between which worlds?

zeph’s pop culture quiz #47
Between which worlds?
Between which worlds is the man the depicted hand belongs to travelling?
    Just leave a comment with your educated guess—you can ask for additional hints, too. [Leaving a comment is easy; just click the ‘Leave a comment’ at the end of the post and fill in the form. If it’s the first time you post a comment, it will be held for moderation. But I am constantly checking, and once I’ve approved a comment, your next ones won’t be held, but published immediately by the system.]

UPDATE and solution (31 October 2012):
This was a slip, I have to confess. Normally, before I post a quiz, I check for the most obvious search terms, so that the riddle isn’t solved too fast by the help of mere technological assistance. This time I omitted that step. Maybe because I found the title ‘between which worlds?’ just too compelling. Anyhow, that way Alhambra immediately solved #47. Without having seen the movie, and without ever even having heard of it, as she confessed to me via e-mail. Congratulations nevertheless—John Carter (Stanton 2012) it is! And here is yet another slip of mine: In the movie the hand doesn’t belong to Carter (Taylor Kitsch), but to his nephew Edgar Rice Burroughs (Daryl Sabara).
Title card of 'John Carter' (Stanton 2012)
The movie is largely based on the novel A Princess of Mars (1917 [1912]) by Edgar Rice Burroughs, who also invented Tarzan. As a homage the character of Burroughs as Carter’s nephew was put into the 2012 movie’s script. ‘A Princess of Mars,’ originally published in serialized form as ‘Under the Moons of Mars,’ was the very first story Burroughs wrote. All in all ten sequel novels followed, telling the adventures of John Carter and his offspring. Although not the first of its kind, the ‘Barsoom series’—’Barsoom’ being the ‘indigenous’ name of the planet we call ‘Mars’—is an early, well known, and very influential planetary romance (a peculiar fusion of science fiction and fantasy). Another well known example are the adventures of Flash Gordon, from whom we just recently heard two times (what is this? and the the flash inspirations). While Gordon travels from Earth to the planet Mongo the ‘conventional way,’ by rocket ship that is, John Carter seems to be teleported from Earth, from the Arizona Hills to be precise, to Mars by an, at first, inexplicable force. In the novel this happens at the end of the second, and the beginning of the third chapter:

As I stood thus meditating, I turned my gaze from the landscape to the heavens where the myriad stars formed a gorgeous and fitting canopy for the wonders of the earthly scene. My attention was quickly riveted by a large red star close to the distant horizon. As I gazed upon it I felt a spell of overpowering fascination—it was Mars, the god of war, and for me, the fighting man, it had always held the power of irresistible enchantment. As I gazed at it on that far-gone night it seemed to call across the unthinkable void, to lure me to it, to draw me as the lodestone attracts a particle of iron.
    My longing was beyond the power of opposition; I closed my eyes, stretched out my arms toward the god of my vocation and felt myself drawn with the suddenness of thought through the trackless immensity of space. There was an instant of extreme cold and utter darkness. (Burroughs 1917 [1912]: chpt. 2)

I opened my eyes upon a strange and weird landscape. I knew that I was on Mars; not once did I question either my sanity or my wakefulness. I was not asleep, no need for pinching here; my inner consciousness told me as plainly that I was upon Mars as your conscious mind tells you that you are upon Earth. You do not question the fact; neither did I.
(Burroughs 1917 [1912]: chpt. 3)

Another planetary romance, which I read as a teenager and admire until today, is the epic graphic novel saga around the hero Den by Richard Corben—very much inspired by John Carter of Mars [and by Lovecraft—a cosmic demon god in the world of Neverwhere is called Uluhtc …]:

Then it came to me. My name is … was David Ellis Norman. I was mourning my Uncle Daniel’s death. They had never found him but now, after seven years it was legal. Some of his belongings had come into my possession including his collection of Burroughs fantasy novels. In the back of one was a piece of paper with an electronic schematic on it … there was also a letter … addressed to me. (Corben 1977-1978, part 2: 49)

David decides to build the device described by the plans of his uncle, takes it ‘to an abandoned farm area’ and tries it out:
David Ellis Norman trying out the device he built by the plans his uncle left to him (Corben 1977-1978, part 2: 50)

David Ellis Norman trying out the device he built by the plans his uncle left to him (Corben 1977-1978, part 2: 50)

Planetary romances, sometimes even dubbed as the ‘sword and planet‘ genre, of course are not cyberpunk at all. But it is remarkable, I think, that during the historical treshold, when the cyberpunk discourse became manifest as a literary genre, Richard Corben integrated technology into the saga of Den, with otherwise comprises fantasy and the downright supernatural: David Ellis Norman is transported from Earth to Neverwhere, and is transformed into Den, by a force or principle which can be made to work by both electronics and magic:
David Ellis Norman for the second time spawning in Neverwhere as 'Den' (Corben 1981-1983, part 6: 89)

David Ellis Norman for the second time spawning in Neverwhere as ‘Den’ (Corben 1981-1983, part 6: 89). This time he presumably didn’t travel by the means of technoscience, but made his journey using magic—mind the amulet around his neck.

In this I sense something similar like in the story about how the cyberpunk discourse infested the zombie genre.

BURROUGHS, EDGAR RICE. 1917 [1912]. A princess of Mars. Chicago: A. C. McClurg. First serialized as Under the moons of Mars in The All-Story.
CORBEN, RICHARD. 1977-1978. Den. Heavy Metal 1(1): 5-12, 1(2): 45-52, 1(3): 45-52, 1(4): 12-18, 1(5): 9-17, 1(6): 9-17, 1(7): 45-52, 1(8): 9-16, 1(9): 7-14, 1(10): 33-40, 1(11): 9-16, 1(12): 7-14, and 1(13): 6-13.
CORBEN, RICHARD. 1981-1983. Den II. Heavy Metal 5(6): 6-15, 5(7): 33-40, 5(9): 17-24, 5(10): 76-79, 5(11): 39-42, 5(12): 84-89, 6(1): 21-24, 6(2): 21-24. 6(3): 20-23, 6(4): 12-16, 6(5): 73-76, 6(6): 19-24, 6(7): 19-24, 6(8): 20-25, 6(9): 36-41, 6(10): 78-86, 6(11): 14-20, and 6(12): 37-43.
STANTON, ANDREW. 2012. John Carter [motion picture]. Burbank: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

nand to tetris

Two years ago I belatedly reported on Shimon Schocken’s and Noam Nisan’s book ‘The elements of computing systems: Building a modern computer from first principles’ (2005). Since then quite some things have happened, and at the website From NAND to Tetris you’ll now find a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC ;)—the whole course, including all the materials, has been put online open-source fashion. The idea is to lead you from the uttermost basics, in this case the logical NAND gate [Negated AND or NOT AND] to build a system on which you finally can program and run a Tetris game. The rationale behind that is to correct the fact that first principles got lost within much of our contemporary computer science syllabi. Here’s from the TED talk above:

So, it’s not surprising that about twelve years ago, when Noam and I were already computer science professors, we were equally frustrated by the same phenomenon. As computers became increasingly more complex our students were losing the forest for the trees. And indeed it is impossible to connect to the soul of the machine if you interact with a black box PC or a Mac which is shrouded by numerous layers of closed proprietary software. So Noam and I had this insight, that if you want those students to understand how computers work, understand it in the marrow of their bones, then perhaps the best way to go about it is to have them build a complete working general purpose useful computer, hardware and software, from the ground up. [from 03:30 onwards | my transcription—put the blame on me]

Whenever I hear about the first principles of computer science, I am reminded of something engineer Frederic Williams (1911-1977) said. Williams, together with Tom Kilburn (1921-2001), oftentimes is quoted as having invented the Manchester Mark 1, the ‘Manchester Baby,’ the first stored-program digital computer. But Williams himself impressively set the record straight:

Now let’s be clear before we go any further that neither Tom Kilburn nor I knew the first thing about computers when we arrived in Manchester University […] Newman explained the whole business of how a computer works to us.
    Tom Kilburn and I knew nothing about computers […] Professor Newman and Mr A. M. Turing […] knew a lot about computers […] They took us by the hand and explained how numbers could live in houses with addresses […]. (Williams cf. Copeland 2006: 112—bold emphasis mine)

The creation of the computer as we envision it today mainly began during World War II and came to full fruit immediately after the war. This span of time is the historical threshold of the discourse ‘modern computer,’ if you’d like it in Foucaultian terms. The sames is true for cybernetics. Sometimes, especially during the 1970s, it was spread that cybernetics came first, and that the ‘invention of the computer’ was founded on it. That’s an ill conception. Rather both discourses were very much in parallel chronologically and mutually inseminated and influenced each other, had and have a dialectical relationship, if you will. Put the other way round: they depend on each other. The cybernetic cosmology, among many other things, very much influenced that shape of our educational systems. The whole idea that education and learning can be controlled, regulated and steered by using the tools of quantification stems from the enormous success of cyberntics, especially during the 1960s. In respect to this I only can again urge everybody capable of reading German, to dive into David Gugerli’s great article ‘Kybernetisierung der Hochschule’ [‘Cybernetification’ of the university] (2008).
    Shimon Schocken, musing about the thousands who are going through his and Noam Nisan’s MOOC, has matching thoughts:

These people can not care less about grades. They are doing it because of one motivation; they have a tremendous passion to learn. And with that in mind I’d like to say a few words on traditional college grading—I’m sick of it. We are obsessed with grades because we are obsessed with data. And yet grading takes away all the fun from failing. And a huge part of education is about failing. Courage, according to Churchill, is the ability to go from one defeat to another without losing enthusiasm. And, and Orwell—Orwell said that mistakes are the portals of discovery. And yet we don’t tolerate mistakes, and we worship grades. So, you collect your B-plusses and your A-minusses, and we aggregate them into a number like 3.4, which is stamped on your forehead and sums up who you are. Well, in my opinion we went too far with this nonsense and grading became degrading. So, with that I’d like to say a few words about upgrading. [from 10:00 onwards | my transcription—put the blame on me]

And now scroll up again and watch the whole of Shimon Schocken’s TED talk.

COPELAND, B. JACK. 2006. “Colossus and the rise of the modern computer,” in Colossus: The secrets of Bletchley Park’s codebraking computers edited by B. Jack Copeland, pp. 101-115. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
GUGERLI, DAVID. 2008. “Kybernetisierung der Hochschule: Zur Genese des universitären Managements,” in Die Transformation des Humanen: Beiträge zur Kulturgeschichte der Kybernetik edited by Michael Hagner and Erich Hörl, pp. 414-439. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.
SCHOCKEN, SHIMON AND NOAM NISAN. 2005. The elements of computing systems: Building a modern computer from first principles. Cambridge: MIT Press.

mountains of madness

Panel from 'At the Mountains of Madness' (Lovecraft & Culbard 2010: 89)

Panel from page 89 of ‘At the Mountains of Madness’ (Lovecraft & Culbard 2010).

Back in late 2010 we had scottish illustrator and graphic designer Murray Groat‘s wonderful TintinLovecraft crossover covers [check out Murray’s blog, portfolio and deviant art page—there’s more Lovecraftia to discover]. Matchingly enough in the same year a wonderful graphic novel version (Lovecraft & Culbard 2010) of H. P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness (1936) by I. N. J. Culbard was published—drawn in the best ligne claire tradition. For the full experience you first might want to read Poe’s ‘The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket’ (1838) … and if you want to know every fictional story which ever happened in Antarctica, here they are.
Detail of the cover of Astounding Stories 16(6) [February 1936]. Art by Howard V. Brown.

Detail of the cover of Astounding Stories 16(6) [February 1936]. Art by Howard V. Brown.
LOVECRAFT, HOWARD PHILLIPS. 1936. At the mountains of madness. Astounding Stories 16(6): 8-32, 17(1): 125-164, and 17(2): 132-164.
LOVECRAFT, HOWARD PHILLIPS AND I. N. J. CULBARD. 2010. At the mountains of madness [graphic novel]. New York: Sterling.
POE, EDGAR ALLAN. 1838. The narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. New York: Harper & Brothers.

latour’s cyberpunkish world

In a review of Bruno Latour’s ‘We have never been modern’ (Latour 1993 [1991]) by Barbara Tuchanska (1995) I just found the following paragraph trying to describe the world Latour paints:

The reality of our everyday life is populated by computers that transform all spheres of
life, frozen embryos, cable television networks, psychotropic drugs, whales equipped with
radar sounding devices, sexuality changed by AIDS, poverty and the exploitation of man,
totalitarian political systems destroying ecosystems, deforestation, the ozone hole, and
thousands of other monsters that are the hybrids of nature and culture.

Now, if you got time, compare that to the 1986 Bruce-Sterling quotes I collected [and commented a bit] in anthropology’s shades. And if you’re at it, and still have time, you might like to have a look into our mundane world and writing culture and cyberpunk, too.

LATOUR, BRUNO. 1993 [1991]. We have never been modern. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Originally published as Nous n’avons jamais été modernes. Paris: Editions La Découverte.
TUCHANSKA, BARBARA. 1995. We have never been modern by Bruno Latour. Philosophy of Science 62(2): 350-351.

comic book newsstand

Mike’s Amazing World of Comics features an amazing tool for historians of popular culture: The Newsstand. It allows you to choose any month, beginning in 1934, and then the system will give you the covers of all comic books which were on sale [in the US of A] this very month. Included publishers are: Marvel, DC, Archie, Charlton, Dark Horse, Dell, Gold Key, Harvey, and Image.

via entry at boingboing

the quantified body

Whenever I hear or read about the quantified self—a lifestyle obviously deeply influenced by the heritage of cybernetics—I am reminded of conversations I led and overheard while I still was visiting the gym regularly, three times a week. Already when just eavesdropping I was amazed by the topics the real bodybuilders talked about. The weights lifted almost aren’t a topic at all—with the exception when they spot somebody they care about using too heavy weights. This not only has negative training effects but greatly heightens the risk of injuries, too. Then, somewhat related to the former, there is the topic of correct execution of the exercises. But, roughly estimated, almost eighty percent of the conversations the big boys lead is filled with training plans and nutrition en détail. This was corroborated once I could take part in the discussions, after having been socially accepted by the circle of the big boy regulars at my gym—doing ten repetitions in the fifth set with 90 kgs on the bench is the threshold, I guess. Not that I myself was a big boy then, far from it, but to their satisfaction they had seen that I was serious about their sport and cared for it. Exactly the same experience I had with all communities of practice I ever had to do with, be they composed of hardcore gamers, game modders, Karatekas, or whatyouhave. Once you have demonstrated respect, prolongued interest, and willingness to invest, you’re in.
    Anyway, back on topic. It’s obvious that the quantified self movement has its roots not only in cybernetics, but also in flight medicine, sports science, and the like. I always thought that sooner or later the practices and scenes of the gym will be reconnected with the quantified self. Bruce W. Perry’s book ‘Fitness for Geeks’ (2012) does it.
    Unqualified addendum: You people must have time …

PERRY, BRUCE W. 2012. Fitness for geeks: Real science, great nutrition, and good health. Sebastopol et al.: O’Reilly.

moving the map

Here is yet another example from the games with defects: PlaygroundPong. From the documentation:

PlaygroundPong is a proof of concept for inverting Avatar & Playground. The player cannot move the paddles at all like in a regular Pong game. The ball seems to move from side to side but clearly it does not! The player cannot identify with the avatar (playing object), he or she has to get to terms with moving the background (from left to right, right to left, top to bottom and bottom to top) in order to bring the paddles in a position where they manage to hit the ball back. The paddles themselves slightly move up and down according to what direction the player moves the playground to. An utterly unfamiliar set up for a player who expects to play and navigate an avatar. He or she now plays the playground and tries to keep avatars and object in position. The player needs to rewire his or her brain before succeeding with the inverted gameplay.

This reminded me of two fine Quake-related Chuck-Norris jokes: ‘When Chuck Norris rocket jumps, he doesn’t launch up, the map moves down’ and ‘Chuck Norris doesn’t need to move, map moves for him.’
    But isn’t that almost always the case, at least with the absolute majority of 3D-games? When playing Quake my crosshairs are fixed to the middle of the screen. When I hit ‘jump’ neither my screen nor the crosshairs attached to it move upwards, rather the representation of the map moves downwards on my screen. Same for all other directions of movement.
    I hate to say that, but in this respect we all are Chuck Norris.
    This somewhat awkward fact is covered by the design of gameplay mechanics, foremost by inversion of controls: when I hit ‘right’ the map moves to the left, etc.
    And while we are at it, all this also reminded me of an almost six years old idea of mine, which in a way fits into the games with defects philosophy: second person view.


Favorite what is this?

zeph’s pop culture quiz #46
What is this?
What is the tiny shiny artefact displayed by the hands? From which movie does the screencap stem, and what role in the plot of that movie does the artefact play?
    Just leave a comment with your educated guess—you can ask for additional hints, too. [Leaving a comment is easy; just click the ‘Leave a comment’ at the end of the post and fill in the form. If it’s the first time you post a comment, it will be held for moderation. But I am constantly checking, and once I’ve approved a comment, your next ones won’t be held, but published immediately by the system.]

UPDATE and solution (25 October 2012):
Title card of 'Charlie Chan in London' (Forde 1934)
Although Gutterflower had a fine association, nobody seems fit to solve the riddle, so here it is: The screencap is taken from Charlie Chan in London (Forde 1934). The artefact depicted is an airgun projectile. As Inspector Chan (Warner Oland) draws closer and closer to the solution of the story’s mystery the murderer gets ever more nervous and makes an attempt on Chan’s life using said airgun:
Charlie Chan (Warner Oland) examining the airgun with which an attempt on his life was undertaken in 'Charlie Chan in London' (Forde 1934)

Charlie Chan (Warner Oland) examining the airgun with which an attempt on his life was undertaken in ‘Charlie Chan in London’ (Forde 1934)

The exotic weapon plays only a minor role in the movie, but I was struck by the design of its projectile. I can’t prove it, but I have a hunch that this design goes back to the very first science fiction comic strip.
    The first installment of Buck Rogers was published on 07 January 1929—originally written by Philip Francis Nowlan (1888-1940) and, from 1929 to 1947, pencilled and inked by Dick Calkins (1895-1962). Early on in the story rocket ships appear which look quite similar to the projectile above. ‘Buck Rogers’ immediately got tremendously popular and was widely circulated. Even back then a merchandising industry already existed and soon matching toys were produced:
Ca. 1935 Buck Rogers tin rocket ship toy manufactured by Louis Marx & Co.

Ca. 1935 Buck-Rogers tin rocket ship toy manufactured by Louis Marx & Co.

Rogers developed into a full-fledged franchise from which spawned movie serials, feature films, a 1980s television series and much more. The early success of Buck Rogers inspired Alex Raymond (1909-1956) to create his own sci-fi hero comic strip: Flash Gordon,’ which had its debut on 07 January 1934. In it we already find ‘our’ rocketship design. For illustration I chose a later strip, the Sunday strip of 08 September 1940, showing off Raymond’s artistry at its peak:
The 'Flash Gordon' Sunday strip of 08 September 1940 by Alex Raymond
In the panel at the far left there are several characteristic rocket ships. The tank in the middle panel at the top follows the very same design language. By the way, at the top right you can see the epic’s main heroes, from left to right: Dale Arden, Dr. Hans Zarkov and Flash Gordon himself.
    ‘Flash Gordon’ in no time reached and even surpassed the popularity of ‘Buck Rogers.’ Already in 1936 a first movie serial was made, starring Larry ‘Buster’ Crabbe as Gordon, Jean Rogers as Arden, Frank Shannon as Doctor Zarkov, Priscilla Lawson as Princess Aura, and Charles Middleton as the Princess’ father, Emperor Ming the Merciless (clearly inspired by Sax Rohmer‘s evil genius, the sinister Dr. Fu Manchu). In the serials of the time Crabbe played not only Flash Gordon, but Buck Rogers and Tarzan, too. He was the ultimate hero icon, and, just like the soon to be iconic silver-screen Tarzan Johnny Weissmuller, an Olympic swimming champion.
    Here is a screencap from ‘The Planet of Peril’ (Stephani & Taylor 1936), the first episode of the first ‘Flash Gordon’ serial:
Screencap from 'The Planet of Peril' (Stephani & Taylor 1936)
The rocket ship depicted is used by the soldiers of Emperor Ming who capture Arden, Gordon and Zarkov.
Screencap from 'The Planet of Peril' (Stephani & Taylor 1936)
Here we can see the same rocket ship in full flight, bringing the captives to Ming’s citadel in the background. In the lower left corner, parked on the ground, is the ship in which our heroes travelled from Earth to the planet Mongo. This ship was built in the USA by the earthling Dr. Zarkov but features the same design as Ming’s extraterrestrial ships. So the peculiar æsthetics were known on Earth, too. Little wonder then that the projectile meant for Charlie Chan looked alike.

FORDE, EUGENE. 1934. Charlie Chan in London [motion picture]. Los Angeles: 20th Century Fox.
STEPHANI, FREDERICK AND RAY TAYLOR. 1936. The planet of peril. Episode 1 of Flash Gordon [movie serial]. Hollywood: Universal Pictures.