Not exactly new news, but the to my eye yet meager download numbers make spreading it compulsory: Project Gutenberg stores ↑eleven short stories by Philip K. Dick in multiple formats for free and legal download. Additionally ↑open culture links to free audio book versions [.mp3] of four of these stories, and to the 1994 TV-documentary ‘↑Philip K Dick: A Day in the Afterlife‘—go and watch … it features, among others, Terry Gilliam and Elvis Costello.
Tom Wolfe’s book on the history of the U.S. Space program reads like a novel, and the film has that same fictional quality. It covers the breaking of the sound barrier by Chuck Yeager to the Mercury 7 astronauts, showing that no one had a clue how to run a space program or how to select people to be in it. Thrilling, funny, charming and electrifying all at once.
Thus wrote ↑Tom Vogel at IMDb on the novel ‘↑The Right Stuff‘ (Wolfe 1979) and the ↑movie of the same name (Kaufman 1983). It couldn’t be summed up better, and I just loved the movie as a 13-year old. [Some day, if I feel like really boring you, I'll tell you the story how and why I didn't become a jet-jockey and test-pilot but got stuck with the propeller stuff.] The movie I watched several times, but I haven’t yet read Wolfe’s book, although it prominently resides on the shelf … right next to the DVD.
Anyway, I just learned that there’s another book around, this time from an insider, and on the just ↵recently terminated shuttle program: ‘↑Riding rockets: The outrageous tales of a space shuttle astronaut‘ (Mullane 2006). Don’t miss Chris ‘JetHead’ Manno’s ↑review [a professional pilot's review].
Here are two sketches— from pages 32 and 35 in the sketchbook—for Rick Deckard’s (Harrison Ford) apartment as seen in ‘↑Blade Runner‘ (Scott 1982). Note the distinctive relief ornamentation on the faces of the concrete cubes, inspired by the texture blocks designed and used by ↑Frank Lloyd Wright for ↵Ennis House:
↓Barefoot into Cyberspace is an inside account of radical hacker culture and the forces that shape it, told in the year WikiLeaks took subversive geek politics into the mainstream. Including some of the earliest on-record material with Julian Assange you are likely to read, Barefoot Into Cyberspace is the ultimate guided tour of the hopes and ideals that are increasingly shaping world events.
Beginning at the Chaos Communications Congress of December 2009, where WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange and Daniel Domscheit-Berg first presented their world-changing plans to a select audience of the planet’s most skilful and motivated hackers, Barefoot Into Cyberspace interweaves an insider’s take on the drama that ensued with a thoughtful mix of personal reflections and conversations with key figures in the community aimed at testing the hopes and dreams of the early internet pioneers against the realities of the web today.
Will the internet make us more free? Or will the flood of information that courses across its networks only serve to enslave us to powerful interests that are emerging online? How will the institutions of the old world – politics, the media, corporations – affect the hackers’ dream for a new world populated not by passive consumers but by active participants? And can we ever live up to their vision of technology’s, and its users’, potential?
zeph’s pop culture quiz #9
Who is watching TV in this screencap? Of course there are points awarded already for recognizing what he is watching. But a full solution requires the name of the actor watching, and the title of the movie within which he is watching a movie.
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 (05 January 2012):
Now you know what he is watching. And, by the way, the movie is from the early 1980s.
UPDATE and solution (05 January 2012):
↵Mona has solved the riddle—congratulations. It is ↑Raúl Juliá (1940-1994) of Addams-Family (Sonnenfeld 1991, 1993) fame! He plays the programmer Aram Fingal in the television film ‘↑Overdrawn at the Memory Bank‘ (Williams 1983). During the opening moments of the movie Fingal watches ‘↑Casablanca‘ (Curtiz 1942) on his computer monitor at work. Alas, in the dystopian near-future he lives, reigned by megacorporations, it’s not only a felony to watch movies at work, but to watch movies at all.
As a means of correction and rehabilitation a company psychiatrist sends him to a kind of resort, where his mind shall be uploaded into an animal for some days. This experience, it is expected, will have a cathartic effect on Fingal. As he is low on financial resources, the only animal available for him is a baboon. When the baboon takes a fall Fingal’s mind is extracted via an emergency procedure by the computer controller Apollonia (↑Linda Griffiths). The idea is to save Fingal’s mind from further harm, and to reupload it into his own human body. But meanwhile a school kid, who was on a visit of the facility with his class, has playfully exchanged the tag on Fingal’s body with the tag from another body. Because of this Fingal’s body can’t be found when needed. Apollonia saves Fingal’s mind to a computer cube, but this device has only a limited operational timespan.
Fingal wakes up seemingly at home. But in fact he is within a virtual reality created out of his memory contents. The Novicorp CEO orders Apollonia to project herself into the VR, too. Her task is too keep Fingal calm until his body is found and the crisis can be resolved. Through the course of the story Apollonia is more and more disgusted by the orders and plans of the evil corporation CEO—in fact she fell in love with Fingal on first sight. She also is meant to prevent Fingal from realizing, that he is within a simulation. But Fingal quickly becomes aware of this, and also finds out that he can alter this reality by willpower. The vernacular really begins to hit the fan when the cube expires and Fingal instead is uploaded to Novicorp’s mainframe computer HX368, which controls everything from the company’s finances to the weather in empirical reality. Now Fingal begins to hack the system from within … but no more spoilers now.
Just as the today little known ‘Cyborg 2087′ (Adreon 1966) quite obviously was a heavy inspiration for ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ (Cameron 1991) [see ↵zeph’s pop culture quiz #8], ‘Overdrawn at the Memory Bank’ seems to have had quite an influence on ‘↑The Matrix‘ (Wachowski & Wachowski 1999). Here is a screencap showing Fingal at the very moment when he realizes that he can shape the virtual reality he is trapped in to his will:
When Neo (Keanu Reeves) realizes this in ‘The Matrix’ he suddenly sees the world surrounding him as program code—Fingal sees it as computer circuitry. Hold your breath, there’s more to it. Just seconds after the circuitry effect data begins to rain from above.
Quite similar to the falling matrix-code that meanwhile has become a globally recognized iconic picture. And there’s yet more. Remember when Thomas A. Anderson aka Neo for the first time speaks to Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) via a mobile phone delivered to him by FedEx or other? Like Fingal he is working as a lowly programmer for a megacorporation (‘MetaCortex’). And like Fingal his workplace is in an open plan office. The only difference is that Anderson has a cubicle, in Fingal’s world the workstations are openly placed. Then the Agents arrive and chase Neo through the cube farm. Later in the movie we get to know that all this happened within a virtual reality, the meanwhile proverbial matrix. Within the virtual reality of ‘Overdrawn’ Fingal returns to his workplace—and is chased out of it by the agents in dark suits the evil CEO had projected into the simulation.
Apart from this Matrix-connections ‘Overdrawn’ wonderfully illustrates the intertwinement between cyberpunk and classic film noir. As a fan Fingal shapes the virtual reality he is taking over as the world of film noir, ‘Casablanca’ of course in particular. ↑Louis Negin as ‘Pierre’ for example gives a fine impersonation of the immortal ↑Peter Lorre [besides Vincent Price an all-time favourite actor of mine].
I really do not want to tell everything. There’s much more in ‘Overdrawn at the Memory Bank,’ both for the cyberpunk and film-noir aficionados. Today the movie seems to be forgotten, and till now I nowhere have read anything on its connection to ‘The Matrix.’ Granted it’s a low budget TV production, but the acting is fine, the effects are as fine as they could be at that budget at the time (one of the first movies ever which used the pixelation effect), and the story is superb—little wonder, it’s based on a short story by ↑John Varley (1976).
It’s harder to imagine the past that went away than it is to imagine the future. What we were prior to our latest batch of technology is, in a way, unknowable. It would be harder to accurately imagine what New York City was like the day before the advent of broadcast television than to imagine what it will be like after life-size broadcast holography comes online. But actually the New York without the television is more mysterious, because we’ve already been there and nobody paid any attention. That world is gone.
My great-grandfather was born into a world where there was no recorded music. It’s very, very difficult to conceive of a world in which there is no possibility of audio recording at all. Some people were extremely upset by the first Edison recordings. It nauseated them, terrified them. It sounded like the devil, they said, this evil unnatural technology that offered the potential of hearing the dead speak. We don’t think about that when we’re driving somewhere and turn on the radio. We take it for granted.
That reminded me of something maybe even more eerie, which ↑Henry Lowood has put in wonderful words:
Years later, the surviving demo movies put viewers in the shell of the ghosts of players. One of the best surviving series features perfect reproductions of matches recorded as early as May 1995; these recordings allow us to look through the eyes of one of the first ‘game gods,’ NoSkill, having been preserved on the memorial site of this now deceased player. (Lowood 2007: 65)
For clarification, a demo is fundamentally different from a movie recorded by a camera. Motion picture and still photography cameras depict a scenery at a certain point in time, dependent on variables like camera position and lighting. The resulting picture later can be manipulated, but it contains no information about how the scenery looked at the given point in time, seen from another vantage point. This is equally true fro moving and still images.
Imagine a corridor. At the one end of it their is a camera, filming a man running towards it. Out of the resulting recording you can not make a movie, showing the man from behind, running away from a camera positioned at the corridors other end—because the needed information was not recorded. Quite obviously for recording two perspectives on the action taking place within one and the same span of time, two cameras are needed.
In contrast to the circumstances within familiar physical space, there is no camera needed for recording a demo, because gamespace is a mathematical construct, created in real time within a computer. What the player sees on the screen are the pictures ‘made’ by a defined virtual camera, a preprocessed section of the world generated by the game engine. But this pictures are not what is recorded in a demo. Rather during a defined span of time all state-data of the gamespace are recorded. Hence a demo constitutes set of data comprising much more than any given player sees from the perspective of ‘his’ camera. Demos are ‘universal captures,’ holistic recordings. When replaying a demo, the computer does not show you a movie, but the game engine in real time recreates all events. ‘The things happen once more,’ albeit no more interactively. (Knorr 2009: 198-179)
Meanwhile Henry has treated the case in even more depth:
Consider the example of Chris[topher Jerry] Crosby, aka “NoSkill.” He was among the first wave of Doom players to be recognized by other players as a “Doomgod,” a moniker given to exceptionally skilled players. An active player from about 1994 to 1996, he was killed in a car crash in 2001. [At the age of ↑23] His memorial site on the Web, like many others, depicts a young man in his prime of life, with his infant son in his arms. The site also offers a number of demo files for downloading, originally recorded from games he played between May 1995 and April 1996 (NoSkill Memorial Site 2004 [The site seems gone, here is ↑a substitute]). After a visitor downloads Chris Crosby’s demo files from his memorial site and plays these files inside the correct version of this old game, originally published toward the end of 1993, she in effect is able to see a now-obsolete game through the eyes of a dead player. NoSkill comes back to life as the replay file activates the game engine to carry out the exact sequence of actions performed by the now-dead player. Moreover, because we are using an essentially “dead” game to produce this replay, we are also engaging in an act of software preservation and resurrection. The result is that for this FPS, it is possible to see a historical game as played—and seen—through NoSkill’s eyes. The player is dead, but his avatar in some sense lives on through this act of perfect reproduction, accessible to any future historians of the game. Yet we cannot help but contrast the potentially infinite repetition and perfect reproduction of his gameplay to the fading memories of his life, and death. His replays alone are mute with respect to his motivation of playing or his experiences as a player. (Lowood 2011: 8)
what goes up must come down
Do you remember ‘↑The Gods Must Be Crazy‘ (Uys 1980)? That old comedy movie telling the story of Xi, a Kalahari bushman, who undertakes an epic journey to bring an artefact which fell from the skies back to the gods? Well, in the midst of November this year it wasn’t a Coca-Cola bottle, but a metal sphere that fell from the skies over Namibia. On its impact the sphere, 35cm in diameter and about 6kg heavy, dug a crater about 30cm deep and 4m in diameter. Local authorities contacted NASA and ESA, asking for help in identifying the object, and the press agencies had the story circle the globe. Now ↑it seems to be clear that the sphere is a 39 litre ‘Hydrazine propellant tank’ used in unmanned rockets for bringing satellites into orbit. As I understand the matter the geographical location where the tank went down matches the routes of such rockets. Just thought this an appropriate post for today, before rockets go up in the sky tonight celebrating the new year, and of course not long ago there were some ↵flying-sphere related associations. I also thought that it looks like the head of an ancient ↵decommissioned robot.
The cold was crisp and sharp like flint. (Le Carré 1962: chpt. 1)
For a moment Fielding thought of Hecht pasturing in that thick body: it was a scene redolent of Lautrec. Yes, that was it! (Le Carré 1962: chpt. 1)
It was from us they learnt the secret of life: that we grow old without growing wise. (Le Carré 1962: chpt. 1)
I used to think it was clever to confuse comedy with tragedy. Now I wish I could distinguish them. (Le Carré 1962: chpt. 1)
Being alone was like being tired, but unable to sleep. (Le Carré 1962: chpt. 1)
Nonconformity is the most conservative of habits. (Le Carré 1962: chpt. 2)
‘The value of intelligence depends on its breeding.’ That was John Landsbury’s favourite dictum. Until you know the pedigree of the information you cannot evaluate a report. Yes, that was what he used to say: ‘We are not democratic. We close the door on intelligence without parentage.’ (Le Carré 1962: chpt. 2)
The only time they notice you is when you’re not there. (Le Carré 1962: chpt. 3)
Smiley quickly noticed that he had one quality rare among small men: the quality of openness. (Le Carré 1962: chpt. 3)
[...] but Fielding seemed so dazzled by the footlights that he was indifferent to the audience behind them. (Le Carré 1962: chpt. 5)
The whiteness of the new snow lit the very sky itself; the whole Abbey was so sharply visible against it that even the mutilated images of saints were clear in every sad detail of their defacement, wretched figures, their purpose lost, with no eyes to see the changing world. (Le Carré 1962: chpt. 6)
Built in an age when cactus was the most fashionable of plants and bamboo its indispensable companion, the lounge was conceived as the architectural image of a jungle clearing. (Le Carré 1962: chpt. 7)
That’s where your village idiots come from. They call it the Devil’s Mark, I call it incest. (Le Carré 1962: chpt. 7)
Somehow mundy managed to imply that the Black Death was a fairly recent disaster in those parts, if not actually within living memory. (Le Carré 1962: chpt. 8)
[...]; once in the war he had been described by his superiors as possessing the cunning of Satan and the conscience of a virgin, which seemed to him not wholly unjust. (Le Carré 1962: chpt. 9)
Smiley himself was one of those solitaries who seem to have come into the world fully educated at age eighteen. Obscurity was his nature, as wll as his profession. The byways of espionage are not populatedby the brash and colourful adventurers of fiction. (Le Carré 1962: chpt. 7)
He said this as if ‘good’ were an absolute quality with which he was familiar. (Le Carré 1962: chpt. 9)
Her very ugliness, her size and voice, coupled with the sophisticated malice of her conversation, gave her the dangerous quality of command. (Le Carré 1962: chpt. 10)
It had been one of Smiley’s cardinal principles in research, whether among the incunabula of an obscure poet or the laboriously gathered fragments of intelligence, not to proceed beyond the evidence. (Le Carré 1962: chpt. 11)
Rigby was right, it was impossible to know. You had to be ill, you had to be sick to understand, you had to be there in the sanatorium, not for weeks, but for years, had to be one in the line of white beds, to know the smell of their food and the greed in their eyes. You had to hear it abd see it, to be part of it, to know their rules and recognize their transgressions. (Le Carré 1962: chpt. 11)
‘You don’t want anything brilliant,’ said Harriman. ‘You want a good, steady type. I’d take a bitch if I were you.’ (Le Carré 1962: chpt. 12)
[...] pondering on the strange byways of the military mind. (Le Carré 1962: chpt. 12)
The business of assisting refugees has been suitably relegated to the south of the river, to one of those untended squares in Kennington which are part of London’s architectural schizophrenia. (Le Carré 1962: chpt. 14)
[...] the rare gift of speaking to children as if they were human beings. (Le Carré 1962: chpt. 14)
[...] the rare gift of contempt for what is urgent. (Le Carré 1962: chpt. 14)
‘Black tie?’ asked Fielding, his pen poised, and some imp made Smiley reply:
‘I usually do, but it doesn’t matter.’ There was a moment’s silence. (Le Carré 1962: chpt. 16)
‘Damned odd business. Experiments never pay, do they? You can’t experiment with tradition.’
‘No. No, indeed.’
‘That’s the trouble today. like Africa. Nobody seems to understand you can’t build society overnight. It takes centuries to make a gentleman.’ (Le Carré 1962: chpt. 17)
“You’ll kill me in the long nights!” She’d scream it out—it was the words that got her, the long nights, she liked the sound of them the way an actor does, and she’d build a whole story round them. (Le Carré 1962: chpt. 19)
So many of us wait patiently for our audience to die. (Le Carré 1962: chpt. 20)
‘That is the peace I mean. Not to exist in anyone’s mind, but my own; to be a secular monk, safe and forgotten.’ (Le Carré 1962: chpt. 20)
[...] ‘we just don’t know what people are like, we can never tell; there isn’t any truth about human beings, no formula that meets each one of us. [...]‘ (Le Carré 1962: chpt. 20)
He had to reassure himself, you see, like a child being hateful to its parents. (Le Carré 1962: chpt. 20)
‘[...] The world sees them as showmen, fantasists, liars, as sensualists perhaps, not for what they are: the living dead.’ (Le Carré 1962: chpt. 20)
In my ↵post on John le Carré I somehow tried to vindicate my erupted interest in cold war spy fiction and my subsequent digesting of according novels and movies. Now ↑Bryan Alexander sent me excerpts from a ↑recent interview with ↑William Gibson, which force more mosaic tiles to fall in place:
INTERVIEWER: Was [Philip K.] Dick important to you?
GIBSON: I was never much of a Dick fan. He wrote an awful lot of novels, and I don’t think his output was very even. I loved The Man in the High Castle, which was the first really beautifully realized alternate history I read, but by the time I was thinking about writing myself, he’d started publishing novels that were ostensibly autobiographical, and which, it seems to me, he probably didn’t think were fiction.
[Thomas] Pynchon worked much better for me than Dick for epic paranoia, and he hasn’t yet written a book in which he represents himself as being in direct contact with God. I was never much of a Raymond Chandler fan, either.
INTERVIEWER: Why not?
GIBSON: When science fiction finally got literary naturalism, it got it via the noir detective novel, which is an often decadent offspring of nineteenth-century naturalism. Noir is one of the places that the investigative, analytic, literary impulse went in America. The Goncourt brothers set out to investigate sex and money and power, and many years later, in America, you wind up with Chandler doing something very similar, though highly stylized and with a very different agenda. I always had a feeling that Chandler’s puritanism got in the way, and I was never quite as taken with the language as true Chandler fans seem to be. I distrusted Marlow as a narrator. He wasn’t someone I wanted to meet, and I didn’t find him sympathetic—in large part because Chandler, whom I didn’t trust either, evidently did find him sympathetic.
But I trusted Dashiell Hammett. It felt to me that Hammett was Chandler’s ancestor, even though they were really contemporaries. Chandler civilized it, but Hammett invented it. With Hammett I felt that the author was open to the world in a way Chandler never seems to me to be.
But I don’t think that writers are very reliable witnesses when it comes to influences, because if one of your sources seems woefully unhip you are not going to cite it. When I was just starting out people would say, Well, who are your influences? And I would say, William Burroughs, J. G. Ballard, Thomas Pynchon. Those are true, to some extent, but I would never have said Len Deighton, and I suspect I actually learned more for my basic craft reading Deighton’s early spy novels than I did from Burroughs or Ballard or Pynchon.
I don’t know if it was Deighton or John le Carré who, when someone asked them about Ian Fleming, said, I love him, I have been living on his reverse market for years. I was really interested in that idea. Here’s Fleming, with this classist, late–British Empire pulp fantasy about a guy who wears fancy clothes and beats the shit out of bad guys who generally aren’t white, while driving expensive, fast cars, and he’s a spy, supposedly, and this is selling like hotcakes. Deighton and Le Carré come along and completely reverse it, in their different ways, and get a really powerful charge out of not offering James Bond. You’ve got Harry Palmer and George Smiley, neither of whom are James Bond, and people are willing to pay good money for them not to be James Bond.
In ↑Cybernetic Revolutionaries, Eden Medina tells the history of two intersecting utopian visions, one political and one technological. The first was Chile’s experiment with peaceful socialist change under Salvador Allende; the second was the simultaneous attempt to build a computer system that would manage Chile’s economy. Neither vision was fully realized—Allende’s government ended with a violent military coup; the system, known as Project Cybersyn, was never completely implemented—but they hold lessons for today about the relationship between technology and politics.
Drawing on extensive archival material and interviews, Medina examines the cybernetic system envisioned by the Chilean government—which was to feature holistic system design, decentralized management, human-computer interaction, a national telex network, near real-time control of the growing industrial sector, and modeling the behavior of dynamic systems. She also describes, and documents with photographs, the network’s Star Trek-like operations room, which featured swivel chairs with armrest control panels, a wall of screens displaying data, and flashing red lights to indicate economic emergencies.
Studying project Cybersyn today helps us understand not only the technological ambitions of a government in the midst of political change but also the limitations of the Chilean revolution. This history further shows how human attempts to combine the political and the technological with the goal of creating a more just society can open new technological, intellectual, and political possibilities. Technologies, Medina writes, are historical texts; when we read them we are reading history.