April 5th, 2012 | researchmaterial
GIFs by Kevin Weir, as archived in the Flux Machine tumblr. All are based on vintage photos: some are a bit early Terry Gilliam, some are freaky, and some have a genuine haunted mist of eeriness to them…
April 2nd, 2012 | researchmaterial
Bruce dropped an epic essay on The New Aesthetic this morning. If you’re a regular reader, you’ll recognise the term, but I’ll drop some internal links at the end of this. Bruce being Bruce, he throws off ideas and perspectives in this piece with seeming effortlessness.
An aesthetics that’s overdependent on weirdness lacks ambition as an aesthetics. Weirdness is merely relative. Weirdness is never value-free.
I need to read it a couple more times. Right now, to me, there are little echo-whispers of Adam Curtis in there, and even Ray Brassier, linked a couple of posts below.
We’re not going to be able to gloss over this gaping vacuity by “making the machines our friends.” Because they’re not our friends. Machines are never our friends, even if they’re intimates in our purses and pockets eighteen hours a day.
This essay is basically the only thing the tech/design/digital crowd are going to be talking about today. Catch up now.
In an epic speculative post about commercial home-mapping services, Jan Chipchase drops this lovely idea bomb:
After seeing the nano-quadcopter presentation at TED 2012 – including this, but with a lot more background, insights into their capabilities, and a video of a quadcopter entering and mapping a building in real time – technically impressive stuff. First responders. Military. Pornographers. Research. Retail. This changes many things.
I think it might take me a while to fully digest this post by Matt Webb of BERG about products. I have, for my entire career, staunchly fought against my work being called a product. But there are a variety of lessons here, old and new – here’s an old one, which easily applies to book/comics covers –
products have to be shelf demonstrable — they can tell their story in 15 seconds, with no interaction beyond looking.
– that I think will be very much worth my time to think about.
Young James Bridle here apparently quoted me at SXSW earlier today, according to the little flurry of @s on Twitter, including the mordant Bruce Sterling comment: “Now Bridle is quoting Warren Ellis. It’s like a radically pixelated old home week in here.” He was doing a thing about The New Aesthetic, which I’ve mentioned here before. (You can get a quick catch-up by checking out the New Aesthetic tumblr.) He’s now writing a fortnightly column for The Observer, and this link here should collect the pieces as they happen (first one’s up right now).
(Also: Bruce did his own fairly brain-burning NA capture of the NA thing at SXSW.)
2SLEEP1 is a 66-minute playlist of audiovisual performances in text mode, designed to make you fall asleep.
It’s the New Aesthetic Sleepbot.
February 23rd, 2012 | researchmaterial
Unknown Field’s Division collaborators Factory Fifteen have just released their short film GAMMA, shot on location during our 2011 expedition from the Chernobyl Exculusion Zone to Baikonur Cosmodrome. The landscapes experienced with the division have been reimagined as stage sets for a post nuclear future and members of the division are recast as actors navigating the ruins.
February 21st, 2012 | researchmaterial
I first came across this idea, I think, at Charlie Stross’ blog some weeks ago. I only chewed on it a bit, because I think I was still zoned out after finishing GUN MACHINE. But it’s just popped up in my feeds again, and this is the takeaway:
(Karl) Schroeder explains the Fermi Paradox – the apparent contradiction between the likelihood that extraterrestrial civilizations exist and the lack of evidence for them – by speculating that we have not yet encountered our cosmic neighbors because they are indistinguishable from their native ecology.
Which is a fascinating thought experiment, and gives a marvellously wiggy megascale corollary to Arthur C Clarke’s famous dictum about any sufficiently advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic.
What I haven’t seen dealt with yet in my skim-reading of the topic, and maybe it’ll be there when I drill down, is this: the experiment seems only to work if we assume such societies generated no electromagnetic noise at all in their transition to that level of civilisation. We have to conceive of a civilisation that had no period of electromagnetic broadcast in its lifetime, or else there would be ambient evidence and Fermi would seem to me to reinstate itself. Which is a wonderful workout for the imagination.
The ongoing geo-political situation in the surrounding countries, creates a steady stream of refugees.
February 13th, 2012 | researchmaterial
The scenario describes a structure that grew out from the ocean—facing a progressive rising of water as its colonizers struggle to maintain an equilibrium. It is forever undergoing constant repair as it struggles to stay afloat—supported only by a system of mechanic agents who supply it with the necessary substances and means to create inhabitable grottoes. Without this ongoing system, the structure would easily collapse, returning back to the depths of the ocean from which it has once risen.
The colonizers live in fragile pockets, grottoes created by the voids between the calcium carbonate deposited by the machines and the resulting upward forces of gases. These spaces are always fluctuating, their morphology adjusting to deal with the constant beating of forces from water currents and pressure. The machines themselves are not immortal—over time as they continue to deposit substance, the calcification process eventually renders them immobile, trapping them in their own secretions…
February 8th, 2012 | researchmaterial
To help alleviate physical weight on troops, DARPA is developing a highly mobile, semi-autonomous legged robot, the Legged Squad Support System (LS3), to integrate with a squad of Marines or Soldiers.
February 5th, 2012 | researchmaterial
How do robots see the world? How do they extract meaning from our streets, cities, media and from us? This is an experiment in found machine-vision footage, exploring the aesthetics of the robot eye.
It’s like watching a child learn. Imagine it as, perhaps, the infant days of a young machine intelligence. This is what it could look like. This is how it might see.
Reuters: “A Kashmiri protester throws a “kangri” or Kashmiri traditional firepot towards Indian police during a protest in Srinagar January 21, 2012.”
Wikipedia: “Small earthen pots filled with combustibles were used as early thermal weapons during the classical and medieval periods. Containers made at first from clay, later from cast iron, known as ‘carcasses’, were launched by a siege engine, filled with pitch, Greek fire or other incendiary mixtures. These fire pots could cause great damage to besieged cities with largely wooden construction… By the mid-17th century, fire pots had largely been replaced by shells filled with explosives, which may be seen as the direct descendants of military fire pots.”
And also: “A kanger; also known as kangri or kangar or kangir) is an Indian pot filled with hot embers used by Kashmiris beneath their traditional clothing to keep the chill at bay, which is also regarded as a work of art. It is normally kept inside the phiren (Overcoat type garment), the Kashmiri cloak, or inside a blanket. If a person is wearing a jacket, it may be used as a hand-warmer. It is about 6 inches (150 mm) in diameter and reaches a temperature of about 150 °F (66 °C)… Regular use of the kanger can cause skin cancer.”
January 17th, 2012 | researchmaterial
The digital settles in as background. We remember less and query more. Our identity play would be considered schizophrenic in the last century. We have more friends than ever before yet know new frontiers of isolation. The quantification of our experience haunts us in the form of a persistent history. And we are distracted more than we ever knew possible. These circumstances are paradoxically a description of the near future and a diagnosis of the current state of affairs. The truly timeless is redefined – it has transcended that which is classic; it has become that which is never finished.
January 17th, 2012 | researchmaterial
In Comuna 13 of Medellin, Colombia’s largest city, a recently built 1,260-foot long escalator snakes across the hillside shantytown in six separate divisions. As part of the neighborhood’s larger urban regeneration project, this massive outdoor escalator cuts down the time to traverse Comuna 13, reportedly one of Medellin’s poorest and most violent neighborhoods, from 35 minutes to six minutes on foot.
Velocity applied to every traveller. Every pedestrian given escape-pod momentum and jettisoned clear of shantytown. In someone’s conception. I look at this and see a launchpad for all the feared criminals of Comuna 13 to speed up into all the nice places where the quality live. Saves having to nick a car.
January 16th, 2012 | researchmaterial
You remember South Ossetia? Declared independence from Georgia in 1990 in the chaotic hangover from the breakup of the Soviet Union. Got the shit blasted out of it a couple of times since then. After the last time, in 2008, all kinds of people promised to put money and resources into South Ossetia, even though (I think) Georgia still doesn’t recognise it as a state.
The railway line out of Tskhinvali looks good, right?
The housing’s in fine condition.
And a rotting tank turret that no bugger’s bothered to move in three or four years makes an excellent piece of public art.
I already knew this – he told me, a few years back – but it still baffles and fascinates me. From a long and interesting interview with The Paris Review:
How do you begin a novel?
I have to write an opening sentence. I think with one exception I’ve never changed an opening sentence after a book was completed.
You won’t have planned beyond that one sentence?
No. I don’t begin a novel with a shopping list—the novel becomes my shopping list as I write it. It’s like that joke about the violin maker who was asked how he made a violin and answered that he started with a piece of wood and removed everything that wasn’t a violin. That’s what I do when I’m writing a novel, except somehow I’m simultaneously generating the wood as I’m carving it.
E. M. Forster’s idea has always stuck with me—that a writer who’s fully in control of the characters hasn’t even started to do the work. I’ve never had any direct fictional input, that I know of, from dreams, but when I’m working optimally I’m in the equivalent of an ongoing lucid dream. That gives me my story, but it also leaves me devoid of much theoretical or philosophical rationale for why the story winds up as it does on the page. The sort of narratives I don’t trust, as a reader, smell of homework.
Partly, it fascinates because it’s alien to how I’ve worked for the last fifteen or twenty years. In comics, we’re working in serial form and very rarely have the luxury of finishing the entire manuscript before it begins publication. So one has to have a structure before the writing begins, because we can’t go back and tweak something in chapter 1 due to having had some story-changing bright idea in chapter 10, because chapter 1 probably saw print seven months ago and you’re still wanting the thing to hang together as a coherent whole in a collection. Which is a terrible thing, really, but endemic to the commercial form. Even FREAKANGELS, which I began with no real long-term plan at all, had a structure roughed out for the first 144 pages or so. But even the bunch of notes and lists I had for FREAKANGELS at the start turns out to be more than Bill has when he sits down to write a novel. When he began SPOOK COUNTRY, he had nothing more than a single interesting image in his head.
It’s a horrifying, intimidating way to work, and I want to try it one day.
December 15th, 2011 | researchmaterial
A four-story bunker, built during the Cold War as Canada’s communication and governance hub in the case of a nuclear attack on Ottawa. Now a museum.
It’s now a museum, with a website you can visit. I love the retrotech stylings, as you can imagine, but the signage also fascinates me. From this perspective, it’s the set dressing for a post-atomic comedy of manners. Lots of people quietly and politely drinking their reconstituted Mil-Ko under an admonishing banner, trying to suppress the fallout-era social faux pas of just screaming and screaming.
December 15th, 2011 | researchmaterial
Or, to paraphrase William Gibson, the penis finds its own uses for things. That’s a consumer-grade TENS machine, the sort of thing you can pick up on Amazon for forty quid.
Oh. Yeah. You might not want to click through on it. Should have mentioned that earlier.
Did you ever read CROOKED LITTLE VEIN?