Narrative and Technology: Curtis Wong and Geoffrey Rockwell in Conversation – YouTube

The kind folks at the Long Room Hub at Trinity College Dublin have put up the video of the “conversation” I participated in on the 6th of March. The event was called Narrative and Technology: Curtis Wong and Geoffrey Rockwell in Conversation. Curtin Wong is now at Microsoft Research, but worked for some time at the Voyager Company back in the days when they were developing some of the most interesting multimedia works.

The Strange Birth and Long Life of Unix

Also from Slashdot a feature about The Strange Birth and Long Life of Unix. Warren Toomey, a historian of Unix, wrote this feature for the IEEE Spectrum in honour of Unix turning 40.

The creation of Unix (which originally stood for “Un-multiplexed Information and Computing Service”) is tied to text editing as Thomson and Ritchie pitched a proposal to Bell Labs management not as an operating system project but as a project to “create tools for editing and formatting text, what you might call a word-processing system today.” One of the first programs was roff, a text formatting tool. The first tests where for entering and formatting patent applications.

At the end of the feature Toomey talks about the historical work he and others are involved in curating old Unix versions through the Unix Heritage Society.

Our goal is not only to save the history of Unix but also to collect and curate these old systems and, where possible, bring them back to life. With help from many talented members of this society, I was able to restore much of the old Unix software to working order, including Ritchie’s first C compiler from 1972 and the first Unix system to be written in C, dating from 1973.

Game Industry Legends: Richard Garriott de Cayeux

From Slashdot I found my way to a nice long interview with Game Industry Legends: Richard Garriott de Cayeux. Also known by his in-game name Lord British designed games like the Ultima series from Origin Systems that he founded with his brother and father.

In the interview he talks about designing games and the research he feels you have to do.

My process is very labor-intensive, it’s a very research-oriented approach to game design. I consider myself a student of the Tolkien style of fictional development, and yet virtually no one even in my own company, having heard me expound on this for years and years and years, will put in the long nights and weekends of study in order to come up with something that is of similar power.

He also speculates that consoles are doomed because of the power of the smartphones and tablets that we carry around.

If we’ve got a smartphone that can do Xbox level graphics, which we’ve almost got, and I can hook that up to a TV and use a controller, what’s the difference between that and a console? It’s just whatever games are available.

Webs and whirligigs: Marshall McLuhan in his time and ours

McLuhan and Woody Allen from Annie Hall

Today is the 100th anniversary of Marshall McLuhan’s birth so there are a bunch of articles about his work including this one from the Nieman Journalism Lab by Megan Garber, Webs and whirligigs: Marshall McLuhan in his time and ours. I also found an article by Paul Miller aka DJ Spooky on Dead Simple: Marshall Mcluhan and the Art of the Record which is partly about the Medium is the Massage record that McLuhan worked on with others. Right at the top you can listen to a DJ Spooky remix of McLuhan from the record.

Some students here at U of A and I have been working our way through the archives of the Globe and Mail studying how computing was presented to Canadians starting with the first articles in the 1950s. McLuhan features in a number of articles as he was eminently quotable and he was getting research funding. The best article is from May 7, 1964 (page 7) by Hugh Munro titled “Research Project with Awesome Implications.” Here are some quotes:

If successful, they said, it (the project) could produce a foolproof system for analyzing humans and manipulating their behavior, or it could give mankind a surefire method of planning the future and making a world free from large-scale social mistakes. …

They (the team of nine scientists) have undertaken to discover the impacts of culture and technology on each other, or, as Dr McLuhan put it, to discover “how the things we make change the way we live and how the way we live changes the things we make.” …

The next stage in the technological revolution that will change man’s perceptions is the computer. But it may hold the secret to the communications problem. With these electronic devices, it is possible to test all manner of things from ads to cities.

The article describes a grant (probably Canada Council but perhaps a foundation grant) that an interdisciplinary team of nine “scientists” from medicine, architecture, engineering, political science, psychiatry, museology, anthropology and English. They were going to use computers and head cameras (that track what people look at) to understand what people sense, how they are stimulated and how what they sense is conditioned by their background. “The scientists at the Centre (of Culture and Technology at U of T) believe they can define and catalogue the sensory characteristics …”

The idea is that if they can figure out how people are stimulated then they can figure out how to manipulate them either for good or bad. “Foolproof ads could be designed. ‘Madison Avenue could rule the world.’ Dr. McLuhan said. ‘The IQs of illiterate people could be raised dramatically by new educational methods.'”

Oh to be so confident about research outcomes!

Home – Kule Institute for Advanced Studies – University of Alberta

Today I went to the inaugural meeting on the Culture, Media and Technology theme of the Kule Institute for Advanced Studies (KIAS). KIAS is a new interdisciplinary research institute at the University of Alberta set up with generous support from the Kules. The inaugural director Jerry Varsava took us through the background and activities of the institute. Some of the key features of the institute are:

  • It is led by the Faculty of Arts, but supports research generally in the SSH area
  • It organizes activities around themes of which there are now three including Culture, Media and Technology
  • The initial activities/programmes include funding for research clusters and interdisciplinary seminars
  • There is also support for external collaborations, doctoral dissertation completion fellowships and for post-doctoral fellows

The key is the cluster grants that are designed to support interdisciplinary teams.

I should mention that I am on the Administrative Board.

IEEE Spectrum: Ray Kurzweil’s Slippery Futurism

From Slashdot I was led to a great critique of Kurzweil’s futurism, see the IEEE Spectrum: Ray Kurzweil’s Slippery Futurism. I’ve tried to tackle Kurzweil in previous posts here (on Singularity University), but never quite nailed his form of prediction the way John Rennie does.

Therein lie the frustrations of Kurzweil’s brand of tech punditry. On close examination, his clearest and most successful predictions often lack originality or profundity. And most of his predictions come with so many loopholes that they border on the unfalsifiable. Yet he continues to be taken seriously enough as an oracle of technology to command very impressive speaker fees at pricey conferences, to author best-selling books, and to have cofounded Singularity University, where executives and others are paying quite handsomely to learn how to plan for the not-too-distant day when those disappearing computers will make humans both obsolete and immortal.

Tom McCarthy: International Necronautical Society

One of the people short-listed for the Man Booker prize is Tom McCarthy who, among other things created the International Necronautical Society. This “semi-ficticious organization” reminds me of OULIPO. They are “in our house” and recruiting. They have a lovely Joint Statement on Inauthenticity. A necronaut according to the Urban Dictionary is an “Annoying hacker and general asshole in Counter-Strike and other online games.” Or it could be someone who navigates death.

They have a Twitter feed, twitter.com/necronauts