Apr 29 2005

Murhill

Randomly trawling Google image links late at night. Something sordid about it. I discovered this website to a treehouse in a little valley just outside of Bath. Dreadful photography, but you can see that someone has built themselves the perfect summer bolt-hole. Why did he photograph it from the train? Murhill Treehouse conspiracy theories abound.

Hmm. ‘Hermit’ never was a career option. If there are crazy rich people reading (and I know there are) I’d like a treehouse now please.


Apr 28 2005

Non-Linear Thoughtplay

Today’s webjunk is for our audience of pocket-philosphers: an interesting passage in a review of a new collection of essays on Wittgenstein focuses on aphoristic philosophers. The idea that structured, linear and systematised philosophical is somehow false I find increasingly appealing.

I suppose, in that mode of Richard Rorty, if words are tools, then aphorisms are the essential gadgets and appliances, rather than the whole workshop and accompanying rack of Haynes’ manuals. Can either set of tools be said to do the job better? Or is one simply more wieldy?

Here’s the key paragraph:

Wittgenstein scorned the science of aesthetics (it was, he scoffed, like believing that science could tell you what sort of coffee tastes good), but he also considered that philosophy ought really only to be written as a form of poetry. He belonged to that distinguished lineage of philosophers, from Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Heidegger to Benjamin, Adorno and Derrida, who were sceptical of the whole genre of philosophizing as they found it, and like avant-garde artists could say what they meant only by inventing a different sort of discourse altogether. In each case, that new style of writing challenged the distinction between the philosophical and the literary, trading in aphorism and persona, figure and fable, rhetorical strategy and dramatic dialogue. Rather as Walter Benjamin dreamed of a book that would consist of nothing but quotations, so Wittgenstein toyed with the idea of a text that would be composed of nothing but jokes. Both men were traditional-minded modernists who, like James Joyce, found the whole orthodox conception of a book deeply troubling (Witt-genstein published only one of them in his lifetime). Along with Benjamin’s colleague Theodore Adorno, they belonged to that heretical sub-current of philosophical thought that can compress a whole complex argument into some earthy dictum, gnomic epiphany, or striking image. All three thinkers preferred a montage of fragments to a conventionally ordered argument. Wittgenstein, in true modernist fashion, liked his thoughts to jump around rather than being forced into a linear pattern. In this respect, he was closer to Molly Bloom or Mrs Dalloway than to A. J. Ayer. Benjamin’s distaste for totality also had a theological dimension: only God could restore a shattered history to wholeness, a belief that makes the unified work of art a sort of idolatry.


Apr 27 2005

Clanging of Geeks

I suspect my perspective is skewed: years of obsessive Quake playing will do that to a man. Sat alone, chewing on a cable and watching those accuracy ratios slowly rise across months of physical and mental conditioning, it’s a process that has some deep-seated cognitive side-effects. Just as I could ‘fly’ through mental models of the maps I knew so well, so now I visualise pretty much all of 3D space using my psychical Quake-tools. Further, I’m convinced that now, as I deteriorate, I will never again know the sublime animal-perception intensity of 20-minutes of instinctive, snap-impulse gaming. I just can’t invest on that level.

Likewise, I find the level of competition in other games almost laughable. Player-vs-player combat in the RPGs for example, lacks physical and mental challenge. Except, perhaps, in Eve. I was thinking about why this was, and concluded that it’s all down to the way in which person vs person interactions are handled by these games. In Quake it’s one nervous system against the next. Tactics are all timing and base cunning. In Eve, however, it’s about deployment of power, in various forms. You work long and hard for your power. You invest in it. Not just time put into the game, but into other people. This is why player-driven alliances have become so important to the game. You are tied into the power structures of others. You invest in them and rely on the investments of others for additional power and security. Player vs player combat here is less about impulses and precision than it is about co-ordination, manipulation of fears and about the deployment of brute force – force that is gathered over time by players’ investment in the game. It’s a kind of combatant’s inertia: the longer you’ve spent in the game the more power you can wield, and the more allies you will have to help you in fleet battles, and skirmishes. The greater the deployment of power, and the more successful it becomes, the more resources you reap, the more power you wield, the greater the inertia becomes. Life is a loop.

Of course this comes about because Eve is so open-ended and modular. People can find a use after just a few weeks of play. There is a real role for the junior members, as scouts, jammers, whatever. They can, symbiotically, enjoy the benefits of the power-structures they tie themselves into.

In Quake the weakest player might as well not be there at all. He’s just letting the team down. Likewise, in the linear structures of games like World of Warcraft, there is simply no place for the weaker man. Player versus player conflict is little more than empty betting. You gamble one set of statistics against another, for a token of nothing. In Quake the combat’s outcome has honour and ego at stake, in Warcraft nothing, aside from the moment, really matters. For a game that is based in a persistent world, the results of hostile player interaction have very little long-term impact. In Eve, the very power structures that you’ve invested time and money in are effected by war and peace. The gamble here is a big one, with real fears emanating from it. In other RPGs, there’s little or nothing to be said for this most visceral of interactions.

I’d like to think that one day soon a middle ground will be possible. One which will create an environment of suitable modularity that the power-structures of Eve can be united with the earthiness and immediacy of something like Warcraft. Star Wars Galaxies made substantial moves in this direction, but it wasn’t enough. Now I can’t seen anything that has that kind of ambition. Eve seems to have managed to be the most interesting player-combat arena almost be accident. Now someone has to do it better, and they should do it by design.


Apr 25 2005

Japanese Decay

This morning’s finest webjunk is this site, which contains many pages of urban decay photographs. The captions are all in Japanese, but the site is still easily navigable.


Apr 24 2005

Same and Alien

You know you’ve been web-browsing for too long when you’re reading the pseudo-philosophical musings of someone living in Taipei. This blog, which for the most part exhibits a peculiar grasp of English and examines oblique intersections between East and West, contains one really fascinating entry. The author discusses the oft-considered gap between Eastern and Western ways of writing.

“You spoke with a colleague whom you respect and who has spent a number of years in America. She agrees with you that a character is not a word, is not “read” ["it seems absurd but we Chinese don't know how to read, but you don't know how to see"], and hence her experience of a page of writing in Chinese is radically different from my experience of lines of text in English, and hence Chinese cannot be translated into English. A character is a “picture” and “we Chinese don’t understand them [characters] except intuitively.” “We take in writing as a whole–we intuitively understand the whole poem at one glance.” Or in large “chunks” as when reading narratives. (This is evidence that Chinese does not ‘flow’ as some think. It is always a whole or a large “chunk”.) “

The implications of this are far reaching. The author points out that grammar simply doesn’t exist in Chinese and, as such, there could be wider ramifications for the way a Chinese speaker experiences the world. “And you wonder now about the general relation of grammar to time: is our experience of time a function of our grammar rules? Does time exist independent of grammar?”

These kind of concepts make me really excited to be human. I find it fascinating that human beings can be behaviourally, physically, culturally so similar and yet, in some radical way, have a completely different mental/phenomenological context with which to approach the world. It’s as if the two cultures are really alien only inside the heads of their respective language speakers. Hell, sometimes I feel like I must live in a different world from people who speak the same language, and live in the same country, as will most other people on reading the recent spate of crazed election manifestos.

Anyway, having recently struggled with the translation in gap in the Far East, this little snippet has even more resonance. When we speak, what do we really lose in translation? Anyone who has faced the classic ‘man talks for ten minutes, interpreter responds by simply saying: “He says, no”‘ will have a good idea how much difference this makes even on the most practical levels.


Apr 23 2005

Mother Is A Cathedral

In the comments to the Moscow piece, Charity points to this excellent blog (categories: “everything is miscellaneous”) and a piece about Achilles G. Rizzoli.

It was only in 1935 that Rizzoli began illustrating his utopian visions. Over the next decade he ‘produced a body of spectacular architectural renderings, in grand Beaux-Arts style.’ These were done in coloured ink on rag paper, and followed an inscrutably elaborate plan for a notional locale Rizzoli termed YTTE, an acronym for the phrase ‘Yield To Total Elation.’ In many cases, the drawings were also intended as ‘symbolic portrayals’ of family-members, neighbours, or acqauintances.

For the most spectacular drawing, take a look at this astonishing city plan.


Apr 23 2005

Pro Nuclear

This evening’s Channel 4 News had a small section in their election-issue feature talking about nuclear power. No less than three middle-aged men said that it was a good thing and, in fact, the only real option. Well hurrah. I wonder if we’ll see that issue touched on again in the next five years.

Inspired by this little fizzle of support for my pet topic, I had a look around for some pro-nuclear power websites. They’re not looking good.

Besides the stuffy and corporate Supporters of Nuclear Energy, and the frankly amateurish Environmentalists For Nuclear Power, there’s really not much to go on. Predictably, there’s an army of anti-nuclear sites out there, all of them more stylish, energetic and approachable than these two abominations. All the cool kids are evidently pulling girls with that CND campaigner’s schtick.

Gosh, I’ve come over all political. I must be getting older.


Apr 21 2005

Parallel Moscow

Apparently this is old webjunk, but I missed it first time around. It’s a website containing paintings of architecture proposed for Soviet Moscow but never actually constructed. This palace is what all men should aspire to have built in their honour. Also, I wish to live in a structure called ‘The Building of the People’s Commissariat of Нeavy Industry.’

“The architect must not be bound by style in the old, historical sense of that word, he himself must be a creator of style… То this end, it is essential to set guidelines which facilitate the optimum realisation by the builder of each individual project… One must establish only absolute tenets, those which are inevitable, true and unchanging. There are many such, and these tenets, as vehicles of absolute values, are equally applicable to classical and contemporary architecture”. I.Golosov. From his lecture “New Paths in Architecture”.


Apr 21 2005

Nitro Tea

F.O.G. sends word of this year’s most acclaimed restaurant, The Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire.

The Degustation Menu:

MENU SAMPLE FOR TASTING MENU
NINETY-SEVEN POUNDS AND FIFTY PENCE

NITRO-GREEN TEA AND LIME MOUSSE
ORANGE AND BEETROOT JELLY
OYSTER, PASSION FRUIT JELLY, HORSERADISH CREAM, LAVENDER
POMMERY GRAIN MUSTARD ICE CREAM, RED CABBAGE GAZPACHO
JELLY OF QUAIL, LANGOUSTINE CREAM, PARFAIT OF FOIE GRAS
SNAIL PORRIDGE
Jabugo Ham, shaved fennel
ROAST FOIE GRAS
Almond fluid gel, cherry and chamomile
SARDINE ON TOAST SORBET
Ballotine of mackerel ‘invertebrate’, marinated daikon
SALMON POACHED WITH LIQUORICE
Asparagus, pink grapefruit, “Manni” olive oil
POACHED BREAST OF ANJOU PIGEON PANCETTA
Pastilla of its leg, pistachio, cocoa and quatre épices
WHITE CHOCOLATE AND CAVIAR
MRS MARSHALL’S MARGARET CORNET
PINE SHERBET FOUNTAIN
MANGO AND D0UGLAS FIR PUREE
Bavarois of lychee and mango, blackcurrant sorbet
CARROT AND ORANGE TUILE,
BAVAROIS OF BASIL
BEETROOT JELLY
SMOKED BACON AND EGG ICE CREAM
Pain perdu, tea jelly
LEATHER, OAK AND TOBACCO CHOCOLATES
PRALINE ROSE TARTLET

Reports are that the Nitro-Green Tea and Lime Mousse is a sorbet made with a pot of liquid nitrogen at your table. F.O.G. also expresses a desire to have culinary knowledge of ‘leather chocolates’. I can only concur. Expect a review when I discover that I have ninety-seven pounds and fifty pence to spare.


Apr 21 2005

Endless Fire

Labouring under the vaguest hope that maybe, just maybe, Mutant Storm II would suddenly have been unveiled, I was poking around on the PomPom site this morning. And there, on forums most retro, I did discover that Tom from Nullpointer has made an arcade shooter of his very own, Endless Fire. I think you should all help him ‘beta test’ it.

Nice work, Tom.