Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Fractal Path

Our Fractal, Algorithmic Nature

Being as we are at the verge or perhaps in the middle of that threshold or bifurcation of our own destiny, it is hard if not impossible to observe with parsimony the course of action. In that liminal state where turbulence becomes organized into myriad eddies and flows and the “singularity” approaches, every theory or hypothesis seems to have some validity since the information or data we analyze is particular to our point of view and seldom encompasses a bigger picture.

Gregory Bateson, reminiscing about the Macy conferences,1 goes further by suggesting that we never know the world as such. He states that “We are our epistemology” since we only perceive and understand the world through what our sensory apparatus allows.

However the birthing environment of the open network where data itself acts as a “controlling agent”2 is beginning to show a pattern that is itself fed back into the system, and once the critical threshold is achieved, some theorists suggest3 it will give raise to the emergence of a machinic consciousness.
Introduction to Roboethics and Performance, Arturo Sinclair, 2008

1 It was at the Macy Conferences that Norbert Wiener coined the term ‘cybernetics’.

Manuel Delanda, “War in the age of intelligent machines” Swerve Editions, New York 1991, p163

Hofstadter ,"Godel, Escher, Bach" Zenon Pylyshyn, Mind Design Andrew Hodges, Alan Turing

Monday, September 28, 2009

Old Forms New Conventions

View from the Window at Le Gras, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce

To quote Hamlet on the Holodeck:

"...the inevitable process of moving away from the formats of older media and toward new conventions in order to satisfy the desires aroused by the digital environment."

How long does it take for people to start using the peculiarities of a new medium creatively?

Digital media is so new and moves so fast that we cannot even begin to recognize the difference with what has come before, because of the fact that digital media is itself an eternally shifting and morphing media.

When photography came into being all photographers could do to cope with such technology was to borrow from the portrait or landscape painting of their time. It took visionaries like Christian Schad, Man Ray, and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, almost a hundred years since Nicéphore Niépce captured the view from his attic in 1826 to break away from the convention of the borrowed and explore the potential of the medium, but alas, it was short lived because the masses demanded their likeness more than that which they could not understand.

Then came film, which borrowed the narrative of theater (I am simplifying of course) and continued with the tradition of recording "reality" (that word...) while in fact it was, and always has been a mere optical trick and a little more that is hidden from the viewer

So now, when digital media arrives, we seem to be unable to grasp the potential, and how could we, if we look to the past instead of the future? Why does SL or any other VR looks as pedestrian as a mall, a battlefield, an airport, a castle, a house? What is it that we need that prevents us to discover the new?

The capability of Machinima was unprecedented in the world of Media, until the advent of FPS games. In a way it is similar to the advent of 8mm and then Super8 in the 60's. Lot's of people started making movies and that led to some interesting careers since some of those people are now known filmmakers.

One problem, that can be seen as an advantage as well as a step backward is that precisely the fact that production can be made on the cheap (or "free) and that anybody can swing a "camera" around makes for very poor end product. Machinima, despite its potential as a cheap story-telling medium or prototyping tool, an animatic of sorts (and I am interested in those aspects myself I should say), is that it also misses the point and becomes comfortable with emulating the rich uncle. Understandable though, since it lives and has grown precisely in that protected environment where the fascination with the new becomes very quickly a reflection of the old.

There is the chance of being one of those pioneers who dared to see outside of the box, if only for a short window of opportunity before it fossilizes into the same old crap dominated by corporations and transnationals to keep you under their control.

I think it is very exciting possibility to be one of those pioneers.

Machinima tutorials

There is an excellent set of tutorial videos here about filming in SL. They are made by David Miller, a member of Work Literacy, a Ning network created by Michele Martin who also runs a couple of very interesting career related blogs; The Bamboo Project and the Work Literacy Home which is a huge collection of links and learning resources. The Ning group is mainly composed of "knowledge workers" that explore the use of new technologies and Second Life is, of course, one of them.

Find more videos like this on Work Literacy

In addition, here is a very comprehensive set of SL related tutorials that is up to date.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Learning how to Screen Capture

I spent a little time this weekend thinking about how to make a machinima. I needed to try to find some tools that would allow me to screen capture on a Mac. I've found three options and I believe this one is the cheapest with full functionality at about $60. I haven't yet purchased as I was test driving it (hence the logo on the video clip). This one seems nice because it captures audio either an internal or an external source. For this little clip the music was playing "in world" and the audio is actually better than I would have expected. I clipped the movie a little in iMovie and then uploaded to YouTube. Sorry for the advertising on the screen but I was mostly trying to learn the steps to getting from point A to Point B. All in all this was much easier than I had thought it would be. I would appreciate any feedback anyone has on other software they have used for the Mac.

Of Writing Machines and Scholar-Gipsies

This week's reading, Of Writing Machines and Scholar-Gipsies, introduced me to Jacques de Vaucanson, and his automatons, such as the mechanical digesting duck and flute player. When I clicked on a link to get more information about "automaton" in Wikipedia, I was presented with a list going back to the Hellenistic world. I enjoyed getting this perspective and learning that even in 150-100 BC there were complex devices such as the Antikythera mechanism, which was used to calculate astronomical positions. This device, at least according to Wikipedia, has been described as the first mechanical computer.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

VR, Char Davies, and Osmose

After reading the chapter on Char Davies and her VR installation called "Osmose" in our text, I was very interested in the idea of having the participant use their breathing as an intuitive way of interfacing with the technology. Perhaps by having such an organic method of controlling their movements, immersants could place themselves in a right-brain mode, evidenced by reportedly losing track of time, an inability to speak or describe their experience, and a different sense of spacial awareness. I found myself wishing to experience that which was described, something that could be thought of as Morton Heilig's fitting definition of Art, a "transfer of consciousness."


I was taking another look at the syllabus to help plan out some of the rest of my semester. Like all of you, I have multiple things going on so it usually helps me to set some deadlines for myself. I'm just trying to clarify what items we are to be expected to turn in and on what timeline - it looks like there is a grade based on our project storyboard. I've been working on this but am wondering if anyone has any good suggestions/software for Storyboarding, and also wonder when are we expected to present this? There are also grades on group participation. I realize that the class is significantly smaller than anticipated, however, I am intrigued by the idea that group work in a virtual environment may be different than traditional group work. Does anyone have comments on this? I personally have no "teamwork" experience in the second life but I have had both good and bad experiences with group work in real life. And one last question, what would be graded on in the "in-class objectives" category?


Thursday, September 24, 2009


Stelarc's Handswriting "Evolution"
Maki Gallery, Tokio, 22 May 1982. Photo by Akiro Okada

“…Working in the interface between the body and the machine, he employs virtual reality, robotics, medical instruments, prosthetics, the Internet and biotechnology. Stelarc’s art includes physical acts that don’t always look survivable-or as science fiction novelist William Gibson puts it in his foreword, “sometimes seem to include the possibility of terminality.” (From Stelarc, The Monograph, The MIT Press, Cambridge Massachusetts, 2005)

Is the actor, artist, filmmaker, farmer, soldier, different in any fundamental way in terms of the reality of his/her life? Are the players of online games, a stripper in Second Life, an Ebay entrepreneur, living a life less “real” than the banker, the Jihadist or the Olympic marathon runner? And if so, what or where is the difference? Is it in the space where the performance takes place, is it the intensity of pain or pleasure or the time spent in a particular activity that defines reality? if not, then what? How is performance different from real life (RL)? How is RL different from virtual life (VL)? How do both coexist? Other than questions of embodiment, which many theoreticians deal with, they are in a certain way indistinguishable from each other. In Koyaanisqatski, architectfilmmaker Godfrey Reggio evidences how humans are part of the pattern or flow of information that constitutes the world at large. The utilization of technical means such as high speed or time-lapse photography allows Reggio to discover and reveal those things that make us who we are in the time and place where we find ourselves, in this “life out- of-balance”.
From "Roboethics and Performance"
Arturo Sinclair, Krems 2008

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Streaming Using Audion for Macs

Here is a screenshot of my desktop as I was streaming an Archaeology lecture by Ruth Tringham, UC Berkeley from an MP3 file downloaded from a site called Open Culture found at

Monday, September 21, 2009

Rokeby Cyborg

Here is a clip of artist and technologist, Rokeby. He has transformed himself into a cyborg as a life project and connects his brainwaves to his wearable computer to make brainwave music and art. This clip was part of The Art Show shown on C4 october 2004.

Kevin Warwick

In 1998, when Kevin Warwick, researcher and Professor of Cybernetics at the University of Reading, England, implanted a silicon chip transponder into his left arm and connected it to his nervous system, he became the world's first cyborg: a man-machine hybrid. Some call Kevin Warwick a pioneer in the field of neuro-surgical implantation, others think he is a dangerous scientist who has gone crazy and wants to change mankind's evolution by creating a superior race: the cyborgs. In this video interview we talk about ultra-sonic senses, brain-to-brain telepathic communication, the therapeutic benefits of his experiments and why he think's he won't be the only cyborg on this planet in the future.

Flesh and Metal: Reconfiguring the Mindbody in Virtual Environments

Hayles talks of a flux from which our mind and body emerge only to interact in ever-evolving ways.

She tells of an installation piece in which "one user wears a helmet capable of sensing her electroencephalic activity, including alpha, beta, theta, and delta brain waves". The brain waves along with other biological data are collected and the data is used to trigger various things to happen in the installation. For example, the user's brainwaves are converted to midi files and the resulting sound becomes the sound scape of the installation.

This really interested me. So, I searched youtube to see what others are doing with brainwaves and interactive art. Here's what I found:

Nina Sobell at the Getty Center

Virtual Worlds: A First-Hand Account of Market and Society on the Cyberian Frontier

This article talked about some of the various virtual worlds that exist or have existed over the years such as Norrath, Ultima Online, The Sims Online and Project Entropia. I was surprised to learn that some 20% of Norrath's citizens considered their online virtual life in this world to be thier real life! Though that does not appeal to me, I must admit that I spend so much time in front of a computer that it does in fact take up a very large portion of my life. I might as well be in a virtual world! But, I'd never consider it more real than my everyday life.

Castronova also pointed out that gaming companies are making profits in the hundreds of millions just from the money customers spend on creating thier avatars. Wow, as if we didn't already have enough to spend money on! Now, we've got to go around paying for virtual reality representations of ourselves. Will there be a social stigma against those with low-quality avatars as happens in Neal Stephenson's novel, Snow Crash?

Castronova ends by talking about how virtual worlds will become highly commercialized. I hope these virtual worlds don't become 3D Myspaces with advertisements lining the walls everywhere I turn!

1st Machinima Produced Music Video

In the Waiting Line by Zero 7

In the Waiting Line - music video by Zero 7 (2003).

This composition was also featured on the Garden State movie soundtrack . This video is also the first machinima produced music video, using the animation engine from the Quake 3 video game, and the rotoscoped MTV "Breakthrough Video" Destiny (2002), both for the band Zero 7.

Women Who Have Changed Machinima

Women Who Have Changed Machinima

The Age of Virtual Worlds

Edward Castronova's 2001 Virtual Worlds: A First Hand Account of Market and Society on the Cyberian frontier provides a compelling and thought-provoking look at how the economics and societal functions within virtual worlds may have a lot more real-world implications than one might expect at first glance. These places where some people spend more time than in their "real" worlds is not so much a fantasy world, because it is integrated into the real economy.

A lot of developments have been made in the almost 8 years since this was written, and many of his predictions seem to be coming true even faster than he expected, with the growth of these large-scale virtual world platforms. However, the growth is happening at a pace that will leave people behind who dont have the know-how, leaving us with real-world implications and ramifications for those who cannot keep up.

After reading this article, and recalling a CNBC Special I saw over the summer highlighting the economic impact of the virtual goods, it is incredible how this is connected to the real economy. Not only that, but with recent developments, people have begun to create a lot more because they are allowed to make money off the land that you create.

But what is the biggest concern to me, is that the more people enter into these worlds, and the more that corporate interests follow in order to find more profit for their products, the more we are losing our sense of physical being in the world. But what is driving people into these worlds in the first place? What has happened in our real lives that has made these graphical-lands more appealing? Couldn't all the time spent "trading" virtual goods and developing the avatar's skills to enhance their abilities be better spent developing our own abilities and working to fix the large social crises of our time?

From an economic standpoint, is all of this activity really benefiting the greater economic good of our country at all? Aren't our dollars better spent on other things? I still don't necessarily understand completely why people buy virtual goods. It seems no different than spending $100 in an arcade only to win enough tickets to buy a $10 toy, and then being content that we got that toy, only because of the "hard work" of game-playing we went through in order to earn all those tickets. The tickets somehow become more valuable than actual money through the experience created in the games, and the logic and rationality is thrown out the window.

I also think its very hard to do any kind of accurate study within virtual worlds, because the people are generally self-selected. The ones who spend the most time in these worlds are going to give you an inaccurate representation of what the population at large does within the world. What one is observing is a tiny niche of the population who chooses to participate in this world more than others. And so, in my mind, they will acquire higher capital within this world, putting those who spend more time outside of the world at a disadvantage.

Perhaps it still is a unique laboratory for research on human society. We see similar human behaviors boiling to the top, especially when it comes down to interactive economic decisions. However, I just dont see it becoming a positive thing when it becomes the most important forums for human interaction. If it is, we have lost a lot of what is truly important, and that is real, physical human interaction. If this is really the future, where "families will gather around a virtual kitchen table with their own avatars", we will have lost one of the most important social units of history.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


The material basis [of science] has directed attention

to things as opposed to values.

We look for the creation of a nonhuman type

Unhindered by morality, tenderness, or internal volition—

It is the perfect slave and the perfect soldier.

Artificial systems of perception and cognition are melded together

In this meeting and conjoining of minds and machines,

the distinction between them offers a starting point for developing

a more subtle understanding of the profound implications-

“You could almost feel the pulse of the other person …

it was uncannily human-like—the sensation of sinews and muscle—

not at all like feeling a machine.”

Telerobotics employs the terminology of “master” and “slave”

to describe the relationship between

The artist,

the active human agent who issues instructions,

and Galatea,

the passive mechanical apparatus that executes them.

The emotional and intellectual impact of this

is difficult to grasp without experiencing it directly.

The affective power of such virtual exchanges

was conceived to create a “planetary fairytale”,

questioning therefore our premises in conceiving.

One participant reported feeling rejected.

The user’s remote location can protect her

from dangerous environmental conditions

like the Surrealists’ game poetically revealed.

Aspects of traditional narrative structure may remain,

civilization [may] never recover.

The following is a response to some of the recent course readings,
including the Ascott article, the Keep article, the Hayles article, and
others. This poem was created using the “cut-up method” and the
Shanken article, "NeMe: Tele-Agency: Telematics, Telerobotics, and
the Art of Meaning".

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Value of Virtual Worlds Learning: A Personal Story/Rant

I have become increasingly convinced that there is a great need for the opportunity for learning via the 3D web. There are plenty of opportunities to give lectures and listen to lectures and interact in ways that were not possibly with just 2D web. My own personal experiences of this past week have made me even more inclined to think that there must be other ways to learn. So what happened this week? Nothing technological or academic. No, this week I spent at least 8 hours driving to get to and from classes (I live in Orlando), and at least 2-3 hours looking for parking places on the UF campus. But what really convinced me that there is a better way is that after taking some dogs for a little ride and hike on Labor day, I managed to make my car a breeding ground for chiggers so by the time I made it to class on Thursday my ankles were on fire with bites! These little critters have made me realize that there are NONE of those same inconveniences in learning, teaching, exploring, and creating via the 3D web. Even this weekend I am preparing for quick trip to Toronto, Canada to explore some new technology for work. What is disheartening is that I realized a few days ago that we are going to fly there and go sit in a conference room and have people come and talk to us. I find all of this to be motivation to quickly build and explore more of the 3D web and hopefully do away with some of the annoying parts of my real world.

An interesting link with some ideas for fully utilizing the function of the 3D web as more than just a place for avatars to come and sit and listen to a 2D, media lecture.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Planetary Technoetics: Art, Technology and Consciousness

Planetary Technoetics: Art, Technology and Consciousness

“It takes a constructive and pro-active approach to the social, technological and spiritual aspirations of the emerging planetary society, while sustaining a critical awareness of the retrograde forces and fields that inhibit social harmony and cultural transformation.

Ascott points to Narby's work to show that there may be much to gain in both the sciences and the arts from research that “seeks correspondences and collaborations between the two technologies of machines and plants, within the natrificial (natural/artifical) space of the Three Vrs, virtual, validated and vegetal.” Narby hypothesizes that the shaman's visions come from communication with his/her DNA, the bridge to this state being hallucinogenic plants such as ayahuasca.

However, the body itself as a bridge to this state is never mentioned. The Bushmen of South Africa reach similar states merely through communal dance and song. The shamans in such states experience smelling and seeing people's sicknesses as if they have x-ray vision. For some, the dance becomes so strong that it actually takes over the dancer. The dancer no longer moves, but is moved! There is a total loss of control and the body takes over. Many of the Bushman doctors talk of going through a “dying” state in order to pass into an altered consciousness from where they may heal. As they enter this state, their eyes and lips begin to twitch, there are spontaneous vocalizations, muscle tightness, abdominal pumping, tingling sensations of the skin etc.. (149 Keeney).

So, I wonder if one of the “retrograde forces and fields that inhibit social harmony and cultural transformation” is a fear of wild communal activity. Granted, we have our clubs and festivals, but for most people, they may only experience the wildness of their body with a lover. I don't think our culture pays the body due respect.

Honestly, I think scientists should be moving into such altered states through “dance”, “movement”, whatever name you'd like to give it, as much as they should be reading journals and experimenting in the lab.

Bushmen/ Bradford Keeney

Tissue Culture in Art Project

Semi-Living Garment

The Victimless Leather is grown out of immortalised cell lines which cultured and form a living layer of tissue supported by a biodegradable polymer matrix in a form of miniature stich-less coat like shape. The Victimless Leather project concerns with growing living tissue into a leather like material.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Ascott Article

After reading the article, "Planetary Technoetics: Art, Technology and Consciousness" by Roy Ascott, I reflected on the idea that human beings are all connected and we should attempt to realize that we are all the same species. It is a challenging task to come to greater understanding of one another to overcome our differences, and Ascott treats the advances of technologies as a fix that will easily hold the solutions.

While quite an idealistic stretch, I have had thoughts like this before, and they come from my interests in space and science fiction. While it is hopeful to believe that a new form of art or technological engineering can work to expand our consciousness, the niche of people who are the forerunners in this type of lifestyle and research are few and far between, well outside of the mainstream, and generally lacking the political influence to raise their concern on the national or global agenda. Espseically when it comes to Narby's idea of vegetal reality, and the concept of getting in touch with our consciousness through DNA signals seems to be quite a stretch. It is more likely in my opinion to take some kind of external event from our planet, the discovery of another life form, of another intelligence, to really awaken the billions of people on this planet to a form of planetary consciousness!

However, I believe there can be an impact through interactive art. I believe that it does have the ability to bring people back together, to bond them to come closer to the human potential. The more we can interact and share experiences that are beyond our normal state of awareness together, the more chances we have to understand eachother. To move away from the television, and create the nightly family activity into a creative, interactive endevour may move the scale in the right direction. I agree with Ascott when he mentions that "meaning is created out of interaction" and the jobs of an artist are to "offer new creative contexts in which meaning can be built." However, access to these type of experiences will remain limited to the few.

In the part of the article that talks about terror as a medium of design-built strategy, Ascott just seems to believe we can easily change our paradigm of thinking. The fact is, it takes a lot of energy and knowledge to think along these broad lines on a regular basis. To understand the larger forces behind what is going on when it comes to terrorist attacks instead of the day-to-day events that become forgotten and just add to the amount of deaths and suffering for the people does not come naturally. That we need a "sensibility to culture that lie outside the Western paradigm" is true, but our brain can only hold so many pieces of information at one time, and when we have to attend to our immediate realities and the daily demands placed on us, it is very hard to stay attuned to people's lives and cultures that are outside our immediate awareness.

When "two world views are so fundamentally opposed to interaction between eachother," it is going to take more than any one conversation to begin to allow for forgiveness of the others' thoughts and actions throughout the course of time. It makes me believe that it will be in the work of the artist that can symbolically show what we are in the larger scale of the universe to begin to move the ones with political influence.

The issue is in what medium will this art be? A medium that already exists, such as film? Or one that has yet to be created? Even the most wisdom-filled, conscious works of art never end up reaching their entire intended audience, and the metaphor is generally lost along the way and not even comprehended by many. At what point will the new media art actually "take its place in the world," if ever?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Avatars for Social Responsibility

Image Source:

As Yann Arthus-Bertrand (a famous aerial photographer, author of Earth from Above) says in his TED talk "...we don't want to believe what we know". He starts by mentioning that even though he came to talk about ecology, he flew from France to California, thereby producing 9 tons of CO2, the equivalent, he says, of two elephants!

For those of us who work with digital technologies and virtual worlds, it is easy to disregard such concerns, as if they only applied to the "real world". But what about the carbon footprint of our avatars?. An article published in the Near Future Laboratory blog mentions some interesting numbers that gave me pause:

According to professor Julian Bleecker Ph.D of USC and cofounder of design think tank the Near Future Laboratory, "a Second Life avatar produces 1,685 pounds of CO2 and an acre of real estate in Second Life produces 99 tons of CO2.

Power Consumption Per Avatar Per Year (Second Life Servers): 153 kWH
Power Consumption Per Avatar Per Year (Home User’s PC): 1,095 kWH
Total Power Consumption Per Avatar Per Year: 1,248 kWH CO2 Emissions Per Avatar Per Year (Second Life Servers): 207 lbs (94 kilos)
CO2 Emissions Per Avatar Per Year (Home User’s PC): 1,478 lbs (670 kilos)
Total CO2 Emissions Per Avatar Per Year: 1,685 lbs (764 kilos)

...Some equivalence for perspective:In 2003, the per-capita power consumption in the United States: 13,242 kWH
In 2001, the per-capita power consumption in Iceland: 26,947 kWH
In 2001, the per-capita power consumption in Keyna: 118 kWH
(World Resource Institute, EarthTrends — )

...Every year, every Avatar in Second Life produces CO2 emissions equivalent to a typical, honking, bloated, arrogant SUV driving 1,293 miles, based on the assumption that this kind of SUV generates 1 lbs of CO2 per mile".

We all know that we will have to make substantial changes to our lifestyle if we want to do our part in saving this "spaceship earth" like Bucky called it. If we don't we will leave the planet to our avatars instead of our grandchildren...

Virtual Economics

No offense to the previous week’s reading assignments, which I found interesting, but this weeks article “Virtual Worlds: A First-Hand Account of Market and Society on the Cyberian Frontier” by Edward Castronova was more what I'm accustomed to reading. It lacks the philosophically stimulating questions and simply summarizes some data on the money and time spent by people either "living in" or "visiting" a virtual world. I think what kept my attention were the journal entries of the author’s first hand accounting of his initial experience in the land of Norath. I’m happy to say that Second Life is not nearly as hostile and I’m thankful that we do not have to start out fighting for our lives and working! In fact one thing I like about Second Life right now is that I don’t have to work there! What I find amazing about the article is that although it is over 7 years old (and systems have increased in popularity in his time) the amount of time and money that people spent in a virtual existence is mind-blowing. I checked for some updated statistics on the economics of virtual reality games and there are plenty of articles to be found, especially since the popularity of World of Warcraft has spun off many first person game systems for children.

Even in 2001 Edward Castronova calculated the GNP of Norath to be about $135 million and the 77th richest country (roughly equal to Russia at that time). I found this amazing so I looked for some more up to date information. It seems the author has just recently published updated work, in a peer reviewed journal (July 2009). In this work he comes to a bit different conclusions. He has three conclusions (taken in part from his blog):

1.) Real world economic analysis works to evaluate the virtual world (that he studied): could possibly be used to test Real world economic research & policies?

2.) Results were not particular to one server

3.) This analysis is a better real-world assessment of Value (the GNP of the virtual world now comes to one of the poorest nations!).

Even though the one society he looks at had a much lower GNP than originally calculated – I imagine if you could add up all VRs as a single country that their GNP would be significantly higher. I also believe that his conclusion #1 is fascinating and can hopefully lead others to looking at the VR as a means of testing potential economic policy and theory; prior to implementation. At least it may provide another tool for evaluating how changing the “rules of play” may affect the GNP both of our virtual existence and our existence in Earth.

On a side note: I found an link to a new peer reviewed journal of for papers on VR and Education for anyone who is writing something or plans to publish on these topics.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Verbiage versus Wisdom

After reading Roy Ascott's article "Planetary Technoetics: Art, Technology and Consciousness," I found several points to agree with. I agree that, in order to survive as a species, we will need to move toward an expanded sense of connectedness with the other inhabitants of the earth. I also agree that artists can facilitate this process, as can technology. And, yes, the wisdom of indigenous cultures has largely been ignored, especially by Science.

However reasonable these points sound, Ascott conflates them with conjecture, such as when he seems to assume that the "Mixed Reality" of indigenous cultures are all based on plant-based drugs. He also sites Narby's hypothesis that the visions of shamans are from their ability to communicate with their own DNA, because we don't yet know what that annoying 97% is for. This is presented with reference to DNA's photon emission as a possible origin of shamanic imagery, which is so much easier to explain this way than something science has no real grasp of.

Perhaps the most dangerous idea presented here is the merging of biological organisms and technology. In my view, scientists should not be the ones deciding what they think they can control. I don't believe any of us are bright enough for that kind of power. If I have to choose, though, give me the shamans any day, preferably female.

Friday, September 11, 2009

September 11 Memorial

While checking some news today and also reflecting on the historical happenings from eight years ago I came across this article that talks about some folks who have created a September 11 memorial in Second Life. More information is in the article from the Link above.

To visit the memorial you can teleport to:

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Monday, September 7, 2009

Museo Del Prado

I was researching Google Earth when I ran across an article about the Prado Museum in Spain using Extremely high resolution cameras to photograph 14 of the most famous works in its collection and include them in their Google Earth building. The image posted is a screenshot of a detail from Hieronymus Bosch's triptych entitled "The Garden of Earthly Delights". I thought how appropriate it is to have this particular artist's work displayed in this way, since his was a virtual world of his own creation which was far ahead of his time. The incredible zoom capabilities offered by this technology make it possible to see every tiny detail, which is especially useful in a painting replete with them.

Whad’ya Know?

In his work “Planetary Technoetics: Art, Technology and Consciousness” Roy Ascott describes a paradigm shift that needs to take place as combined reality research continues. Of striking interest to me is that within the definition of technoetics (the combination of art, technology and consciousness) that as difficult as it has historically been to answer the question “what is art?” It may be significantly more difficult to answer the question of “what is consciousness?” The author sites work of Jeremy Narby who studied the subculture within indigenous peoples of South America. He believes that the ability of the shaman to “know” possibly comes from their connection to their own DNA. The idea is that the DNA carries information and the ability for cells to communicate with each other. The cell to cell communications are being studied as scientists have identified quanta of energy emitted from various plant cells termed biophotons. Roy further goes to term this as a part of various Mixed realities he terms vegetal reality.

In trying to uncover further information about vegetal reality I came across another author and “Consciousness as Evolutionary Process based on Coherent States” Similar to Ascott the author is concerned with defining consciousness. His thought is to use physical and biological structure in order to define consciousness. After many physical comparisons the author summarizes with the following conclusions which I found quite interesting.

“These interactions between actual and potential information, based on this reference point of Descartes, opens the way for understanding the basis of the human consciousness and probably also the steps of further developments into "global" forms of consciousness. We may distinguish 4 different basic forms:

(1) Self confidence according to the reference point of Descartes: I am, resulting from the transformation of the physical existence of the body into "doubts" and back to the control, and so on.. The end of this process is the adjustment of actual and potential information.

(2) Identification (awareness) according to the transformation of the actual information of the physical existence of matter or radiation into "doubts" and back to the control, and so on. This leads after adjusting actual and potential information to the confirmation of You are or It is.

(3) Prediction: Repeated transformations of the actual information of the physical existence of different objects into the possibility field of the potential information under adjustment of the potential information of the memory which provide boundary conditions in the control processes. The transformations are again finished as soon as there is an equality of actual and potential information. The result is a statement: It will be.

(4) Memory and Inspiration. Repeated transformation and re-transformation of potential information of the past and the presence. After adjustment of these probability distributions the statement will follow: It could have been or It could become.

Step (1) is very basic for the reference system of consciousness itself, step (2) allows social interactions, step (3) is the basis of scientific development and step (4) is most necessary for creativity and responsibility within a society. The consciousness develops under natural conditions from step (1) to step (4), and it involves more and more non-local actual information into this process. Insofar, evolution is the development of coherent (probably even squeezed) states into an increasing framework of a global ethics. To some extent it seems that this contradicts the Darwin principle. However both principles, Darwin´s and consciousness evolution, work for the "survival of the fittest". While these "fittest men" are not known in Darwinism, before they have died, a clear picture of them is known in this approach of consciousness development.”


Lifelog link

Lenoir, Heilig, Bush, Mayo - Reflections

I read “All but War is Simulation: The Military-Entertainment Complex” with mixed reactions. On one hand, I was enchanted by the possibilities of experiencing time and space and the use of our bodies in completely new ways due to emerging technologies. On the other, I was concerned by the prospect of taking a metaphorical super jet into the future, without a clear idea of where we are going or who exactly is flying that jet.

Is this jet, fueled by information technology, taking us into the new Renaissance that Lenoir spoke of (290)? If so, we will likely find the environment of our destination(s) altered along with how we interact with and experience our place within it (them). Biomimetic technologies, smart structures, wearable computers, augmented reality, virtual environments and embedded information technologies in the world around us will be a part of the new terrain. And as Lenoir points out, if this new environment leads to a “post”-human state, then there will “ a fundamental shift in our notions of material reality...because materiality is deeply tied to technologies that affect how we experience space and time and how we use our bodies” (290).

If we are indeed entering a new Renaissance, and the inertia of technological development is pushing us into the new terrain of the post-human, then I think it important to pay heed to Heilig's statement about the cinema of the future. He says that because the cinema of the future will have such great power, the “ability to destroy or build men's souls will depend purely on the people behind it” (Heilig 247). Though Heilig was talking specifically about the development of an immersive environment that could completely lead man's attention by engaging all of his senses, I think it would be wise to apply the same statement to the modern technological world that is being built around us. In a sense, we are living in an immersive environment of our design that exists beyond the 5 walls of a cinema. The walls may not be made of concrete, but are instead made of modern technologies that create barriers between man and nature and the natural rhythms of life. And these technologies have the ability to direct man's attention. Thus, one walks with headphones, rather than listening to bird songs. Or, one watches videos on an iphone, rather than engaging in conversation with a person at the bus-stop. And on and on.

As much as new technologies extend the possibilities of man, they also create new social landscapes, whose effects may not be fully understood until the results are felt a few years or decades later. Marshall McLuhan expanded on this point and summarized his insights in these five words: “the medium IS the message”. In the Backstory of Digital Aesthetics, Mayo referenced Virilio who was wary of an “information accident”. What do these phrases mean and why should we care? Well, for example, the television did more than broadcast football games, soap operas, and newscasts. Though the TV may have brought people together in living rooms, the larger effect of the TV, was that people became more passive, choosing to be entertained rather than entertain. In a similar vein, the television influenced the growth of a materialistic culture as advertisements so seductively flowed into houses across the nation. And really, THOSE effects, WERE the message – not what Suzy said to Billy on the 100th soap opera episode.

Similarly, Virilio gives voice to the possibility of an “information accident”, pointing out that such an accident may not be immediately apparent, but may be developing nonetheless. In an information age, information is obviously key and Heilig credits information with taking us into the next Renaissance. And as much as such information may take us to where no man has gone before, how will it effect the individual along the way and society in general? Granted, we may well become post-human and in time our relation to the material world will change, but along the way, what will the detrimental effects be to humans, animals, and plants? As much as this age will open new gates to expansive amounts of knowledge and, in referencing Vannevar Bush, elevate man's spirit by giving him access to information that will allow him to “review man's shady past and analyze more completely and objectively his present problems”, how will stress from too much information affect people? How are the electromagnetic forces created from the new technologies effecting the environment and humans? How will our bodies be effected? Our bodies are 70% water and this water carries patterns within us. Might there be a direct physiological affect from sound pollution through the water patterns created within our bodies? Though cell phones allow us to connect with loved ones hundreds of miles away, those same electromagnetic signals cause cancer, can be used to control populations, and affect the flight patterns of birds and bees, which is not something to be taken lightly considering Einstein's quote “Without bees, we've got four more years”. Military drills using sonar have ruptured the ear-like membranes of whales causing them to beach and die. And these are but just a few of the examples.

Though we think of our developing technologies as modern, I wonder if they are not in some ways primitive? Shouldn't developments work with the natural world, and not against it? And maybe, this is what the information age will allow. It may allow us to correct our past mistakes by learning from what has not worked and allow the easy access to information necessary to create new paradigms in a time-sensitive manner considering the many problems that will be faced over the next few decades – droughts, rising seas, population overload, and shortages of food, oil, and water etc....

However, back to Heilig's point about the people behind the cinema having the ability to destroy or build men's souls. If the new Renaissance is to be truly modern, then people behind the developing technologies have a large responsibility if they are to move humanity in a direction that “builds mens souls”. Of course there is no easy answer for this, as any one technology may have a variety of individual, political and business interests and thus a variety of intentions behind it. Considering that technological development is driven by the military, porn, and games, only reinforces the fact that often such an aim is not the focus of technological development. Often profits are made by appealing to the lowest common denominator or by turning the other way and collaborating on projects that may have questionable aims. Therefore, it seems to me, that if the new Renaissance is to be truly a success, it must be measured in terms of the harmonious effects that it enables between man, machine, and nature. Societies will need to move in a direction that measures “success” in terms of a net effect – which specifically aims to satisfy two parts of an equation: How the new development solves an existing problem AND whether or not the development creates NEW problems in areas of health, social functioning, environment, etc... The development of biomimetic technologies may be a step in that direction. Individuals who are conscious of the effects of their actions on the planetary web that we are all apart of , will no doubt help too. And last, but not least, like Mayo states, “the ability to communicate and socially organize in new ways subverts previous models of information distribution and social control” (Mayo 106). So, such developments as social networking sites, You Tube and the like enable a more diverse range of voices be heard. Information need no longer come from the top down and consumers need no longer remain passive, but can step more easily into an active role of producer. Such development will be necessary to move into a truly successful future.

We need only look at a flower to appreciate a very sophisticated design and generate ideas for the new Renaissance.

This excerpt is from:

“Let us look at a simple plant to get a glimpse of nature's amazing technical intelligence. So, let's consider the water iris. Its flower has six beautiful curved petals, three rolling down,three rising up in blues and yellows with a light green stalk and vertical leaves, and a soft subtle scent.
Yet this plant is a small, super-effective factory that:
  1/ makes sugars out of sunlight.
  2/ transforms carbon dioxide into oxygen.
  3/ cleans the water it drinks, passing it into the air.
  4/ helps micro-organisms enrich the soil.
  5/ is alive!
  6/ reproduces itself.
  7/ has a sublime geometric form.
  8/ is beautiful living art, an inspiration to millions.
No technical inventions of human beings can do this.
All of nature's creations and their deeds, working together, are filled with an intelligence, a wisdom that we are only beginning to understand. Such a perfect and living technical design solution is something we humans can only dream of creating. Yet this is the sort of example we must aspire to.”

I'd like to end by saying, that in synthesizing the information presented in the texts, I've come to better understand the complex nature of forces at play in the world that we are creating and how science/business/university research/entertainment/military all play their part. At times I've wondered if our ipods, cellphones, and theme park rides are but ornaments on a very ugly tree. Microwaves can be used to cook food (any give cancer) just the same as they can be used for crowd control. The same technologies that are used to shoot zombies in pixel land can be used to aid in the shooting of real people in Iraq and Afghanistan, or as in the case of the previously mentioned article, steer the microwave beams electronically. But, then I must acknowledge that though Einstein's E=mc2 led to the atomic bomb, it also helped further our understanding of the world we live in. The Department of Defense's creation of ARPANET became the internet that I use today to learn about the world around me and connect with friends through Skype. A chip implanted in the brain could be used by the government to control people as much as it could be used to extend the capabilities of a paralyzed woman by allowing her to move a computer mouse with her thoughts.

So, here we go on this information jet....

And as we go into the future on this jet, I cannot help but ponder this Thoreau quote:
“Men have become tools of their tools”.

I will no doubt keep exploring the two sides of the coin - how we have become tools of our tools AND how tools expand our capabilities.......

Toodles ~Shamar

Second Life Weight Management

Second Life has been a very new experience for me as I'm sure it has been for some of the rest of the class. As I have been seeing so many areas for incorporating such an interesting tool into various aspects of research I have also wondered what role Second Life would play in my own personal life and issues. As we have all tried to get our avatars to look like ourselves I noticed myself trying to make my avatar look more like the person that I used to be or would like to become. I found this interesting news clip that addresses how people tend to create avatars to look like themselves except in the area of weight. This seems to be a ripe area for research as gaming systems like Wii Fit try to take advantage of the technology in order to try to improve exercise practices. This particular news clip is interesting because maybe there is a link between creating an avatar to look like how you want to look can help you to achieve those goals. Perhaps by learning (scripting) some fancy dance moves or skills in Second life we will also see ourselves breaking loose or moving more in our real lives?

Saturday, September 5, 2009

¡Ay Machina!

My father, who grew up on a farm, served in WWII as a ship’s navigator. He said that he decided to go to sea because there might be more of a chance to survive the war. Though he was a consummate storyteller, I never heard him talk much about his experiences, except for a few references to sailing up the Thames while watching explosions on either side of the bow. His message was that War is a brutal business, that cruelty and hardship are commonplace, and that it is not to be admired. It wasn’t until much later, after he died, that I heard about the deadly Murmansk Run, and how he navigated his crew to safety, at a time when the a majority of the convoy crews were killed by submarine attacks. In a way, it was not a surprise because he taught me most of what I know about how to navigate this life: how to look beyond the surface, how to listen to the wisdom of others from very different backgrounds, and how to find one’s own moral compass.

As a returning student, artist/designer, and experienced parent, my views on media might come from a slightly different perspective than those who are more enamored with technology for its own sake. From my vantage point, there is a prevalent mindset in the American culture that status, including academic status, is directly related to funding and which areas chosen to receive it. Therefore, it seems to me that Science and intellectual pursuits, which apply scientific methods of inquiry, have come to be treated with a reverence that the Humanities are not (unless we are talking about the famously lucrative entertainment industry). Additionally, it is said by many that the world of academe suffers from what is termed “the silo effect,” which can describe a lack of cooperation between an institution’s departments, or a lack of emphasis on interdisciplinary research due to specialization.

One aspect that I appreciate about New Media is that it straddles many of the realms of knowledge, which have previously been relegated to their respective corners, creating marriages of Music and Physics, such as in the elegantly designed game Auditorium, or melding technology with new ways to present history, art, and storytelling, such as at the Rijksmuseum. The attitudes of some disciplines being more “pure” than others are being challenged and new possibilities are being explored due to an increased ability for interconnection, literally and figuratively.

Therefore, after reading the article by Tim Lenoir, “All but War Is Simulation,” and being asked to express my reaction, I have to say that I found it both revealing and deeply disturbing. I have wondered before why game designers have focused so often on violent games. From what Lenoir has detailed, it has much to do with funding and how the military routinely underwrites and directs projects. This funding pipeline leads research in certain directions, and helps to create cozy business relationships once researchers learn how to jump over the necessary hurdles to become government vendors.

The same week that I read the Lenoir article, I began reading The Language of New Media by Lev Manovich. In the foreword written by the founder of, Mark Tribe describes the debate, which took place on his email list during the time the book was being written. He recalls that the more theoretical Europeans criticized Americans for having a “ ‘California ideology’ (a deadly cocktail of naïve optimism, techno-utopianism, and new-libertarian politics popularized by Wired magazine)”. I think this criticism still has the ring of truth today since Lenoir’s article does not stray into observations on whether the alliance of the Military-Entertainment Complex has moral complications, training as it does entire generations of (mostly) boys to think of war and gaming simultaneously, death and enjoyment. Perhaps "Military-Entertainment Complex" should also be a psychological term.

Cartoon courtesy of artist and physicist Randall Munroe at

Friday, September 4, 2009

Music in the Digital World

I know this is a bit tangential to this class but is a bit of a commentary on the previous post about instruments and relates to some of the other class blogs. I believe that there will be a future for musical instruments in the future, even though the digital age has changed how those instruments will being used. For example, see the video below for a different way in which music and digital media have merged to tell a classic love story. In this particular example an application used through the the social networking site Facebook was used in order to connect digital animators together to construct a short film. Musical talents of Steve Vai and Ann Marie Calhoun provide the "language" for the piece and I believe this is a reflection of the use of new media, and musical talent to tell an old story. Plus, I think Steve Vai is amazing! Here is the press clip from the Steve Vai website.

"Mass Animation, Sony Pictures and Intel Corporation today announced that the ground-breaking animated short film Live Music, a worldwide collaboration by animators using a unique application built on the Facebook Platform, will be attached to TriStar Pictures' animated feature Planet 51, scheduled for a Nov. 20 wide theatrical release in North America.

Live Music is directed by Yair Landau, former president of Sony Pictures Digital, and produced by Landau and Jacquie Barnbrook (producer of the Oscar-winning short, "The Chubb Chubbs"). It is the first production from Mass Animation, an effort sponsored by Intel Corporation that brings together the worlds of computer graphics, Hollywood and Facebook.

The 5-minute computer-generated animated short is inspired by Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" and early CGI films. Set in a musical instrument store, the story follows Riff, a rock 'n' roll guitar, who, as Landau describes it, "falls in love to the wrong song but ends up with Vanessa, the classical violin of his dreams." The story is conveyed through the universal language of music, allowing the expressions and actions of the characters to be instantly relatable globally. The instruments are brought to life through original compositions and familiar rock tunes played principally by legendary guitarist Steve Vai as Riff and acclaimed violinist Ann Marie Calhoun as Vanessa.

Below is the clip from YouTube:

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

What is a musical instrument? (A question in 50 years)

Where did the musical instruments go (The disappearing musical instruments)?

My first thoughts on viewing Pat's demo during the Digital Salon for Fall 2009 DAS program at UF was "Musical instruments are going away". Before A.R. Rahman - Music Director for "The Slum Dog Millionaire" won the Oscar award, many musicians and individuals with background in classical music (from India) criticized and debated that A.R. Rahman was a Music Technician; not a Music Director (though he plays Keyboard) and hated his raise as a Music director. Winning an Oscar ended many of those debates! Most of the music by A.R. Rahman seems to be computer synthesized and clips merged from existing Musical chunks!
After viewing the following You Tube video (also available at I am of the opinion that musical instruments will disappear in the next 2 generations (about 60 years) and will become objects in museum. The next 50 years of futuristic music will be synthesized using computer also using copy, paste modify and mix techniques.

Another Blog with similar thoughts:


Tuesday, September 1, 2009


In this weeks reading I was very interested in the history of the ACR SIGGRAPH organization because having worked in the medical profession I have seen fliers and invites to their conference but had not appreciated their long history nor the impact this conference has had on the digital world as a whole. After looking into it a bit I was also disappointed to find out that the conference just past and we missed it! The link shows some of the interesting technical papers that would have been presented. Much more information can be found on their website.