Epiphenomena

Apple Hates Homestar, Seriously

Posted in Buckeye, Digital Innovation, Epiphenomena on February 1st, 2010 by Elijah Meeks – Comments Off

I’ve stumbled upon an imbroglio:  Apple hates Flash.

I had no idea until Stanford got me an iPhone and said “Develop scholarly digital media for mobile devices!” and I said, “Yeah, sure–John Milton’s Paradise Lost: Mobile Edition!”

And then I found out that the iPhone doesn’t support Flash, and that Steve Jobs thinks Flash is awful because it makes Safari crash and that the only way to get your Flash app working on an iPhone or iPad is to use some packager from Adobe that isn’t even out yet.

Way to go, Nintendo.  Seriously, now that Apple has locked in a revenue stream by controlling the applications that run on their proprietary mobile environment, they’re happy to lock out the greatest tool for rich internet applications because they, claim, it’s not open.  It’s two issues, really:  Apple wants to break the chokehold Flash Video has on the net, and I don’t give a hoot about that, but I do care about issue two: Apple wants to control the “software processes” that run on its little closed-core world, and that sounds like it puts Apple on the wrong side of 1984.  The amazing genesis of Web 2.0 came about because of platform-independent application environments, not because of Quicktime.  Closing down the fun little platform that Apple has created means someone like me, who already knows a perfectly usable platform independent language for writing code, has to go and buy the Nintendo SDK (or whatever it’s called for the iEnvironment) and submit any application for review by the Standards Board so that it can appear in the official company store, even if it’s free.

Don’t get me wrong, I love svg and HTML5, and maybe in two or three years that’ll provide a competitor to Flash, but the idea that Apple is going to close itself off because HTML5 will be here someday doesn’t ring true.  They might as well say they’re not implementing Flash because the iPhone is waiting for the Semantic Web.

A Clockwork Canary

Posted in Art, Digital Innovation, Epiphenomena, Fiction, Games on January 15th, 2010 by Elijah Meeks – Comments Off

There’s such an insidious breakdown in the quality of a story after you write it down. It’s not even the writing, it’s that people read it and they just accept. Like they’re listening to old-time mystics, like these things happen because they were meant to happen, no matter how terrible the fight or touching the makeup. In reality, they’re so much more emotional. You lose that in writing because you can’t express to the reader the uncertainty. To them, we make up because it says, on page thirty-three, ‘They make up’.

But there are forms of storytelling that have been able to avoid that.

There was this old computer game, Zork. You run around solving puzzles and fighting, but you could mix something up, do the wrong thing at the wrong time, and it didn’t let you know. You keep playing, oblivious to the fact that you can’t win.

It’s simple, really. You run around collecting treasure—platinum and jewels and… stuff. Well, one of the treasures is this Faberge egg, all covered with jewels and gilt. But the egg isn’t the treasure, it’s what’s inside: this little bird, made of gold. No matter what you do to open it, the bird always gets broken and ruined. Like in life, there’s no warning and, just like in life, there’s nothing you could do to fix it. Video games nowadays, they’re determinist, derivative or just plain porn. But those old games, they were like life.

Life, not random but not determinist, not like a book. Why does every linear work need conflict, suffering and pain, why can’t it just be a happy story about love? Because it follows a pattern, it has to: because linear narratives can only do so much.

In Zork, there’s this thief, he prowls around while you’re playing, and if you’ve got something valuable he takes it, that’s why when you find the treasure, you have to lock it up. If you let him have the egg, he’ll open it. Turns out you can get the egg back, later, and next to it is this beautiful clockwork canary.

But I don’t know if it sang, because I always broke it.

The Emergent Majesty of Dwarf Fortress

Posted in Art, Digital Innovation, Epiphenomena, Games on November 16th, 2009 by Elijah Meeks – Comments Off

. .  . . . . .

. . @. . D

If  . . . . . makes you quiver in your boots, but maybe you’re no longer so worried about suffering Yet Another Stupid Death and instead you wish you could get together some friends to assemble a ballista and shoot the damn dragon, then you’re Dwarf Fortress material.

As an aside, if you have no idea what that @ symbol is supposed to be up there, then there’s not much I can do for you.  Back to Dwarf Fortress.

Dwarf Fortress is a Rogue-like virtual life simulator wherein you make a small society of midget alcoholics dig wells.  And tan hides.  And forge copper goblets.  And it has aquifers.  If you really feel like you need to know about the game itself, do what the Internet does and look it up on Wikipedia, because what it does isn’t nearly as exciting as what naturally occurs as the result of the interaction between simple rules-based elements.  The goal of Tarn Adams, the game’s creator, is to build a functioning world that creates emergent narrative.  While this kind of thing has been hinted at in various sandbox and world-domination games, Dwarf Fortress is the first to my knowledge that has built-in structures for creating a long-tailed history of a living world.  Your dwarves will engrave important events on their walls, and they’ll leave behind an abandoned hall (a la Moria) that an adventurer can later explore.  The world is built not only through realistic geological and environmental processes, but populated by rules-based ‘legendary’ people and states.

It’s currently a .28 release version, and while you’re menaced by rather moronic goblin sieges (Adams is as critical of them as anyone) you can still have an amazingly good time harnessing the killing power of magma, mining ore, smelting it, creating alloys and using that to fashion goods (And everyone knows I’m a big fan of ancient metallurgy, even the fantastical kind).  It’s not any one individual activity that makes Dwarf Fortress interesting, though, it’s that they’re all running together, to create the semblance of a functioning society that goes beyond a glorified ant farm and becomes almost (still not quite) like a story.  It’s quite an amazing thing.

Dwarf Fortress (Did I mention it’s free?)

The Underculture

Posted in Academia, Art, Buckeye, Digital Innovation, Epiphenomena, Fiction, Games on October 9th, 2009 by admin – Comments Off

Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell and the Unknown Troper?  Yeah, maybe.

Because while you’ve been desperately trying to keep up with the mind-shattering connectedness of Facebook and Twitter, an entire culture based on shows, books and, well, tropes you’ve probably never heard of has sprung up, organized itself and managed to co-opt the very classics you’ve neglected to read.  Didn’t realize the Epic of Gilgamesh has elements of a Zombie Apocalypse in it or that the Anenid has anything in common with The Blues Brothers?  That’s because you don’t get it.  Somehow, while we weren’t looking, the Internet soup finally managed to get that Cthulhu, Dungeons and Dragons and All Purpose Cat Girl Nuku Nuku really do make up a common culture with Daoism, Lando Calrissian, 西游记, Final Fantasy, hip hop, the Lolrus and, well, everything.

It’s all tied together with a common understanding of comic book superhero powers, video game mechanics and memetic mashups.  Even the academics recognize that there’s something that ties together all these strange, seemingly dissimilar cultural artifacts.  Don’t know what a critical existence failure is or the tripartite model of videogame space?  Would you be able to recognize a 30 Xanatos Pile-Up?  If you’re sure by now that I’m making this up, put yourself in my shoes, I have to live here.

...

Wikipedia Propaganda Posters

Posted in Digital Innovation, Epiphenomena, Eschatology on September 11th, 2009 by Elijah Meeks – Comments Off

Rather than use some kind of creative title, with allusions to timeless pieces of art, I decided to go for the lowest-common denominator, because I think people need to spend a little less time talking about Wikipedia and a little more time creating subversive works based on the implications of its status as the first Internet-enabled global cult of disinformation.

Wikipedia is Dying!!!

Posted in Digital Innovation, Epiphenomena, Eschatology on August 4th, 2009 by Elijah Meeks – 1 Comment

A new data set on Wikipedia edits and new article creation is being breathlessly touted as a sign that Wikipedia has reached its peak and is pointed toward inevitable decline.  I think the biggest problem with Wikipedia is that it draws out amateur criticism and analysis.  First off, it’s not like Wikipedia statistics are hidden away in an archive in Tibet, written in a mysterious Fujian script–it’s all publically available.  Which begs the question, why is the state of Wikipedia in 2006 somehow today’s news?  Shouldn’t we have been bludgeoned by “Wikipedia is Peaking!!!” articles three years ago?

But more troubling is the almost childlike understanding of the nature of knowledge that Wikipedia lays bare to the world.  In an interview with NPR back when Wikipedia was peaking, I pointed out that the reason why the George W. Bush page was constantly being changed on Wikipedia was because our conception of Dubya was still in flux and that Wikipedia was accurately representing that flux.  That’s not a brilliant observation on my part, and any undergraduate studying philosophy should be able to provide that answer, just like they should be able to tell you that, naturally, the recording of knowledge-based content will not continue at a geometric pace when measured by article creation.  There aren’t any more counties, cities and chemicals to describe.  All the major buildings, wars and sports teams have their page already.  If article growth on Wikipedia continued apace, and editing continued apace, it would mean that the actual creation (As opposed to the recording) of knowledge content was accelerating at Gaussian proportions or that Wikipedia had lost its focus on describing knowledge and fallen into accepting fluff content pages (Which, with all the Simpsons Episode pages will tell you, is always a danger) simply to maintain some arbitrary measurement of size.

Still, it’d be nice to see Brittanica win one.  I always root for the underdog.

Provides 7XP, and Mutton

Posted in Art, Digital Innovation, Epiphenomena on June 30th, 2009 by admin – Comments Off

And then, of course, there’s something like this:

MMORPG, oil on canvas

MMORPG, oil on canvas

The Death of the King of Pop as Digital Phenomena

Posted in Art, Digital Innovation, Epiphenomena, Eschatology on June 25th, 2009 by Elijah Meeks – Comments Off

Thanks to Wikipedia’s tech-blog we can see how Michael Jackson’s death looks from the perspective of server load and traffic:

Wikipedia Load Spike - MJ RIP

Wikipedia Load Spike - MJ RIP

Traffic Spike

Traffic Spike

This kind of epiphenomenon is the bread-and-butter of research that tries to interpolate social causes from digital reverberations.  Not that any such research is going on, but once we’ve all grown sick of mining vulgar Latin textbooks for word preference, we’ll develop procedures to handle stuff like this.

Updated to note that the second-order epiphenomenon related to this is the crash of Wikipedia’s tech blog due, I assume, to the massive amount of traffic I’ve sent it.  In 30 years, I imagine some poor PhD student will be trying to track the traffic-related crash of tech blogs to the death of pop icons.