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cyberculture

30 May

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Some drone flying videos from Dolores Park

May 30, 2014 | By |

Over in San Francisco, Tom and Matt had rented a Phantom drone, and they kindly took me along to take it out for a spin over Dolores Park.

Tom just shared the results (see many more on Tom’s flickr):

 

The San Francisco skyline, as seen from over Dolores Park:

 

And a (more than slightly awkward) drone selfie. (Dronie? Drelfie?):

Thanks Tom!

All images by Tom Coates, licensed under CC by-nc.

03 Oct

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How to see through the cloud, translated

October 3, 2013 | By |

Over on the Mozilla Webmaker site, James Bridle wrote a brilliant piece that explains in very simple terms how to get a better understanding of the web at the most basic level – where the cables and buildings are located, and where our data travels: How to see through the cloud. It’s fantastic!

And since the whole point of the Webmaker project is to allow for quick and easy remixing – and the learning process associated with it – I took the liberty to translate it to German.

We talk about the cloud all the time, the seemingly ephemeral, almost magical place where our data lives and thrives. But only when the system fails and something doesn’t work do we notice that there’s a brick-and-mortar infrastructure that everything runs on. Cables, servers, concrete buildings. Heck, even my mom asked me about the cloud a few weeks ago, and what it looks like.

Well, thanks to James everyone can now just poke around the web and get a better understanding on where the cloud really lives, and how our data travels down the cables hopping from data center to data center.

You can find my translation over on the Webmaker site: Die Cloud durchschauen.

As a side note, if you want to learn in a playful, really not threatening way about how the web works, please go check out Mozilla Webmaker. It’s a fantastic resource and very, very simple to get into.

25 Mar

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Cyborgs

March 25, 2013 | By |

CYBORG FOUNDATION | Rafel Duran Torrent from Focus Forward Films on Vimeo.

 

The video above isn’t particularly new (some four months old I think at the time I’m posting it), but I find it both well made and really relevant. The stuff Neil Harbisson has been working on – both on the interface side of things and the societal/political angle the Cyborg Foundation tackles – are at the tip of the iceberg we’re just starting to learn more about: human-machine interfaces.

What we’ve seen so far is baby steps. When Neil says in the video that Prince Charles “sounds good” it can give us a hint at the kind of re-thinking and re-evaluating we’ll have to do, as a society, over the next ten, twenty, fifty years. As we see technological progress, like less invasive brainwave-based interfaces or more powerful artificial eyes and limbs, the cultural norms will have to adapt and shift considerably.

There’s a lot of brilliant thinking going on in this field and it’s super interesting to follow. For some primers, I recommend following Amber Case and Nathan Jurgenson, to name just two.

06 Nov

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Bruce Sterling on The Alpine Review

November 6, 2012 | By |

Review

 

This tweet made my day.

15 Jul

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Distrust that particular flavor

July 15, 2012 | By |

I’m finishing Gibson’s collection of articles, Distrust That Particular Flavor. At last. I’ve been drawing it out, trying to make it last longer, as I’ve been enjoying it tremendously, and collections are easy to stretch out that way, unlike novels or any fiction, really.

Flavors, and my reading it, is meta on so many levels. Reading a book by a science fiction/cyberpunk author collecting articles and speeches by said author himself in the past, commented on and put in context in the much more recent past: it’s a peculiar kind of obsession with, I guess, a person, or perhaps the idea of a person, or their perspective, that you need to be into this kind of thing.

All this, or rather my enjoyment of it, tells you less about myself (besides of course that I have the ability and inclination to obsess in this particular way about things and ideas) than it puts me in context, historically and chronologically, much in the  same way his stories are put into context in Flavor by Gibson himself. Notably and most obviously, this contextualization comes in the shape of a time stamp. Me having gotten hooked on cyberpunk and science fiction as a small town youth in the early-to-mid 90s, on Gibson’s and many others’, on written fiction and pen and paper style role playing games of the geekiest variety, as well as movies and all the rest.

It feels a tiny bit weird that at the time of his writing, Gibson was probably just a bit older than I was reading it, or max as old as I am now*. At the same time it feels strangely pleasing, comforting even, that the authors and the genre and my life and the lives of my peers have evolved in parallel to whatever extent is possible, staying to some degree mentally compatible to, again, the degree possible. Meaning, in other words, can still be derived, and more so from the more recent texts where the old ones now hold largely romantic-melancholic-comforting value, backward looking instead of focused on the present (let alone the future, but which sci-fi author would ever presume to write about the future anyway).

If you, too, obsess about the things mentioned above, do read Flavor. It’s a quick, enjoyable read, that invites looking back and revisiting former selves and expectations of present and future. Recommended!

*Update: According to Wikipedia, Gibson was 36 when Neuromancer came out, whereas I was maybe 15 when I read it and am 32 now, so my time references were way off. The point still holds true.

12 Jun

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Foo Session: The end of the world (or state, at least)

June 12, 2012 | By |

What seems like it started out as a joke by David Eaves turned into one of the most interesting (and hilarious) discussions I participated in at Foo Camp. I’m not going to re-hash the whole thing, instead I’ll write down a few key points and thoughts.

The premise for the session was this: As we see looking at political struggles like the Arab Spring or the protest against SOPA/PIPA and related bills, and increasing online censorship both in authoritarian regimes and across the Western World, there is clearly a power struggle going on with the governments on one side and the Internet on the other.

(Yes, yes, we never defined who and what exactly is “the Internet”; for the purpose of the discussion and the blog post, we’ll have to make do, and I’ll capitalize it unless I mean the technical infrastructure that makes up the physical internet.)

So let’s assume there are two major power blocks, in any given country: On one hand, the government, in most cases with an inherent interest to preserve the status quo, which is permanently endangered by the internet’s capacity to empower activists, citizens and all other groups alike. On the other hand, the online community, including civil society and the individuals, political activists, consumers etc etc. The latter is extremely vague of course, but there you go, but let’s assume the Internet strives to be as free as possible, with access to as much information as possible and as little restrictions as possible.

We know that in many cases, the Internet has won that particular battle, or at least helped win it. The Arab Spring or SOPA/PIPA are just two examples. In other cases, not so much: Iran, China, the more subtle types of filtering going on in Western democracies like Germany.

So that’s where we stand, but (1) what does it mean, and are we even asking the right questions? (2) And is there really a battle of state v Internet?

(1) We don’t know yet, and (2) probably not. Instead, let’s look at some of the aspects we need to dig into much, much deeper to really find answers. I’ll just collect them here, as I also don’t really have answers, and neither did the group. In fact, I’d be surprised if there’s anyone who could make anything better than an informed guess.

  • What are the possible outcomes if those are the lines of conflict? No state, strong Internet? No free Internet, but a strong state? Neither are likely. Should a state truly collapse, it would most likely mean a breakdown of infrastructure and services, and thereby also mean the end of the internet in that region. On the other hand, hardly any state can afford to really shut down the internet anymore, as basically all of the essential services a state provides are at least affected, if not based on the internet. More likely is a new balance, one that might be shifting back and forth, some slightly more regulated internet than today or 5 years ago, but still with plenty of wriggle room.
  • Did we even identify all the major parties in this constellation? Probably not. As some folks pointed out, corporations might be one of the major forces at work. Companies that try to influence both government and Internet in order to preserve the freedom they strive for to do their business, and potentially keeping each other in check. Maybe a more distinct civil society could also be a party of sorts.
  • Which role do the inter-dependencies between traditional military action and cyberwar play? Will a country get into a military conflict over a cyber attack? What about pre-emptive cyber attacks? What about semi or fully autonomous, networked drones? What about retaliating with a full-blown country-wide DDOS-style attack as a reaction to guerilla cyber warfare? And should there be a NATO equivalent for the civilian Internet, pooling resources to protect the free web?
  • Which role will a nationstate play in a time where networked knowledge workers work, play and live globally, constantly on the move? It probably won’t provide much identity, it won’t provice basic services as long as the person doesn’t happen to be on that nationstate’s soil. That leaves the state as a passport provider and somewhat of a permanent mailbox.
  • Are we headed for a new kind of citizenship that isn’t primarily based on the traditional nationstate? And what would that be based on? Is the uniting factor a corporation/employer, a tribe (West Coast, East Coast, Euro geeks, etc), something more local or regional (city states), or based on your access to information and network (ISP, data haven, or similar)? Stephenson, Doctorow & Co have drawn up a number of scenarios, all of which might be plausible.
  • Will governments around the world try to either crack down on the Internet, or become much, much more responsive to citizens?

One thing is for sure: There’s a good chance that the role of the nationstate will change dramatically over the next 5-15 years. How? Hard to tell. But it’s not likely to stay the way it is.

09 Apr

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AKB48

April 9, 2012 | By |

AKB48 is, according to Wikipedia, “a Japanese female idol group produced by Yasushi Akimoto. The pop group has achieved enormous popularity in Japan. It is also one of the highest-earning musical acts in the world, with 2011 record sales of over $200 million in Japan alone.”

Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic. Source: Wikipedia/kalleboo

Before my trip to Japan I wasn’t aware of the group, but the system is friggin’ brilliant, in a very Gibson-esque, or maybe more Sterling-esque, way. Allow me to quite Wikipedia some more to give you a better idea:

AKB48 holds the Guinness World Record for being the world’s “largest pop group”. Currently, it consists of four subgroups: Team A, Team K, Team B, and Team 4 with 16 members each, summing up to a total of 64 girls. There is also a number of aspiring members, who are called “kenky?sei” (“trainees”). The member lineup often changes; when girls get older, they “graduate” from the group, while new members are cast through regularly held auditions. Having several teams not only allows the group to reduce the load on its members, since a daily concert at the theater is given by only one team, but also gives AKB48 opportunity to perform in several places and even countries simultaneously.

Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic. Source: Wikipedia/kndynt2099.

In other words, it’s a huge operation, with enough members to target any niche audience, be it ever so small. The graduation mechanism allows for (theoretically) unlimited spin-offs, so new members are lined up at any given time. The internal competition modes and merchandise sales should be a money machine like no other, and the high number of members also allows them to leave the traditional paths of “touring” with all its physical and regional limitations. Getting the audience involved both in terms of meeting band members (which is easy for the band, as there are so many members, and slightly harder for the audience as tickets for AKB48’s small trademark live gig at Akahibara are given out by lottery), and in terms of voting mechanisms: Fans determine in “general elections” which of the members are involved in recording new songs etc. I can only assume that the voting mechanism are charged for in some way or another. The potential for upsell is ludicrous, but there’s more to it.

It’s post-something, that much is for sure, and very much hits a certain flavor of the zeitgeist. But post-what, and pre-what? Pre completely computer animated, personalized artist-avatars, maybe, and maybe just post-human in the more traditional sense, or at least post-individual. But that doesn’t quite capture it all. There’s something going on here on many layers that I can’t quite put my finger on just yet.