top 20 g33k novelz

The influence of literary fiction and movies is not to neglect when trying to understand cyberculture, the cultural appropriation of ICTs, or parts of that. Currently The Guardian‘s technology blog has a top twenty list of geek novels, constrcuted by a vote open to all citizens of geekdom. An interesting thread of comments has developed, too. And if you still do not know what to present yourself for Christmas …
via entry at infocult


digital literacy divide

Tony Salvador and John Sherry, triple-A members as well as researchers at Intel, have just recently published an article called Taking the Internet to the people (Salvador & Sherry 2005), telling us about some of their findings after four years traveling the world to see how computers are used. See Kerim Friedman‘s fine entry on it at Savage Minds, which thankfully points to the related weblog worldchanging.
initially via entry at ethno::log


picasso’s skeleton

Sketched SkeletonThe 1956 documentary movie Le Mystère Picasso by director Henri-Georges Clouzot mediated a new way of experiencing contemporary fine art. For the camera Pablo Picasso painted live on vertically erect canvasses and the painting process was filmed from behind the canvasses, so that the artist himself couldn’t get in the way of the viewer. One of the stunning things to watch is that Picasso does not at all hesitate to paint over things already at the canvas, which the viewer already deems to be perfect. He simply extinguishes beautiful drawings by painting over them in a seemingly blunt fashion. Was it not for the camera’s presence these elements would be lost once and for all—except for Picasso’s mind. This flash-animation of a skeleton coming to life, drawn live [.swf | 7.2KB] very much reminds me of the Mystère. Another example of what kind of experiences, in this case of artistic expression, the ‘new media’ are able to mediate. Some more info at Drawn!.
via entry at boingboing


ban on killergames in germany

The so-called big coalition between Germany’s major parties, the SPD and the CDU/CSU has published its freshly minted coalition agreement [in German | .pdf | 619KB]. 2R points us to the agreement’s line 5147 [in the vicinity of which the upcoming German government’s goals and strategies for protecting the youth are outlined] where we can read one of the goals set: “Verbot von “Killerspielen”” [ban on “killergames”]. The term is no more specified in the whole paper, but I fear the worst: No more chess!


computergames, Islam, and politics

Vít Šisler is one of the interesting people I learned to know at the Cyberspace 2005 conference and with whom I will stay in close contact on every account. Vít is a young Prague-based lawyer whose primary research interests are Islam and Islamic law in cyberspace. Exotic bricolage already, isn’t it? According to his own testimony he woke up one morning and realized that he spoke Arabic. Not by means of a miracle, but as an after-effect of his long-time sojourns in the Middle East. So he decided to enlarge his wisdom by studying again—Arabic Studies. When I had talked to Vit for ten minutes I told him that he may not have realized it, but that he in fact was an anthropologist in disguise ;o) A full-fledged cyberanthropologist, to be precise. Islam and Islamic law in cyberspace is all fine, but besides that he has a deep interest in persuasive computergames, that is games which actually carry ideas, norms, values, even ideologies. That’s obvious with games like America’s Army, but hardly anyone knows about the according examples from the Middle East. Just like Bollywood for a long time virtually was unknown to the ‘western’ discourse and public on cinema and the movies, Middle Eastern computergames till now exist somehow hidden from ‘our’ gaze—that’s true for the gaze of the public, as well as for academia’s gaze. For an introduction have a look at Vít’s paper Videogames and Politics [in English]. And then I desperately wait for the next two papers he promised to me: “[…] one is ‘Digital Intifada’ about Syrian pro-palestinian games, second is ‘In Videogames You Shoot Arabs or Aliens’ which is an interwiev with the designer of those games….” Hell, am I glad to have made the late-night way to Brno.
via face-to-face and e-mail conversation with Vít Šisler



Nothing is impossible in Havanna

My old pal from the glory days of us being anthropology students, all-time-beauty Joanna Michna has done it again. After her ethnological documentary movie on Colombia’s Balineros now there is another one by her to be broadcasted soon on German national television’s high-quality channel arte: Mecániqueros—Nothing is impossible in Havanna. Havanna’s mecániqueros are young private entrepreneurs in the land of socialism in actual practice. They develope cranky, whimsical, sometimes seemingly bizarre business ideas like a restaurant at the living room at home, or light switches made of deodorant cans. Deftly they act in the hidden, walking the line on the brink to illegality, managing to stay on the safe side. The movie shows Ariél and his friends, the Tricksters in Castro’s realm. They live by mecánicas, ruses and subterfuges to dig things up which are deemed to not be available. Havanna’s Mecániqueros know each other—what one of them digs up maybe converted into cash or whatever by another one.

The movie’s official website [in German] features more information, a making of and the complete script of the movie [in German | .pdf | 63KB].

The movie will be broadcasted on arte on Saturday, 12 November 2005, 21:35h, and rebroadcasted on 13 November, 14:50h and on 19. November, 11:15h.

via e-mail from Joanna Michna—you know where you shall send the free DVD containing the director’s cut, don’t you, pal? ;o)

ghost in the machinima

In the wake of the Machinima Festival just being over,‘s Stephen Bryant has done a short interview with Keygrip-creator David Wright:

Back in 1996, when Quake was the finest first-person-shooter around, a Stanford freshman named David Wright created a piece of editing software called Keygrip and accidentally changed the course of animation forever.

It was Keygrip, and its successor, Keygrip 2, that allowed gamers to edit Quake “demos,” and that ability ushered in the film genre known as Machinima.

Derived from the words machine and animation, machinima is a rapidly growing film genre in which movies are recorded entirely within a video game, or filmed using a video game engine.

via entry at boingboing


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.