MonthMay 2012

Cyberculture History: Before the World Wide Web Did Anything, HyperCard Did Everything

cyberpunk stack for Hypercard
Above: an image from the Beyond Cyberpunk Hypercard stack

Ars Technica honors the 25 anniversary of Hypercard, a discontinued desktop hypertext application for Macs:

Even before its cancellation, HyperCard’s inventor saw the end coming. In an angst-filled 2002 interview, Bill Atkinson confessed to his Big Mistake. If only he had figured out that stacks could be linked through cyberspace, and not just installed on a particular desktop, things would have been different.

“I missed the mark with HyperCard,” Atkinson lamented. “I grew up in a box-centric culture at Apple. If I’d grown up in a network-centric culture, like Sun, HyperCard might have been the first Web browser. My blind spot at Apple prevented me from making HyperCard the first Web browser.” [...]

Programmers for the Cyan software company originally wrote their hugely popular puzzle/adventure game Myst as a HyperCard stack. That explains the game’s beautiful graphics and slow motion quality, punctuated by ambient sounds or an unexpected video. But even in 1987, when Macs displayed in black and white, HyperCard developers and graphics artists produced subtle, fascinating landscapes that often escape the Web to this day.

Full Story: Ars Technica: 25 years of HyperCard—the missing link to the Web

Prison Inmates Suffer High Rate of Sexual Abuse by Staff

The Obama administration announced new regulations intended to reduce prison rape recently. This CBS News piece seems to bury the lede:

Just about the same number of former inmates were victimized by facility staff as were victimized by other inmates. About 27,300 — 5.4 percent — reported incidents with other inmates, while 23,300 — 5.3 percent — reported incidents that involved facility staff. Of the former inmates who reported incidents with staff, 6,300 — or 1.2 percent — of the former inmates said they had unwilling sex or sexual contact with staff, while the rest said they “willingly” had sexual contact with the staff member.

Any sexual contact between staff and inmate is officially classified as nonconsensual. Prisons uniformly forbid inmate-staff sexual contact.

CBS: White House steps up efforts against prison rape

The way the story presents the numbers is a bit confusing. To say that inmates are victimized as much by staff as other inmates might be overstating the issue since all sexual contact, consensual or not, is considered abuse. However, that’s 1.2% of the total population surveyed who have had unwilling sexual contact with staff – not 1.2% of the 5.3% who reported sexual contact with staff. That puts the number of unwilling contact at 27% of total staff sexual contact. If we don’t count willing contact, then prisoner are still much more likely to be sexual abused by other prisoners, but we can still see that there is a significant amount of abuse happening on the part of prison staff.

(via Jesse Walker, who unburied the lede)

The Origin of Those Blade Runner Magazine Covers Floating Around

Blade Runner

city magazine stand

For the past few days scans of magazine covers allegedly appearing on newsstands in the background of the film Blade Runner have been circulating thanks to the Science Fiction Tumblr (you can find great quality scans and notes in this Flickr set).

Alexis Madrigal, a senior editor at The Atlantic, saw them and decided to find out whether they are real or not.

Spoiler alert: Yes, they’re real and they appeared on a Blade Runner special feature Signs of the Times: Graphic Design.

It’s still interesting to read Madrigal’s post because for some insight into the process of journalistic verification. Enjoy!

Full Story: The Atlantic: The Fake Magazines Used in Blade Runner Are Still Futuristic, Awesome

Thoughts:

*MONI is clearly a reference to OMNI.
*HORN looks like a predecessor to Future Sex.
*I wonder whether KILL is a reference to Solider of Fortune, but the first trials involving that magazine didn’t happen until the late 80s.

Open Thread: In a Low-Tech, Post-Apocalyptic World What Would You Want Your Job to Be?

I asked this on Twitter last night, but thought it would make a good cross-platform discussion:

What would you want your job to be in a low-tech post-apocalypse?

I think I’d go with “messenger.” I don’t have a lot of practical skills, but I can run long distances and convey information. I haven’t read David Brin’s The Postman, but I think starting a postal service would be up my ally.

Charlie Stross on the State of Big Ideas in Science Fiction

In my rant about the new aesthetic of the future, I complained that there were few, if any, genuinely new visions of the future coming out of science fiction. Post-cyberpunk Author Neal Stephenson has been complaining about the lack of innovation in science fiction. Sci-fi author Charlie Stross has responded a question posed by the SF Signal inspired by Stephenson’s essay:

Are SF writers “slacking off” or is science fiction still the genre of “big ideas”? If so, what authors are supplying these ideas for the next generation of scientists and engineers?

Stross writes that a few authors – Greg Egan, Hannu Rajaniemi and Bruce Sterling – are pushing the genre forward, but he thinks that the real issue is that science fiction readers and critics want escapism, not new ideas. He writes:

To the extent that mainstream literary fiction is about the perfect microscopic anatomization of everyday mundane life, a true and accurate mainstream literary novel today ought to read like a masterpiece of cyberpunk dystopian SF.

We people of the SF-reading ghetto have stumbled blinking into the future, and our dirty little secret is that we don’t much like it. And so we retreat into the comfort zones of brass goggles and zeppelins (hey, weren’t airships big in the 1910s-1930s? Why, then, are they such a powerful signifier for Victorian-era alternate fictions?), of sexy vampire-run nightclubs and starship-riding knights-errant. Opening the pages of a modern near-future SF novel now invites a neck-chillingly cold draft of wind from the world we’re trying to escape, rather than a warm narcotic vision of a better place and time.

Charlie Stross: SF, big ideas, ideology: what is to be done?

(via Warren Ellis)

Author Teaches Kids to Code Without Computers

I wrote this for Wired:

By day, Bueno is a Facebook engineer. He helps hone software on the servers underpinning the world’s largest social network. But he moonlights as a children’s author. His first book is called Lauren Ipsum, and it’s a fairy tale that seeks to introduce children — as young as five or as old as 12 — to the concepts of computer science.

But this isn’t done with code. It’s done with metaphors. In one scene, the titular character, Laurie Ipsum, teaches a mechanical turtle to draw a perfect circle using simple instructions in the form of a poem. “I wanted to write a book not on how to program, but how to think like a programmer,” Bueno tells Wired.

Full Story: Wired Enterprise: Facebook Engineer Turns 5-Year-Olds Into Hackers

See Also

My ReadWriteWeb interview with Douglas Rushkoff on why you should learn to program.

Digital Cut-Ups: Teaching Creative Writing with Programming.

My interview with mathpunk Tom Henderson on innumeracy and more.

Cyberculture History: William Gibson on 90s Cyberculture

ACCELER8OR is running an excerpt from the William Gibson interview conducted by Simone Lackerbauer for the MONDO 2000 history project:

We do, in fact, now constantly inhabit a sort of blended VR, but we now assume that we don’t need the goggles as long as whatever’s on the screen is sufficiently engrossing. And the distinction between real and virtual continues to blur. The virtual is colonizing the real, but generally in ways we don’t notice. VR was predicated on a notion of real/virtual that now seems very last-century. Our grandchildren won’t be able to readily imagine where we were at, with that one!

Full Story: ACCELER8OR: William Gibson On MONDO 2000 & 90s Cyberculture (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #16)

See also:

Whatever Happened to Virtual Reality? – Virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier interviewed by R.U. back in 2002.

Notes from a William Gibson Q&A Session (9/08/10), which covers a little of the same ground.

Female Reporter Infiltrates All Male Hasidic Jewish Rally Agaist the Evils of the Internet

Ace tech reporter Adrianne Jeffries “in a pair of $15 Payless loafers, my brother’s dress clothes, and a donated kippah. Oh, and the white duct tape around my chest, G.I. Jane style,” dropped in on a Jewish rally at Citi Field in New York on the subject of the evils of the Internet:

There wasn’t much I could quibble with in the speech. The Internet is about instant gratification? It’s “fleeting and empty”? It causes us to waste productive hours? It threatens the preservation of isolated communities with strong traditions, such as the ultra-Orthodox Jews? Well, yes, but…

“Children are being turned into click-vegetables!” Rabbi Wachsman declared.

Some Jews are already enslaved, as if caught in a spider web. “The webbed mind has to struggle to understand Torah,” he said. ”There are those who sit at home and click and click into oblivion.” [...]

The second cause of objection is more damning. Last week, the New York Times wrote about child sexual abuse in Orthodox communities, and the group’s policy that such allegations be vetted through a rabbi before being routed to city authorities. A group organized a small protest outside the rally under the shibboleth, “Not the problem.” The group’s Facebook page read: “We are fed up with rabbinical leaders’ dismissive attitude towards sexual and physical violence against children. The internet is not the biggest problem we face. Protecting children and bringing molesters to justice should be our number one priority.” The issue of child sex abuse was not discussed at the rally, although the health and success of children was invoked repeatedly.

Betabeat: Ultra-Orthodox Jews Take a Hard Line on the Internet at Rally of 40,000 Men (And Me)

See also:

How Many Dead Babies Does It Take to Make a Debate?

Newspapers vs. Blogs in an Information Diet

I recently read Clay Johnson‘s book Information Diet and it’s changing the way I think about my consumption, production and sharing of media. I’m still trying to figure out what’s best for me as a media professional. How can I have a healthy media intake and remain gainfully employed? I need to keep up with what others are writing on my beats, what’s going on the tech industry as a whole and in the world in general. I also need to keep up with what’s going on in the journalism profession. Plus I have other interests I like to follow. All the while I need to avoid filter bubbles and expose myself to serendipity for the chance to make new connections and find new angles on beats.

As I try to work it all out, I enjoy reading about other writers’ media diets. Earlier this month Warren Ellis wrote that he reads about 100 blogs on various subjects, and indirectly addressed the issue of filter bubbles and serendipity.

“I read a newspaper every day, and I watch a well-produced, intelligent news analysis programme every night, and I have been known to leave 24-hour news running in a video window all day, and that still doesn’t give me a world picture in the way that my blog capture does,” Ellis writes. “The only way to find interesting things to talk about is to be open to the world as possible, and tune your machinery to bring as much of it to you as possible, without getting to the point where you’re getting no time to process it.”

I found that to be an interesting counter perspective to the notion that we get less, not more, variety from blogs than we get from a daily paper – the idea that, as expressed by Cass Sunstein, newspapers provide a better architecture for seredipity. Abe Burmeister called the suburbanization of information:

Physical newspapers play a similar mixing role, especially those that strive towards mass market audience. The more people they try to attract, the broader the mix of news stories. Turning the pages and sorting the sections is a constant reinforcement of the diversity of information in the world. We may ignore large chunks of it, but somewhere inside we know that other people actually do care about the sports section, science section, international affairs or the local stories.

As more and more people go online for news, we are losing site of the mix. News aggregators, blogs, email alerts and customizable websites give us a tremendous ability to focus our information. We surround ourselves with the news that we want to hear/see/feel. We can zip around in snug little information cocoons, isolated from the harsh reality of different ways of thinking. Those nasty conflicting viewpoints are relegated to trashbin of somebody else’s RSS feed.

William Gibson told Richard Metzger that Twitter is the greatest aggregator of novelty and that following the right 70 people is like a shopping bag full of imported magazines. Of course 70 is a really small number of people to follow on Twitter (and Gibson is now following over 100 as of this writing). And as Ellis points out, 100 blogs isn’t an astronomical number compared to some media junkies intake. Personally, I rely mostly on Twitter now for information aggregation and don’t use an RSS reader much anymore. I follow 402 people or publications on Twitter (down from about 600 before I read Information Diet). I’m trying to cut that number down further, hopefully to 200.

Of course Ellis and Gibson are professional writers of fiction, not journalists on a particular beat or citizens just trying to stay informed. I’m sure Ellis, and possibly Gibson as well, is also very consciously choosing people and publications to follow to avoid filter bubble and ensure some measure of serendipity.

I’ve often wanted some sort of “seredipity engine” that could show me random posts from a large pool of blogs – not too much stuff, just a small water fountain split off from a firehose, not filtered by what other people I follow read, not what’s popular with the world in general, and not sorted by what some algorithm thinks I want to read – just a nearly random list of articles outside my usual bubble. (I say nearly random because I would want it somewhat controlled to reduce the number of articles on the same topic, and to keep publications that publish multiple times a day to flood out publications on a less hectic schedule.)

Ad·ver·sary: We Demand Better

From I Die You Die:

We were contacted a few days before leaving for Kinetik by Jairus Khan from Ad·ver·sary. He told us that he was planning a visual presentation for his set at the festival which he anticipated would attract a lot of attention, and wanted to speak to us about it. The presentation related to themes and imagery in the work of two other artists on the opening night Kinetik bill, specifically Combichrist and Nachtmahr. The presentation, which can be viewed here, or at the bottom of this post, openly critiques what Jairus perceives as the use of misogynist and racist tropes in those band’s music and publicity materials. We spoke to Jairus after seeing an early version of the video.

Full Story: Interview with Jairus Khan from Ad·ver·sary

See also:

Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is

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