bedford’s metamorphosis

hotbeds of creativity — the appropriation of the truck in Sudan
SifinjaGabriel Kläger has produced a substantial update to his website Africars, a subpage of the website of the Institute for Sociocultural Anthropology, Munich. As I still am a tremendously generous and forthcoming webmaster, I immediately set the update online. Kläger transformed Prof. Kurt Beck‘s article “Bedfords Metamorphose” (Beck 2004) into html, ‘hyper-augmented’ with a load of exclusive, illustrative and commented photographies, stemming from Beck’s recent fieldwork in Sudan. The pictures document the technological process of appropriation and make the latter comprehensible. Since ‘globalization’ and ‘glocalization’ became issues in anthropology, cultural appropriation has been discussed, too. But the focus mainly was on ‘symbolic ascription’, ‘redefinition of meaning’, ‘rededication’, and the like — or ‘artistic achievements’. The hands-on side, the technological aspect of appropriation has been widely neglected. Hotbeds of creativity highlights exactly these aspects:

Everybody who has travelled in Asia, Latin America, or Africa knows those ingeniously converted and richly decorated trucks. They shape the scenery of the city-streets as well as the traffic on hinterland’s most remote dirt tracks. Exceptionally aesthetically impressive specimens are on the road in Nigeria, Mexico, the Philippines, and Pakistan. They tower above the traffic like extra-purfled ceremonial elephants, or dinosaurs in wedding gowns. The better part of freight haulage and passenger transportation is done with those trucks. Anthropologists naturally use them on their expeditions as means of conveyance, too. However, until now they have not been legitimate objects of research. But that does not at all mean that there is nothing to discover. Quite to the contrary, as those trucks lead our gaze to what anthropologists think to be among the most wonderful things in the world: human creativity.

In Sudan trucks — mostly Bedfords and Nissans — are not merely externally decorated. They are reconstructed from the bottom up. Small workshops meanwhile are specialized on deconstructing imported trucks, only to rebuild them according to own patterns. This workshops belong to the econonomy’s informal sector and are located far away from any development aid or formal training. The final product of their craft is a completely new truck hardly resembling the original one. Surprising technological innovations have found their way into its unorthodox construction. A local creativity of dealing with and advancing global goods manifests itself. This seems all the more astonishing, as it directly contradicts every common-sense assumption concerning Africa. [my translation]

Hotbeds of creativity is at the moment only available in German, but we are working on an English version (the pictures themselves already are available in English, though).

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gamer stereotypes fragged

NerdThe (U.S.) entertainment software association (ESA) had Peter D. Hart Research Associates, Inc. conduct a study which’s findings contradict the usual clichés of gamers. This goes well with the findings of studies undertaken by the Forschungsschwerpunkt Wirkung virtueller Welten (research focus “virtual worlds’ virtue”) of the University of Applied Sciences Cologne (articles are in German). The stereotypes are fragged for now, but they sure as hell will respawn. And of course the argument will come up that the study was commissioned by the ESA, and was done by a commercial institute. The german studies were commissioned by the government, and done at a university.
via entry at gamersgame

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world’s greatest

Fatal1tyBBC-News carries an article on pro-gamer legend Jonathan Wendel aka Fatal1ty: Golden boy gamer becomes a brand . The golden boy has to say something on the social dimension of gaming, too: “Socialising online is awesome – you are talking to all these gamers just about random topics. It’s like you are on the phone talking to a friend almost. Then you get to meet these guys at LAN parties. It’s a total blast.”
During the last months I noticed a substantial increase of articles on gaming issues in the supra-regional major daily newspapers and magazines — at least in what is printed here in Germany. But the core of those articles almost exclusively revolved around two central subjects: the explicit expression of a lack of understanding what’s happening, garnished with a laconic to sarcastic sneer, and astonishment about the money involved. Articles about pro-gaming always stressed the sums those people potentially can earn, pieces on MMORPGs always described the trading of game-objects and/or accounts at eBay. Texts on shooters (see FPS and TPS) revamped the ‘virtual violence’ discussion, and in the case of Doom III introduced disgust and execration into the construction of public opinion. In all cases the immense time people are ‘wasting’ playing computergames is mentioned. In the case of the pro-gamers the latter is somewhat relativized, as cash is made by them. Not that I want to whine or complain about that — I am just observing. And the fact remains that computergames seem have to made it into the pages of the big print media.
BBC-story via entry at gamersgame

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wandering astray

on boundaries, fieldwork, and tags in letters
Who the fuck is Alice?It is sunday and I am at home. That means going online is only possible on 56k—a slight difference to the 100Mbit/s at the office; I shy away from going online so slow and am working offline. Working means reviewing and sorting the fieldnotes, -downloads, and logs of the last days into their appropriate daily folders. Apart from this I try to finish the begun weblog-entries, and try to bring them into an online-publishable format. By format I do not mean technicalities like inserting html-tags, but the texts themselves. Writing for immediate publication, and being conscious of that, is quite different from writing inside the considerable security and privacy of your HDD. Alex Golub recently wrote that over time he learned where to draw the boundaries, and that he now is quite embarrassed by the privacy of many of his own early blog-entries. That means that, not surprisingly, blog-entry-writing-know-how follows experience. Well, with the ethno::log I already have more than two years blogging-experience, but with xirdalium it seems to be another story again. From all the people I know face-to-face KerLeone has by far the longest experience in blogging. And he indeed has a strategy for maintaining boundaries. But his strategy is hilarious, completely crazy, customized to the max, therefore uncopyable, and in itself too private to tell here.

Today I remembered my two articles on the first Matrix-movie which were published in Magische Welt-magazine (print, in German). I really should translate them and publish them here, as they are connected to maxmod in certain ways. This led me to the question if, by publishing all the stuff of that kind here, in the end the reader knows more about me and my way of thinking and feeling about gamemodding, and less about the gamemodders’ culture. On the other hand you have to know about my imagination of gamemodding, in order to be able to evaluate my interpretation of modding-culture.
    Again an old problem of anthropology, already discussed many times. The latter in turn confirms that with my attempt of ‘transposing sociocultural anthropology’s methods into the cyberfield’ I am on a not-too-wrong path.

Speaking of transpositions, and earlier of boundaries which sometimes have something to do with enculturation and maybe going-native: Last week in the office I had to write some formal letter. So I fired up a word-processor (StarOffice Write in my case), and started typing. On the screen I reread what I had written and was satisfied; hitting ‘print’, taking the sheet from the printer. Not before reading the hardcopy-version of the letter I noticed that I had used—obviously out of habit—html-tags throughout the letter, break- and italics-tags mostly. What amazes me is that I didn’t recognize this when rereading the letter on the screen.
    Once upon a time jim broke into IRC and greeted us all with the words: “Last night I crossed the line-of-no-return to absolute geekdom.” jim, I am here now, too.

Being there sometimes one can’t resist to wander astray, although one still believes to be very well on topic. The core of my project is the culture of gamemodding, respectively the culture of the modders—in my view a sound anthropological topic. But today it struck me, that a lot of my reading and recherche clearly falls into the domain of gamestudies. A twig to be cut off? On the other hand, in one way or another, everything I dig up in this respect somehow is related to the project’s core. *sigh* The Hermetics of old have been right: Everything is connected with everything (that’s why Dirk Gentry always found his way). Especially when doing anthropology, and still harbouring a holistic stance.

Then there was the usual wandering astray in the web’s vast valleys. E.g. I found out that the girl “Alice” on the posters plastered all over the city is 17-year old (which I can hardly believe) italo-american supermodel Vanessa Hessler. Temptations to resist—the time-eating wandering astray, I mean. In some entries at random blogs it is stated that Ms Hessler is of ‘mediocre attractivity’. Which lets me wonder about the looks of those bloggers. Sometimes one can’t resist to fall back on nerd-clichés.

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new snake

taming of peripheral computer hardware revisited
DiamondbackToday I bought a Razer Diamondback, the follow-up of the legendary Razer Boomslang. It glides over the pad seemingly almost without any friction. Its 1600dpi suit me very well, as meanwhile I am used to my Boomslang’s 2100. The ‘magma-glow’ looks nice, although I do not think it is necessary. The mouse really feels good, but despite of the glow does not radiate the mythical atmosphere of its predecessor. There simply is neither the same kind of history nor tradition yet — at least to me. And I indeed feel something like a traitor, now having my hand on a pure optical gadget. I am no hi-senser lo-tek anymore. On the other hand Razerguy aka Robert Krakoff, president of Razer USA Ltd., said: “Boomers have been discontinued and we’re also sold out. It was a nice ride, but the world of mechanical gaming mice is one of the past. We held a quiet burial at sea for family members only.” OFM answered: “Well I for one am Proud to have my Retired LED Modded Boomslang 2000 in its tin with all the stuff it came with. [...] I’m glad I have these fine instruments and have stuck with them this long. We are truly an obscure and dedicated community that is very tightly knit and I am proud to be here from way back with an original 2000 Boomslang. [... but ends:] VIVE La DiaMoNdBacK!” … and Krakoff in reply: “Sorry, we know that we are burying a legacy and also know that there are many loyal ball mouse users who are not ready, willing or interested in optical.” (thread at Razer Blueprints Forum) For Krakoff’s views on the history and technology of mice, see RPG Vault Soapbox — Robert Krakoff. For in-depth information and discussion, pay a visit to the Razer-community at Razer Blueprints.

Razerguy There is a graphic novel called Razerguy, a fine piece of machinima at the razer-site, which in mood and plot matches my transition into new realms of motoric input, into the twilight of the Razerzone lit anew. Hint: First go to Razerzone, leave the window open, then open Razerguy in a new window. That way you have the background-sound from Razerzone running, which is very appropriate to the graphic novel. Razerguy, episode 1: “I tried to deal by immersing myself in video games. The last thing I remember is sitting in front of my PC and feeling a wave of intense dread fall over me … then the room went black. When I wake up, I am not ta home, but on this weird beach wearing all white clothing.” The beginning of the story reminds me of the scenery in Neuromancer’s (Gibson 1984) chapter 20, where Case finally meets Neuromancer:

He jacked in.
    Nothing. Gray void.
    No matrix, no grid. No cyberspace.
    The deck was gone. His fingers were…
    And on the far rim of consciousness, a scurrying, a fleeting
impression of something rushing toward him, across leagues of black mirror.
    He tried to scream.
    There seemed to be a city, beyond the curve of beach, but
it was far away.”

To say that I am associating everything with Gibsonia would be legitimate criticism, but it is obvious in this case, isn’t it?.

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lord vader visits troops

vaders_visitGalactic News Service reports: “TWILIGHT CITADEL, Tatooine (Valcyn) – Emperor Palpatine’s supreme military commander, Lord Darth Vader, recently made a surprise inspection tour of an Imperial military stronghold here. [...] The staff at Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) had noticed, that inside the gameworld of their MMORPG “Star Wars Galaxies” (SWG) a group of players (forming the “203rd Tatooine Expeditionary Stormtrooper Legion”) had their troops very well organized and trained for quite some time. So SOE decided to stage an “ingame-live-event” and made Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith, visit the troops. A global celebrity of a mythical character, well known to at least two generations, visits his followers in gamespace. For some discussion, see the thread at corpnews, for “indigenous flavor” visit the Alpha Company.
Last year in September Andrew Phelps asked: Where is my news? What he had in mind was a Television-channel broadcasting news from gameworlds: “So I’m waiting. I’m waiting even further for someone to bind all this up into a daily game-news network with reporting from all the worlds online. I’d watch that channel, right along side CNN / MSNBC / FOX. I can think of very few things I’d currently enjoy more. Come home, eat dinner, play with baby, watch the “news” for a half hour, then hop into the world that had the most interesting day.” Although I am personally not at all into MMORPGs — if I had seen Lord Vader in the evening news, be sure, I would have made the journey to Tatooine asap.
via story at golublog

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ethnography of online technology communities

MADANMOHAN, T. R. AND SIDDHESH NAVELKAR. 2004. Roles and knowledge management in online technology communities: an ethnography study. International Journal of Web Based Communities 1(1). Electronic Document. Available online:
http://www.inderscience.com/filter.php?aid=4800(.pdf, 211KB)
http://opensource.mit.edu/papers/madanmohan2.pdf (.pdf, 96KB)

official abstract: “The internet is a heterogeneous network of millions of computers that is continuously evolving. The interaction among people around the world on the internet has led to the formation of communities. Technical communities are groups who share a common interest in a technology. The literature on technology communities lacks a conceptual understanding of the roles of various players in the online community. An understanding of the different roles the members of the community assume at different phases, and the impact of the roles on knowledge management is crucial to manage and sustain such online technical communities. This study based on an ethnographic analysis of two technical communities, identifies seven distinct roles: core organiser, experts, problem poser, implementer, integrator, institutionaliser, and philosopher. The impact of each of the roles on knowledge management activities is discussed.”
via cyberanthropology

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thick description of personal weblogging practice

David Brake, PhD-student (Media and Communications) at the LSE (not the Stock Exchange, but the London School of Economics and Political Science, where Malinowski was appointed to the first Chair in Social Anthropology in 1927), plans ethnographic research on blogging: “This study will provide a “thick” qualitative description (Geertz 1975) of personal weblogging practice in a particular context – that of authors from across England, purposively sampled to provide demographic variety, who have created their sites using either LiveJournal or Blogger’s software. [What about those who use geek-style software like blosxom? ;-] This description will be based on semi-structured interviews with the authors supplemented by examination of the sites they have produced. It will focus on the manner in which self-performance on weblogs may be constrained by a number of social factors. [...] Have a look at David’s papers, his personal blog (which has the beautiful URI http://blog.org/), and at the Media@LSE group weblog.
via cyberanthropology

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california digital library

“Harnessing technology and innovation, and leveraging the intellectual and cultural resources of the University of California, the California Digital Library supports the assembly and creative use of the world’s scholarship and knowledge for the UC libraries and the communities they serve. Established in 1997 as a UC library, the CDL has become one of the largest digital libraries in the world.” Searching for “Anthropology” delivered 61 anthropology-books online for free.
via cyberanthropology

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videogamestudies

cultural difference on intercultural persistent state worlds
Alan Meades, a Masters-degree (Electronic Arts) student at Middlesex University (UK) does post-graduate research in cyberanthropology: “This study aims to verify if players originating from geographically and culturally different backgrounds exhibit different game preferences, and therefore behaviour within Massively Multiplayer Online games. This study focuses specifically on Square-Enix’s Final Fantasy XI because of the design of the server infrastructure, and the resultant feature that each server is shared with people from many cultures and nations. [...] On his website Alan hosts an according online-survey, both in English and Japanese language! When I hit the page today it already reported: 1409 completed surveys since February 27th 2005. After this, to be honest, I felt somewhat relieved by what his subpages On Hofstede, On Bartle, and especially On Anthropology all have to say: “Coming Soon!” … Seems that we are brothers-in-arms, my man ;-)

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