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Posts Tagged ‘Interactive

Man and Computer: An exhibition from 1979

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Another history oriented post following my Google Video recommendation on the History of Hacking. Today, while strolling through the digital remains of the Dutch National networks at Beeld en Geluid, I came across this ‘Polygoon Journaal’ news item from 1979. It mentions the early debates around the computer and there is a focus on the microchip as being responsible for future unemployment. Although this modernist view of machines replacing humans sounds very outdated in the postmodern/posthuman age, isn’t it still valid today? You be the judge.

English Translation of ‘Mens en Computer’
(1979 – Beeld en Geluid Hilversum)

The development from tangram to ruler to calculator all the way to the computer can be seen at the exhibition ‘Man and Computer’ in the Museum for Education in The Hague. Students of schools are familiarized with the workings of the electronic machinery which has become an essential part of modern life. The ‘chip’, an object that is getting a lot of attention lately, is also on display. The microcomputer can be built in a variety of machines and is able to significantly increase the the automatization of the industry. It is said that the chip will drastically change our lives and will cause unemployment to rise. In spite of this, the little device has as much possibilities as a room full of machinery.

At the exhibition children, aided by a large console, learn how the computer processes a program. On a small computer a spellchecker is demonstrated. The computer recalls every entered letter and lets the user know if the word has been spelled correctly. The young visitors can also practice with real computers. This way they learn the significance of input, processing and output of data. The output is often done with the use of a ‘regeldrukker’ (i.e. a printer, ed.). In a playful manner the use of computer in aeronautics is made clear. The children can reenact their own lunar landing. An erronous landing is noticed directly on the screen. The composite parts of a computer are shown systematically and the children are anxious to see the magnetic memory. Of course so-called printed circuit boards, on which the various computer components are put, are also on exhibition. And it is such a printed circuit board that can be seen in the classroom of this interesting ‘Man and Computer’ exhibition.

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So… what did you do today in the virtual?

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zeldaAs I was playing Zelda: A Link to the Past today on my SNES emulator, something struck me: I had an in-game deja-vu. A feeling as if I had been there before. My mind quickly tried to scan all the options and I found out that I have really vivid memories of various computer games. These experiences are basically stories I could tell to my friends and family at a party. As cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner mentioned in his interesting essay Life as Narrative: all our experiences are in some way structured as narratives, and we remember and learn from these narratives in the future.

What would be an interesting idea is to gather stories from people who have been playing games. How do people tell about games? Often when we hear stories -or when I hear myself talking to others about in game events- I almost feel alienated from the world around me. The surreal words echoing in my head and making me realize the sometimes bizarre situations as I’m telling the story. Let me give it a try here about an experience I had in playing Zelda. This is not a walkthrough or anything like that. It’s just what I’ve been doing this morning from the top of my head.

‘Some old guy I finally found told me to get a pendant in a region east from the big lake. I came across many green and blue soldiers, especially the guys with the arrows were pretty difficult to defeat. I had a lot of trouble finding the entrance, but after roaming around Kakariko village and the mountains in the south, I found out by accident that I had to go through a very narrow, almost hidden, path. Then I came to a desert with some creepy crawlers, appearing and disappearing. I almost died there, but luckily I found a fairy that healed my just in time. After that I went to the desert castle to find the first of the three amulets.’

zldEtcetera. I could probably go on for hours and the memories are quite clear and vivid. I clearly remember some gameworlds like my own neighbourhood: Gothic I & II, Zelda, Splinter Cell, Chrono Trigger, Diablo, Baldur’s Gate and of course Morrowind. Because what got my thoughts started on this topic is a forum thread on stories from Morrowind. Although I don’t know any of these people, I know what experiences they are talking about. Their goals were the same but their memories are so different. What would a psychogeographic approach to computergames look like? Just pointlessly wandering around in Morrowind, not to reach any goals but to create stories of wandering around.

I know there are already quite some theories on game experiences, but what really caught my attention and interest were the stories told about games as if they are a part of the gamers’ daily life. So, what did you do today in the virtual?

Written by newmw

June 7, 2007 at 8:49 pm

Google Geoday Benelux 2007 Report

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MarkerWhen the invitation for the Benelux Google Geoday 2007, shaped in the form of the Google Maps marker which has risen to fame in the past years, landed in my mailbox it promised to become an interesting day in Amsterdam’s EXPO XXI this Thursday. With presentations by Bernard Seefeld (Google/Endoxon), Brandon Badger (Google) and Remco Kouwenhoven (Nederkaart) in the morning and workshops on Google Earth and the Google Maps API in the afternoon. With a big thanks to the people at Generation Next who were responsible for my ticket in the first place.

Google’s Geo development (Google Earth and Google Maps) has taken a big step in the previous years, with the coming of Earth and Maps there is a definite focus on adding layer after layer of information on the globe. Like graffiti on a wall everyone can apply meanings to the maps made available by the Google Geo team. As Lev Manovich noticed in The Poetics of Augmented Space: Learning from Prada when talking about Augmented Space: The 90s were about the virtual, the 2000s will probably be about the physical. Not the infinite Internet, but the finite space of the physical land. And it seems that Google eagerly agrees with this prophecy. Below is my account of the day.

Keynote by Bernard Seefeld
Dangerous dragons were used in the early days of mapping if parts of the map were not known yet to the cartographer. This is one of the examples Seefeld uses from the early mapping practices, which stands for the improving of the image and the filling of the gaps. The early cartographers did not have the information to fill in the holes so they just drew dragons. Another example given is the map of New Holland, or what is now called Australia. The interesting thing is that the Portuguese probably reached this land first, but the Dutch were the first to draw a map of it and therefore being ‘responsible’ for the discovery of the land (a discovery from a Western perspective, anyway, as the Aboriginees were already there).

New HollandSeefeld takes the first example and also the mapping of New Holland, which was not accurate at first to say the least as the shape of the land on this image shows, to the present. He notices that the Google Geo team faces a similar situation in pasting together the best available satellite imagery to create the globe of Google Earth. Sometimes the information is available, sometimes not and in that case lesser detailed imagery has to be used. It is not about drawing dragons, but about improving satellite images.

So now we have an explanation of Google’s basemap philosophy, pasting together a globe in a way that perhaps reminds us of the patched body of Frankenstein. Building on top of that basemap is the next step and this is also the core of the Google Geo team’s stated mission: Organize the world’s geographic information and make it universally accessible and usable. Which is derived from Google’s overall mission statement, which is actually the same but doesn’t include the term geographic.

GoogleAntInstead of discovering new land, like in the age of navigation and in the second example given above, the user is now able to discover new information, the era of the information age. The emphasis here was especially on the enhanced content applied to the base like web links, reviews of places, photographs and featured content. Seefeld actually went as far as too say that the base is nice and the content makes it great. The base is always the same, just like the physical. But it is information and meanings applied to the physical space that make it what it is. The new idea is that meaning is applied with the use of the virtual, leaving aside the physical. Through the geo applications new discoveries can be done in the physical space, as an example Seefeld showed the Google ant; a species that got discovered with the help of geo applications.

But all this information applied to the surface of the Earth requires a way to search the information. This is the territory of the spatial web, which is all about geotagging, KML and more. Making the meanings applied to the Earth searchable. But nowadays discovering the earth isn’t as dangerous as it used to be. The dragons are gone; discovery has become a safe practice. Boring? Perhaps. You can always try the navigation option in Google Maps and Earth and follow the directions, even if it asks you to swim across the Atlantic Ocean.

Dragon Map

What is fascinating is the applying of so many meanings to the finite globe with the help of this virtual reality. I asked Seefeld the question what his views are on potential conflicting meanings. He emphasized the role of the user and also said that it is important to have access to all opinions. Getting everything 100% true is very difficult but the goal is to fix it again and again until it is good, with the help of user opinions. This really reminded me of the already infamous Wikipedia wars, which is more about events, persons, etc. while Google Earth is about space and meaning. As Dorling & Fairbairn say in the chapter Alternative Views from their book Mapping: Ways of Representing the World: ‘Maps have always presented pictures of ‘truth’ and just as many people have many different truths, so there are many maps to be drawn.’

“From API to mashup” by Brandon Badger
The key to presenting all these various views on planet Earth and what a website developer can show his/her visitor are mashups. Using the base map and applying content, meaning, to it. Badger emphasizes the essential role of the user and giving us a rather simple and commercial equation: Google’s tools + You = Victory. A more convincing model for the concept of the mashup was that the sum of the two parts makes for something more valuable than just the sum of the two parts: 1+1=2,53542. I guess it is a good thing Time magazine named us as persons of the year, but it also makes us a lot busier with supplying content for Web2.0 applications. When will “we” get too busy with supplying content until the point that we don’t want to do it anymore? It will probably mark the end of Web2.0: The death of the user.

Mashups by Remco Kouwenhoven
On his website Nederkaart.nl Remco Kouwenhoven shows lots of examples of mashups with the use of the Google Maps API. He showed us some of these on the screen, but the one that struck me the most was this map about the air traffic above Schiphol. What it intents to show is the high density of airplanes at Schiphol airport paired with complaints about the noise.

Schiphol Noise in Google Earth

This reminded me of a remark by Mark Monmonier in the Dorling & Fairbairn piece I already mentioned above: ‘Cartographic propaganda can be an effective intellectual weapon against an unresponsive, biased, or corrupt bureaucracy.’ These mashups can provide this cartographic propaganda in real-time. Current issues can be addressed with the help of real-time information gathering. On Kouwenhoven’s website a lot more examples can be seen and it is a definitely worth browsing and importing some of the examples into Google Earth.

The Workshops
After a morning of presentations the afternoon was reserved for us, the user, to start creating content using the tools supplied by Google as Badger pointed out. Although I’m not sure for how long these links will be online you can check out the small assignments of the workhops at these links: Google Earth workshop and Google Maps API workshop. More technical info is also available through code.google.com. There was one jawdropping example in the Google Earth workshop that I didn’t know about, which is an incredibly detailed 3D city model of Berlin. Definitely a must-see.

Hauptbahnhof Berlin 3D

After spending two hours being immersed in the representation of the physical space on the screen, the pavement on my way to the train station also had some new meaning applied to it. A strange awareness of how easy meaning can be applied to the physical space we navigate each day, or to the places where we live. Being unaware which meaning has been applied in the virtual to the places we call home. What also struck me after this day is the dependence of Google on the user, who is responsible for supplying the content. It makes you think, but for some reason I’m just feeling lucky right now.

Cross Media Week Amsterdam: The future as seen in movies

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This week Amsterdam is all about Cross Media, a mating ritual between all different forms of media: New and old, new and even newer. I (and the Masters of Media) visited the student lectures on Wednesday where five speakers presented their views on the topic. The speakers were:

  • John Underkoffler, Chief Scientist, Treadle & Loam and Co-Founder, G-Speak (United States)
  • Mary Hodder, CEO, Dabble (United States)
  • Gabriele Gresta, Executive Vice Chairman, Digital Magics Group (Italy)
  • Joaquín Alvarado and Sylvia Paull

Picnic06

If you want to read a whole report on the lectures, check out Anne Helmond’s post on the conference. Personally I was most intrigued by John Underkoffler and his views on the convergence of film and (new media) science. He coined a very simple, but very relevant question about the mouse. Everything in computer science has developed, but why are we still stuck with  just the mouse and keyboard? Because it confirmed some thoughts I had floating through my mind a while back, when I was thinking about the science used in movies.

Minority Report and Gestural Interfaces
G-speak is a gestural interface system which Underkoffler is working on, but the original idea was also used in the movie Minority Report where Underkoffler was science and technology advisor. In looking for ways to present a believable future, the idea was brought up to put a gestural interface system in the movie. This system was developed and the actors could also practice with a working G-speak system, so they could mimmick the hand gestures in the movie itself. So you could say it’s kind of a movie and science loop.

The examples that were shown on the Picnic were quite impressive and showed a working system quite similar to the scenes you see in Minority Report where Tom Cruise is working on a crime scene with the help from a very interesting gestural interface. You can watch a short example of that movie sequence below:

I couldn’t find the example of the G-Speak interface which Underkoffler showed, but there is similar research being done by other companies. They work a bit differently, but the gestural idea looks quite the same. This might look quite tiring, waving your hands up an down and all around, Underkoffler mentioned that they could easily test it for 8 hours straight. These are two examples of still developing and very interesting interfaces:

Jeff Han of New York University

EON Touchlight

Remember the Milk: Don’t forget to add your tasks

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One of the many upcoming Web 2.0 applications is Remember the Milk (RtM), an online personal agenda with the very appealing option to add the locations of your appointments to the map. And yes… it is Beta.

Remember The Milk

Since this coming weekend is going to be very busy, I decided to enter all my weekend appointments in RtM to see just how it works and if it is really usefull. The interface to add your appointments is quite basic, but with some very usable features.

Adding tasks
For example if you want the appointment set on the coming Saturday, you just have to type ‘saturday’ and RtM automatically adds the date. Other things beside date and time that you can edit for your appointment are Repeat (for scheduling weekly appointments), add Tags, add a URL and last but not least the very promising Location option.

This weekend my appointments are all over the Netherlands, so this is a good opportunity to check the functionality. Adding a street in Rotterdam was very easy, but when I got to my third appointment in Arnheim the location couldn’t be found and it wasn’t even some back alley, it was one of the largest squares. That might have something to do with the Beta phase, let’s hope so. The rest of the locations worked like a charm.

rtmscreen

After a couple of minutes getting used to the interface and checking out all the options, I now have my weekend schedule in Remember the Milk complete with all the locations on the map. Adding tasks does take some time though, so just a little helper: If you check more than one task in the Tasks menu and change something it is applied to everything checked. This doesn’t go for the location though.

To remind you of your appointments you can have RtM send you an e-mail, messenger or mobile phone. Too bad the Netherlands isn’t supported (yet), so I’ll just have to work with e-mail which is quite annoying if you’re out a lot.

The Beta potential
Now we’re getting to an important conclusion, because RtM would be a very usefull application (or website) to have available on your mobile phone or PDA. Getting a reminder, complete with location, would be ideal on the road if you don’t have a map ready. If RtM would also add the option of route navigation to get from one appointment to the next, this would be a very usefull application. But these functions aren’t available (yet).

Remember the Milk is a Web 2.0 application with a lot of potential, especially with the recently added location functionality. A lot more needs to be added and done though, but hey… It’s Beta! Although the location function makes this application really stand out among other calender and reminder applications.

And while you’re busy adding your whole calendar to RtM, you might just forget the milk or an important meeting because it is quite time consuming. Because I think I just missed my train to Arnheim…

Façade: Interactive storytelling on a whole new level

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Façade is a one-act interactive drama according to it’s makers Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern, and what that is exactly? I can tell you it’s a whole new experience in computer gaming, if it can even be called gaming. It’s more like a digital play you are a part of, and above all it is something you have to try for yourself to see what I mean. You can get the free Façade game from the developer website InteractiveStory.net.

I’ll give you a short introduction, but I’m not spoiling anything that would ruin the fun of playing it the first time. When you begin the game you are invited by Trip and Grace to come over to their house for a cosy get together. The drama starts as soon as you get to their apartment where you are welcomed by the couple. It seems their marriage has some cracks and holes and they aren’t affraid to discuss ’em in front of you.

The interface is simple, you can walk around the appartment, interact with some of the objects and type almost anything (as long as it is related). Especially the communication in Façade is great, you can interrupt the couple, ask them about things, choose sides, etc. And all that in normal sentences, and in a way you would normally respond in a conversation yourself. It’s feels a lot more natural than your average RPG interface with only so few options.

For some more indepth information and very interesting reading from the makers, check out the press page at InteractiveStory.net for papers, articles and a lot more and their vision and motivation

This game also won the 2006 Grand Jury Prize at the Slamdance Independent Games Festival. And at the end of the play, you can also look at the stageplay you just created. Need I say more? Just as an example here is a small part of the (words-only) stageplay from my second time playing the drama. I’m ‘Ben’:

GRACE
Hi! How are you? Oh god it’s been such a long time! — (interrupted)
BEN
Hi grace

GRACE
H-mmm (happy smile sound)
BEN
How are you?
GRACE
Good! Yes! Very good. Some exciting things at work I’ll have to tell you about.
GRACE
So come on in, make yourself at home!
BEN
What happened at work?
TRIP
Oh yeah, let me tell you about work. I just brought in a new account – print ads for a line of bridal fashion.
(BEN sits on the couch.)