Archive for December, 2008

Dec 30 2008

The 25th Annual Chaos Communication Conference

A geek soldering at the CCC

Geeks line the hallways, young men in black t-shirts each with a laptop. And they’re always young men. There are no girls here. There are a dozen open wifi networks and I wouldn’t trust any of them. There are tangles of cables. There are anarchists. There are flying robots and broken flying robots being soldered in public.

The air is thick with something, but I don’t know what.

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Dec 22 2008

What do you Edit on Wikipedia?

When you edit Wikipedia, what do you write about? Did you sit in the front row or the back row as a child? Did you grow up on science fiction, were you an activist in college? Did no one understand you, or have you always been perfectly normal? Tell me, because I want to know who’s in this conversation.

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Dec 16 2008

Knowing is Not Enough

Wikipedia will save the world. Information is tolerance. When the internet succeeds and all humanity finally has egalitarian access to all information everywhere, a new era of enlightenment will dawn.

Oh really?

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Dec 12 2008

How the Internet Can Fail

When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better.

But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.

FCC Chairman Newton Minow gave this speech in 1961, decrying the state of the medium that many had hoped would bring new light to humanity. What is to say that the Internet will not sink into the same mediocrity?

There are differences, of course. The internet is (currently) very much an active, two-way medium; the internet is (currently) a very democratic place, where anyone can espouse their worldview to the whole world for only the effort of typing. And the internet is (currently) far too large and diverse to be effectively controlled by any particular corporate or goverment interest.

But I have a morbid interest in dystopia; and already I see signs that not everyone realizes what freedoms we could lose. Like bad science fiction, here are a few scenarios where the internet fails to live up to its almost obscene promise, where it becomes just another “vast wasteland.”

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Dec 12 2008

How To End Poverty

It just occurred to me that it’s worth Googling this phrase.

The fact that this five-second act has a reasonable chance of turning up a representation of the most carefully argued opinions of large cross section of (admittedly English-speaking) humanity, including quite possibly the opinions of the people who might actually understand the problem best — I find that quite a testament to the progress of, you know, civilization. And that capability is only about a decade old.

Who says that the olden days were better?

Next up, an article about how the internet might still drastically fail to achieve its potential.

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Dec 10 2008

Are They Right?

I’ve been reading StopTheACLU.com, because I want to get into their heads, because I want to avoid the classic mistake of intellectual isolation, and because I want to be challenged. Sure, they’re weirdos, but that doesn’t mean they don’t make sense. But there’s at least one thing in the StopTheACLU worldview that I find very hard to method-act: in their universe, global warming is a myth.

Okay, but how did I end up on this side and not that side?

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Dec 05 2008

Bike Hero: A Critical Review

This video, a riff on Guitar Hero, is pretty great.

Unfortunately, it’s also a fake. The video is totally awesome, to use the technical term, but a large part of its awesomeness derives from the fact that some ordinary person not only came up with this completely implausible idea, but executed it brilliantly for no discernible reason. That makes it art, if only because we  don’t have many other good names for this type of behavior. One of the millions of untrained, unlicensed plebes rose up and did something amazing, and it’s inspiring precisely because it makes us think that we just might be able to do it ourselves. It’s our art.

Except that “we” didn’t do it. The video was produced by creative agency Droga5, according to the credits on this page, which also lists the CG animators. Doubly fake. Not only was this piece created as a viral marketing ploy for Guitar Hero, but the events in the video never actually happened.

“Authentic” is very hard to define. It’s easy to give flip answers like “love, not money,” but plenty of good art has been created to pay the rent. For an internet example, take the brilliant “OK Go on Treadmills” video. Sure, they did it to sell their album, but somehow it feels very “real”. I also like to imagine the jazz and blues musicians of old New Orleans, playing in the clubs every night. They were great artists, but they were working artists. Conversely, real culture can be executed as fake, like faux-Irish pubs all over the world. While any idiot can throw up dark wood paneling and serve Guinness, it’s not hard to tell when you’re being scammed for the tourist dollar. The trouble is, I’m often very hard pressed to say precisely what it is that makes one Irish pub phony and another authentic. Is Bike Hero no longer art now that we know who paid for it?

The only certainty I can fine here is that I don’t like being lied to. Undercover marketing is designed to make us believe that it’s not marketing at all, and that makes it the eptiome of inauthenticity. For this reason I have to give Bike Hero two thumbs down.

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