at tannhaeuser gate


 
At boingboing they currently have ‘a series of essays about movies that have had a profound effect on our invited essayists.’ The day before yesterday it was Gareth Branwyn’s turn. From his ‘Like Tears in the Rain:’

I can’t really say what made such a fundamental impact on me. The dark noir mood of the film, certainly, and the questions it raises about the nature of life, memory, what constitutes humanity, and whether “androids dream of electric sheep…” What I didn’t know I was looking at was a cyberpunk aesthetic that I would soon become completely immersed in, through the work of William Gibson, John Shirley, and others — dystopian worlds, fifteen minutes into the future, where mega-corporations run the show, where personal and planetary technologies permeate society, and where the street finds its own uses for things.

By all means, go and read the whole essay—warning: it has a bitter tragic twist at the end. For now, here are the corresponding paragraphs from ‘maxmod: an ethnography of cyberculture’ (2009), my unpublished Habilitationsschrift:

Besides playing, collecting and trading computer games, or turning into wiz kids destined to become millionaires, we ’80s teen kids of course are digesting popular culture by the ton—comic books, television, and the cinema are on our daily diet.
    At the cinema we are not watching the likes of ‘Earth vs. The Flying Saucers,’ as Stephen King did, when he was of our age. We are reading Stephen King, and are watching the next generation—pun maybe intended. Unlike with 50s and 60s science fiction movies, computers now no more simply are funky set props, but are at the core of the plot.
    In ‘Tron’ (Lisberger 1982) a hacker is split up into his molecules and then transported inside a computer. There he teams up with ‘good’ programs and fights against ‘bad’ programs. But computers do not only feature in the movie—vast portions of it were made by the aid of computers. ‘Tron’ is one of the first movie employing computer-generated graphics on a grand scale, which has the according effect on us.
    The following year sees ‘WarGames’ (Badham 1983). Again a computer is at the centre of the story—and a hacker, who saves the world. We wholeheartedly embrace these stories, because they have an integral relationship with ourselves. It is us who, before we enter the cinema late afternoon, hang around at the department store, having our fingers on the keyboards of the very machines we then see on the silver screen.
    Of course we do love ‘Star Wars’ (Lucas 1977, 1980, 1983), and for our lifetime will never cease to do so, but the mellow fairy tale mythology of this space operas disguised as science fiction is not enough. We are teenagers, no more ‘li’l kiddies.’ We hit adolescence, are high on testosterones, and it is the ‘harder stuff’ that fascinates us and drags us along.
    ‘Escape from New York’ (Carpenter 1981) is fine, but there are too less computers in it. James Cameron’s ‘The Terminator’ (1984), the breakthrough for Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger (*1947), satisfies our appetite for action in the right setting.
    But what really touches us in a strange way, unsettles us within, is Ridley Scott’s ‘Blade Runner’ (1982), dealing with some profound philosophical questions which are right within anthropology’s core. E.g. ‘What is human?’ Remember: ‘Anthropology. A discourse on human nature.’ (Encyclopædia Britannica 1771: I, 327)

BADHAM, JOHN MACDONALD. 1983. War games [motion picture]. Beverly Hills: MGM/UA.
CAMERON, JAMES FRANCIS. 1984. The terminator [motion picture]. Los Angeles: Orion Pictures.
CARPENTER, JOHN HOWARD. 1981. Escape from New York [motion picture]. Los Angeles: AVCO Embassy Pictures.
ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA. 1771. Encyclopædia Britannica; or, a dictionary of arts and sciences, compiled upon a new plan. Edinburgh: Bell & Macfarquhar.
KNORR, ALEXANDER. 2009. Maxmod: An ethnography of cyberculture. [‘Habilitationsschrift,’ unpublished]
LISBERGER, STEVEN M. 1982. Tron [motion picture]. Burbank: Buena Vista.
LUCAS, GEORGE WALTON JR. 1977. Star Wars [motion picture, later retitled as Star Wars Episode IV: A new hope]. San Francisco, Los Angeles: Lucasfilm, 20th Century Fox.
LUCAS, GEORGE WALTON JR. 1980. The empire strikes back [motion picture, later retitled as Star Wars Episode V: The empire strikes back]. San Francisco, Los Angeles: Lucasfilm, 20th Century Fox.
LUCAS, GEORGE WALTON JR. 1983. Return of the Jedi [motion picture, later retitled as Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi]. San Francisco, Los Angeles: Lucasfilm, 20th Century Fox.
SCOTT, RIDLEY. 1982. Blade runner [motion picture]. Burbank: Warner Brothers.
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everything is connected

‘Watch Dogs’ as presented by Ubisoft at E3

 
They kept it a secret until some days ago. I am not closely following the coverage of this year’s E3, but from what I read it seems that a lot of the major players in the industry put some disappointing shows on the floor. Not so Ubisoft—here I have to admit that since Far Cry 2 I am a regular fanboy—they stunned the audience by presenting Watch Dogs,’ which is heavily cyberpunk-drenched, truly just twenty minutes into the future, at the most. Gamezone was the first to sum the available information up, but meanwhile Wikipedia has a fine summing-up of gameplay and plot, as far as we know about it today:

The main gameplay mechanic of Watch Dogs is the use of hacking and surveillance—as the game’s protagonist Aiden Pierce can use any device tied to the city’s computer system as a weapon against it. During the gameplay demonstration, Aiden is seen jamming cellphones to serve as a distraction as he enters a vanity art exhibit, tapping a phone call to retrieve information about his target, and manipulating traffic lights to cause a large pileup designed to trap the target and his thugs. The player can also access information from the ctOS on the NPCs they encounter, including information on demographics, health, and their probability of violence. Combat utilizes a combination of stealth components, along with the mechanics of a cover-based third-person shooter. The E3 demo also demonstrated co-op play, as focus shifted to a second character referred to as ”Bixxel_44″ (controlled by another player) following Aiden’s successful murder, who was given orders to protect Aiden by intercepting the police trying to catch him.
    The storyline of Watch Dogs is built around the concept of Information warfare, data being interconnected, and the world’s increasing use of technology—questioning who exactly runs the computers they depend on. Set in a version of Chicago, Illinois simply referred to as just the “Windy City”, it is one of many cities to feature a supercomputer known as a “ctOS” (Central Operating System). The system controls almost every piece of technology in the city, and contains information on all of the city’s residents and activities which can be used for various purposes. The game will follow an anti-hero named Aiden Pearce, a highly skilled hacker described as a person who uses both “fists and wits.” The gameplay demo shown at E3 centered on Aiden’s attempt to assassinate a media mogul named Joesph DeMarco, who had been wrongly acquitted on charges of murder.

So, rumour has it that ‘Watch Dogs’ is multiplayer and it may feature an ARG-like component via an iPad app. After you’ve seen the official trailer above, delivering the background history, here’s the actual gameplay:
 

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frags with love


 
‘Im just five hours old … Truly beautiful to behold …’ Fresh from the mint, here is KerLeone’s very first frag movie—high quality definition, editing, and frags, plus a gorgeous soundtrack. It was he, my old on- and offline pal, who brought me to Quake more than a decade ago … and it took him that long to create a frag movie :) Enjoy!

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our mundane world

In a longer blogpost/essay on his Rule 34 Charlie Stross wrote, among other things:

We’re living in the 21st century: it’s not possible to write a novel that seriously explores modern life without a background that includes rapid, cheap international travel: the commercial space industry: smartphones and the internet and spam: social networking sites, Facebook and Twitter: the rapidly shifting reference points of life expectancy, gender roles, and politics.
    The mundane world we live in is rapidly accreting the baroque trappings of a science fiction novel. The internet has exploded messily across the world around us: ignoring its noxiously fermenting culture in a novel of the near-present is like ignoring the clashing influences of punk and Margaret Thatcher’s vanguard Tories in a novel set in the London of the late 1970s.

Well, the exact same is true for ethnography.

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fun times ahead

According to Kaspersky Stuxnet has an heir. Here are two snippets from Wired’s report on it—mind the rhetorics:

“It’s pretty fantastic and incredible in complexity,” said Alexander Gostev, chief security expert at Kaspersky Lab. […]
    “It took us half-a-year to analyze Stuxnet,” he said. “This is 20-times more complicated. It will take us 10 years to fully understand everything.”

To my cyberpunk-infested mind this sounds as if some mysterious AI has written the thing, maybe even Colossus himself … And if this is true as well, there for sure are fun times ahead.

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who is shadowing?

zeph’s pop culture quiz #31
Who is shadowing?
The lady expertly tailing the gentleman in the background—who is she?
    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.]

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who is escaping?

zeph’s pop culture quiz #30
Who is escaping?
Who is escaping by that daring jump out of the window? And from where is he escaping?
    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.]
    #29 what is switched? somehow went unnoticed, probably because I have posted it on last Tuesday instead of Monday—I apologize for this, but I am somewhat offline these days. Nevertheless, now you got two riddles to sink your teeth into.

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teliasonera’s black boxes


Here’s the timely follow-up to heretics house tripoli, an hour-long feature by the Swedish news show Uppdrag Granskning, investigating the entanglement of Swedish telecom giant TeliaSonera with authoritarian regimes—especially in ex-Soviet states. From Eva Galperin’s write-up at EFF:

According to a recent investigation by the Swedish news show Uppdrag Granskning, Sweden’s telecommunications giant Teliasonera is the latest Western country revealed to be colluding with authoritarian regimes by selling them high-tech surveillance gear to spy on its citizens. Teliasonera has allegedly enabled the governments of Belarus, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Georgia and Kazakhstan to spy on journalists, union leaders, and members of the political opposition. One Teliasonera whistle-blower told the reporters, “The Arab Spring prompted the regimes to tighten their surveillance. … There’s no limit to how much wiretapping is done, none at all.”

via entry at boingboing
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heretics house tripoli

Much has been said and written about the role of social media and the Internet during the Arab Spring. Especially the liberating potentials of these technologies are discussed, even anthropologists are belabouring the topic. But, and that’s the core theme of cyberpunk, technologies are fundamentally ambivalent. Just yesterday Jamming Tripoli: Inside Moammar Gadhafi’s secret surveillance network by Matthieu Aikins was published by Wired:

[The] activists would suffer greatly at the hands of Gadhafi’s spy service, whose own capabilities had been heightened by 21st-century technology. By now, it’s well known that the Arab Spring showed the promise of the Internet as a crucible for democratic activism. But, in the shadows, a second narrative unfolded, one that demonstrated the Internet’s equal potential for government surveillance and repression on a scale unimaginable with the old analog techniques of phone taps and informants. Today, with Gadhafi dead and a provisional government of former rebels in charge, we can begin to uncover the secret, high tech spying machine that helped the dictator and his regime cling to power.

Matthieu Aikins’ article is a deeply researched wonderful piece of journalism on Gadhafi’s secret high tech measures of information control. Matthieu doesn’t just do justice to real people and to technology’s ambivalence, but we also have the proverbial (western and/or international) evil corporations who furnished the means:

“Massive intercept” technology, like countless other innovations of the West’s military-industrial complex, has now become cheap, small, and simple enough to export as a commercial, off-the-shelf technology, for sale to any government that can cough up a few tens of millions of dollars. Today you can run an approximation of 1984 out of a couple of rooms filled with server racks. And that’s precisely what Libya’s spies did—and what dictatorships all around the world continue to do.

UPDATE (13 December 2012):
Some on-topic thoughts by Warren Ellis and The Guardian on The Assad Emails.’

via entry at boingboing
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