# Everyone who comes after will never understand.
Not a new brand of New York provincialism but a cold fact. This is the place where the world seemed to end in a single morning. That day, as it was experienced here, was not televised.
# The jumpers will always be with us.
Faced with the most horrible of all human choices, the kind of riddle that grade-school children use to torture each other, many leaped rather than burn. And as the debris falling from the top anthropomorphized into human beings, people watching understood that for the time being, we were all beyond help. "I don't remember faces, just bodies jumping out," says Alexandra Rethore, a second-year analyst at Lehman Brothers. "And the girl next to me was hysterical. She kept saying, 'They're catching them, right?' I said, 'Yeah, they're catching them. Let's go.' " It was a noble act, a message to loved ones: "I'm gone but not lost. I'm still here. Find me."
The new web site will provide a clearinghouse of structured, raw and machine-readable government data to the public in an easily downloadable format. For example, there will be updated crime incident data from the police department and restaurant inspection data from the Department of Public Health. The initial phase of the web site includes more than 100 datasets, from a range of city departments, including Police, Public Works, and the Municipal Transportation Agency.
We imagine creative developers taking apartment listings and city crime data and mashing it up to help renters find their next home or an iPhone application that shows restaurant ratings based on health code violations.
It's a great idea, but I'm not clear on how much of this is a PR stunt, and how much is actually more open access than citizens had before the site launched. Perhaps those who've examined the actual data being offered can weigh in, in the BB comments.
I live in Los Angeles, and I hope the powers-that-be down here are watching. I'd love to see our city open data to more public access, and scrutiny. For instance, the LAPD crime maps website is great in concept, but poorly executed (not to mention the horrible data omissions). I can think of many services I'd like to see built with city data here in my home town. (via @laughingsquid)
Twitter and Facebook were paralyzed this past week by DDOS (distributed denial of service) attacks. As I understand it, those attacks are still ongoing. In this Wired Epicenter blog post by Eliot Van Buskirk, open source advocates propose that the only real solution to this vulnerability is to engage in another DDOS: "distributed delivery of service." As Bittorent is to filesharing, the thinking goes, so would an open microblogging network be to 140-character thought-blips.
“The total failure of Twitter during the DDoS attacks highlights the fact that, with Twitter, we're relying on a single service for mass communication of this type,” said open microblogging supporter and Ektron CTO Bill Cava. “Most everyone understands it's ridiculous to expect one service to provide email support to the world. The same is true for micro messaging. The reality is, it can’t and won’t continue this way for too much longer.”
The OpenMicroBlogging standard already exists -- it’s just that Twitter’s not playing along, possibly because it could lose market share if the open standard succeeds before it manages to monetize its service. One platform that adheres to the Open MicroBlogging (OMB) standard is Laconi.ca, an open-source Twitter-style network launched by Status.net on July 2 of last year (others include OpenMicroBlogger and Google’s Jaiku).
Laconi.ca, which seems to have gained more traction than the other two OMB platforms, forms the backbone of Identi.ca — an open-source Twitter clone with features Twitter lacks (image uploading, trackbacks, native video playback, OpenID) that lets you post updates to its own network as well as Twitter and Facebook. Status.net will soon add the ability to follow Twitter and Facebook feeds using the corresponding APIs, so users will soon be able to make Identi.ca their default short messaging communications hub -- even if those services won’t use the open standard.
In this month's Wired UK, Warren Ellis waxes apocalyptopoetic about tiny transportation systems as a thing of future beauty:
Designing a transport hub for the loading and traffic flow of pharma capsules built to deliver drugs directly into the heart of cancer tumours, using carbon fullerenes and working on the nanoscale, where communication between building and vehicle will have to be conducted via coded protein transfer because you’re below the limit at which radio waves can be transmitted or received.
I’d call it an intron depot, after the book by Masamune Shirow. But an intron, science assures me, is a chunk of DNA within a gene that doesn’t code into protein, so maybe that wouldn’t fit so well. But that could well be a real problem to solve – design me an intron depot so I can manage the traffic flow of nanoscopic drug delivery cars. I’m trying to imagine the nature of the computing required to oversee artificial traffic within the human body, when we can’t yet control traffic in Birmingham.
I almost wish the scene would be like the Combined Miniature Deterrent Forces in the 60s film Fantastic Voyage. America’s finest scientists and soldiers being driven around a weird, vast Brutalist underground base in electric golf carts, working to reduce submarines to microscopic size in great disco-floored scientific halls. But that’s a problem of the future: the future isn’t big any more. The future’s small.
In a sense, Google is just bringing computing back to the way it was supposed to be.
When Steve Jobs toured Xerox PARC and saw computers running the first operating system that used windows and a mouse, he assumed he was looking at a new way to work a personal computer. He brought the concept back to Cupertino and created the Mac, then Bill Gates followed suit, and the rest is history.
What Jobs didn't happen to notice was that the computer operating system he witnessed and copied wasn't meant as a way to organize the software and data on a single machine--it was actually a way for computers on a network to share resources. Not only files, but the software to work with them. The computers themselves were to be just dummies--terminals from which to run software and access files that were stored on someone else's expensive computer.
Instead, our operating systems have moved away from sharing and towards ownership. We buy a big powerful machine and do everything on it ourselves. This suits software and hardware companies just fine: they create new, bloated programs that require more disk space and processing power. We buy bigger, faster computers, which then require more complex operating systems, and so on. (It's as if the car companies and asphalt industry worked together, building roads that required new kinds of cars, and then cars that required new kinds of roads.)
Nine months after having launched the Chrome web browser, Google just now announced the Google Chrome Operating System, "an attempt to re-think what operating systems should be." Google plans to offer the OS for use on a wide array of devices in about a year. Snip from the official Google Blog:
Google Chrome OS is an open source, lightweight operating system that will initially be targeted at netbooks. Later this year we will open-source its code, and netbooks running Google Chrome OS will be available for consumers in the second half of 2010. Because we're already talking to partners about the project, and we'll soon be working with the open source community, we wanted to share our vision now so everyone understands what we are trying to achieve.
Speed, simplicity and security are the key aspects of Google Chrome OS. We're designing the OS to be fast and lightweight, to start up and get you onto the web in a few seconds. The user interface is minimal to stay out of your way, and most of the user experience takes place on the web. And as we did for the Google Chrome browser, we are going back to the basics and completely redesigning the underlying security architecture of the OS so that users don't have to deal with viruses, malware and security updates. It should just work.
In the New York Times, this thoughtful piece by Noam Cohen on the links between online communication tools and political crises -- namely, the ongoing turmoil in Iran:
# Tweets Are Generally Banal, but Watch Out
"The qualities that make Twitter seem inane and half-baked are what makes it so powerful," says Jonathan Zittrain, a Harvard law professor who is an expert on the Internet. That is, tweets by their nature seem trivial, with little that is original or menacing. Even Twitter accounts seen as promoting the protest movement in Iran are largely a series of links to photographs hosted on other sites or brief updates on strategy. Each update may not be important. Collectively, however, the tweets can create a personality or environment that reflects the emotions of the moment and helps drive opinion.
# Buyer Beware
Nothing on Twitter has been verified. While users can learn from experience to trust a certain Twitter account, it is still a matter of trust. And just as Twitter has helped get out first-hand reports from Tehran, it has also spread inaccurate information, perhaps even disinformation. An article published by the Web site True/Slant highlighted some of the biggest errors on Twitter that were quickly repeated and amplified by bloggers: that three million protested in Tehran last weekend (more like a few hundred thousand); that the opposition candidate Mir Hussein Moussavi was under house arrest (he was being watched); that the president of the election monitoring committee declared the election invalid last Saturday (not so).
"Life, Inc." author and former BB guestblogger Doug Rushkoff has a piece up on Daily Beast about the fanboy fallout over recent news of Steve Jobs' liver transplant:
Feel better Steve, but what about me? I mean, I know cancer surgery is no picnic, but what does the possibility that you'll reject your new liver mean for my Apple share price? Or my iTunes collection? Should I be converting it all to MP3? I just got a friggin' iPhone - what if you leave us before my five-year contract with AT&T ends? I made a commitment...How about you?
Sorry, but that's the emotional current underlying nearly all of the coverage I'm seeing about the Apple founder's just-revealed liver transplant operation in Tennessee for his metastasized neuroendocrine tumor. It's not what I expected from the Apple community, but perhaps it does serve as the most accurate expression of where the once-renegade personal-computer company has ended up.
To buy an Apple product is to bet on the longevity of the closed system to which we've committed ourselves. And that system is embodied--through marketing as much as talent--by Steve Jobs.
"He said all he needed was a little rest!" one commenter on the Fortune magazine Web site complained. "This is bullshit." On Bloomberg, all the talk is about share price, Apple's chronically cryptic and delayed press releases on Jobs' health, and whether this deputy Tim Cook is capable of taking the helm. Such "me-first" sensibilities don't fit with the highly humanized, creative individuals celebrated in Apple's early commercials--but rather the cultish consumers and shareholders that those commercials, and the products, actually succeeded in generating.
At one minute past midnight Eastern Time this Saturday, Facebook users will be permitted to claim a unique user name, which may well spark a virtual vanity landgrab the likes of which we've never seen. Author and former BB guestblogger Douglas Rushkoff says this is the moment when Facebook becomes obsolete.
This is more than 200 million users, already engaged, simultaneously scrambling in the greatest territory dash since the Oklahoma Territory's land run of 1889, albeit with fewer shotgun injuries.
But Facebook's new page-naming scheme actually brings up other memories for me, ones that hold bigger stakes for the company itself. It reminds me of the moment that AOL, formerly a completely closed network with its own content, allowed its users onto the greater Internet for the first time. Internet USENET boards were filled with what we called "newbies" wandering around and asking anyone they could find how to download pornography. Formerly high-level conversations were quickly brought down to the lowest common denominator as a huge population of people uninitiated in basic Internet etiquette flooded the networks faster than we could educate them.
The impact was far worse for AOL. By opening itself to the greater Internet, AOL revealed itself as something of a wading pool. A mini-Internet. Once people could use AOL as a portal to the true, unadulterated, global net, the company was reduced to an ISP. AOL became series of phone numbers you dial to get online, and little more. Steve Case knew his moment was over, and used his inflated stock price to purchase some real assets like Time Warner. We all know how that turned out.
Along the way, we explore a broader realm of questions about the future of games, movies, and interactive entertainment. Will movies become more like games, offering new ways for us to insert ourselves inside the stories? Who will create them, using what tools, and how will the experience be different? Will computer-generated actors replace human actors, or stunt persons -- or will the two realms overlap in ways we can't yet predict? All of this we ask of the guy who invented "bullet time."
Due in theaters this fall, director James McTeigue's Ninja Assassin follows the story of Raizo (played by Asian mega-popstar Rain), one of the world's most deadly assassins. As Gaeta explains in this video, the movie merges blindingly badass Bruce-Lee-esque martial arts stunt work with tastefully integrated post processing work.
Below, and after the jump, a partial transcription of the longer conversation we had about the future of interactivity and "hybrid entertainment" -- and why Hollywood is, in Gaeta's words, "like a mule."
This interview took place during our live coverage of the 2009 Game Developers Conference, and many of the questions I pose were taken directly from our live chat audience.
Xeni Jardin: John, your involvement in "Ninja Assassin" was a little different than in "Speed Racer" and the "Matrix" films, where you were the lead visual effects designer.
John Gaeta: Ninja Assassin was directed by James McTeigue, who directed "V for Vendetta." It's sort of a family tradition of the Wachowskis to help James in parallel with other odd films. After "Speed Racer" was completed, we went back to Berlin and decided to make this super psycho horror ninja movie. Supremo stunts and martial arts. We're friends with the action design firm 87eleven, they've worked alongside Wu Ping for many years, after the "Matrix" Trilogy they did "Kill Bill," "300," they're fantastic. It was really their show. They were told they could be very creative and so they were. Lots of inventions!
Xeni: What was your role?
Gaeta: I didn't want to miss it because it seemed like it would be very fun. I was only helping out with some special unit directing, but no visual effects for me personally.
"Ninja" is surprisingly invisible on effects work, and intentionally so. No virtual humans in this one. The only real post processing comes from heavily stylistic color grading, think graphic tones like "Se7en," compositing and some CG weapons and blood augmentation. But this film shines brightest for the martial arts team. To put it another way -- it's old school.
There is far more going on in this movie with respect to "stunts technology" and innovation with respect to specialized and "next gen" rigs and flying machines.
Xeni: You are known for visual effects in motion pictures, but every time you and I have spoken, there's this idea of hybrid entertainment that comes up. Can you tell me more about what you're doing there?
Gaeta: I'm curious about possible destinations where there's crossover with regard to simulation cinema, "sim cinema," ways of creating elaborate trapdoors and portals between different mediums. Also, over the years, there are strange subgroups from the visual world like Douglas Trumbull -- I used to work for him many years ago -- their passion went beyond cinema to immersive content. Virtual reality, perhaps games, are a step toward that -- so are other methods of surrounding people with an experience. There are a lot of interesting progressions going on with immersive cinema, immersive entertainment, hybridizing the two.
Virus hunter Nathan Wolfe is outwitting the next pandemic by staying two steps ahead: discovering new, deadly viruses where they first emerge -- passing from animals to humans among poor subsistence hunters in Africa -- before they claim millions of lives.
Armed with blood samples, high-tech tools and a small army of fieldworkers, Nathan Wolfe hopes to re-invent pandemic control -- and reveal hidden secrets of the planet's dominant lifeform: the virus.
On an NYU aid and development studies blog, this video of NYU Professor Leonard Wantchekon talking about a cultural challenge to development in the country where he grew up, Benin. As regular BB readers are probably sick of me mentioning in blog posts by now, I spent the last few weeks traveling and shooting video in that West African country.
So, in this clip from "What Would the Poor Say: Debates in Aid Evaluation," a recent conference held by NYU's Development Research Institute, Wantchekon talks about the lack of interpersonal trust within a community as a major challenge to economic development.
Communities in Benin where he has seen this phenomenon manifest most, he says, are the same communities where the highest amount of slave exportation took place from the 1600s to the 1900s -- villages and towns in the southern part of the country, where the huge slave ports once stood, and where massive numbers of (basically) war captives were sold into bondage. Wantchekon documents all of this in a research paper he co-authored with Nathan Nunn.
I realize the point in this video is to help aid workers think about how to quantify, define, and deal with this factor in development programs in Africa. But as I watched, I kept thinking about what this means in my own personal community back here in the US (and around the internet). How I and my friends and colleagues are, in many ways, really "banking" on that trust with each other to come up with creative ways to survive the economic crisis.
You should also watch another clip by Wantchekon at this conference about the "Real Costs of Funerals in Benin." Might sound tedious and weird but it's (at least to me) fascinating. According to Wantchekon, some 30% of the monthly income of many middle-class families in Benin is spent on funerals!
Guest blogger Paul Spinrad is not unacquainted with the grape.
After our distant ancestors developed language, everyone could benefit from the experiences of others. But the bandwidth of speech is so low compared to one's own senses that it required huge compression and decompression at each end of the communication. This process of describing and interpreting was enabled by detailed world models that everyone carried in their heads.
Because these world models vary from person to person, the codec is lossy, and misunderstandings are inevitable. But the imprecision also makes words more timeless and intimate. If the impressions that some words convey to you resonate with you, it's because they are literally built out of the way you view the world.
Words can also lie, but along with interpreting words, we automatically assess the trustworthiness of their source. We can learn not to believe everything we hear, or to distrust certain people, and we can also set the Bible trust level to 100. No such counterpart exists for visual communication-- cameras, television, and Photoshop haven't been around long enough.
That's all background, and here's my point: It seems to me that every so often, the dominant political and cultural machine grows so large and incestuous that it loses its connection to people and makes them feel powerless and irrelevant. When this happens, in the West anyway, there's inevitably a revolution of words, of back-to-basics and idealism, against the image-conscious, superficial, wealth-obsessed Babylon. Because it's based on words, people can place their trust in it fully and spread it, and it will continue to make sense over time. It doesn't propagate through image, might, or personal influence. This empowers people again-- perhaps simply by making them feel empowered.
Big examples are the formation of Christianity and Islam, and the Protestant Reformation. Today we see other fundamentalisms. But the inevitable next one doesn't have to be intolerant and destructive. If we engage with the task of developing it, rather than avoiding it and leaving it to others, it can be a nice one.
Photo of 1522 edition of Martin Luther's 95 Theses, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Audiences joined author Bruce Sterling, technology pundit Paul Saffo, and other special guests on the UC Berkeley campus to mourn the loss of our long time acquaintance, the Analog Television Signal. Born in the 1920's in San Francisco, the signal has been an integral part of all our lives, bringing us news of the rich, the famous, the politicians, the wars, the Apollo landings, the thrills of victory, and the agonies of defeat. While Analog Television has not been a good friend to us all, it has been important to each and every one of us. Analog Television is survived by its wife Digital Television, and its second cousin Internet Television.
Visitors brought their Analog TV for display and recycling. We stacked the first 40 in memoriam to our life long friend and the remainder were responsibly recycled. At the ceremony Paul Saffo spelled out the sordid history of the Analog TV Signal's life, the group Author & Punisher performed the funeral dirge, and author Bruce Sterling delivered the eulogy (above) just before the analog signal winked out for the last time and the frequency wasteland was invaded by pirate TV artists. It's rare that the entire nation gets a specific date on which one major medium dies and is replaced by another. This event was a scholarly and artistic reflection on the passing of one of the dominant mediums and cultural influences of the late 20th century.
About a year ago, Boing Boing's video production crew was having our weekly content pitch meeting and my colleague Jolon brought up a video project he'd been following called "How's Your News." It was a news program in which the presenters are people with physical and mental disabilities. Some have Downs Syndrome, others cerebral palsy, and so on.
He kindly offered to allow us to take a sneak peek at the first few episodes, and cut together an exclusive preview. That is today's episode of Boing Boing Video.
Matt explained that he and Trey are mostly hands-off with regard to the creative and editorial process on the MTV series, they're more like "godfathers" on the television project. HYN creator and director Arthur Bradford and the correspondents are pretty much in charge. It sounds like MTV has handled the project admirably, too.
When I first saw the internet version, I remember first feeling a little guilty or awkward for laughing at people with disabilities on-screen. But when I watched the MTV episodes in entirety with the BBV crew, I started to feel like I knew these people, and was more comfortable with it the more I watched. Maybe part of the lesson here is that people with disabilities are real people. They don't need me to feel "precious" or "protective" about them. It is okay to laugh with them, and when they are being funny in a comedy series, it's okay to laugh at them, too. Not as people to be pitied, just as people.
Matt Stone tells Boing Boing,
One of the first things that Arthur Bradford said about doing How's Your News as a TV show was that he absolutely didn't want to pitch the show to Lifetime or PBS or anyplace else where you would EXPECT a show like this. He wanted to fly into the center of the sun and have the show on MTV. The How's Your News crew is about redefining expectations and the show is by far their best work. It is my favorite show on television beside South Park....
Heh. And I asked Arthur Bradford to share some words with us, too. He says:
I think the big question everyone has about our TV series goes something like this "Does this show really belong on MTV? Aren't all those kids going to laugh for all the wrong reasons?" I have so many thoughts about that I don't know where to begin, but let me just say that I think this line of questioning does a sort of disservice to both people with disabilities and the kids who watch MTV. People with disabilities don't really need a bunch of watchdogs looking out for their "best interests". They are most often able to do this themselves and I can assure you our cast is extremely proud of the work they did on this show, as are their families. And the kids who watch MTV are much smarter than we are giving them credit for. They deserve something like this, a show that doesn't assume they can't decide things for themselves.
We had a lot of fun shooting this series. Everywhere we went people would stare at the bus and come up and talk to us. For me, as the director, it was often exhausting and sometimes stressful, like when one of our reporters would have a seizure or shit their pants in the middle of shooting something important. Both of these things happened more than I'd like to recall. But it was overall a pretty magical experience and the fact this this show is now going to air on primetime and be available to so many households across America is something we should all rejoice in. It's a small miracle, really. We're like that guy on the British American Idol, Paul Potts, the car phone salesmen who got up there and shook everyone up with his passionate opera voice. He was pure genuine desire and authenticity without the annoying gloss and it was great to see him break through. That's what you'll see on How's Your News: pure, unpolished gems.
And about Jeremy, the HYN correspondent waving to you in the video frame above and in the middle of the trio below (photo), Arthur says:
Jeremy Vest is one of our greatest reporters. He is so eager to talk to everyone and he would not even know how to be a fake douchebag like so many people we see on TV. My favorite moment with him was on the red carpet at the Grammys when he blew off all the big pop stars like Rianna and Slash because really wanted to talk to the guy who did the voice for Kermit the Frog. He literally refused to talk to Slash because he was so concerned that Kermit would leave before he got the chance to say hello. For Jeremy, meeting that muppet was the biggest thrill of the night, that and meeting Wolfgang Puck.