Thursday, July 28, 2005

[[IMMERSIVE]] Alternate Reality Gaming
anti robot malitia Yesterdays post dealt with the film AI. Today I want to look at part of its marketing strategy that spawned a whole new genre of onling gaming known as Alternate Reality Gaming.

Alternate Reality Gaming (also known as beasting, unfiction, or immersive fiction) is an interactive fusion of creative writing, puzzle-solving, and team-building, with a dose of role playing thrown in. It usually takes place on the internet, but can even be played out in the real world as opposed to the computer generated environments. It utilizes several forms of media in order to pass clues to the players, who solve puzzles in order to win pieces of the story being played out. Alternative Reality Gaming is controlled by a person or group of people known as PuppetMasters. These are the authors of the game’s storyline and creators of its puzzles. Many times, the puzzles that must be solved cannot be solved alone. This genre of game almost requires participation in a group or community that works together to win past the more difficult hurdles and thereby advance the story of the game.


The first true Alternate Reality Game was set in the universe of the movie AI but at a time about 40 years after the events of the movie have occurred. Here is the best article I have read about 'the Beast' game and the people who attempted to solve it known as cloudmakers.

Here is a brief history of Alternate Reality Games.

Here is the URL of cloudmakers

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

realistic human robotIntriguing BBC article about a Japanese scientist who has created a realistic human looking robot, Repliee Q1. Hey girls get this, “she can flutter her eyelids and move her hands like a human”!!

One of the things Stanley Kubrick wanted to do with the film AI: Artificial intelligence was to create a real robot boy for the lead role of David. He hired the video director Chris Cunningham to create it for him, but the all Cunningham’s efforts failed to be convincing enough. Imagine how uncanny and fascinating the film would have been with an all too human robot in the lead. It would have really underscored the ethical dilemma at its heart, i.e. could you love a machine? This would have meant that the boy would be aged a convincing three to five, not an implausible nine or ten as in the case of Haley Joel Osment, who was great in the role of David, but really too old to be believable. The problem with casting a human child was that the film would either end up being too cute or not cute enough. Well, if you've seen AI, you'll know what I mean.


The BBC article can be found here

Here is the story of what is known about Kubrick's vision of AI from the Kubrick FAQ site

Here is the story on which it is based, Super Toys Last All Summer Long, by Brian Aldiss

Here is a long and detailed interview with Chris Cunningham, in the course of which he discusses working with Kubrick and his impressions of Spielberg's AI

finally a Wired article about the theme of artificial intelligence and Kubrick, the Intelligence Behind AI

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Fearing that all my internet searches were rather mainstream, I resolved to press the random "next blog" button until I found a site that was interesting. What I got of course was just pain weird. So in the grand tradition of cheap British tabloid television, I present the first of a very occasional series of highlights from the stranger side of the blogosphere...

First comes “I was a teenager Fungi from Yuggoth” which despite the title is a Spanish language site. My Spanish isn’t good enough to actually know what is going on here but that’s half the fun isn’t it? For example I can only guess what is happening with this painting:

woman and octopus

woman seeks sexual satisfaction from foamy detergent and a large freshly cooked octopus. The funny thing is I think that the guy who runs this site persuaded his girlfriend to pose with a real octopus for similar pics in the style of a readers’ wives homage. Not a live octopus I presume, I only hope it was freshly caught! If you are viewing this at some future time, go to the July 2005 archive and see the result for yourself.

Second is In my tree . In My tree looks like it is attempting a kind of blog haiku. A typical post consists of an atmospheric picture accompanied by poetic musings. For example...

I ride the wave where it takes me...

This strategy comes across as a bit kitsch if truth be told, a bit like a set of Athena posters that decorated many a teenager’s bedroom in the 1980s--if you’re a British reader of a certain generation you’ll get the reference--if not think of one of those inspirational picturers they have in the office of car rental films of soaring eagles with strap lines like “success” or “striving.” However there is a dark undertone to some of the texts suggesting either a satirical bent or a disturbed mind or both perhaps...

I will stare the sun down until my eyes go blind...

Finally, in the name of balance I present Asas D'anjo who combines Athena poster kitsch with naked bodies (actually much more like the output of Athena in its hey day). These images are juxtaposed with poetic musings in Spanish. I confess that I understand very little of what is going on here.


Monday, July 25, 2005

[[ZEITGEIST]] Cut up
william s burroughs I first discovered the work of William Burroughs in a BBC documentary that was broadcast in the early 1980s, and it was a total revelation. Seems like I was in good company; a lot of the feelings I experienced are articulated by William Gibson, writing in Wired, who penned this interesting history of sampling culture:

“I discovered that Burroughs had incorporated snippets of other writers' texts into his work, an action I knew my teachers would have called plagiarism. [the] "cut-up method," as Burroughs called it, was central to whatever it was he thought he was doing, and that he quite literally believed it to be akin to magic…Some of these borrowings had been lifted from American science fiction of the '40s and '50s, adding a secondary shock of recognition for me… Nothing, in all my experience of literature since, has ever been quite as remarkable for me, and nothing has ever had as strong an effect on my sense of the sheer possibilities of writing… Meanwhile, in the early '70s in Jamaica, King Tubby and Lee "Scratch" Perry… were deconstructing recorded music. Using astonishingly primitive predigital hardware, they created what they called versions. The recombinant nature of their means of production quickly spread to DJs in New York and London… Our culture no longer bothers to use words like appropriation or borrowing to describe those very activities… an endless, recombinant, and fundamentally social process generates countless hours of creative product”

Links for William Burroughs...

Hear Burroughs himself speak about the cut up method, courtesy of BBC four.

Feedback from Watergate to The Garden Of Eden a fascinating and increasingly prescient essay about surveillence culture by William S. Burroughs

Other examples of Burroughs' writing can be found at EHN's Reading List

Wikipedia's entry on sampling

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Strange times…
Jean Charles de MenezesAll the historical debates surrounding capital punishment in the UK have been made somewhat irrelevant this week as the extraordinary circumstances unfolded in London. A man was held down by police and summarily executed on a tube train. The fact that he has turned out to be Jean Charles de Menezes a Brazilian electrician, entirely innocent of any terrorist involvement underscores the terrible flaws in any shoot-to-kill policy. Such a policy is socially destabilising of British society as a whole, fulfulling the terrorists' aims to terrorise people cause hysteria and create conditions for increased conflict. If we are engaged in a war on terror, do you think we could perhaps have less terror not more? On this issue I wholeheartedly agree with the comments from John Rees the National Secretary for the Respect party:

"however horrific the bombings in London on 7th July and however important it is to secure the safety of the public, 'there can be no excuse for the police adopting a shoot to kill policy which guns down innocent people in cold blood. This is precisely the crime for which we hold the terrorists responsible. The police in a democratic society have a duty to act with higher standards. They should be trying to diminish the climate of fear, not add to it."

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The Media and Communications Site
mcs siteI just want to showcase here the MCS website for the Media and Communications Department at the University of Wales Aberystwyth, where I recently completed a B.A. The site is run by Daniel Chandler, who is a very inspiring teacher and whose intelligence and boundless energy is evident in the quality of the work contained therein.

If you haven't come across MSC before I recommend a visit because it is a real gem. Particular highlights for me include the full text of Daniel's Semiotics for Beginners, which is an amazing online resource for anyone interested in discovering what semiotics is about, for example if nothing else check out the glossary of media/cultural studies terms. In addition you will find a great discussion document on technological determinism, which I must confess I am not wholeheartedly in agreement with, and this essay about the constuction of online identities, whihc you can use to critique this site - ha ha!

I hope these few suggestions will encourage some readers to delve deeper, because the site is huge - oh and there are also a few essays by yours truly deposited there.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

[[IMMERSIVE]] Sex in Grand Theft Auto: S. A.
Grand Theft sexA BBC article on Senator Hillary Clinton comments on the sex scene in Grand Theft Auto San Andreas.
There is no doubting the fact that the widespread availability of sexually explicit and graphically violent video games makes the challenge of parenting much harder.
Ironically I think a lot of children's sexual knowledge increased after the scandal with Hillary's husband and its intimate details being played out in the subsequent impeachment hearing. But why does knowledge of sex make parenting harder? Speaking personally, having copious amounts of ad-breaks for crap expensive toys during children's programmes, or placing sweets at child height at supermarket checkouts make parenting a lot more hard than knowledge of sex, or does Hillary still like to tell Chelsea that babies are delivered by a stork?

The BBC is too prudish to pubish a link that shows what all the fuss is about, but Fleshbot has no such qualms and are far whittier about it too.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Know your enemy
Steve Bell cartoon"This is the nightmare scenario that nobody in British society wanted to face… the massive nationwide investigation into the London bombings is one now focused on suspected British suicide bombers who believe their faith justifies their actions... In the hours after the bombings, faith leaders, senior police chiefs and ministers, launched an action plan prepared for an attack on British soil. That plan focuses on keeping communities together by very publicly differentiating between British Muslims and those who would seek to use a faith to justify atrocities. The strategy relied to some extent on the public seeing terrorism as a "foreign" threat"

This BBC analysis of the London bombings deals implicitly with the concept of otherness. What is interesting about this article is the way that representational strategies for otherness are being re-forged in the light of the news that British citizens are probably responsible for the bombings. What this article appears to be doing is twofold.

First, it is outlining in a common-sensical way the notion that psychologically speaking it is easier to externalise a enemy as some foreign ‘other’, rather than accept that the enemy might be ‘one of us’. With this revelation the tone of the article becomes more anxious – national cohesion itself it apparently under threat. Now it should be noted here that nowhere does the article seek to question or denaturalise assumptions about otherness, but rather to bolster them for what seems like propaganda purposes. I make this remark because of the way the BBC as a public service broadcaster has historically positioned itself as the promotor if not the instigator of a cohesive sense of national identity, to act in the words of Stephen Whittle, its controller of editorial policy, as the ‘social glue’ bonding the nation together. (This also ties in with Daniel Hallin’s notion of the sphere of consensus which I delt with in the previous post).

Second, the article itself is ironically part of this inevitable othering of the young men who blew themselves up in London last Thursday. The point is that the notion of otherness is essentially fluid, and in this respect is never constrained by notions of national identity, gender, religion etc. For example, take the case of the Cambridge four Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt, Donald Maclean and ‘Kim’ Philby. There could not be a more establishment group of people, but that did not stop them being represented as ‘the other’ in the form of the enemy within. (Indeed why else would we have the word ‘traitor’ in our language!) My point here is that the suicide bombers in London will become ‘the other’ no matter what their national origins.

More Links about otherness
1/ A lucid discussion of the concept of the other in relation to representations in advertising can be found here

2/ Otherness in the context of hatred of muslims. An article about Edward Said's Orientalism
"The depictions of "the Arab" as irrational, menacing, untrustworthy, anti-Western, dishonest, and--perhaps most importantly--prototypical, are ideas into which Orientalist scholarship has evolved."
3/ Visual representations of the otherness of anti-semitism can be found here.
Impartial reporting?
bbc news 24 I would reject the notion that there is any such thing as impartial reporting and suggest rather that it is dangerously complacent to pretend that our broadcast news is fair and balanced. The reason for this becomes clear if impartiality is conceptualised using categories formulated by Daniel Hallin. Hallin argues that journalistic commitments to objectivity have always been compartmentalised within certain paradigms, or spheres as he calls them (Schudson 2002, 40).

In the sphere of legitimate controversy, journalists seek conscientiously to be balanced and objective. For example in the reporting of a industrial dispute they might have a debate between representatives of both sides of the conflict. But there is also a sphere of consensus, in which journalists feel free to invoke a generalised "we", and take for granted the shared values and shared assumptions of their society (ibid.). For example, in the aftermath of 9/11, no news editor demanded a quote from someone saying that it was acceptable to fly aeroplanes into buildings, because no one expected reporters to take an objective view of terrorists (ibid., 39).

The problem is that, while there maybe some justification in adopting a policy of social cohesion in atrocities like 9/11, in more politically motivated events like the War in Iraq, the sphere of consensus means that impartiality is sacrificed for nakedly ideological reasons. Journalists reject neutrality when they are convinced that national security is at risk, if a terrorist attack is deemed an ‘act of war,’ rather than a crime, then journalists will willingly withhold or temper their reports (Ibid, 41).

Section 3.3 of the UK Broadcasting Act states, that in dealing with major matters of controversy (such as events of national importance), licensees must ensure that justice is done, to a full range of significant views and perspectives during the period in which the controversy is active.

Now given that 47% of the British population were against the war in Iraq, and that a significant proportion of these believed the war was being fought over oil, one would have thought that these views might have been represented by our so called impartial media.

An explanation for their absence is again provided by Daniel Hallin. He points to a third sphere, the sphere of deviance where journalists also depart from the standard norms of impartiality, and feel authorised to treat as marginal or ridiculous, individuals who fall outside that range (Schudson 2002 41). In other word from the point of view of the UK news media, anyone who argued that waging war on Iraq was motivated by oil was an marginal extremist. A general point to be made here is that in the aftermath of war, when it is too late to do anything about it, there is much hand-wringing and mea culpa from the broadcast media. The truth will out as the cliche goes, as the Glasgow media Group noted in their assessment of the coverage of the 1991 Gulf war.

"In the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf war BBC news reporter John Simpson referred to a most noticeable gap in television's saturation coverage of the war: the human casualties, tens of thousands of them, [and] the brutal effect the war had on millions of others ...we didn't see so much of that." (Philo, & McLaughlin www)

The problem therefore for democracy, is that the time when the need for impartial reporting is greatest and most urgent, is precisely the time when impartiality is most absent from our screens.


[Link] Hallin discusses some of these themes in relation to the Vietnam War discussed in his book the ‘Uncensored War’ here.

Book reference
Schudson, Michael (2002), 'What's Unusual about Covering Politics as Usual', Journalism After September 11, Barbie Zelizer and Stuart Allen (Editors) London: Routledge

Friday, July 08, 2005

[[ZEITGEIST]] London Bombings
Ian McEwan wrote a perceptive article about the events yesterday in London:
"The machinery of state, a great Leviathan, certain of its authority, moved with balletic coordination. Those rehearsals for a multiple terrorist attack underground were paying off. In fact, now the disaster was upon us, it had an air of weary inevitability, and it looked familiar, as though it had happened long ago. In the drizzle and dim light, the police lines, the emergency vehicles, the silent passers by appeared as though in an old newsreel film in black and white. The news of the successful Olympic bid was more surprising than this. How could we have forgotten that this was always going to happen?"
He also wrote one of the best immediate reactions to the WTC attacks:
"Yesterday afternoon, for a dreamlike, immeasurable period, the appearance was of total war, and of the world's mightiest empire in ruins. That sense of denial which accompanies all catastrophes kept nagging away: this surely isn't happening. I'll blink and it will be gone. Like millions, perhaps billions around the world, we knew we were living through a time that we would never be able to forget. We also knew, though it was too soon to wonder how or why, that the world would never be the same. We knew only that it would be worse."

Thursday, July 07, 2005

[[IMMERSIVE]] PhD in doubt
"Dear Roderick,

Thank you for applying for the postgraduate studentship in the Department of Theatre Film and Television at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth.

Unfortunately you have not been awarded a scholarship, but you have been placed on our reserve list (3rd reserve). In the event of one of the scholarships becoming available before the end of August we will contact you again.

Although you have not been awarded a scholarship in this round, we would encourage you to establish contact with the department, with a view to developing your project for applications to the next round of grant awards offered by the university, the Department and the AHRB. If you wish to do this, please ring..."

I learnt yesterday that my bid for funding for my PhD has been unsucessful. The implications of this is that it is unlikely that I will be able to embark on it because it is not possible to fund myself. It is too early as yet to predict a definite outcome, as to what this means - something may come up to change matters - but the news has obviously put somewhat of a crimp in my plans. I am not going to get too depressed about this, (when one door closes another one opens and all that) and I think I will continue to read Being and Time and offer my comments here, if only because I like the intellectual stimulation of the challenge.

Ok after getting a bit depressed about this and pondering my options, I came to the conclusion that there was nothing I would rather do than a PhD. Thanks to the support of my wife Rachel, some unexpected work and some compensation due for being in a car crash a few years ago, I can now continue with the PhD.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Low light experimental pictures
whitehorse hill at nightHere are some uncanny night-time images taken by my brother Richard. Richard took most of these images in the middle of the night. There is no trickery here, just a very long exposure. What is interesting about them is they illustrate the limitations of the human eye with respect to seeing in the dark, because the colours present in the day-time do not actually disappear into muted grey, that is merely an effect of human night-vision.
[[ZEITGEIST]] Some sci fi themes in current news stories
2001 crygenic astronautsCryogenics: in Austrialia reported that scientists have managed to 're-animate' dogs after several hours of clinical death by pumping a saline solution into their veins at a few degrees above zero. A less tabliod approach to the story can be found at

T.A.R.D.I.S Time Travel:
This from the BBC. Researchers speculate that time travel can occur within a kind of feedback loop where backwards movement is possible, but something is actually acting to prevent any backward movement from changing the present.

Star Trek Transporter Teleportation
Another from the BBC. Computer scientists in the US are developing a system which would allow people to "teleport" a solid 3D recreation of themselves over the internet.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

[[ZEITGEIST]] Open source schools The UK government's school computing agency, Becta, has said schools could save costs by switching to what is known as open source software…

Parrs Wood High School has more than 2,000 students and more than 200 staff…

Software licences cost Parrs Wood about £30,000 each year, less than half the cost if no OSS were deployed…

Because OSS runs well on old hardware, computers from the old school and cast-offs from local businesses could be deployed in ICT rooms and other classrooms, requiring little additional capital expenditure. Go to article
[[ZEITGEIST]] War of the Worlds...
war of the wordsGuardian unlimited: Starring Tom Cruise, Spielberg's version of the War of the Worlds is out this week. This article that addresses both the perennial and contemporary themes touched upon by Well’s tale of alien invasion:

"Young, sappy cultures devise myths about creation. Cosmos… We are too far from those fresh origins to take such -stories seriously: our urgent concern is to understand how the world will end…

In 1898, society prepared to confront a fin-de-si├Ęcle that seemed likely, as a witty nihilist puts it in a play by Oscar Wilde, to be the fin du monde. Man had recently killed off God; having destroyed its creator, could our species expect to survive much longer? Anticipating that terminus, HG Wells wrote an apocalyptic romance about it, The War of the Worlds…

Our frail blue planet is overrun by mechanised conquerors from a world which is red, bellicose, unmerciful. Wells considered this outcome to be just and logical. European empires, enslaving or exterminating new worlds elsewhere on our globe, had been equally remorseless. His novel reminded Europeans that their tenure of power was insecure."
Go to article
I summit this post as a little proglomena to discussing some of my reading for my PhD, especially Heidegger...

I want to outline my position regarding epistemology. I have just completed a BA in media and communication and the issue of 'what is real' was a major theme throughout my three years of study. There are of course several competing theories answering the question what is real.

Firstly naive realism:
This asserts that the real world is out there to be discovered or named by human beings. A criticism of naive realism is that it attributes objects with intensions, how for instance can a rock 'tell' us what it is.

Secondly idealism:
This approach at its most extreme contests that reality is a construction of the human mind. Although in a softened form it Kant be found for example in Kant's assertion that humans create the structure of the world a priori before the world is revealed to them. The main criticism of this approach is a common-sensical one. for example it is said that Samuel Johnson refuted Berkely's idealism by kicking a stone - "there," said Johnson, "I have just refuted Berkely's hypothesis."

Thirdly constructivism:
This approach contends that reality is a mix of environmental factors (naive realism) ordered by social conventions (idealism). For instance the Linguist and co-founder of semiotics Ferdinand de Saussure asserted that language creates the meaning of reality. This - it is a bit of both - approach seems more plausible that either naive realism or idealism, however there problem as I see it is very much bound up with representation systems, which downplays the fact that reality has a very palpable immediate component.

This is why I find the epistemology of the American pragmatist philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce, especially his notion of the fundamantal categories of firstness, secondness and thirdness. For me Peirce really nailed the problem of epistemology, but the power of his analysis is really yet to be fully appreciated. For example, if you read Heidegger's Being and Time, bearing in mind Peirce's categories there are less problems in picturing what Heidegger has in mind. Heidegger to my mind never completely successfully addresses the difficulty of communicating pre-representational systems through the language of philosophy. Peirce I think can be particularly helpful in this respect because he developed an approach which can describe the kind of mental paradigm shifts Heidegger is calling for his readers to attempt in order for them to understand Dasein.

Links to my work in this area
For more on a structuralist take on representation this see this essay, which offers an account of Saussure's semiotic.

and my undergraduate dissertation that discusses Peirce in Chapter 5 and more on my particular epistemological position.