A Short History of the Highrise

The New York Times and the National Film Board (of Canada) have collaborated on a great interactive A Short History of the Highrise. The interactive plays as a documentary that you can stop at any point to explore details. The director, Katerina Cizek, on the About page talks about their inspiration:

I was inspired by the ways storybooks have been reinvented for digital tablets like the iPad. We used rhymes to zip through history, and animation and interactivity to playfully revisit a stunning photographic collection and reinterpret great feats of engineering.

For the NFB this is part of their larger Highrise many-media project.

Reshaping New York

The New York Times has a fabulous new interactive visualization called Reshaping New York that shows how Bloomberg has changed the city of 12 years. It shows new buildings, the rezoning, the introduction of bike lanes, and the celebration of the waterfront. The visualization is more of a tour that combines a 3D model of the city with images of before and after Bloomberg.

Tropes vs. Women in Video Games

I’ve been meaning to write about sexism in games for a while, but today I came across a YouTube video essay More than a Damsel in a Dress: A Response by Commander Kite Tales. This a response to Damsel in Distress: Part 1 – Tropes vs Women in Video Games by Anita Sarkeesian.

But first, a bit of history.

On May 17th, 2012 Anita Sarkeesian launched a Kickstarter campaign to improve the Feminist Frequency video web series of essays on problematic gender representations. The first of the new series came out recently in March 7, 2013, Damsel in Distress: Part 1 – Tropes vs Women in Video Games. It is well worth watching.

Alas the campaign and Sarkeesian were attacked systematically; see, for a brutal example, the Amateur game invites player to beat up woman. The obscene and hateful attacks have been documented by columnists like Helen Lewis in the New Statesman article, This is what online harassment looks like. What did Sarkeesian do? Lewis puts it succinctly,

She’s somebody with a big online presence through her website, YouTube channel and social media use. All of that has been targeted by people who – and I can’t say this enough – didn’t like her asking for money to make feminist videos.

So why did all these trolls attack Sarkeesian? 4Chan seems to have been one site where they organized, but what bothered them so much about her campaign? Sarkeesian’s interpretation is that they made a game of harassing her. As she puts it, “in their mind they concocted this grand fiction in which they are the heroic players in a massively multiplayer online game…” She goes on to describe how the players of this “gamified misogyny” were mostly grown men, they used discussion boards as their home base for coordination and bragging, the setting of the game was the whole internet, and the goal was to silence the evil Sarkeesian to save gaming for men. The trolls would go out, harass her, and come back to their boards to show off what they had done. It was a particularly nasty example of an internet flash crowd organizing to silence a woman. It was also an example of how the internet can amplify behaviour and provide haven for misogynist communities.

Sarkeesian’s video essay wasn’t even an attack on men or games. It is clearly the work of someone who likes games but is critical of the repeated use of the “damesel in distress” plot device and other sexist crap. The video essay is, however, effective at challenging the uncritical consumption of cliched tropes in games using a medium commonly used in gamer culture (short video essays that show game play and comment on games.)

Now, back to More than a Damsel in a Dress: A Response which argues that Sarkeesian didn’t look at the evidence with an open mind and that the princess in distress in both the Mario and Zelda series of games should be seen as brave individuals dealing bravely with distress that also represent the peace of their kingdom. While I find Kite Tales’ argument somewhat sophistical and mostly answered already by Sarkeesian, we should probably welcome responses like those of Tale that don’t attack the messager, but try to respond to the argument in some fashion; and there are quite a few responses if you care to work through a lot of poor arguments. It would be nice to say that video essayists are modeling how a conversation on these issues should take place rather than hurl abuse, but the medium doesn’t really lend itself to conversation. Instead we have isolated video essays with lots of comments. Not exactly a dialogue, but better than abuse.

While I’m on this issue of damsel’s in distress like Princess Peach, Ars Technica has a story about how a Dad hacks Donkey Kong for his daughter; Pauline now saves Mario. Alas, it too got abusive comments, the worst of which have been compiled into YouTube Reacts to Donkey Kong: Pauline Edition. The compilation focuses on the sexist and homophobic comments. If you scroll through the comments now you will find that they are mostly supportive of the Dad. The good news seems to be that the sorts of comments Sarkeesian faced are being shamed down or being reflected back.

As for Anita Sarkeesian, her Kickstarter campaign raised much more than she asked for and she now has the funds and attention to do a whole series. I look forward to the next part on Damsel in Distress that promises to look at more contemporary games.

The Expression of Emotions in 20th Century Books

Emilie pointed me to an NPR strory on mining mood in 20th century books, Mining Books To Map Emotions Through A Century. This story draws on a very readable article The Expression of Emotions in 20th Century Books in PLOS One. The article reports on a study of “mood” or sentiment over time in literature. The used the Google Ngram data. I like how they report first and then discuss methodology at the end.

They mention support from an interesting EU funded project TrendMiner. TrendMiner is developing real-time multi-lingual analysis tools.

Continue reading The Expression of Emotions in 20th Century Books

Future Hype: Near Futures

I gave a lecture at Kim Solez’s course on the future of medicine and he taped it and put it up on YouTube here:

Geoffrey Rockwell FutureHype LABMP 590 2013 March 7 – YouTube.

This talk came out of a conversation we had at a pub about Ray Kurzweil where I disagreed with Kim about Kurzweil’s predictions. Thinking about Kurzweil I realized how fundamental prediction is. We call it hope. It is easy to make fun of the futurists, but we need to recognize how we always look forward to the near future.

Visual Music

In Dublin I heard DAH student Maura McDonnell present on Visual Music (her blog), which is her PdD research area. Visual Music is one term among many of experiments in light and sound and her blog is a nice collection of resources on this new media form.

From her blog I learned that there is a also a Center for Visual Music that has documentation and an online store.

Maura’s own work can be seen online, see Silk Chroma. The image above is taken from the Vimeo video.

Whistleblower: The NSA is Lying–U.S. Government Has Copies of Most of Your Emails

According to National Security Agency (of the USA) whistleblower William Binney, the NSA probably has most of our email. See the video Whistleblower: The NSA is Lying–U.S. Government Has Copies of Most of Your Emails. The question then is what they are doing with it? He mentions that the email can be “put it into forms of graphing, which is building relationships or social networks for everybody, and then you watch it over time, you can build up knowledge about everyone in the country.” (see transcript on page). In other words they could (are) building a large social graph that they can use in various ways.

In the transcript of the longer video Binney talks about various programs developed to filter out all the information:

Well, it was called Thin Thread. I mean, Thin Thread was our—a test program that we set up to do that. By the way, I viewed it as we never had enough data, OK? We never got enough. It was never enough for us to work at, because I looked at velocity, variety and volume as all positive things. Volume meant you got more about your target. Velocity meant you got it faster. Variety meant you got more aspects. These were all positive things. All we had to do was to devise a way to use and utilize all of those inputs and be able to make sense of them, which is what we did.

Binney goes on to talk about the code named Stellar Wind program that Bush authorized and then was forced to change after a revolt of some sort in the Justice Department in 2004. Stories tell of senior Bush advisors trying to get Ashcroft to sign authorization papers for the program while he was in the hospital.  As for Stellar Wind, it seems to be mostly about metadata – the date, to, and from of emails that you could use to build a diachronic social graph which is what Binney was talking about. Strictly speaking this would be social network analysis rather than text analysis, but they might have supplemented the system with some keyword capabilities. Another story from Time points out the problem with such analysis – that it generates too many vague false positives. “Leads from the Stellar Wind program were so vague and voluminous that field agents called them “Pizza Hut cases” — ostensibly suspicious calls that turned out to be takeout food orders.”

Either way, these hints give us a tantalizing view into how text and network analysis is being experimented with. Are there any useful research applications?

The Guild – a web series about gamers

I’ve been watching the The Guild – a web series about gamers. It was launched in 2007 on YouTube and shows what can be done with a web series. Written by Felicia Day it chronicles the real and online lives of a guild of MMORG players. It apparently was one of the inspirations of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog another great web series. They both use a series of short episodes suitable for web streaming to do comedy.