deciphering blogs

Some days ago a colleague of mine came to my office and said thank you for my forwarding to her a call for papers, which fell right into the category of her research. “You’re welcome,” I said, “I knew that you are not reading the ethno::log on a regular basis. So I thought direct forwarding would be best.” She replied: “You know what? When I was a kid my mother did not allow me to read comics. I guess that’s the cause why I do not get along with blogs, websites, and the like.”




It is uncommon to fire all six shots of a revolver with great suddenness when one would probably be sufficient, but many things in the life of Herbert West were uncommon.
Six Shots by Moonlight
by H. P. Lovecraft, 1922

Sometimes you can not find sleep? Everything seems menacing to you, and the shadows hide some_thing? I know, then you are tempted—just to escape the shadows’ presence—to switch on your television set … but at this time of night only the late Bob Ross (1942-1995) cometh from across the Styx, willing to be your companion on the screen, reciting: “We don’t make mistakes here, we just have happy accidents. We want happy, happy paintings. If you want sad things, watch the news. Everything is possible here. This is your little universe.”—which maketh things even worse. Just for a minute or so you think about entering the Internet’s unfathomable rotten depths. You refrain, but nevertheless fire up the computer. A rendition of Eliphas Lévi’s pentacle appears, strangely transposed to 21st century looks. And then some levels of Doom III will calm down your nerves, won’t they?

The things in the shadows keep on pestering me: “Why is there violence and gore in computergames?”—Why is there violence and gore in film, in literature, … in art? Robert Crumb jumps from his seat, knocking over the tiny coffee table, shouting: “YEAH! But is it art?,” and goes on mumbling “You tell me, because I don’t know.” Thank you, Robert, childhood hero of mine. Anyway, let’s give the floor to H. P. Lovecraft’s apparent heir, Mr. Stephen Edwin King:

The horror movie, like the sick joke, has a dirty job to do. It deliberately appeals to all that is worst in us. It is morbidity unchained, our most base instincts let free, our nastiest fantasies realized … and it all happens, fittingly enough, in the dark. For these reasons, good liberals often shy away from horror films. For myself, I like to see the most aggressive of them—Dawn of the Dead, for instance—as lifting a trapdoor in the civilized forebrain and throwing a basket of raw meat to the hungry alligators swimming around in that subterranean river beneath.
    Why bother? Because it keeps them from getting out, man. It keeps them down there and me up here. It was Lennon and McCartney who said that all you need is love, and I would agree with that. As long as you keep the gators fed … (King 1993 [1981]: 205)

If you are not content with psychosocial and functionalistic explanations, and instead want to experience the thing itself, there is someting for you … Artist Bum Lee “has an interesting online flash game called the De-animator. The game is based on stories by H.P. Lovecraft. The object is to shoot horrifying zombies as they approach you. If you don’t kill the zombies they will get you and sometimes rip off your head. Yet another great time killer.” In Bum’s video & animation section is more spooky stuff from beyond the twilight zone, like “The Fly” [.mov | 9.2MB], or “Shadow Theatre” [.mov | 6.2MB]. But his creepiest tale from the crypt definitely is “The Joy of Portraiture” [.mov | 34.6MB]
via entry at gamersgame


real virtual car

Taking a Virtual Car out into the Real world and having fun with it, or is it the other way around?
The real virtual car“Just came back home, checked the blog and saw something strange—comments…[…]—Somenight at 3AM the veteran geeks over at The Real Virtual Car Project decided to make a car simulator and to build it inside a real car. So they haunted several junk yards and finally fell for a Renault Megane. They took the wrecked car—which was involved in an accident—apart, and started to rebuild and stuffing it with electronics (the good part of which live in a bucket). A LCD-projector renders the street scenery onto the windshield. This creation of a casemod and a carmod at the same time led to the project being slashdotted and boingboinged. Little wonder that suddenly they found comments in their blog, and that their video-section broke down due to bandwidth problems. The project is not finished yet—check out the realvirtualcar blog for following its progress, and for watching pictures of the building-process.
initially via entry at boingboing



Word has it that Salvador Dalí (1904-1989) once coined the phrase ‘liquid television’. MTV grabbed the vocable and named a TV-show broadcasting animated cartoons likewise. The show even was to be seen in India via StarTV, and featured goodies like ‘Æon Flux’ (The latter becoming a feature-movie starring Charlize Theron *sigh* soon—via gamersgame). But the fact remains that to date nobody knows what Dalí meant by ‘liquid television’.

But I now know what could be meant by ‘liquid computer’. The casemodder-scene’s original innovation, the liquid-cooled computer, already is history. Now them g33kz pushed it quite a bit farther: A computer case completely filled with vegetable oil, nearly all the components submerged, living under the water oil line. Markus Leonhardt even left the coolers in place, so that there is a little forced convection. The best thing, he says, is the machine being absolutely silent. It works since about one year, without the oil being replaced. Already some odour is recognizable when opening the sealed lid—hell, keep it closed then. And another thing one has to keep an eye on: the oilcomputer should be placed under the table, at least at a significantly lower level than all peripheral hardware. Due to capillary suction oil slowly creeps along inside the wires … till it trickles out of the keyboard or mouse.
via entry at industrial technology & witchcraft


threedimensional teleporter-malfunction

by KerLeone—translated by zeph
The malfunctioning teleporter in Half-Life 2The suitcase did not pass through the teleporter. I am speaking of Half-Life 2. I just wanted to take along the suitcase from the railway station. But then I am standing in the room with the teleporter and take the suitcase with me, into the teleporter. Now—first things first—the teleporter malfunctions ingame insofar as it teleports me to oh so strange places (because a headcrab had tampered with the electronics). That’s the first dimension. Inside the game I only reach a place right in front of the window to the teleporter-room. It malfunctions on another level as it does not teleport the suitcase—the second dimension. The game-developer did not foresee someone carrying a suitcase while standing in the teleporter. That’s not a technical problem. Because there is a small model of a teleporter in the anteroom onto which objects can be put, which promptly get teleported some meters of distance. Ingame the small teleporter indeed functions according to logical standards. The game-engine reads out what is lying on the teleporter, and moves it somewhere else. But the big teleporter was not granted that kind of physics. The engine just alters the location of the ‘camera’ (the non-existant player). As the player does not exist as an object inside the game, but as a camera with collision parameters.
    So I used a cheat to reconnoitre the laboratory’s vicinity. My hope was to find a spot from where I could e.g. drop the suitcase from the roof, in order to recollect it later on. With clipping deactivated the collision-readout of the camera is no more on duty. Now one can walk through walls and have a healthy look at the map from ‘outside’. But I detected some smoke’n’mirror work going on here—as it is the case with most single-player maps. The laboratory’s interior is located at a completely different location than its exterior, where one is teleported to. Analytically speaking the teleporter functions even better than meant by the ingame storyline. But now the suitcase lies far, far away at a completely inaccessible venue.
    By mistake I did not reactivate the clipping and entered the teleporter. Like an elevator it commuted upwards but didn’t take me along. I stood in the laboratory, outside of the teleporter. Quite an ordeal, not just for the ingame-teleporter as it turned out. The teleporter’s error—trying to teleport a person, a camera respectively, which is no more in the correct position—lead to the whole frangible gameworld’s collapsing. In other words: Half-Life 2 crashed.



SpackoBased on audiodata from myMTW Christian Wasser of (senseless) has created a phantastic satirical Flash-movie on the computergames & violence issue. The special features everything you expect from a documentary-feature: Uncensored, uncut real-life raw audio-material directly from the field, expert South-Park-style television-talking-head commentary including supporting evidence, and matching commercials. Everybody playing CS, or interested in playing computergames, or whatyouhave, and being capable of understanding German: please watch it! The audio-material provides a glimpse into online-gaming’s everyday-life, the feature as a whole provides insight into reflexive gamer-humour. In a way it is a piece of ‘native autoethnography’ … w00t! Now that I have talked it to death, better go and watch it.

via entry at ethno::log



STELARC… completely unfinished thoughts—anyway, here we go:

When the concept of ‘structure’ suddenly burst into anthropology and replaced ‘pattern’, Alfred Kroeber (1876-1960) derogatory commented that this was merely an interchanging of words—old wine in new bottles. He was wrong, because it meant more. Namely a change of perspectives in anthropology. Same is true for ‘ethnic’ and ‘ethnicity’ replacing ‘tribe’ and ‘culture’ in the mid-1970s. (Cohen 1978: 379-380, 384-385) In other words: This vocabulary is a portal to the understanding of the history, or even the culture of anthropology itself.

In 1994 anthropologist Arturo Escobar stigmatised words like ‘cyberspace’ as misnomers—he only uses the term ‘cyberculture’ as an element of analysis due to the widespread acceptance of the prefix ‘cyber-‘. (1994:211, fn. I.)
But in my view there indeed is something behind the prefix ‘cyber-‘. The widespread acceptance of it is an indirect hint towards that something.

When Norbert Wiener (1894-1964) launched the study of control and communications—which became (as far as I understand especially in the soviet union) control theory as it is applied to complex systems—he coined the term cybernetics and called his book: Cybernetics: or, Control and communication in the animal and the machine (Wiener 1948)

In the attempts to fuse technological artefacts with human and other biological organisms, with human society, and with the socioecologically shaped environment, all the mentioned elements are envisioned as cybernetic systems. Tentatively speaking: cyberculture always comprises the more or less tacit paradigm of envisioning at least parts of the empirical world as cybernetic systems. And this envisionment does not come to a grinding halt when dealing with the human body. Attaching a modern prosthesis to a human body demands to envision both as cybernetic systems.

Now meet STELARC, “an Australian-based performance artist whose work explores and extends the concept of the body and its relationship with technology through human-machine interfaces incorporating medical imaging, prosthetics, robotics, VR systems and the Internet. The interest is in alternate, intimate and involuntary experiences.”

“Moving requires feedback loops of sensory and perceptual data that coordinates the articulation of the jointed body. Performing with machine attachments and implants, performing with manipulators and locomoters augments and extends the body’s capabilities and disrupts its habitual sense of position/ orientation in the space that it occupies and between points that it navigates.” (Stelarc Articles)
tnx to h-man8 for the hint to STELARC


military training geeks

Two new publications from the extreme ends of the spectrum, but both touching my topic. Now guess which one of the two is closer to my mind and heart.

KELTY, CHRISTOPHER M. 2005. Geeks, Social Imaginaries, and Recursive Publics. Cultural Anthropology 20(2):185-214.

official abstract:
This article investigates the social, technical, and legal affiliations among “geeks” (hackers, lawyers, activists, and IT entrepreneurs) on the Internet. The mode of association specific to this group is that of a “recursive public sphere” constituted by a shared imaginary of the technical and legal conditions of possibility for their own association. On the basis of fieldwork conducted in the United States, Europe, and India, I argue that geeks imagine their social existence and relations as much through technical practices (hacking, networking, and code writing) as through discursive argument (rights, identities, and relations). In addition, they consider a “right to tinker” a form of free speech that takes the form of creating, implementing, modifying, or using specific kinds of software (especially Free Software) rather than verbal discourse.

BONK, CURTIS J. AND VANESSA P. DENNEN. 2005. Massive Multiplayer Online Gaming: A Research Framework for Military Training and Education. Advanced Distributed Learning, Technical Report 2005-1. Washington, DC: Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness) Readiness and Training Directorate Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) Initiative. [.pdf | 608KB] Available online:

official abstract:
Massive multiplayer online gaming, first popularized in the entertainment world, is now finding growing interest in education and training environments. The military and business have noted the potential for simulation and gaming technology to develop higher order thinking skills; in particular, they see potential in such areas as problem solving, metacognition, and decision making. However, much of the research in this area lags behind the technological advances, focusing on user demographics, attention spans, and perceptual skills, instead of addressing the impact these games might have on player’s analysis, decision making, and reflection skills. In part, the current body of research represents the interests of the gaming industry, which is more focused on exploiting any new technology to satisfy the attitudes, preferences, and expectations of its users, rather than the interests of education and training. It also reflects the fact that this is an emerging area that suffers from limited research and strategic planning. The report reviews the relevant research literature and proposes 15 primary experiments.

via entry at golublog, and entry at terranova


piling up

playful appropriation of gamespace
Quake 3 Arena pile-up
[HP] just sent me a screenshot of an avatar-tower done in ‘Quake 3 Arena’ (Q3A—check out the movie-collection at planetquake3 for footage of more like this, for example the 57 Player Q3 Tower [.avi | 35,2MB]). [HP]’s only accompanying line-of-text was “roxooxoxoxorz”, roughly meaning: “that rocks like hell&mdash’nough said!” The tight to-the-pointness of his commentary gives me the opportunity to post my unfinished thoughts on ‘playful appropriation of gamespace’:

Although it was published already in 1999 the so-called first-person-shooter Q3A still is very popular today (in 2005), both on the Internet and at LAN-parties. The underlying narrative of this game is very similar to that of a boxing-match: The player is thrown into an arena where she encounters one or more (up to 63) other players. The task is to ‘frag‘ as many other players as possible until the ‘frag-limit’ (which is negotiated prior to every match by the participating players) is reached. That is the gist of the story, but the whole game is far more complex: On the strategical level you have to learn the geography of each map by heart—that encompasses the architecture/topography and the ‘landmarks’: which level-items (weapons, ammunition, shields, and a diversity of power-ups) are going to appear when and where and so on. There is no use in bursting through a level headlessly and panic-stricken. Instead you have to navigate along strategic patterns—on every disturbance you have to continuously improvise and alter this patterns. On the tactical level you need a stock of running patterns which have to be chosen and changed ad-lib, too. Only if your tactical movements are almost unpredictable there is a chance of not being hit and avoiding damage. The same is true for choosing, aiming, and firing your weapon. Running, jumping, turning around, switching weapons, aiming and firing the latter … all this has to be done in threedimensional gamespace and in realtime. And it has to be executed quickly and very precisely, because Q3A is a stunningly fast game, there is no time for much reflection. The named skills have to be internalized, instantly available directly from the subconscious—just like a piano player has not to actively think about which key to hit next. One can have opposite opinions about the development and acquisition of this skills: Is it adaptation to, or appropriation of the gamespace? An argument in favour of the former would be that this skills are indispensable for ‘survival and success’ in the world of Q3A—that means for having a chance to reach the goal of the game and win. But some players have developed skills which are not indispensable for successfully playing Q3A. Quite to the contrary: some of those skills are downright useless, even counterproductive in contest-situations.

The Meta Baron doing an early mortar-shell-jump

Adequate examples for the playful appropriation without altering the gamespace are the ‘rocket-jump’ and the ‘plasma-lift’—both being Q3A-skills. When doing the rocket-jump or its variations like the grenade-jump, the player makes use of the shock wave of one or more nearby exploding projectiles to propel the avatar aka player character into the air. In the first album of the graphic novel around P.I. John Difool, “The Black Incal” by Moebius aka Jean Giraud and Alexandro Jodorowsky (Jodorowsky, Moebius & Chaland 1981:43)—an early piece of cyberpunk, a character called the “Meta Baron” already does exactly this, as you can see above.

The plasma-lift or -climb is an even more artistic, if anything equilibristic feat. The basic version requires the player to face a wall as close as possible, choose the plasma gun, aim it to a point near the own feet, but still on the wall, and then jump, ‘lean’ forward ‘into’ the wall, press, and hold down fire simultaneously (it took me a while to figure that out, but now it works, is great fun, and elates me big time). This allows the avatar to climb up a wall vertically, or slide along it horicontally or diagonally, riding the recoil-wave of the plasma-gun’s continuous spitting of projectiles—until getting stoked … or fragged by the own weapon. The advanced version is crashing into a wall in mid-flight and continuing by doing the plasma-climb. Don’t ask me how the guys get that coordinated.

Both skills have close to no value in Q3A competition-play context, because executing this tricks simply costs too much of the player character’s ‘shields’ and ‘health’. The rocket-jump is very seldomly seen in contest-situations, the plasma-lift virtually never. To a certain extent acquiring this skills is an end in itself. On the other hand mastering this special skills means a tremendous boost of the player’s overall skill of finding her way around in Q3A-gamespace, of becoming familiar to its qualities. So learning this skills indeed has some, albeit indirect benefit for the player’s ability in contest-playing, too.

The game’s greats (and greatest) of course master all of this and much more, which permits them to show off incredible sequences of Q3A-tricking—see new gods. I showed one or two Q3A-tricking-movies to some fellow-anthropologists. They were impressed by the aesthetics of the gamespace and to a certain extent by the dramaturgy of the movies. Everyone was amazed by the high standard of the production values of those clips, as they could imagine how much expertise, time and dedication it needs to create movies like that. Especially the visual anthropologists were fond of that. But nobody was impressed by the incredible skills demonstrated by the players whose avatars starred in the clips. For everyone it just was animated characters jumping and flying around on a computer-screen. My colleagues could not imagine what it takes to move and act like that in Q3A gamespace. You have to be enculturated/socialized into the realms of games like Q3A—or at least have to have understood quite a bit of them—to be able to embrace ingame stunts. And this is not possible without a minimum of shared experience. Hence I again emphatically second Aki Järvinen’s opinion, which reflects a part of the anthropological approach: “I respect many kinds of approaches to the study of games and players, just as long as the researchers play games themselves.” (games without frontiers)

Another breed of equilibristic stunts are the Q3A player tower records. This means the attempt to stack as many player characters as possible on top of one another, as depicted far above. Already in, or: not before 2003 “Polish quakers first have made a q3 tower which is 64 players high. They’ve reached the maximum capacity of a Quake3 server. No higher tower is possible to build using Quake3. This has been the third Polish attempt of reaching 64 players for the last few months and it has ended with success after 115 minutes of trying. It’s worth to notice that the server was full just five minutes after it had been raised. […] There will be no more records, the Polish one is definitely the ultimate.” And the online-fanhood cheered. (—from there you can download the video-proof) Without altering the game in the sense of reworking, a completely new kind of competition has been created on top of it. Just by envisioning and then negotiating a new goal and a new set of rules—as with speed runs. And more is done, and can be thought of, like stacking-up-objects competitions and records in ‘Half Life 2’ (HL2), or the infamous HL2-running-through-the-game-with-the-suitcase-from-the-railway-station-contest which unfortunately suffered an untimely death because of three-dimensional teleporter-malfunction (in German—this story is as hilarious as insightful, I promise to translate it into English soon—given that KerLeone grants permission).

In all the above examples the gamespace itself is not altered by the players like in gamemodding, but appropriated by the acquisition of skills, which requires the investment of substantial amounts of time spent ‘inside’ the gamespace. The players are plumbing the depths of the possibilities particular gamespaces provide. With gamemodding a deeper level is explored—not merely the gamespace, but the potentials of the game-engine itself. Nice examples are Q3A mods like soccer and basketball, tremendously popular at LAN-parties. And the song remains:

Where has all the violence gone … ?


filing up

ZettelspaltenThis project started some time in 2002, the exact starting point can’t be named, as the idea gradually developed by associating otherwise unrelated input. After KerLeone had preached enough I converted into an ardent believer in weblogs. Consequently the two of us started the ethno::log. Soon it became clear to me that I needed an own weblog for my project, but due to a whole array of contrarieties it did not see the light of day before late 2004. Until then I wrote and saved everything on my harddrives, or published it over at the ethno::log. Especially the latter’s categories cyberethnologica, tools, and tech. adaption harbour a wealth of entries worthwhile for my project ‘maxmod’ (abstract). Besides many other things, xirdalium is my slip box (Zettelkasten) which hopefully—as time goes by—will turn into an orderly filing cabinet. One of the reasons why I chose blosxom as my weblog-software is the fact that I easily can ‘forge’ entry dates, which allows me to fill up the blog with entries written or begun a long, long time ago while preserving the project’s chronology. Now I have started to enter those stories from the past—especially some which I originally posted at ethno::log, because of lacking my personal weblog. Just to not let it get lost and forgotten below the sides bottom, here’s what I inputted today (in reverse chronological order, ‘newest’ on top): wandering astrayscambaitersvisual jack inxenophiliaunix history.