daylight stroll

Hotel Garni’s rooms are nothing special, but they are spacious, clean, and it’s perfectly quiet. The bed is good and I slept very well, although not too long. At the reception I ask where I could get a coffee and she points me to a coffee-vending machine near the door … of course—I am going to attend a cyber-conference. The machine’s coffee is hot, outside it’s decidedly cold at that time of the morning, nevertheless I decide to skip the shuttle-bus to the university and to walk there instead. According to the citymap it shouldn’t be much farther than three or four kilometers. My way leads me up the hill first, and now I understand why the advertisement for the Hotel Garni boasted about this ‘finest neighbourhood’. The whole hill—with the exception of the concrete-slab construction the Garni is a part of—is covered with mansions, unique pieces of architecture, planted onto large pieces of property. Later on someone explains to me that during the 1920s and ’30s the hill was very much in favour by architects who worked in Vienna—which is roughly a 120 km to the south—but lived in Brno, up on that hill, in houses designed by themselves. Some of those houses of course now are in a state of decay, but others seem to be perfectly renovated, and on some it is busily worked on.

Once beyond the hilltop I start to descend into the real town of Brno. At the foot of the hill I turn around a corner into one of the city-centres streets. The sight takes my breath away. Up and down the street, as far as the eye reaches, there is architecture stemming from the last centuries. Most of the huge houses I’d say were built during the 19th century, but some of them may well be 400 years old. There they stand, side by side, no gap between them. Seemingly during the whole war not a single bomb has hit the centre of Brno. The architectural glory of ‘Old Europe’ surrounds me. If I compare that to Munich, which had been almost flattened out during the war … Of course there are the usual belts of suburbs and industrial quarters around Brno, but the city’s core is decidedly beautiful. The mixture of old buildings decaying, others perfectly renovated, the occasional singularity of socialistic architecture, present day advertisements, and so on induce a certain ambience. Not exactly cyberpunk, but Half-Life-2 ambience [Gosh, am I infected by computergames and pop-culture stuff].

Speaking of the things ‘cyber-‘—the conference towards I am walking right now, very self-consciously is called Cyberspace 2005, just as cyberspace was a given concept. That of course never was on the mind of the organisers, as Radim Polčák, the conference general chair tells me later. Last year he was invited for an interview on Czech national radio, and the first question they asked him live on air was “What is cyberspace?” And now try to give a clearcut answer to the nation listening. Well, “the place between the phones” (Sterling 1992) would have come in handy. Maybe because of the conference’s title, or maybe bacause of the sheer bore of having to spend hour by hour on the highway, I yesterday night meditated about the concepts and meanings of cyberspace. My vintage Audi quattro knows nothing about a CD-player or even more evolved things. Instead the star of the center-console is a vintage 1987 Blaupunkt radio. So I was forced to listen to what the radiostations breeze on air, not to anything canned. [Of course, what the stations broadcast is canned, too—but in a way it feels live. And evokes a sense of communitas with all the other unknown listeners out there in the night.] Well, yes, there is a cassette-deck integrated, but if you’d have seen my collection of music cassettes you’d opted for the radio, too. During my course through the night the stations came and went. One fading out, the radio automatically searching, the next one coming in. Is that a symptom of travelling through different provinces of ever-present cyberspace? And now, while I am walking through the streets of Brno, is cyberpsace potentially present, too? Can I tap into it right now. I need Czech crowns and there’s a cash-machine on the other side of the street, set into the wall of a 19th-century building. I feed my card into the machine and after some time it gives me money. Obviously it could connect to somewhere, cyberspace is here. What about the phone-system which denied service to me last night? There’s a phone booth at the next corner. The payphone takes my coins, connects me to Munich flawlessly [surprise, surprise, I know]. It is here, around me all the time. And, the Gibsonite I am, I very much dig that thought.



Tank filled to the brim again, equipped with a chocolate bar and a citymap of Brno I settle on the filling station’s parking lot and start to develope a strategy to get to my hotel. The congress organisers have put me into some compound belonging to the university, into the university’s own hotel, called ‘Hotel Garni’. A university which owns its own hotel—wow! And it’s located in “one of Brno’s finest neighbourhoods”, they say. All right, the map says I’ve got two choices, each of them seeming to represent equally easy paths. Taking the ‘Exit 190’ or the next one, but on no account Last Exit Brno. That was redundant. The way from the first exit to the hotel seems easiest. Landmarks like a big tunnel and a huge flyover along its course. I hit the road again, take Exit 190, go on for a while, there’s the tunnel—perfect. And there’s the flyover … under construction. Fuck me sideways. Signs for bypassing, I have to leave my chartered course, but the general direction still seems to be correct. Two minutes later it is no more. The citymap doesn’t help either, as there are nowhere signs around sporting the streetnames. I am lost in some industrial suburbs, as far as I can see. It’s perfectly dark, nobody on the streets, no cars. U-turn in the middle of the street, carefully trying to find the exact way I came, back to the highway. Success! I go on for four kilometres and take the next exit. Again I get lost. Still no street signs, but finally there’s a Holiday Inn, seemingly the only inhabited building in the hood. I enter the lobby and ask the attendant for the way. My destination is just five minutes away, she says—little does she know. Courteously she gives me a Holiday-Inn citymap and with a ballpen draws the way I should drive upon it. I thank her very much and re-enter the dreadful night to again try my luck. If they only could erect street signs, so I could compare the names on the map with those in the outside world of physical things. Still no one in the streets, no cars. I concentrate on navigating, parts of the streets are pitch black. Complicated crossroads, rotten buildings, railway tracks, two bridges around me. Bang—my left front wheel hits the curb the hard way. Why is there a curb right in the middle of that forlorn street? Seemingly not much damage, maybe tomorrow I should replace the wheel by the spare tire. Finally the geometry of the nameless streets around me comes closer to the one represented by the map. Everything starts to fall into place. Hope arises, I drive slowly, carefully avoiding them mean curbs. Aha! Every house sports a little sign bearing its number and beneath the number, in neat and tiny script, there is the name of the street the number belongs to. Hooray!

I am there, that’s the place. But where is the hotel? At the hill’s slope beneath me there’s a huge compound of buildings made with precast concrete slabs. Having the car parked I run a little around the neighbourhood on foot. Finally I discover some hidden drive-into. Even more hidden, behind a bush there’s a small sign, saying ‘Hotel Garni parking lot’, pointing deeper into the darkness. So behind there in the dark there at least is the hotel’s parking lot, but where’s the hotel? Anyway, I fetch the car and drive into the private lane. Suddenly there’s a boom. But also some intercom-device alongside. So I push the button. Crackling, Czech voice, decidedly female. I tell the crackling device that I am Buzz Aldrin, member of the highway patrol, that the Eagle has landed, and that hopefully there’s a coffee and a bed for me at Tranquility Base, all of which are belong to us. The crackling stops cold. D’oh, I shouldn’t have done that. Ten seconds pass, then the boom opens. Thanks Buzz, your name definitely is a key to new worlds. Deeper into the darkness, the lane branches. I take the right one. More darkness, no space at all to park the car, another boom. They seem to have several security perimeters nested into each other. The boom opens automatically. Then I realize that I am out of the compound again. The out-boom won’t open again, no intercom. High up on a pole a tiny camera’s eye stares coldly at me. I grimace till I realize that the camera is dead [It was not as I found out later.]. Again I am alone. So I decide to spend the night at the Holiday Inn. But where the hell was it? Regarding the story of this night it may well have vanished like Brigadoon. Sleeping in the car? No, let’s drive around the hill again, find the secret lane once more, and then let’s take the other lane at the branching. I do so and after passing another little maze there is the hotel-entrance. Nobody speaks German or English, I don’t speak a word of Czech, but check-in is no problem, the people are extremely friendly, helpful, and somewhat laid back and relaxed. She gives me a list I can enter my name into, if I want to take the shuttle bus to the university tomorrow morning. Is there a telephone at my room, as I want to phone back to Munich to tell that I arrived save and sound? No, no phone at the room, but there are payphones in the ‘hall’, coins or card, as you like. I’ve got neither, but a helpful soul exchanges some of my Euros into Czech crowns at an absolutely fair rate. Nice people. The payphone eats some of my crowns, but refuses to connect me to Munich. You can’t have everything in one night.



The things in my office seem to be sticky like glue. It’s always the same, whenever I enter the office, and even if it is just for fetching something, not wanting to spend more than one or two minutes there, I end up doing something there for some hours. That’s why I take off late—way too late. I had decided to travel the 600 plus km from Munich to Brno, Czech Republic—where the Cyberspace 2005 conference takes place—by car. Germany is one of those countries [or the only one?] where on the Autobahn [Highway] you are allowed to drive as fast as you can—until your vehicle breaks apart. Completely derestricted by default. Though empirical reality renders this non-rule irrelevant. It doesn’t matter at what time of day or night you hit the Autobahn, there are always way too many cars. You guess it, as soon as I hit the Autobahn there is traffic jam. Since quite some years traffic jam is the 24/7 status of normality here. When the endless knot of tin finally starts to loosen up, fog comes up. Then the fog clears up, but I already have lost another hour or more. About 30 km in front of the border the Autobahn suddenly ends and gives way to a romantic and curvy overland road. Nice, but not exactly suited for getting ahead fast. Trucks in front of me, trucks behind me.

No problems at all at the border crossing—basically I just drive through, letting my passport flash for a fraction of a millisecond, or two. Inside the Czech Republic it is compulsory to pay for driving on the highway. Right behind the border there are booths where you can pay the according price—in my case for being allowed to use the highways for 15 days, which is the cheapest option available—and get a nice sticker for your windscreen in return. Nothing else to see at the border. Little wonder, as it’s dark night meanwhile. Sticker prominently on windscreen I drive onto the Czech highway. The street is well suited for driving fast. But then there’s a sign reading “130 km/h” accompanied by some commentary in Czech language. My interpretation goes like this: You are allowed to drive 130 km/h max. speed here. And still more than 300km to go—I defintely should have taken the plane to Prague. But then: I do not understand a word of Czech. Maybe the sign said: Compulsory min. speed is 130 km/h! I will enquire about the matter at the next filling station. By the way, fuel is hilariously cheap here, compared to the insane prices in Germany. For the time being I am careful and do not go faster than 140 km/h. After a while a dozen or so cars overtake me, going way faster than me. Czech licence plates. Hell, they should know what they are doing, them locals. I sense a chance to arrive at Brno at a sensible time. My first interpretation of the 130 km/h sign must have been wrong. The street’s condition is perfect, there’s not much traffic at all, my licence-plate reads 1337, I hit the accelerator, and till Prague no one overtakes me again. I am careening through the former Eastern Bloc, head first through pitch black night at 200 km/h. My vintage 1987 Audi quattro, lacquered in a blazing red [well, at least it was blazing back in ’87] developes a sound like it was powered by some kind of turbine. It may just be the passenger cabin’s ventilation, but it’s a nice illusion, perfect spaceship ambience. Filling station. I pump fuel into my red mean machine until it’s filled to the brim. And I forget to ask about the speed limit. Anyway.

Prague. Originally I intended to have a coffee here, but Brno still is 200 km away. So I decide to not get lost in the city—which seems to be quite huge—and to find my way directly through it, and onto the highway to Brno as quickly as possible. A perfect sequence of direction signs leads me safely through Prague. Hitting the accelerator. Rain, but not for long. What strikes me the most is the uncanny density of McDonalds franchises. Every ten kilometres or so there they are, the big golden American tits, looming high up in the nightsky. Bright yellow neon-hieroglyphs, seemingly preaching: this is all one world! Creepy. Again some fog, some rain, but then clear star-speckled sky and a free highway. The distance-meter on the dashboard bravely counts up, simultaneously the fuel-meter’s needle slowly but continuously [and visibly!] creeps to the left. Sign says: Brno, 10 km to go. Right after the sign there’s a filling station. Now there’s no need any more to ask about the speed limit. It’s close to midnight now.


three songs

The location of the Fighternight VII is somewhat strange—well, it’s ok, but it definitely hasn’t the ambience Wolfenstein had. The tables have a crude wooden top, so you have to use a mousepad. That’s not the problem, but the hall is too cramped, there’s simply too less space on the tables. Setting up the comp is a quick business for me, because again I am here with my laptop. But less people smile on me because of the laptop. At every LAN-party I visit there a more people with laptops. Anyway, I quickly found out that it does not matter at all for me if I use a laptop or not, or if there’s plenty of space on the table or not. Not having played Q3A for about half a year left its marks. Now I am no more a genuinely bad player, I am a big time lamer. Still it was fun to play Q3A. And then there still is the spectator-mode, allowing to join the top guys.

For the first time I witness that there is someone completely drunk at a LAN-party. Some tallish guy in the row behind us is completely off the mark after the first couple of hours—maybe he arrived drunken already—and then starts to continuously yell and shout. But security easily copes with him. Without having to use force he is brought out, stuffed into a Taxi and gone for good. All in all one has to say that the Fighternight’s organisation again is very good. You simply go there, unpack your comp, plug it into the hub and presto there’s the network. Which definitely is not a matter of course. All right there is no Internet-access, but I don’t have to use Steam, so that doesn’t worry me too much. For a more thorough evaluation of the organisation by attendees have a look at the according thread [in German]. Then there are a lot of nice casemods—the pics of which still are inside my camera, not yet on the comp. I’ll post some later on.

The guys to my left are not fitting into my positive image of LAN-attendees, too. Nothing against a beer or two, but the effects are inevitable. The two of them play CS:S and of course are purest cannon fodder. At least someone who does as bad in CS:S (while being slightly intoxicated) as I do in Q3A (while being completely sober). Of course they get frustrated and start a little bit of yelling around. But way more decent than the tallish one who was driven out earlier. The two are not downright nasty, but somehow displeasing. Like young lads who for the first time stay away from home overnight—which they indeed are. And now they want everything at the same time. Playing computergames the whole night and simultaneously drinking beer. Which obviously doesn’t go together too well. Nevertheless I stay till 7 AM—then I decide to drive home and sleep in my own bed.

I returned on Saturday afternoon, the two goons beside me haven’t returned and some others are already missing, too. The amnbience now is much more relaxed, very alike the feeling at the LANs I have been before. Again I am into Q3A—call me a masochist. And again spectator mode rescues me from committing suicide. Q3A seemingly starts to vanish from LANs, but right now there again are the ‘real guys’. By the choice of his avatar and certain elements in his nickname I recognize one player with whom I already fought in DM17 at the Gameparade, back in November 2002, the very first LAN I ever attended. He’s a top notch Quaker and I remember that at the Gameparade three of us joined forces to bring him down. All of us had lots of fun in it back then. It’s simply incredible to watch what top-players are able to do in Q3A-gamespace. I admire the skill and don’t mind them fragging me big time—at least for a certain amount of time. Then I go into spectator mode, and this time I decided to stroll around the hall and find the guys in meatspace, which I did. Now I know how they look offline, talked a little to them later, and have to state that they’re overall nice guys. The duel-partner of my Gameparade acquaintance recorded the demo while playing. He tells me that later on he will review the whole match to learn from it. That I call a gamer.

For the first time I try out Quake 4 (Q4) on my comp. After having had a quick glance on it I skip the single-player game and try the multiplayer option. The multiplayer levels are ‘cover-versions’ of the Q3A-levels. They of course are completely redone and graphically ‘improved’. To me they look like someone has poured some buckets of Doom3-looks over Q3A-levels. And then there is a change in relative size. The new rendition of Quakers’ all-time favourite DM17 appears way smaller in comparison to the avatars. To me an essential aspect of Quake-Arena-feeling has been lost. Graphics matter, of course—but gameplay-value and ambience do the more, I guess. To me with Q4 the same fault has been done as with Doom3: Looks and effects ruled over gameplay during the developing process. Just my two cents, though. With CS:S this error has not been committed. The looks have been improved big time, the new looks perfectly serve the original CS-ambience and -feeling, and the gameplay-value is exactly the same: very large. So it’s little surprise that CS, reborn as Source, again dominates this LAN-party.

The other game which I try for the first time and which is widely played throughout the hall is Battlefield 2 (BF2). Again: looks have been improved a lot, compared to BF1942, they serve the original feeling, and gameplay value is not only the same, but improved, too. The smaller size of the maps is open to discussion, but I sense them still to be large enough to have the free-roaming experience. We fool around a lot in BF2 gamespace—then the specialists arrive at our server …

The Fighternight VII is, among others, sponsored by one of the bigger ISPs. And here a perfect example of big company’s naïveté regarding gaming- and cyberculture manifests itself. Hiring goodlooking girls for representing the company is a usual cliché—even a tradition already, thing about the online hype around “E3-boothbabes”—and may indeed work to a certain extent. Given that events like LAN-partys still are male-dominated. Although I observe a slow but steady increase of female-attendees through the years. All right, now there are this goodlooking young girls wearing high-heeled boots and short skirts, walking through the aisles, chatting friendly with the gamers, and distributing lots for taking part in some raffle where one could win a barebone, a ‘shuttle-PC’, or whatever. Nothing wrong about that. But then the girl gives us some card which allows—hold your breath—to download three songs for free from the ISPs newly introduced online-music-distribution system. The player to my right breaks out in laughter, and comments: “Three songs for free! Offered at a LAN-party! At a LAN-party! Have a look at my screen. Guess what I have been doing for the last half an hour …” The screen of course gives live evidence of heavy activity exchanging Gigabytes of music with the other 500plus machines networked together in the hall.


fighternight VII

Fighternight VII coffee flatrate mugAll right, I am about to dive into the next round of making my fieldwork multisited ;-) [see ↵ wolfenstein] Just now I am packing my equipment and am about to leave the office for the Fighternight VII—a LAN-party starting today, stuffing 528 attendees and their comps onto 1080 squaremeters. I do not know if Internet-access will be provided there. If so I’ll blog from the LAN. And it does not bother me a bit if that is soooooo 1997. If not, I’ll fill up the blog later on. For now: Move zig!


cybernetic megastructure

London IP address density

The above picture is taken from the section Mapping Cyberspace Using Geographic Metaphors of An Atlas of Cyberspace. The image is a result of research analysing the geography of Internet address space by Martin Dodge and Narushige Shiode [↑Working papers by them]. It shows the geography of ownership of blocks of IP-addresses in the United Kingdom. When I saw the image for the first time it immediately reminded me of the following passages from Count Zero (
Gibson 1986):

  They jacked.
  She died almost immediately, in the first eight seconds.
  He felt it, rode it out to the edge and almost knew it for what it was. He was screaming, spinning, sucked up through the glacial white funnel that had been waiting for them …
  The scale of the thing was impossible, too vast, as though the kind of cybernetic megastructure that represented the whole of a multinational had brought its entire weight to bear on Bobby Newmark and a dancer called Jackie. (↵Gibson 1986:230)

“My systems are overextended today,” the man said, his hands in the pockets of a loose tan overcoat. “This is really quite extraordinary. (↵Gibson 1986:231)

“An accidental spillover,” the child said, his voice light and beautiful. “We’ve engaged the bulk of our system via New York, in an attempt to prevent Angela Mitchell’s escape. This one tried to enter the matrix, along with another operator, and encountered our system. (↵Gibson 1986:231-232)

On the way back, he’d seen the big thing, the thing that had sucked them up, start to alter and shift, gargantuan blocks of its rotating, merging, taking on new alignments, the entire outline changing … (↵Gibson 1986:233)

circle of the year

Google on Halloween
Another reason why Malinowski’s postulation that the fieldworker should stay at least one year in the field should be transposed to the online-fields, too. The festivities, you shouldn’t miss the festivities and their consequences. In order to celebrate Halloween Google changed its logo for one day. I already was struck by this adapting of logos, banners, or the whole design to events dictated by the calendar, while following the Max-Payne websites through the years. During Christmas time icicles, snow, and Santa-Claus paraphernalia suddenly pop up at websites. But it is evident that only sites which understand themselves to be institutions—e.g. institutions of the Max-Payne community—follow that practice.



Detail of a promotional picture for 'Earth vs. the Flying Saucers' (Sears 1956)
On 4 October 1957 Stephen King was at the cinema. Together with the other ten-year-olds clustered around him he watched the morning performance of Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. Just as the flying saucers started their attack on Washington D.C. the movie was interrupted and the houselights went on. Pale and nervous the manager entered the auditorium. “‘I want to tell you’, he said in that trembly voice, ‘that the Russians have put a space satellite into orbit around the earth. They call it … Spootnik.'” (King 1993[1981]:21) For the assembled post-war kids a world crashed. The world of US-American supremacy and absolute security. (Chace & Carr 1988) There was complete silence in the cinema. Within this silence everybody realized that far above their heads there was an electronic tin-ball cruising through space, beeping triumphantly. And this tin-ball had been invented, constructed, and built beyond the Iron Curtain. In the race for space the Russians had beaten the American pioneer-spirit.
A technician does last work on Sputnik 1 before it is launched into space
In 1957 the abbreviation ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) already had found its way into public discussion. The American understanding of those four letters went like this: If the Soviets would undertake something audacious, rockets would instantaneously carry the nuclear death to Moscow. This recourse flew in pieces on 4 October 1957, too: “After all, ICBMs were only big rockets, and the Commies hadn’t lofted Sputnik I into orbit with a potato masher.” (King 1993[1981])
    In order to regain military-technological supremacy, to regain security, the US-ministry of defence founded the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) in 1958. The idea behind ARPA was to mobilize and fuse research-ressources—especially those of the universities. One mistake should by no means be repeated: To lose ground because of the own hybris and torpidness. So it was carefully avoided to lay aside or miss any chance—may it appear ever so small on first glance. In consequence many small projects flourished at ARPA which would have quickly died away everywhere else due to negligence. But at ARPA it was not only possible to securely work on projects of that ilk, but there was the chance to gain access to substantial ressources.

A key to the rapid growth of the Internet has been the free and open access to the basic documents, especially the specifications of the protocols. The beginnings of the ARPANET and the Internet in the university research community promoted the academic tradition of open publication of ideas and results. (Leiner et al. 2003, compare Kelty 2001)

The Internet is as much a collection of communities as a collection of technologies, and its success is largely attributable to both satisfying basic community needs as well as utilizing the community in an effective way to push the infrastructure forward. (Leiner et al. 2003)