eastward

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.

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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.

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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!

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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)
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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.

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spooknik

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)

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writing hypermedia

The secret of the stairs at Aragon
 

Essentially, hypermedia is a non-linear multi-media document. By its inclusion of data stored by using the more traditional technologies of representation (film and text for example), in a user-directed, non-linear publication, hypermedia creates a fresh, user-driven means for reading and writing culture. [↵Anderson 1999]

So far I agree—but I’d like to amend that ‘a piece of’ hypermedia can contain a linear path, at least there is the possibility to propose one [or more?] linear path[s] to the recipient. Like Astrid Blumstengel did it in her hypertext Entwicklung hypermedialer Lernsysteme [in German].
 

The non-linear format enables the user to access information from multiple points of entry and navigate through this information by their own directives and particular interests. [↵Anderson 1999]

Now some kind of disagreement starts as “by their own directives and particular interests” makes me feel uncomfortable. Of course a strategy like that helps to deconstruct the ethnographer’s sublimely unquestioned authority, but at the same time it may well make it impossible to convey a message. And conveying messages is an integral part of representing anthropological knowledge. Granted, on the author’s side there still is the choice of which material to include and of how to build the structure of hyperreferences [vulgo: links]. But with no hint at a linear path the danger for the recipient to get lost in hypertext/media grows exponentially. Finally ‘we’ are accustomed to, and socialized into the conventions of linear representations.
 

Those are the reasons why I am so excited about Matthias Eberl’s invention, a technology called Reader Triggered Multimedia (RTM) [in German]. RTM allows to embed sounds, animated and still pictures into written text while the latter remains the carrier medium. The presentation of sounds and animated elements are dependend on the position of the scroll bar—in other words: correllated with the whereabouts of the readers attention inside the written text. The reader gets ambience sound, background music, snippets from interviews etc. matching the passage she is reading. Evocation at its best is possible here. In all that I sense tremendous potential for ethnographic representation. Have a look at Matthias’ paper on RTM (Eberl 2004) and into his journalistic example Das Geheimnis der Treppe von Aragon [The secret of the stairs at Aragon] demonstrating RTM.
 

In a way that may sound a little conservative—written text as the leading medium—and I admit that beside this choice there is the possibility of something entirely new, but I have yet to see a working manifestation of the utopia of completely non-linear hypertext/media. In this respect ‘working’ means representing and succesfully mediating knowledge.
 

What the reader is essentially entering into is a multi-dimensional ethnography that can include fieldnotes, various methodologically-informed analyses, citations, footnotes, film and video sequences, photographs, audio recordings, and recorded music. [↵Anderson 1999]

Exactly that is possible via RTM—without confusing the recipient, without throwing him into a mess of file-formats, popping-up windows, and requests for installing this-and-that hitherto unknown plug-in. And in a format which still resembles current conventions regarding academic representation.
 

Access to imagery and sound, as well as the ability to read the author’s fieldnotes, analyses, and theoretical goals, may empower the reader/viewer to take a more critical approach in their assessment of the researcher’s methodology and analysis. [↵Anderson 1999]

Completely embraced by yours truly. In my opinion a hypertext-website, offering one or more linear-paths for choice, consisting of smaller linear parts, the latter augmented by RTM has the potential to fullfil the tasks Anderson hints to. Add a weblog and the transparency already starts during the fieldwork itself—I am far from that goal, I know. Alas, by all that the down-to-earth everyday problems of the ethnographer aren’t solved, but indeed start at this point. For example ethical considerations concerning the publication of fieldnotes, and many more.

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ethnographic hypermedia

ANDERSON, KEVIN TAYLOR. 1999. Ethnographic hypermedia: Transcending thick descriptions. SIGHTS: Visual Anthropology Forum. Working paper from the visual anthropology workshop and course Transcultural Images and Visual Anthropology organized by The Centre for Cross-Cultural Research, 3 to 28 August, 1998. Canberra: Australian National University of Canberra. Electronic Document. Available online:

http://cc.joensuu.fi/sights/kevin.htm
 

In 1986 Marcus and Clifford compiled a series of essays entitled Writing Culture [↵Clifford & Marcus 1986], which spawned critical academic debate and reassessment of the practice of ethnography itself. Yet, for all of the arguments and debates contained within the book, and those which have followed […], the discourse has remained within the confines of writing culture; the text itself. Within the body of this paper I am proposing the production of ethnographic research in a new format which can combine the traditional technologies of text and image into a hybrid computer-based document: hyp/ermedia. It should be noted that I am not suggesting that ethnographic books and films will, or should, be replaced by hypermedia—as books were not displaced through the advent of ethnographic film—but that hypermedia is yet another format for ethnographic representation available to the anthropologist. I propose to show how hypermedia is a valuable and effective option for producing ethnographic representations, while also highlighting some of its potential limitations. ↑[…]

See also hypermedia ethnography and evocational ethnography.
via entry at alexoehler

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