futuristic user interfaces

An interface from 'Prometheus' (Scott 2012)

An interface from ‘Prometheus’ (Scott 2012)

The HUD of 'The Terminator' (Cameron 1984)

The head-up display (HUD) of ‘The Terminator’ (Cameron 1984)

VisualPunker has amassed a nice collection [containing a lot of animated gifs] of futuristic and retrofuturistic interfaces and HUDs from anime, other motion pictures, and computer games. In this respect I fullheartedly recommend Make it so: Interaction design lessons from science fiction (Shedroff & Noessel 2012):

Many designers enjoy the interfaces seen in science fiction films and television shows. Freed from the rigorous constraints of designing for real users, sci-fi production designers develop blue-sky interfaces that are inspiring, humorous, and even instructive. By carefully studying these “outsider” user interfaces, designers can derive lessons that make their real-world designs more cutting edge and successful.

Make It So shows:
    Sci-fi interfaces have been there (almost) from the beginning
    Sci-fi creates a shared design language that sets audience expectations
    If an interface works for an audience, there’s something there that will work for users
    Bad sci-fi interfaces can sometimes be the most inspiring
    There are ten “meta-lessons” spread across hundreds of examples
    You can use—and not just enjoy—sci-fi in your design work
    Over 150 lessons and 10 “meta” lessons that developers can use to enhance their realworld interfaces

There is a companion blog to the book, carrying additional visual material, interviews, and more. All this is a fine example of the to and fro between fictional and non-fictional technology, the mutual influences, one creating and reproducing the other and vice versa.

CAMERON, JAMES FRANCIS. 1984. The terminator [motion picture]. Los Angeles: Orion Pictures.
SCOTT, RIDLEY. 2012. Prometheus [motion picture]. Century City: 20th Century Fox.
SHEDROFF, NATHAN AND CHRISTOPHER NOESSEL. 2012. Make it so: Interaction design lessons from science fiction. New York: Rosenfeld Media.

the differential gear

The above is the most clear-cut explanation of ‘how a differential gear works’ I’ve ever seen. The video below is complementary—Richard Feynman explains why a train car stays on its tracks when ‘going around the corner,’ although no differential gears are involved:

differential gear and feynman on trains via entries at boingboing

african telecom reach

Internet usage around the globe infomap by intac
From ITU statistics intac made some interesting infomap posters. The above one shows the Internet usage around the globe (click the picture for full-size). The lighter a nation state is rendered, the lesser percentage of its population are using the Internet. As you can see a lot of Africa completely drops out, rendering the continent as a skeleton. The poster below takes a closer look on Africa and gives both percentages and total figures of Internet users and mobile subscribers.
Telecom reach in Africa infomap by intac, based on ITU statistics


batman arkham origins

Detail of a screenshot from 'Batman: Arkham Origins' (Warner Bros. Games Montreal 2013)
It’s scheduled for release in late October this year—‘Batman: Arkham Origins’ (Warner Bros. Games Montreal 2013), the prequel to ‘Batman: Arkham Asylum’ and ‘Batman: Arkham City’ (Rocksteady Studios 2009, 2011). Here are the until now known details, and here is a full history of the ‘long line of Batman games stretching back more than 25 years.’

ROCKSTEADY STUDIOS. 2009. Batman: Arkham Asylum [computer game]. London, Burbank, New York: Eidos Interactive, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, DC Entertainment.
ROCKSTEADY STUDIOS. 2011. Batman: Arkham City [computer game]. Burbank, New York: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, DC Entertainment.
WARNER BROS. GAMES MONTREAL. 2013. Batman: Arkham Origins [computer game]. Burbank: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.

brand on thatcher

The Guardian carries a fine and more than worthwhile essay by Russell Brand. Here’s a snippet:

When I was a kid, Thatcher was the headmistress of our country. Her voice, a bellicose yawn, somehow both boring and boring—I could ignore the content but the intent drilled its way in. She became leader of the Conservatives the year I was born and prime minister when I was four. She remained in power till I was 15. I am, it’s safe to say, one of Thatcher’s children. How then do I feel on the day of this matriarchal mourning?

BRAND, RUSSELL EDWARD. 2013. Russell Brand on Margaret Thatcher: ‘I always felt sorry for her children.’ The Guardian 09 April 2013. Available online.

the daily levitation

Daily levitation by Natsumi Hayashi
Daily levitation by Natsumi Hayashi
Natsumi Hayashi lives in Tokyo and mainly photographs levitating self-portraits, sometimes even in 3D—see her how-to. Her blog yowayowa camera woman diary almost exclusively consists of the mentioned levitating pictures (with some cats interspersed) which for quite some time appeared on a daily basis. To my eye the pictures have a poetic quality. The sheer mass of them, no comments whatsoever, the somewhat distanced facial expression—all adds to it. Natsumi had an exhibition of her pictures in 2012, another one took place in late March 2013 in the Spiral Garden. Also in 2012 her first photo book, naturally titled ‘Today’s Levitation’ was published by Seigensha. Finally I know where all the levitating online pictures from East Asia stem from—the fashion was started by Natsumi’s blog and then went viral. On the one hand the pictures are instilling within me the ambience of some of Mœbius‘s drawings. On the other hand I’ve got an association with certain visuals from Clive Barker’s Lord of Illusions (1995), showing illusionist Swann levitating, but can’t find the right picture.

initially via entry at infocult

here and now

Nice, someone cites me in the affirmative ;)

Führen wir uns nun vor Augen, dass z.B. Knorr für die Ethnologie zu Recht festhält: »Cyberanthropology ist eine Spielart der Ethnologie des 21. Jahrhunderts. Eine notwendige, ja unausweichliche […]. Denn nur wer sich mit jetztzeitiger Technologie befasst, kann auch den Menschen des Hier und Heute verstehen« (2011, 161; auch Escobar 1994, Breidenbach/Zukrigl 2002), so liegt die Antwort auf die Frage nach dem besonderen Forschungsdesiderat auf der Hand. Denn die Beschäftigung mit interkultureller Cyberkommunikation als Spielart interkultureller Kommunikation des 21. Jahrhunderts ist unausweichlich, um einen guten Teil der interkulturellen Kommunikation im Hier und Heute zu verstehen. (Reutner 2012: 14)

REUTNER, URSULA. 2012. “Von der digitalen zur interkulturellen Revolution?” in Von der digitalen zur interkulturellen Revolution edited by Ursula Reutner, pp. 9-32. Baden-Baden: Nomos.

cyberpunk science fiction

It’s in German only, sorry folks, but Jiré Emine Gözen’s doctoral thesis ‘Cyberpunk Science Fiction’ (2012) is exactly what we need. Here’s the publisher’s official description:

Die Cyberpunk-Literatur – eine kurzlebige, aber bis heute einflussreiche Strömung der 1980er Jahre. Als erste ausführliche Auseinandersetzung mit den nahen Zukunftswelten der Cyberpunk-Literatur zeigt dieses Buch, wie das Genre mit seinen zentralen Topoi der Verschmelzung von Mensch und Maschine medientheoretische Konzepte in sich aufnimmt, fiktionalisiert – und letztendlich fortschreibt. Neben der Auseinandersetzung mit Cyberpunk und Medientheorie des 20. Jahrhunderts präsentiert Jiré Emine Gözen einen ausführlichen Überblick über die deutsche und anglo-amerikanische Science-Fiction-Forschung sowie die künstlerische Umsetzung postmoderner Ästhetik und Wirklichkeitsdarstellung.

The table of contents and introduction [.pdf | 1.5MB] are downloadable, and here’s a snippet from Rolf Löchel’s review:

In ihrer Analyse der medientheoretischen Bezüge des Cyberpunk, vertritt Gözen die These, dass in den “Weltentwürfe[n]” des Genres eine “künstlerische Verarbeitung von Medien- und Gesellschaftstheorien” auszumachen sei. Als “Denker”, deren Einfluss auf die Cyberpunk-Literatur am deutlichsten hervortritt”, nennt die Autorin Marshall McLuhan und Jean Baudrillard. Allerdings habe der Cyberpunk den Medientheorien der Genannten sogar noch einiges voraus. Baudrillard entwerfe etwa ein “Bild der Zukunft”, das nichts weiter als eine “recht unspezifische apokalyptische Vision der westlichen Zivilisation” böte, die von einem “eher negativen Blick auf Technologien geprägt” sei. Sei die “postmoderne Welt” von Baudrillard “glatt, rational und ohne Überraschungen”, so seien die “Universen” des Cyberpunk “mysteriös”, “lebendig” und “voller Bedrohungen”.

… water on my mills, because the matter reaches even way deeper—compare:

And just over the American border, in Canada, in the summer of 1950, Donald Theall, a young American graduate student at the University of Toronto, introduced his English professor, Marshall McLuhan, to Wiener’s work and to the new thinking of the cybernetics group. Theall handed McLuhan copies of Cybernetics and The Human Use of Human Beings and witnessed McLuhan’s reaction. “The relevance of Wiener in McLuhan’s mind had to do with Wiener’s image of the communications network as the contemporary symbol for the ‘age of communication and control,'” Theall recalled. Wiener’s ideas stimulated McLuhan’s thinking and spurred him on to build “a foundation for a contemporary theory of artistic communication” that became a conduit for the flow of cybernetic ideas into art, literature, and the whole of popular culture.
    In 1953, McLuhan launched his celebrated seminars on “culture and communication” at the University of Toronto. A decade later, he would use Wiener’s ideas liberally, but without attribution, in his own watershed work, Understanding Media, which dissected the effects of television and every other medium of communication on human consciousness and culture. The book’s subtitle, The Extensions of Man, and its oracular pronouncements that “the medium is the message” and that electronic media had turned the world into a “global village,” echoed Wiener’s words in The Human Use of Human Beings that “the transportation of messages serves to forward an extension of man’s senses … from one end of the world to another,” and that “society can only be understood through a study of the messages and the communication facilities which belong to it.” (Conway & Siegelman 2005: 277)

Since quite some time I do maintain the notion, that cybernetics substantially has, and still does influence sociologic, anthropologic, and media theory. Be it Parsons, Luhmann, Rappaport, Bateson, McLuhan, Geertz, Foucault, Latour … you name it, and I’ll show you the cybernetics inside. (Knorr 2011: 41-46, 124; 2010) On the other hand I maintain that cyberpunk relays cybernetic notions and thinking. (Knorr 2011: 102). Now Gözen provides me with yet another element of those nested dialectics: Cybernetics inspire and influence McLuhan, cyberpunk not only relays, but furthers McLuhans thinking.

CONWAY, FLO AND JIM SIEGELMAN. 2005. Dark hero of the information age: In search of Norbert Wiener, the father of cybernetics. New York: Basic Books.
GÖZEN, JIRÉ EMINE. 2012. Cyberpunk Science Fiction: Literarische Fiktionen und Medientheorie. Bielefeld: Transcript.
KNORR, ALEXANDER. 2010. Review: Living on Cybermind: Categories, communication, and control by Jonathan Paul Marshall. 2007. New York et al.: Peter Lang. Anthropos 105(2): 662-663.
KNORR, ALEXANDER. 2011. Cyberanthropology. Wuppertal: Peter Hammer.

vintage tomorrows

There’s a fine new book: ‘Vintage Tomorrows’ (Carrott & Johnson 2013). Here’s the official description:

What would today’s technology look like with Victorian-era design and materials? That’s the world steampunk envisions: a mad-inventor collection of 21st century-inspired contraptions powered by steam and driven by gears. In this book, futurist Brian David Johnson and cultural historian James Carrott explore steampunk, a cultural movement that’s captivated thousands of artists, designers, makers, hackers, and writers throughout the world.
    Just like today, the late 19th century was an age of rapid technological change, and writers such as Jules Verne and H.G. Wells commented on their time with fantastic stories that jumpstarted science fiction. Through interviews with experts such as William Gibson, Cory Doctorow, Bruce Sterling, James Gleick, and Margaret Atwood, this book looks into steampunk’s vision of old-world craftsmen making beautiful hand-tooled gadgets, and what it says about our age of disposable technology.
    Steampunk is everywhere—as gadget prototypes at Maker Faire, novels and comic books, paintings and photography, sculptures, fashion design, and music. Discover how this elaborate view of a history that never existed can help us reimagine our future.

And here’s a quote from the foreword by Henry Jenkins:

For science fiction to exist as a genre, the culture must experience such rapid change that people could recognize significant shifts over their own lifetime and thus begin to imagine a future that looks radically different from the present. A society where the same basic practices are handed down generation after generation has little use for science fiction. Another precondition may be the capacity of a people to recognize that things your society takes for granted are not the only “natural” or “logic” ways that people might live.
    The expansion of the British (and other European) empires was bringing the western world into contact with what, for the Victorians, was an alarming amount of cultural diversity. The age was one that saw ongoing breakthroughs in geography (as people sat out to map the empire), anthropology (as people discovered new people and practices), archeology (as ancient ruins were unearthed), and natural history (as the discovery of new species, such as the duck-billed platypus, shattered the conceptual frameworks by which people sought to order nature). (Jenkins 2013: ix)

Compare this to the following quote from Bruce Sterling‘s introduction to ‘Mirrorshades’:

The cyberpunks are perhaps the first SF generation to grow up not only within the literary tradition of science fiction but in a truly science-fictional world. For them, the techniques of classical “hard SF” extrapolation, technological literacy—are not just literary tools but an aid to daily life. They are a means of understanding, and highly valued. (Sterling 1986: ix)

CAROTT, JAMES H. AND BRIAN DAVID JOHNSON. 2013. Vintage tomorrows: A historian and a futurist journey through steampunk into the future of technology. Sebastopol: Maker Media.
JENKINS, HENRY. 2013. “Foreword: Any questions?,” in Vintage tomorrows: A historian and a futurist journey through steampunk into the future of technology by James H. Carrott and Brian David Johnson, pp. vii-xvi. Sebastopol: Maker Media.
STERLING, BRUCE. 1986. “Preface,” in Mirrorshades: The cyberpunk anthology edited by Bruce Sterling, pp. vii-xiv. New York: Arbor House.
Note: The quotes by Jenkins and Sterling indeed both are on the page ix within the respective books—not a slip of mine, rather a nice coincidence.

democracy’s fourth wave?

In 2011, the international community watched as a shockingly unlikely community of citizens toppled three of the world’s most entrenched dictators: Ben Ali in Tunisia, Mubarak in Egypt, and Qaddafi in Libya. This movement of cascading democratization, commonly known as the Arab Spring, was planned and executed not by political parties, but by students, young entrepreneurs, and the rising urban middle class. International experts and the popular press have pointed to the near-identical reliance on digital media in all three movements, arguing that these authoritarian regimes were in essence defeated by the Internet. Is that true? Should Mubarak blame Twitter for his sudden fall from power? Did digital media “cause” the Arab Spring?
    In Democracy’s Fourth Wave?, Philip N. Howard and Muzammil M. Hussain examine the complex role of the Internet, mobile phones, and social networking applications in the Arab Spring. Examining digital media access, level of grievance, and levels of protest for popular democratization in 16 countries in the Middle East and North Africa, Howard and Hussain conclude that digital media was neither the most nor the least important cause of the Arab Spring. Instead, they illustrate a complex web of conjoined causal factors for social mobilization. The Arab revolts cascaded across countries largely because digital media allowed communities to realize shared grievances and nurtured transportable strategies for mobilizing against dictators. Individuals were inspired to protest for personal reasons, but through social media they acted collectively.
    Democracy’s Fourth Wave examines not only the unexpected evolution of events during the Arab Spring, but the longer history of desperate-and creative-digital activism through the Arab world.

HOWARD, PHILIP N. AND MUZAMMIL M. HUSSAIN. 2013. Democracy’s fourth wave? Digital media and the Arab Spring. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
via entry at digitalislam