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Monthly Archives: June 2006

Clive Thompson on why “Soccer” (sic) annoys merkins:

“…game design reflects the national soul. Americans are predisposed to enjoy games where the rules encourage lots of scoring. Soccer wasn’t architected that way, so Americans don’t like it. Baseball, basketball, and football, in contrast, were designed to allow for lots of scoring — and they are thus huge hits in America, a country obsessed with toting up manichean victories.

I seriously doubt Cannon and Lessner are even aware of the existence of ludology — the philosophy and design of play. But they have nonetheless illustrated precisely why ludology is such a powerful way to understand national cultures, and the differences between Americans and Europeans. It also helps you understand why the writers are so damn snarky, and their critics so correspondingly nasty: It’s because ludology is one of the most gut-level, passionate areas of philosophy, and play is so central to our identities. People can be tepid about whether or not they like a book or a movie. But nobody is is wishy-washy about play. A game either totally rocks or totally sucks, and there is no phase transition between the two.”

Went to the Royal College of Art show last night, and amongst some beers, the sweltering heat of a packed art college and  saying lots of hellos to people I haven't seen in a long time I actually got to see some work.

I'll definately have to go back with Fiona and peruse it all at leisure – there were some really intruiging things as per usual in the Architecture section, including an 'electomagnetic therapy centre' (paging the Hanso Foundation!)

The best thing though for the vain interaction designer about town is finding that you have been fabbed into a tiny USB-connected version of yourself that jumps up and collapses to my iChat status.

Jack Schulze of Schulze&Webb made the Availbots (there's also one of Ben Cerveny, apparently) for his end of year show – it's a triumph of servos and string. Jack sent me a rendering from the CAD/CAM file a few weeks back announcing his intention to do it, and I've been using it as my icon here on Vox ever since.

I felt an odd feeling of distress as the availbot collapsed violently each time the iChat status changed – I predict a technopagan market for rapidly fabricated voodoo dolls from your avatars…

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I've started reading a series of books by Phillip Reeve that I've inherited from Foe.

With her new job producing science exhibits for kids and teenagers, we have a lot of 'books for young adults' in the house under the guise of research.

I finished the first in the series "Mortal Engines" yesterday.

I knew I was going to like it from the the first line… which pretty much pushed all the matt-buttons at once:

"It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea."

They are pretty standard adventure stories I guess (the kids are orphans of righteous parents – heard that before anywhere?) but the imagination and detail invested in the setting is very enjoyable.

About to start the next one: "Predators Gold", in the hope that there's less of the familiar tropes of youth sci-fi/fantasy and more unfamiliar, fantastic settings…

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Fg

Just watched "The Summer of 1989" in a shameless bout of nostalgia.

It was a whistle-stop tour through the most exciting year of my youth. The last year of school, just before leaving for college. Stuck in a small seaside town, but sensing still that you were taking part in something much bigger that was going on.

Acid-House, illegal raves, the fabled M25 Orbital party scene were all quite far away. A couple of the cool kids you knew in Art class had been at a rave, perhaps, you'd heard.

Probably the cultural moment they showed that had most impact for me was the Top-of-the-pops (if you don't know, TOTP is a venerable and somewhat crusty weekly pop programme on British TV) where both The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays played.

Back in those days of four-channel, unfragmented, untimeshifted media, something like that hit like a meteor – an extinction-level event for the cultural dinosaurs around you. You knew that you and your bright-eyed, wide-eyed nimble pop mammals were now going to inherit the earth.

I did actually get to one illegal party in 1989. It was canonical stuff. Waiting in the carpark of the Swansea Odeon Cinema, for the one person who knew where it was happening to lead us in the canonical convoy up into the hills around the town.

It was in the canonical farmers field, with the bemused but happy farmer and his wife making a killing on bottled water and rather-delicious (as I remember) home-made burgers. Muddy and manic, the throng of dancing, smiley, happy people stretched for, oh, hundreds of metres – this was South Wales, not Castlemorton – assisted by speed and acid mainly it seemed – again, this was South Wales, and the new wonder chemical had not made it at least to Swansea in great quantities by then.

Your reporter of course limited his intake to the delicious home-made burgers, as he was driving the Fiat Panda full of his friends there and back again…

One other memory prompted by the programme, and a question.

The show attempted to tie (rather lightly) the cultural/political mood in the UK to the wider changes around the world: fall of the Berlin Wall, Tiananmen Square, etc. There was no mention of what was happening in the USA at the time at all.

The credits rolled to the sound of Public Enemy's "Fight the Power", which along with The Stone Roses and 808 State could often be heard blasting (!) from the stereo of my doughty little Fiat Panda as it dashed around the South Wales coast full of my friends.

I don't really know what was happening if you were 17/18 in 1989 in the USA – perhaps people in my neighbourhood here could fill me in? Was there a sense of revolution (false or otherwise) in the air like there was in the UK? What was the counterculture like? What was going on for you?

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Was it Whorf who implied that the tools we use change our brain?

Mr. Johnson extended this to show the interfaces we use everyday change our culture and our behaviour.

One tool, one interface is changing my life, my mind, my world.

Gmail is making me a bad friend.

Last night I went to the pub for a friend's birthday. I barely remembered it until his wife pinged a reminder mail through to everyone a couple of hours before the end of the working day.

Standard London practice.

A little later, at the pub, at the party – I ran into someone who I had not seen in many, many years. As is happening all too often, my first words to him had to be "I owe you an email, don't I"

I swear it's not just that email is broken, it's that Gmail seems superbroken, from the pitch to the pixels.

I think that at the core of this is the gaping gigabyte maw of the practically-bottomless mail archive.

Things slip in there and once beyond the event-horizon of about the top 10 items, they disappear from my world. I use the 'mark with star' feature basically to control spam, so there's no possibility to use that for flagging stuff to come back to. If I was more dilligent perhaps I could find a hack using tags, filters and all that Merlin-Mann jitt-jazz.

But I haven't.

McLuhan's prediction that every technological extension is a human amputation has never felt so close to home.

From the Gmail homepage: "Gmail is an experiment in a new kind of webmail, built on the idea that you should never have to delete mail and you should always be able to find the message you want."

Does the possibility of having everything at your fingertips mean it's always just out of your grasp?

Do you use Gmail and find it eating your memory?

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