the arkham knight

Batman's breastplate in 'Batman: Arkham Knight'
After the disappointment ‘Batman: Arkham Origins’ (Warner Bros. Games Montreal 2013) was [and Jaz is with me here, giving good reasons, why it was disappointing], Rocksteady Studios is at the helm again and ‘Batman: Arkham Knight’ (Rocksteady 2015) is scheduled for release on 02 June 2015. After their glorious games ‘Batman: Arkham Asylum’ (2009) and ‘Batman: Arkham City’ (2011) I am absolutely convinced that Rocksteady will do it again. Just like The Creative Assembly just recently saved the Alien-franchise with the fantastic ‘Alien: Isolation’ (2014) after Gearbox Software nearly had ruined it with the godawful ‘Aliens: Colonial Marines’ (2013).
    But I digress. What I really want to talk about, again, is the ever growing impact of what I call the cyberpunk discourse—up to it hijacking other genres. For example the cyberpunk discourse infested the zombie genre [see omega legend for that, and, more elaborated, including computer games, and just recently printed, Knorr 2014].
    And there’s yet more hijacking.
    Have you noticed that today’s two biggest superhero franchises from the two big comic book universes, Marvel and DC, are about superheroes without any superpowers whatsoever? Instead, both Iron Man and Batman heavily rely on technology. With Iron Man it’s obvious. His superhuman abilities are due to his exoskeleton armour. It’s all the suit as Steve ‘Captain America’ Rogers (Chris Evans) tried to point out to Tony ‘Iron Man’ Stark (Robert Downey jr.) in ‘The Avengers’ (Whedon 2012):

Steve Rogers: Big man in a suit of armour. Take that off, what are you?
    Tony Stark: Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.
    Steve Rogers: I know guys with none of that worth ten of you. I’ve seen the footage. The only thing you really fight for is yourself. You’re not the guy to make the sacrifice play, to lay down on a wire and let the other guy crawl over you.
    Tony Stark: I think I would just cut the wire.
    Steve Rogers: Always a way out … You know, you may not be a threat, but you better stop pretending to be a hero.
    Tony Stark: A hero? Like you? You’re a lab rat, Rogers. Everything special about you came out of a bottle!

Both their superhero personas are products of technology. And here’s yet more to it, too. To the list of what Tony Stark sees himself to be we could add ‘potential alcoholic’ and ‘troubled personality’ among other things. In a nutshell, despite of his armour’s fine design he’s not a streamlined hero, but a hardboiled character. So is Bruce ‘Batman’ Wayne. His deeply traumatized noir personality is drastically rendered in Christopher Nolan’s dark movie trilogy (2005, 2008, 2012) which truly made the franchise into what it now is [hugo strange gives a bit of further background].
    But back from the depths of hardboiled film noir character psychology to the, equally deep-reaching, surfaces of design. Reviewing the until now available still and moving images from ‘Batman: Arkham Knight’ gave me the impression that Batman gets ever more similar to Iron Man. Compare Batman’s new costume, a suit of armour really, to the Iron Man Suit Mark VII designed by Phil Saunders and digitally sculpted by Josh Herman for ‘The Avengers’ movie:
The design of Batman in 'Batman: Arkham Knight'
The Iron Man Suit Mark VII designed by Phil Saunders and digitally sculpted by Josh Herman for 'The Avengers' movie
Watch the ‘Arkham Knight’ announce trailer Father to Son and the gameplay trailer Evening the Odds to see more of the suit and its exoskeletal robotic qualities in operation. And to see the Batmobile. It really is the vehicle which drove cyberpunkish posthumanism ideas deep down into ‘Arkham Knight.’ Very revealing in this respect is what Dax Ginn, Brand Marketing Producer at Rocksteady Studios, said at E3 2014:

And then bringing in the Batmobile at any time. You know, we wanted to make sure that the Batmobile feels like an extension of Batman‘s abilities, that augments Batman‘s abilities—but is only ever like a second away, a button-press away. You want to be driving, one button-press and it’s there, and you seamlessly transition into it. You want to get out of it, you just eject out at any time. So that kind of interplay between man and machine was really the heart and soul of the entire design of the game. (from 00:00:58 on | bold emphasis mine)

Batman ejecting from the Batmobile in 'Batman: Arkham Knight'

GEARBOX SOFTWARE. 2013. Aliens: Colonial Marines [computer game]. Tokyo, Century City: Sega, 20th Century Fox.
KNORR, ALEXANDER. 2014. “The omega legend: Or, how the cyberpunk discourse infested the zombie genre,” in Transitions and dissolving boundaries in the fantastic edited by Christine Lötscher, Petra Schrackmann, Ingrid Tomkowiak, and Aleta-Amirée von Holzen, pp. 191-200. Münster: Lit.
NOLAN, CHRISTOPHER [JONATHAN JAMES]. 2005. Batman Begins [motion picture]. Burbank: Warner Bros.
NOLAN, CHRISTOPHER [JONATHAN JAMES]. 2008. The Dark Knight [motion picture]. Burbank: Warner Bros.
NOLAN, CHRISTOPHER [JONATHAN JAMES]. 2012. The Dark Knight Rises [motion picture]. Burbank: Warner Bros.
ROCKSTEADY STUDIOS. 2009. Batman: Arkham Asylum [computer game]. London, Burbank, New York: Eidos Interactive, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, DC Entertainment.
ROCKSTEADY STUDIOS. 2011. Batman: Arkham City [computer game]. Burbank, New York: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, DC Entertainment.
ROCKSTEADY STUDIOS. 2015. Batman: Arkham Knight [computer game]. Burbank, New York: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, DC Entertainment.
THE CREATIVE ASSEMBLY. 2014. Alien: Isolation [computer game]. Tokyo, Century City: Sega, 20th Century Fox.
WARNER BROS. GAMES MONTREAL. 2013. Batman: Arkham Origins [computer game]. Burbank: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.
WHEDON, JOSS. 2012. The Avengers [motion picture]. Burbank: Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

beyond cyberpunk revisited

Back in August 2006 here at xirdalium I wrote an entry [worthwhile, lots of associations] on Gareth Branwyn’s and Peter Sugarman’s 1991 HyperCard classic Beyond cyberpunk [← that's a link to the complete web version]. Now Gareth has published his book ‘Borg like me’ (Branwyn 2014a) containing a treasure trove of his writing from the past three decades, including an essay (Branwyn 2014b) on the making-of of ‘Beyond cyberpunk’. Boingboing has said essay online, and here are some excerpts [water on my mills]:

Peter [Sugarman] and I [Gareth Branwyn] began having regular phone conversations about hypermedia and how it might change the nature of storytelling, media delivery, and information organization and navigation. I’d always been struck by [anthropologist and] cyberneticist Gregory Bateson‘s idea of forever being mindful to balance “rigor and imagination” in one’s pursuit of knowledge. It seemed to Peter and me that hypermedia provided a perfect environment to pursue ideas deeply and rigorously, while engineering in fun, whimsy, and a sense of the unexpected—a kind of orchestrated chaos, a vibrant little media ecology. We began kicking around ideas for a collaborative HyperCard project we could do together. [...]
    At the time (1990), the Internet was not yet in the media spotlight. So-called cyberculture (where these near-future speculative worlds met the bleeding edge of real-life technoculture) was in its heyday, but known only on the cultural fringes. We could sense that all things “cyber” were about to bust into the mainstream and we wanted to chart the course cyberculture had taken, from its sci-fi and early hacker roots, through the Internet, and soon, we suspected, into everyday, mainstream life.

BRANWYN, GARETH. 2014a. Borg like me & other tales of art, eros, and embedded systems. Sparks of Fire Press.
BRANWYN, GARETH. 2014b. “Into the future! The making of Beyond Cyberpunk!,” in Borg like me & other tales of art, eros, and embedded systems by Gareth Branwyn, pp. 112-121. Sparks of Fire Press.
via entry at boingboing

digital china on cyberanthropology

Well, here it is—to my knowledge the first English-language review of my book ‘Cyberanthropology’ (2011) [which is in German]. Annika Pissin of Lunds Universitet’s project Digital China was so kind as to write a fine review in the project’s blog :)

KNORR, ALEXANDER. 2011. Cyberanthropology. Wuppertal: Peter Hammer.
PISSIN, ANNIKA. 2014. Book review: Cyberanthropology. Digital China 16 January 2014.

Here’s the collection of all the reviews I’m aware of.


berners-lee on snowden

Sir Timothy Berners-Lee
It’s been almost eight years that I last quoted Sir Timothy Berners-Lee, the inventor of the Web, here at xirdalium. On 1st August 2006 I republished the following sentence from his blog:

When I invented the Web, I didn’t have to ask anyone’s permission. Now, hundreds of millions of people are using it freely. I am worried that that is going [to] end in the USA.

Well, it’s more than high time again. Here’s what thenextweb wrote recently:

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the father of the World Wide Web, has come out in support of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, saying that the PRISM surveillance program leak did the world a favor. As a guest editor on the BBC’s Radio 4 Today program, Berners-Lee called Snowden a “really important part of the system.”

In another article at the BBC I found this:

Mr Snowden [speaking via video link in Austin at the South by Southwest Interactive conference in early March 2014] received a warm reception from the audience, and the question-and-answer session included words of praise in an email from internet pioneer Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who said his actions were “profoundly in the public interest”.

And here’s the whole Tim Berners-Lee on guest editing Today at BBCR4Today, from 26 December 2013:

via entry at erkan’s field diary—tnx my man … long time no see, btw

snowden on games

Edward Joseph 'Ed' Snowden
Here is a passage from chapter two of Glenn Greenwald‘s excellent newest book “No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State” (2014), which I’ve recently read:

Finally, Snowden gave me an answer that felt vibrant and real. “The true measurement of a person’s worth isn’t what they say they believe in, but what they do in defense of those beliefs,” he said. “If you’re not acting on your beliefs, then they probably aren’t real.”
    How had he developed this measure for assessing his worth? Where did he derive this belief that he could only be acting morally if he was willing to sacrifice his own interests for the sake of the greater good?
    “From a lot of different places, a lot of experiences,” Snowden said. He had grown up reading large amounts of Greek mythology and was influenced by Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which, he noted, “finds common threads among the stories we all share.” The primary lesson he took away from that the book was that “it is we who infuse life with meaning through our actions and the stories we create with them.” People are only that which their actions define them as being. “I don’t want to be a person who remains afraid to act in defense of my principles.”
    This theme, this moral construct for evaluating one’s identity and worth, was one he repeatedly encountered on his intellectual path, including, he explained with a hint of embarrassment, from video games. The lesson Snowden had learned from immersion in video games, he said, was that just one person, even the most powerless, can confront great injustice. “The protagonist is often an ordinary person, who finds himself faced with grave injustices from powerful forces and has the choice to flee in fear or to fight for his beliefs. And history also shows that seemingly ordinary people who are sufficiently resolute about justice can triumph over the most formidable adversaries.”
    He wasn’t the first person I’d heard claiming video games had been instrumental in shaping their worldview. Years earlier, I might have scoffed, but I’d come to accept that, for Snowden’s generation, they played no less serious a role in molding political consciousness, moral reasoning, and an understanding of one’s place in the world than literature, television, and film. They, too, often present complex moral dilemmas and provoke contemplation, especially for people beginning to question what they’ve been taught. (Greenwald 2014: chpt. 2)

GREENWALD, GLENN [EDWARD]. 2014. No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State. New York: Metropolitan Books.

graeber on play

David Graeber

Why do animals play? Well, why shouldn’t they? The real question is: Why does the existence of action carried out for the sheer pleasure of acting, the exertion of powers for the sheer pleasure of exerting them, strike us as mysterious? What does it tell us about ourselves that we instinctively assume that it is? (Graeber 2014)

GRAEBER, DAVID [ROLFE]. 2014. What’s the point if we can’t have fun? The Baffler 24. Available online.
via email from Flo—tnx!

modern inventions

A visit to the technical museum in 1937 …

Today is the 80th birthday of Donald Duck!—he first appeared in the animated short The wise little hen (Jackson 1934), which was released on 09 June 1934. Celebrating Donald’s birthday I above embedded the animated short Modern inventions (King 1937—the story was written by Carl Barks) showing Donald visiting a technical museum … and of course trying out the inventions, all of them of a robotic kind.

JACKSON, WILFRED. 1934. The wise little hen [animated short]. Beverly Hills: United Artists.
KING, [JAMES PATTON] ‘JACK’. 1937. Modern inventions [animated short]. Beverly Hills: United Artists.

we go tomorrow

Remember, remember the fifth of … June
Thomas Harold Flowers (1905-1998)

June 1 should have been D-day, but General Eisenhower needed three subsequent days of fine weather to get enough men and materials across the channel in order to resist the inevitable counter-attack. In the event the weather was not good and the invasion had to be postponed until it improved. On 5 June, Eisenhower was in conference with his staff when a courier arrived from Bletchley Park and handed him a piece of paper to read. Hitler had sent Field Marshall Rommel battle orders by radio transmission, which Bletchley Park had decoded with the aid of the new Colossus. Hitler had told Rommel that the invasion of Normandy was imminent, but that this would not be the real invasion. It was a feint to draw troops away from the channel ports, against which the real invasion would be launched later. Rommel was not to move any troops. He was to await the real invasion, which could be expected five days after the Normandy landing. This was what Eisenhower read from the paper. He then knew that he could start the invasion of Normandy assured of five days without determined opposition—enough time to build up his forces even with indifferent weather. But he could not tell his assembled officers what he had read. He just handed the paper back to the courier and said, ‘We go tomorrow.’ And on the morrow, 6 June, they went.
    When Hitler realised that Normandy was the real thing, he took command of the situation himself. He committed his forces in north-west Europe to one mighty offensive, a hammer blow intended to drive the invaders back into the sea. And his hammer blow could well have been successful had he not communicated details by radio, which Bletchley Park decoded. The result was a defeat of the German army so overwhelming that the Allies were able to sweep rapidly eastwards across France.
    The war continued for another year, during which time a total of ten Colossus machines were installed in Bletchley Park. These supplied the armed services with information right up to the end of the war in Europe. Much later, when some of the activities of Bletchley Park had been made public, Eisenhower was asked to give his assessment of the effect that the operation there had had on the war. He said that, without the information Bletchley had supplied, the war would have gone on for at least two years longer than it did, during which time the occupied countries would have been devastated and hundreds of thousands of lives lost as the German army was driven back. (Flowers 2006 [1998]a: 80-81)

This is the story of the eve of D-Day as related by Thomas Harold Flowers (1905-1998). He was crucial in constructing Colossus—for the whole story see Randell 1980 and the excellent book edited by Jack Copeland (2006) including texts by Flowers himself (2006 [1998]a, b).
    With all the commemoration of D-Day, 70 years ago tomorrow, I dare to throw in this bit on 05 June 1944, finely illustrating the impact of encryption, the breaking of encryption, and computing power on world history.
Edward Joseph 'Ed' Snowden
By sheer coincidence one year ago from today, on 05 June 2013, journalists Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Ewen MacAskill were with Edward Snowden in Hong Kong. The editors and lawyers of The Guardian at this time still were working out legalities concerning the publication of articles drawing on the NSA-files provided by Snowden. But finally Greenwald got from The Guardian a ‘We go tomorrow’. And on the morrow, 6 June, they went … beginning a series of revelations finely illustrating the impact of encryption, the breaking of encryption, and computing power on world history.

For grasping the whole affair—an imperative!—I wholeheartedly recommend Greenwald’s book ‘No Place to Hide’ (2014) [for the occasional anthropologist dropping by here: there's Foucault in it, and for normal people: especially the first two chapters could have originated from John le Carré, Len Deighton, or Eric Ambler]. As I understand the matter you can download ‘No Place to Hide’ legally here from Then The Guardian‘s excellent webpage The NSA Files. And of course the Wikipedia articles Edward Snowden, Global surveillance disclosures (2013–present), and related articles linked therein.

COPELAND, B. JACK. 2006. Colossus: The secrets of Bletchley Park’s codebraking computers. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
FLOWERS, THOMAS H[AROLD]. 2006 [1998]a. “D-Day at Bletchley Park,” in Colossus: The secrets of Bletchley Park’s codebraking computers edited by B. Jack Copeland, pp. 78-83. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
FLOWERS, THOMAS H[AROLD]. 2006 [1998]b. “Colossus,” in Colossus: The secrets of Bletchley Park’s codebraking computers edited by B. Jack Copeland, pp. 91-100. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
GREENWALD, GLENN [EDWARD]. 2014. No place to hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. surveillance state. New York: Metropolitan Books.
RANDELL, BRIAN. 1980. “The COLOSSUS,” in A history of computing in the twentieth century: A collection of essays edited by Nicholas Metropolis, Jack Howlett, and Gian-Carlo Rota, pp. 47-92. New York, London: Academic Press.

live iss stream

Live video from the International Space Station includes internal views when the crew is on-duty and Earth views at other times. The video is accompanied by audio of conversations between the crew and Mission Control. This video is only available when the space station is in contact with the ground. During “loss of signal” periods, viewers will see a blue screen. Since the station orbits the Earth once every 90 minutes, it experiences a sunrise or a sunset about every 45 minutes. When the station is in darkness, external camera video may appear black, but can sometimes provide spectacular views of lightning or city lights below.

via PK—tnx!

there’s flight MH370

Panel taken  from page 15 of Hergé 1968 [1966-1968].
Panel taken  from page 16 of Hergé 1968 [1966-1968].
Panel taken  from page 20 of Hergé 1968 [1966-1968].
Here’s my idea of what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370—from top to bottom the panels are taken from pages 15, 16, and 20 respectively of ‘Flight 714′ (Hergé 1968 [1966-1968]).

HERGÉ (aka REMI, GEORGES [PROSPER]). 1968 [1966-1968]. Flight 714 [comic]. London: Methuen Publishing Limited. Originally published as Vol 714 pour Sydney. Le Journal de Tintin 836-997.