Sunday, October 19, 2014

Minecraft vs Brutalism

"Titan City", a Minecraft map that took someone 2 years to build on an XBox (direct link to video) (Via BBC):

vs Brutalist Architecture, eg:

Block-buildings are block-buildings. Or are they? I'm fascinated by the seemingly-overlapping world of Minecraft and Brutalism, but which seem never to meet over society's agreement on how "awesome" they are. I think the split comes down to a couple of things:

1. Computer interfaces are inherently brutalist, whereas analogue is not. Pixels make sense when you're seeing things through a screen. There is a continuity here which our brains can cope with, less so in real life.

2. Individualism is beauty - in general, the "impressive" Minecraft "art" is more about appealing to our sense of scale. In Minecraft we think "one person (or a few people) built this by themselves." In the real life, everything is automated and easy to a Nth degree. In an online space where scripts rule, effort is rewarded. In real life, the equivalent would maybe be the Minack Theatre.

3. Titan City is empty, devoid of purpose other than to exist purely as "something that somebody has built". It is not infrastructure, it is not dynamic, it is not inhabited. It is a thing in and of itself, nothing but form. Real world buildings rarely have the same luxury.

Pixels. Funny things, really.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

NewHive and the evolution of paperspace

Not sure why but I really love the openness, emptiness and madness of NewHive. Here's a quick haiku page for you that I put together to try it out.

In recent online/offline comms with Bookmore we've been discussing the linearity of the digital form vs the formality of paper; on one hand, why does the 'advance' of email end up in a single, unwavering channel of thoughts and words? Why are footnotes so difficult in e-text? On the other hand, letters are unrestrained in direction - the blank page contains no inherent rules on where text should run - and yet we conform to the same restriction as email, a single line of thought. Why not embrace the margin, love the annotation?

I love paperspace, it's something that's driving me at the moment. NewHive is a bit like paperspace, just like a bad desktop-publishing program (remember them?) - but unlike such software, it's easy to play around with, to mess with the space you have in front of you. It's a 2D thing, unlike the 1D world of email, blogging, etc. (And no, hyperlinks don't (inherently) count.)

I'm looking forward to where 2D paper-like space goes next. Is hyperlinked paper really the nearest endpoint, a local optimum? Or are we able to push past that into something actually original - something that manages to somehow transcend paper, online paper, and bad Word Art?

Bollocks to GamerGate, bollocks to check boxes

I've been lurkingly following GamerGate for a while - enough to know what the debate is about, if not the intricacies and specifics. I'm deliberately not linking to it, for reasons I'll hit below. I figured I wanted to blog about it.

Or not it. As ever, I'll pick a subject apart to see what makes it tick. To see what I'm *really* thinking about it. The world is pretty confusing to me these days - I'm rather a simpleton, but one out of choice than luck. So I like to break things down a bit.

On the one hand, Gamergate is a discussion we should have been having 20 years ago. It's a discussion we should be having all the time. 20th century western culture (yes, it is very much a post-WW2 phenomenon I think) is not one that any person can be particularly proud of - and here I mean mainstream culture. Games yes. And TV. Magazines. Advertising. Cooking. Everything you enter into by venturing out into the street. Let's have this discussion. Let's at least start now.

On the other hand (or perhaps it's the SAME HAND) let's not call it GamerGate. Let's not turn it into a meme, another internet fad that is sealed off, another hyperlink. It deserves better than that. "GamerGate" as a term stinks of everything it is trying to blow apart - trademarked brand phrases to lodge short-lived ideas in the wandering minds of people raised on headlines. It's not even sexism. Or it is, but it's bigger than that. I'm with Foucault on this.

Let's switch perspective briefly. I feel lucky to have had a son born recently. He's my second son, I have two boys. I'll skip the gushing parental adjectives. This isn't about me or them. It's about that bit at the back of your mind that sees two sons and thinks "wow, you two kids are damn lucky." It's about the "luck" they have because of who they are, not my luck for having them.

Except it's bollocks all to do with luck, isn't it?

Son 1 is big into superheroes these days like all the kids. Spiderman, Superman, Hulk, Batman (a bit) - even Iceman. That's a lot of men. They like to fight other men.

Iceman is on the list because I'm cheap and just watch the old 60s cartoons on YouTube with him. I'm aware American comics generally are pretty rubbish models for targeting both genders. But 'Spiderman and his amazing Friends' does at least try - alongside Iceman there's Firestar, in fetching yellow and red. She does fire stuff and fights ... men.

Fast forward 2 hours to the Lego Store up the road, packed with superheroes. Spidey is there, plus all the current favourites - Hulk, Batman, Iron Man, Captain America Man. Ice Man is sadly gone. But so is Firestar.



But wait, don't get distracted. It's not about the fighting. I'm not saying kids shouldn't fight, that's a different discussion altogether.

What I *am* saying is This: Our culture, our stories, our lens onto the world, is one in which "males are inherently powerful" and "females are lucky/special/token if they're powerful". It's a story which turns into an expectation of privilege - or anti-privilege, if you're looking down on someone on the other side. In our mind, the story becomes a *right*. Go into the Lego store, and you know what girls' rights are? Big yachts and pets. The fighting gets replaced by throwing a party. LIKE BOYS CAN'T THROW PARTIES.

It's not just American comic superheros, which we know are a bad model business. It's what we buy - as boys. Robots (male ones), dragon slayers (male ones), turtles (male ones). Female ones are thrown in, as a gesture to post-modernity, but you're damn lucky if your ratio is more than 1:4. And they always just ... stand out from the others.

On the flip side, girls get to do cool stuff like be doctors, vets, and cleaners.

(Personally I love a lot of Eastern stories because the women kick arse. The Heroic Trio ( is a truly amazing film.)

This is about *received power* and the *expectations* of what you are *entitled* to do because of who you are. It is a list of check boxes for your own attributes that gets turned into a cultural image, which in turn gets converted into the sleaziest thing of all - a *product*.

So far I'm not saying anything new. That's for a good - no, a *vital* reason: THIS IS NOT NEW. Not by a long shot. The only thing needed is for anyone that thinks it stinks to say so. That's what would be new.

It's not about gaming, or coding, or banking, or cooking, or driving, or fighting, or saving money. It's about one thing: an individual being able to feel they can do whatever they've decided to do without pre-vetting themselves just because they think someone else won't like it. Re-read that until you get it.

On my own parental behalf, I'll do my best to get gender balance into stories - others and mine - where I can. And to not dissuade anyone, kids included, from doing something because they have different check boxes. I'm proud that Son 1 wants the dinosaur-catching guy toy he just got to be a girl. I'll happily leave the Heroic Trio lying about for when they're the right age to watch it. I'll make sure we have plenty of cooking and cleaning stuff around the house - including the simple act of me doing it.

Cooking is awesome.

Bollocks to check boxes.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The glow of the zine

Warren Ellis on the Death of The Magazine.

Interesting reading as I'm playing with the idea of a digital zine at the moment. With words and pictures. What *is* the zine "experience" these days? I'm tempted to make it available as a PDF, but also to offer print-outs or photocopies to anyone that wants to get it in the post. I love the post. But more and more these days, I'm blurring offline paper with online. More to come on that later.

Is there something other than screen or paper? A digital physical object? 3D-printed zines?

Monday, October 06, 2014

Butterflies and Sand random haiku: Last edition

Oh yeah, the 12th and final edition e-book of randomised haiku Butterflies and Sand is out now. I decided to move on from it because I think entropy requires more thought. That, and a new son turning up. The experiment was really interesting though, and I'm definitely hoping to carry it on in another guide one day.

(In a way, I realise now that the project carried on from a series of seasonal photosets way back in 2010/2011 - 1, 2, 3, 4. Are seasons more interesting than entropy?)

Autumn release notes pasted below:

It's 8.30pm and I'm passing time waiting for my second son to be born. The stars are out and the air is recently cooled. A mug of tea is sitting on the table.

This is the 12th edition of Butterflies & Sand - and also the last. Probably. The timing is right - it's Autumn, a time for the established to wind down, and to prepare for new growth. Changes are coming, but they take time and effort.

I've learnt a lot from running this series, and hope to bring the haiku with me to some new incantation somewhere else, somewhere later. More things could be automated, and I want to return to the question of 'why entropy?' in a clearer way. If anything happens, I'll let you all know.

This edition, which you can download freely now, seems to sum things up well though. On an evening when it's hard to say what the night will bring, the chapter headers are well picked. There are 6 this time too - one to say goodbye for now:

1. Tremble
2. Son's
3. Waiting
4. Train
5. Fresh
6. Morning

Maybe there's a message in there somewhere. Both the markov mashup and the Exaiksis sections also seems strangely... personal, for something so detached.

I also wanted to add some more thoughts on haiku and the haiku moment to the book. They're in there towards the end, but if you want to read them directly, the Dropbox links are:

Finally, a quick thank you to everyone who's been reading along the way. I'd be very interested in any feedback, but otherwise just hope I've inspired someone to try writing a haiku once upon a time.

They're amazing things.