to use it to draw outlines around things in the room? Or people?”

He also has some great ideas about possible other nunchuk-plug-in peripherals.

And I was just calming down again, too.

Via 3QD: John Allen Paulos on telling just-so stories about the complexity in an article called “The Mousetrap” in Edge:

“Let me begin by asking how it is that modern free market economies are as complex as they are, boasting amazingly elaborate production, distribution and communication systems? Go into almost any drug store and you can find your favourite candy bar. And what’s true at the personal level is true at the industrial level. Somehow there are enough ball bearings and computer chips in just the right places in factories all over the country. The physical infrastructure and communication networks are also marvels of integrated complexity. Fuel supplies are, by and large, where they’re needed. Email reaches you in Miami as well as in Milwaukee, not to mention Barcelona and Bangkok.

The natural question, discussed first by Adam Smith and later by Friedrich Hayek and Karl Popper among others, is who designed this marvel of complexity? Which commissar decreed the number of packets of dental floss for each retail outlet? The answer, of course, is that no economic god designed this system. It emerged and grew by itself. No one argues that all the components of the candy bar distribution system must have been put into place at once, or else there would be no Snickers at the corner store.”

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Orbital Top 10, originally uploaded by blackbeltjones.

Very pleased to be introduced to Orbital by Jack Schulze on Saturday.

It’s in a dingy basement underneath a five-quid-a-time walk-in barbers at the Centrepoint end of Charing Cross Road. The staff are sarcastic and bristly for show, but helpful and enthusiastic once engaged. The “Top 10″ seems to change regularly, and there are ratty, comfy 4th-hand leatherette sofas to slouch on.

It’s great, and everything I look for in a comic book store. However I am a geeky male in his thirties. It’s not going to do anything to broaden the reach of the medium, lets say…

In contrast, the other best comics store I’ve been to in recent memory was in Yale Town, Vancouver.

That was clean, well laid out, didn’t smell like several Fields-of-the Nephilim fans had died there; and the assistants were helpful and engaging – resulting in selling me an armful of comics more than I planned to buy. I’d imagine the Vancouver store has a bit of a wider demographic appeal as a result, but Orbital’s ‘authentic charm’ has me under it’s slightly fusty spell.

Anyway, it gave me a sufficient jolt of nostalgia to get me back into a habit I haven’t had since I was 18 – a standing order for comics.

The last place I had one was in the late 1980’s in a dingy corner of Jacob’s Market, Cardiff – where the staff (Pete, Dave and Geoff I think?) were bristly, sarcastic and enthusiastic – and cheerfully took from me a large slice of the 15 quid a week I earned from after-school work at Harris Printers.

However, I had a bit of a blank when it came to actually placing the order, so I’m hoping you can help me out.

I’ve already taken a look at what people on The-Engine.net are reading, and there’s a few things there I’ll probably add, but here’s the rather meagre list I left at Orbital

  • Seven Soldiers *.*
  • Fell
  • Desolation Jones
  • Planetary (!)
  • Jack Cross
  • The Losers

So, what would you recommend?

People make places @ Demos

Just wandered tonight along to Demos for the launch of their “People make places” report. A skim on the bus home made it seem the sort of thing I would like the Dan Hills and Anne Galloways of the world to have a look at…:

“The rise of privately owned corporate malls, out-of-town shopping centres and the virtual landscapes of the internet have cast doubt on the publicness of our towns and cities. Privatised space is seen to be in the ascendancy and, it is argued, this is squeezing out the possibility of shared social spaces in our cities, replacing them with a ‘shopping mall culture’ of sanitised, frictionless consumer environments where architecture and technology are used to filter out undesirable people and groups. So far it is unclear whether the new set of public spaces created through the urban renaissance are countering this trend and proving effective hosts for shared public life and exchange between people, or whether they are adding to the loss of publicness by imitating the character of private space. Many of the shiny new quaysides and squares seem either curiously empty of people or curiously monocultural in the type of people they attract.

The mission of Demos over the past 12 months has been to take on this uncertainty and track down the public life of cities – to identify the shared spaces of interaction and exchange, the value that such spaces generate and how that value is created. We explored in depth three cities in the UK – Cardiff, Preston and Swindon – to discover and illuminate the processes by which the public life of cities more widely might be reinvigorated.”

I arrived a little late as I only read about the event on the train back from Farnborough, so I don’t know whether it was covered before I got there, but there was little on the effects of digital technology, particularly personal, mobile digital technology on the use of public space. The debate wasn’t all that, although Greyworld were exciting – pointing out the role of play and playful technologies in invigorating and maintaining public spaces.

There’s a small mention of the venerable grassroots geoguide Knowhere in the report, but otherwise very little investigation it seems (again, I haven’t read it in great depth yet) of the impacts of digital technology.

There is a tantalising section heading: “Visible and invisible choreography” on page 62 of the report [PDF], with a brief mention of NYC’s “311” phone line as a concrete example – but nothing about pershaps, how space and place can be ‘reprogrammed’ smartmobs-style by mobile technologies, or how invisible infrastructures can change a place, e.g. free wifi in Bryant Park. I’m sure there are better examples, but hopefully you get my drift (derive?)

Worth a read, and as I say, I hope some of the more hardcore cyburbanists I know will offer their 2p…

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