Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Game and Society

I just noticed some guys outside playing American football (being a typical overcast autumn day, this isn't surprising). Calling the ball a "pigksin" reminds me of our formerly ubiquitous nomadic lifestyle. I wouldn't be surprised if the appeal of many sports is due to the role each player takes in relation to the ball — becoming a chaser, defending it from others, etc. — and the similarity this role bears to the original game hunt. If evolutionary theory is on track, then games like football are the highest fulfillment of our deepest instincts (at least in industrialized societies).

It's also interesting to note the place of the hunt in art. It was of primary importance to the first artists, but slowly fell by the way-side as societies were established — making way for themes relating humans to each other and the gods. You could say all these things make sports photographers the modern day equivalent of cave painters, but the cave paintings are much more of an abstract art than documentary.

Beliefs About God

From Kierkegaard's "Provocations": one becomes a believer by hearing about Christianity, by reading about it, by thinking about it. It means that while Christ was living, no one became a believer by seeing Him once in a while or by going and staring at Him all day long. No, a certain setting is required — venture a decisive act. The proof does not precede but follows; it exists in and with the life that follows Christ. Once you have ventured the decisive act, you are at odds with the life of this world. You come into collision with it, and because of this you will gradually be brought into such tension that you will then be able to become certain of what Christ taught.
Let's say you're in elementary school, and the teacher gives you an address for a penpal. You send the first letter on your faith in your teacher, and you receive a "proof" of the penpal's existence in return (a response). There is another type of "proof", though: as you correspond with your penpal and develop a relationship, coming to understand each other better, you receive proof of their character.

I can imagine trusting your penpal before you really know their character — there's a kindness to that — but it makes no sense to trust someone before you even know they exist. Of course, this metaphor isn't perfect, it's even more extreme in the case of Christianity: we aren't asked to trust God the way we would trust a penpal, we're asked to give up everything. I can see how proof of God's character might "exist in and with the life that follows Christ", but it doesn't make any sense to devote yourself to something without some initial reason to believe it exists (and especially not if you have reasons to disbelieve).

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Misunderstanding Viewgraphs

Edward Tufte is probably best known for his disdain of Powerpoint. I noticed an article where he criticizes NASA on their use of the application, "Engineering by Viewgraphs", and before I had the chance to read the article, an alternate presentation mode came to mind.

Imagine an interactive mind map with automatic summaries generated continuously for various levels of detail. This would separate the content of the presentation from the presentation itself: the content is the map — its nodes, connections, scribbles, images and graphs — and the presentation is a path through it. This solves the problem of "unnecessarily deep hierarchies" needing to be continually restated, as the listeners will be aware of the "position" of the presentation at every moment. It would aide the clarity of a presentation, by forcing a reasonable order on the presenter (clarity could even be determined algorithmically based on connectivity, and possible presentations could be suggested from the map). If the listeners have personal access to the presentation as it was running, this overcomes the "linearity" problem. And, of course, the "low resolution" problem is solved by the textual LOD engine. I would expect this to ease the preparation process as well — I'm sure plenty of people already work non-linearly when preparing slides, writing out the next few slide titles before filling out their points. Group presentations would be enhanced as well by agreeing on the initial structure and allowing each person to contribute higher resolution information to the final presentation.

In case someone ends up making this, a few minor recommendations come to mind:

  • The textual LOD must have smooth transitions. Choppy resizing (as was popular with JavaScript + DIVs not so long ago) would be really distracting.
  • Instead of equally zooming into everything, it would be better to zoom more into the focus than things on the border (in order to retain a sense of location).
  • "Every slide is a node" is a copout analogy. I see nodes with more amorphous shapes that can be molded and reframed as needed (e.g.: multiple nodes occupying the screen at once).
Anyway, this is not what Tufte's article was about...

Merzbow's Noise

We are slaves to analogy. Every sound we hear evokes a reaction and association. Every image reminds us of a time and place; and if it doesn't, we imagine one. Breaking stimuli into its constituents doesn't do us any good: pure colors remind us of representative objects (the blue sky, the green grass), pure tones are reminiscent of various electronic devices, and pure rhythms occur naturally in the machinery that surrounds us. In an attempt to expand our sonic palette, Russolo introduces us to a variety of ignored noises. Yet his list of "roars", "whistles" and "screeches" still suffers from analogical bondage: all these noises are implicitly categorized by their origin. Even when we're confronted by an unfamiliar noise, if we listen closely we recreate it into something familiar (people often hear voices where there are none). Merzbow makes these kind of sounds, these cracklings, mumblings and loud whispers. But if "noise is the unconsciousness of music" in the same way "pornography is the unconsciousness of sex", he has yet to accomplish his goal. Listening to "Minus Zero" from "Red Magnesia Pink", I can still hear structure and reminders of life: broken radios, irregular rhythms, guttural screams, armor penetrating bullets, lasers, explosions, fans, engines, hairdryers and children's conversations. I have yet to experience "being-for-itself" as Sartre would have it. Unfortunately, Merzbow seems unaware of this issue. He initially "tried to quit using any instruments which were related to, or were played by, the human body", in an attempt to sever any connections the noises might incite. But at the same time he's rooted in the subjective interpretations of Dadaism and even gives his own analogies: "The sound of Merzbow is like Orgone energy — the color of shiny silver." Perhaps, in an effort to escape familiarity, after twenty years of experimentation he has created one more familiar sound? If the goal of noise is the "obliteration" of identity, as Simon Reynolds puts it, then the climax of Merzbow's noise is not found in its duration, but afterwards — in the silence. It's only in this silence, the un-created non-sound, that we are emancipated from analogy and forced to come to terms with our unconnected self.