Monthly Archives: April 2008

Why I want to look at Neuromancer

Most of the time I read, I’m  reminded that I don’t read enough.

This in itself can be read (at least) two ways, I suppose.  What I mean first is that I haven’t read Neuromancer, but I keep reading about it and William Gibson.  This is similar to reading Ciritcal Theory and Science Fiction or Archaeologies of the Future without having read Man in the High Castle.  Guilty.  Perhaps, its the term “cyberpunk” that has dissuaded me from Gibson.  Perhaps.

I am interested by Chun’s effort on this text, though, for its focus on *text* – specifically her comment that “high-tech Orientalism also renders Gibson’s text something other than mere text” (195).  I am preoccupied with the artifice of the book (and by this I mean, briefly and inconclusively, the relation of non/fiction, narrative, text and experience), so this concept is a frequent destination for my rambling thought process.   I did appreciate the careful argument concerning Orientalism and think it seems to be an important one in regards to Neuromancer and Blade Runner.  And there is fertile ground in discussing hybridity of text and the binaries of Orientalism (and cyborgs, too, of course) as relates to Ghost in the Shell.  But, that won’t be happening here and now, as that’s far too much for me to wrap my meagre brain around, especially in combination with this whole *text* thingy…

I’m going to inevitably fumble this, because it is a thought in progress, so I openly invite counterpunches and questions, shrugs and blank stares.  Chun follows the above quote by tying this textual multiplicity (of function? effect?) to the representational – Gibson’s creation of the text to a soundtrack (punk) and the text as filling a need for a spatial/visual deficit in actual technological methods of representation (cyberspace).  The latter is interesting to me as it seems to be complicit with the genre-ization of SF, as characterized by definitions that incorporate the temporal shifts (SFnal past as real present, SFnal future as real present – a la Jameson, Delany and Gibson ipso).  In other words, the SFnal future of Neuromancer dictates the goals of the current network.  In this sense, text is product and producer – a rough analogy to the aforementioned temporal paradoxes/coincidences.  

More interesting to me is the idea of coded data and real experience.  (Another way of wording this might be disembodies v. bodied.)  It seems, in Neuromancer, there is a (understandable and practical) disconnect between the realities and possibilities of the coded world in comparison to the real world.  Roughly, virtual reality experiences are less *real* than real reality experiences.  In other words, the internal reality of the text’s VR/cyberspace/jacking fails to become an effective hyperreal experience and does not destroy the binary of real/virtual.  (I don’t know if its fair to characterize this as “failure” or expected, which would depend on your view of the potential of the internet.)  Yet, in another manner, the creation (above) and analysis of the text complicates this binary: Chun is able to point that the East-West binary breaks down in Case’s own mistakes and even positions the text (and not-so-subtly here reading of the text) as perhaps a “brilliant critique of Orientalism in general” (192).  

Is this one possibility of the text being more than “mere” text?  

I would argue, in general, that the treatment of text as critical subject blurs the distinction between fiction and real object, as representations are given treatment as realities.  The transmittal of emotion and experience through text is another case of this, to me.

Video volat?

My first reaction to Growing Up Digital was a bit harsh, something like: “yeah, that sucks, but duh.” Heverly is wily in his rhetorical setup, though; he uses “children” as his theoretical case studies. Although, Jack isn’t a child by legal standards (which *are* of concern here, according to Heverly). And, I’m pretty sure the other two instances aren’t based on an *actual* event. While their not being “real” doesn’t lessen their potential consequences in real world analogies, the resultant read, for me, is more cheap pathos, rather than genuine concern or alarm.

Rather than dedicating time to laying out the persistence of digital media (which seems to be some amalgamation of accessibility, reproducibility, and 3d order miscellany – themes addressed more in-depth through other, more focused texts), I would have enjoyed an exploration of the central paradox: in what ways can law protect those it considers to have the least agency (minors) in the digital domain, an arena wherein minors potentially possess a higher degree of literacy of usage, if not understanding of consequence.

It is hard to disagree with a call for protecting children from the ugly spectre of pornography; thus, the legal discussion of IP and copyright protection encoding was easily digestible when being used to protect children. In comparison with recent discussions on copyleft and the GNU GPL, I couldn’t ignore the consequences stringent digital copyrights have in that arena.

Ideally, there is a control that allows children who are as old as 17 yrs 364 days to be able to hit reset on the stupid acts they’ve documented up until that point. Clearly, the easily reproducible nature of the content prohibits that wish. The ground for discussion, for me, is circumscribed by Heverly’s concern with unknowingly distributed content, the border between privacy rights of the individual citizen and ownership of digital commodities for private profit. Ultimately, I wonder if this problem (specifically the three test “cases” he presents) is really new and a result of persistence of digital media, or if this is a new turn on the local rumor. And the case of Jack provides an interesting entrance to this question for me. I heard the story of Jack while a student in Madison over the same time period. I didn’t find (or seek) visual verification of the rumor; the narrative found its way to me through the more traditional social network of a physical university campus. One question: does the makeup and spatial distribution of the artifact change significantly wrt to the rumor? Another: are the consequences raised by visual medium of a digital artifact?

What Heverly writes makes sense, wrt the latter of these two questions, but I think it deserves reassessing, due to the comparison with alternate forms of “viral” narrative transmission being neglected.

At least 3 deaths blamed on severe weather

Associated Press – April 11, 2008 9:53 AM ET

ST. LOUIS (AP) – Several deaths are being blamed on the latest round of storms and flooding to hit the Midwest.

In Missouri, authorities say a teenage boy was killed when he tried to cross a creek. They say the boy was holding onto a metal cable while crossing the normally shallow creek, but the higher-than-normal currents caused him to lose his footing.

Emergency crews found his body tangled in roots about a mile downstream.

In Oklahoma, authorities say two motorists died in separate incidents after their cars skidded off wet roads and hit trees.

Tens of thousands of people have been without power because of the storms that brought snow and hail to some areas. In Texas, officials say that some customers may be without power until tomorrow.

Whether We'll Weather the Weather Well

I think the best way to go about this is to explain what my project is and then bend it explain how it fits into the framework of the course.  

For my project, I’m “writing” a short story in video.  Another way of writing this would be making a short film/voice collage, but I think the first makes more sense.  The narrative is set in a newsroom on a day when a mysterious fan letter to one of the co-anchors is found and the President is visiting the studio.  The story will be told from a single perspective, but will concern each member of the news team.  The video will be approximately 30 minutes long and use a mix of footage from an “actual” newscast and “actual” commercials.  The text that I write (the story) will be told via voice over and, ideally, by a variety of narrators.  I would also like to “direct” the readers of my text, correcting them and asking them to reread whenever I feel my intervention is warranted.  And, the story will only be told during commercial breaks.  The newscast portion of the video will retain its original audio content.  

Based on this synopsis, my primary interests, as relating to course topics are collaboration, ownership, interactivity and control.  

The collaborative aspects of my project can be found in a few places.  The characters in the story are more-or-less equal in importance, in the eyes of the action of the story; though there is a single narrator, each character seeks to “solve” the mystery of the letter that destabilizes their environment.  The newscast, in general, is also a collaborative effort: team members present individual stories or segments of the “news” and present stories with their team members.  An unseen team of writers, contributing reporters, camera and microphone and TelePrompTer operators, directors and producers work together to create a final product.  Television is a type of collaboration between content producers and advertisers.  The video project composition is a collage, which implies an artist/creator/organizer-driven collaboration of media and artifacts into a single body.   By using multiple readers to tell the story, I’m also seeking to establish a feeling of collaboration in the production and delivery of the narrative.

What of collaboration then?  I’m interesting in exposing the collaborative process, hence the obvious merging of newscast footage with original voiceover during commercial breaks.  The correcting of readers is another attempt at revelation.  I want to reveal (and portray) the newscast as collaborative, as I see the breaking of the artifice of objectivity and of a single, unified message as an act of resistance.  Seeing the news as a collaboration of individuals will hopefully encourage a wide range of non-writing/producing/telling, which I see as a manifestation of the activist spirit and healthy for democracy, discourse and empathic connections between a constantly shifting community.  This utopia is in the mode of Benkler. If the seams of the quilt become visible, the thought goes, the world is recognized as artificial – and therefore able to be constantly recreated in a manner dictated by the desires and needs of individuals.  

Bordando el Manto Terrestre, Remedios Varo [source for images]

In an a/v collage, the question of ownership of the material is inherent.  I am appropriating a newscast and assembling commercials I find interesting or to have a particular relevance to my message and place them into my own context.  With the production of the news by a group of individuals for a network with shareholders and paid advertisers, the question of ownership is likely surprisingly simple – the network owns the product, per contractual language: CopyRight.  Yet, this collaborative work and its process seems to be akin to much of the GNU GPL, LGPL, or OSL programming work.  Is the key difference the profitability of the news, as dictated by advertising revenue?  If so, how does this principle effect the understanding, viewing and bias of the for-profit media?  Does the co-option of an “actual” newscast into a work of fiction destabilize any claims to objectivity through a similar path? 

The myth of true interactivity in games, applications and websites [and the seeming frequent mention of the failures of virtual spaces and networks to allow absolute freedom] is something that has continuously intrigued me throughout many conversations and texts this semester. Whether in relation to interfaces or aesthetic, it seems that digital culture often reinforces the limits of the analog world: physical barriers, aesthetic choices and, for new users especially, the utility of programs and tools intended and sold to make life more efficient.  And these barriers (accessibility) and aesthetic homogenizations (Facebook and similar social networking sites) can be seen as methods of control – they are limits to what is capable, so long as a user does not have a mastery over code, as almost all users do not.  This homogenization is especially apparent to me in the converging relationship between commercial and informative content.  Commercials are often creations of entertainment, mini-narratives that are more product placement than product pitch – cool by association.  Some examples that come to mind are BMW commercials name The Hire [2] directed by Ang Lee, Guy Ritchie, David Fincher, Wong Kar-Wai, John Woo, Tony Scott, Inarritu, Alejandro Gonzalez, Joe Carnahan and John Frankenheimer or the current series of Diet Mountain Dew Fact commercials [3] [4].

On the other side of the equation, programming is become more video-bite-sized with the rise and fall and sustained presence of reality television and entertainment news programming, such as E!’s The Daily Ten or, the ultimate example, VH1’s Best Week Ever.  The snippet-sized content flows into commercials almost seamlessly; in the latter example, the repetitive looping nature of the original piece of entertainment culture/celebutant “news” is surrounded, prefaced and followed by an endless loop of commentary from people defined by their occupation as comedians, actors and “television personalities” [isn’t everyone on television a television personality? another loop].  The show advertises what is coming up next several times in a segment, presenting a constant state of anticipation to the next “big” story feature – a rhetorical strategy typically employed as a segue to commercials.  Instead of commercials, however, VH1 gives the viewer more commercial-sized commentary on entertainment news.  I am left unsure of what I am watching is commercial or show.  It seems that everything is a preview for something that never arrives.  [Waiting for Heidi Montag?]  Vertiginous, schizophrenic and surreal are three adjectives that come to mind. 

[Can’t embed video from and it appears that Viacom doesn’t like to allow users to post the video they own onto sites not owned by Viacom – and subject to their profitability.  This will get you to the available library of the show, if you’re interested.  Unfortunately, the episodes from 2004 aren’t available, which are the original experiments in editing-on-amphetamines while wearing sound-killing earmuffs.]

In my video project, I am choosing to use video to exhibit the limiting, passive nature of this visual and auditory digital medium.  The viewer clicks play and watches.  In particular, the limited use of voiceover during the commercial breaks forces the viewer to wait through the filler to get to the content – if they choose to continue watching, of course.  Ideally, I’d like to frame the video through a web page to further challenge notions of interactivity via applications and networks.  [This may depend on file size and resolution.]  The telling of the narrative during the commercial breaks is a furthering of m perception of the ambiguity between content and commercial – the content of this fiction takes place exclusively during the commercial.  The interference of the writer with the multiple narrators is another form of control, as well as a representation of interaction between writer and reader – a representation that is an artificial interaction.  


Control, Freedom and Netroots

Found this over at The Field a favorite stomping ground of mine for the election season:

The Field » Comparing Dean and Obama

Comparing Dean and Obama

By Tracy Russo

This is interesting:

Obama hasn’t turned his campaign over to the grassroots so much as channeled grassroots energy into a more traditional campaign structure. Obama’s Internet supporters have become precinct captains and canvassers; they help plan local campaign events. But strategic decisions always flow down from Obama’s Chicago brain trust. The campaign made this clear last spring, when it took over a popular Obama MySpace page from the activist who’d created it. Such bigfooting would have been inconceivable for Dean and Trippi. For the Obama campaign, the move was necessary to ensure a coherence that the Deaniacs often lacked.

Especially with regard to the way in which the Obama campaign has utilized technology to engage and empower its grassroots base, it often seems as if the lessons learned from the Dean campaign have enabled the Obama operation to avoid a lot of pitfalls they might have otherwise fallen victim to. Instead of the pure chaos of a first-time political experiment, there was a maturing of methodology, enabling the campaign to harness the energy and excitement of the Obama base and translate it into action.

That being said, as I am what often seems like the only online progressive who was not part of the Dean phenomena, I’d be interested in hearing from The Field folks on this one. If you were a Deaniac in 2004 and are an Obamaite in 2008 how do you compare the two campaigns?

This reminded me about Chun’s discussion at the end of Chapter 1 and how control, freedom and participation converge and diverge, in the various forms. Political activism is one of the big litmus tests for the consequences of technology and networks. I thought this WaPo and The Field discussion was a good entrance point for this primary election cycle.

Disclaimer: Tracy Russo was the “official” blogger for the Edwards ’08 campaign; The Field leans heavily Obama, as its main concern are rural issues and, to a lesser extent grassroots organizing, labor and lobbyist influence.

Second Life

This was my first time in Second Life, so I really did not know what to expect when I went to the website.

[This is a convenient space to admit that I’m a *huge* Law & Order fan.  I lived with two obsessed fans a few years ago, who were planning to start a Law & Order cover band.  My wife is a prosecutor, who use to watch it, but had more interest in the short-lived “Conviction”.  Anyway, my obsession began about two years ago; my favorite is SVU, if I was forced to pick, but Dickie Goren can usually steal any show if he sniffs a corpse’s fingers.  

How does this relate?  The only notion I had of Second Life was based on an SVU episode, in which the good detectives track down a missing girl by checking out the suspects property in an online game based on Second Life.  He had made a near exact representation of the cabin that they were looking for; Det. Benson convinced the game creator/admin to set the sun to rise in the middle of the night, so they could identify which shore the cabin was on.]

I resisted the initial opportunity to design my avatar, as none of the default designs were interesting to me, though the cyberpunk-ish would be my first choice – and somehow was when I got to the tutorial… uh place?  space?  Chun, help me out…

I spent probably a fast 45 minutes running around trying to do all the tutorials.  Normally, I’d launch into “gameplay,” as, well, its for fun, and the games I traditionally play are similar (sports games, first-person shooters, and a hell of a lot of Civ – when there’s time).   As this was “academic,” I decided to try and immerse myself in the general nuances and small intricacies with the thought this knowledge of the interface would help me “explore” more successfully.  Though, after typing that, I wonder if knowledge and exploration sometimes have the opposite relationship.  

After learning to fly and talking to some[thing], I went to find out about building blocks and property and money – and have to admit I was terribly disappointed with these “real world” concerns.  I guess I like my games either unconcerned with property or at least not-so-overtly concerned with ownership of space and materials.  I’d rather just take things, like in GTA.   I clicked on the door to the “real” world of Second Life.

Which took me to something like a transportation hub in a forest.  There were groups of people hanging about and some posters about making money.  I resisted talking to any of these people, as I wasn’t sure of the social rules of striking up a conversation.  Did these avatars know each other?  How well and in how many worlds?  Did I want to know them or even talk to them, with my slow typing?  I decided not, but committed to a search of folks at UWM. 

So, in my Second Life, I was drawn to look for folks I might know in my first life.  I found a few (6) with UWM ties.  I tried to figure out who these people might be, but didn’t think any were from our class this semester, and none were online, regardless.  

Thus, I continued on my path of first life habits and looked for some places on books.  I found a small and loosely-organized-sounding place (my requirements at the moment), so I teleported on over.  It was late at night (I think; still unsure about temporal issues in SL), so no one else was around.  Or maybe it was boring and no one ever went.  I did find a board that declared itself some kind of record of a contest, with books placed at height intervals reflecting a “score.” I still don’t know how to play, though.  

I picked up a free latte and a free book (I don’t know what book ; I don’t believe it has content, rather a little representation for display – a conversation starter?) and flew around.  I noticed a green blip on my radar (and had a Perfect Dark flashback) and went to check out who was around.  The avatar was in a huge house with a door and doorbell. I could see inside, where he was standing.  So, I said hi and asked what the deal with the book place was.  My response, for which I was unready: “that’s next door.”

I had no idea of the dividing line between the book “space” and this avatar’s private “space”. To me, it was all book place. I teleported there for books, found books, but there were neighbors, too.  I went back to the lodge, where I signed up for the group, found out about an upcoming SL book fair this month, thought about starting a press in SL, figured it would cost money and time, both of which were lacking, and failed terribly at a 19th century lit quiz offered by a gramophone.   

I sat in a comfortable looking chair in the lodge and signed out.


I went back in tonight, after thinking about how I projected my first life onto my SL experience.  I was also thinking about the breakdown of space and place in cyberspace and how this might relate to transportation and exploration within SL.  SL offers the basic ability to walk, the special ability to fly, and the practical gameplay function of teleporting.  Clearly, scales of distance and time has to do with these options: if I want to go from the book “place” to that avatar’s house, I can walk fairly quickly or fly if I’m feeling bored with my key-punching.  It isn’t economical to teleport, wrt time – it would likely take longer to pull up the map, I’d have to know how to search for the house, which means I’d have to have pre-existing knowledge of the place.  The ambulatory function of SL allows for discovery on a local level by allowing an avatar to roam in a continuous path through a continuous world.  Flying speeds up the same process.  Teleporting, however, allows for discovery based on keyword searches.  Thus, it facilitates an exploration based upon preconceived concepts.

And, for me, the continued path of first life concepts led me to weather.  One of the reasons for my ill-conceived and oft-neglected little blog on severe weather is to explore the relationship between terror, news, natural phenomena and probabilities/forecasting.  My interest in representations of weather in the form of brightly-colored radar imagery and numeric values prompted me to see what manifestation weather might have in SL.  

I found the Weather Channel’s home “space”, which, besides featuring ads for upcoming programming, has severe weather experience theme-park rides.  These are supposed to simulate hurricanes, blizzards, tsunamis, sandstorms – but in fun ways, like flying through the eye, skiing down a mountain, surfing and riding motocross bikes.  TWC has decided that SL is far less dangerous than first life.  Which is interesting, since I’m guessing they make their money from high ratings on coverage of events like Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami in the Indian Ocean in December 2004, and various North American severe storms that killed people and shut down the normal flow of goods and services.  

I guess, what I’m saying is that perhaps my avatar is on his way to becoming an evil scientist, who will stop at nothing to create a machine – built form basic solid shapes of Euclidean geometry – that controls the weather, so long as he can scrape the L$’s together…