Monday, December 14, 2009

In Search of the Lost Time

Charon and Psyche

I know well that many will disagree about the use of the time of our lives. Who am I to talk about this? There are many ways of visualizing the passage across the Styx, that well respected scenic river that takes us to shores beyond the everlasting fog.

I find this visualization by EA (yes, Electronic Arts, my old employee) rather amusing and interesting. For those of you who are interested in the most popular sport in the world, (no, not baseball nor your mis-called football, the one you play throwing the blimp with your HAND?) but yes, fútbol, football or soccer it is. According to FIFA football is actually played by more than 240 million people in about 200 countries.

Just to set the record straight I would like to mention that when I proposed to design the very first football computer game (for the Commodore 64) at Electronic Arts, they dismissed it as not very commercial. In fact one producer, who shall remain nameless asked me in his infinite cubiculed ignorance, if I could design some more "action" into the game, such as killing or at least maiming other comment.

Well, fast forward to 2010 and here we have the game called FIFA 10 and the visualization I was talking about, called FIFA EARTH. It shows, arguably in real-time how many games are being played and have been played since its release a little over a month ago. So far, as I write this, the counter reads 136, 826, XXX (to fast to pin down, so by the time you check it I am sure it will be a very large number.) That makes for more than 2,000,000 soccer video games played every day! Do you understand my Proustian title now?

This visualizations is quite complex and immense, using streams of data not only from played games but also geo-located Tweets about them, real or virtual, and everything else related to the sport or of interest to fans. Consider for example that last year about 2 billion video game matches were played. How is that for a not very commercial game? LOL! that remark is up there with "I predict only a handful of computers will satisfy the requirements of the world" or something to that effect.

A Tetra Drachma from Athens, 450 B.C.

Not that I had become rich if I had done that first football game (which was completely designed with AI and all), but I think at least I would have one or two silver pieces to pay the price of traversing the by now, very polluted waters of the mythical river.

The Eye Writer


We live in interesting times, no question about that. Plague, famine, kids killing people in remote villages from their drone playstations in Las Vegas, sipping RedBull. It is quite difficult to know how we can provide an ounce of balance to a ton of misery, so that ounce must be something really special to rescue our impossibly damaged spirit.

The influx of very damaged very young humans, the broken byproduct of that biggest business which is war, ends up in the landfills of society, the eternal superfund from which some people pick up the pieces and try to put things back together, albeit in a very different way. A leg here, an arm there, an eye or two, perhaps a brain? Can we pull us back together?
I will call him Luis

While searching for an appropriate picture to help me cut through the fog I had trouble finding one of the millions of miserable children which survive doing such a thing, because Corbis Corporation, the photo "service" owns most of them. I wonder, do those children get a percentage directly deposited to their pig accounts?

I guess you get the point. What triggered all this diatribe was me thinking about what we do on a daily basis, our "job" in other words. Do we really do something useful, something that tips the balance and creates a positive change? I think one of the reasons that the Open Source movement is so important is that it is a sort of groundswell, difficult to perceive because it is so pervasive and widespread.

But this movement, so dangerous to the monopolists of the world will tumble the most arrogant of them. There is no corporation, not even the most technically sophisticated that can evolve as rapidly as thousands or millions of people working together for a common cause.

As a little sample, I offer this movie about such an endeavour, one that ends with a call to hackers all over the world to collaborate, in this and any other way that might become the glue that binds us together again, into our cyborgian future.

The Eyewriter from Evan Roth on Vimeo.

Open Frameworks, F.A.T., Graffiti Research Lab, graffiti legend Tempt1 and of course EyeWriter got together to produce that ounce of energy for each and everyone of us...

Here is the how to and all the good monopoly-breaking stuff for those DIY's among us. Keep on DIYing...!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Ευγένιος Σπαθάρης και Σωτήρης Σπαθάρης

Angel Who Recites Poems for the Death of Heroes

I intended to write a note about Eugenios Spatharis (Ευγένιος Σπαθάρης), since it is him that revived an ancient art for a new generation, including those who only saw the shadows projected on the television cave. But I though better to step back a few years, to understand where all this comes from and have perhaps a better idea of where it is going.

In his Memoirs, Sotiris Sphataris (Σωτήρης Σπαθάρης ) Eugenios's father, relates, with painful honesty, the events in his life and time that made him, what I consider, a master of one of the most important expressions of visual storytelling, since our beginnings as cave dwellers until this time of new media, convergence and interactivity, words and phrases which lose meaning as rapidly as a passing shadow.

Behind the White Screen is a perfect title for his memoirs. A screen which not only represents the canvas of the artist, but the medium through which art and life truly interact with those lucky enough to be entranced by its magic.

Sotiráki, as his mother called him, had a life worthy of a Greek tragedy or a Charles Dickens novel, of extreme poverty, abuse and misfortune, of daily beatings by a drunken father who used him as a beggar since he was 5 years old.

But then one day a white screen went up in town. Some oil lamps were lit behind and as the shadows danced and played and fought, a door opened in Sotíris heart that never closed again. And through it a whole spirit of a people came alive and multiplied in thousands of other hearts and minds.

In Plato's dialogue between Sócrates and Glaucon, the allegory of the cave represents a world devoid of ideas where fiction reigns supreme in lieu of reality, a perfect allegory for today, where virtual reality or VR is touted as the new world, where we, as the chained people of the cave, even farther away from the exit, are to spend the rest of our lives, our cones and rods tickled by the bits and bytes that illuminate our fool's paradise.

But from its royal beginnings in ancient China (Han Dynasty), shadow puppets brought stories to life, reflecting the wants and needs, the hopes and fears of people, from emperors to beggars. The shadows liberated people from the chains giving voice to the silent, joy to the sad and fear to the mighty. The cave was opened for the common people and like a virus spread all over the world.

They came to Greece during the Ottoman Empire and as is common with all theater arts, involvement with it was considered a disreputable profession, akin to prostitution whose practitioners were regarded as the lowest of the low, even though on the other side of the screen, people of all walks of life and fortune would enjoy their characters played and mocked, disrobed and challenged.

As a young kid in love with shadow puppets and its Karagiozis character, Sotiris had to suffer many a beating, simply for being them. In a time when a mother proclaimed that she would rather see her son dead and buried than becoming a puppeteer, Sotiris love for the art surmounted every obstacle in his way, in a truly odyssean fashion. And so a living legend was born.

His art did not die with his passing in 1972, it lived in his son, Eugenios Spatharis which carried the tradition until a few days ago, when he also traveled on, May 10, 2009.

The light still burns behind the white screen, waiting for the shadows to appear and the show to begin.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Birth of a Notion

It is quite refreshing to see and hear here and there little voices accumulating like streams coming from our inner well, in route to the Great River we call life. There is a saying in Spanish: "cuando el rio suena, piedras trae", which I would try to translate as: "when the river sounds (or sings, or roars), stones bring". Any language, saying, or poem gets lost in translation, but there is that other language without words, which is expressed in a warm handshake, not the business lock which signals our enslavement to terms, but the one that simply proclaims our human nature.

My friend Douglas Rushkoff made this little film, which in its simplicity (production not withstanding) communicates in a very direct way, a longing, a hope that maybe, just maybe, enough rocks tumble down the river in unison to recover the lost sense of self which has been stripped from our bones and soul or whatever you want to call the consciousness emerged.

Here it is for your tickling pleasure, thanks Douglas

Life Inc. The Movie from Douglas Rushkoff on Vimeo.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Our Earth

In this age when, rather late, politicians still argue if we should cut military budgets to dedicate a pittance to saving our planet and our species from destruction we could look back 30 years ago (in fact we could look back centuries and find the same concerns, albeit more timely) when visionary and designer, poet and engineer, R. Buckminster Fuller stated that we must work together as a crew if we are to survive on our planet, "spaceship earth." (from where his quotes are taken)

Bucky, as he was known, worried about the lack of education and understanding necessary to effectively take care of our planet and its dwindling resources;

...Because our spontaneous initiative has been frustrated, too often inadvertently, in earliest childhood we do not tend, customarily, to dare to think competently regarding our potentials. We find it socially easier to go on with our narrow, shortsighted specialization’s and leave it to others---primarily to the politicians---to find some way of resolving our common dilemmas.

...I must observe also that we’re not going to sustain life at all except by our successful impoundment of more of the Sun’s radiant energy aboard our spaceship than we are losing from Earth in the energies of radiation or outwardly rocketed physical matter. We could burn up the Spaceship Earth itself to provide energy, but that would give us very little future. Our space vehicle is similar to a human child. It is an increasing aggregate of physical and metaphysical processes in contradistinction to a withering, decomposing corpse.

But as John Denver sang in "Seasons of the Heart":

It’s hard to tell the truth
When no one wants to listen
When no one really cares
What’s going on
And it’s hard to stand alone
When you need someone beside you
Your spirit, your faith
Must be strong

What one man can do is dream
What one man can do is love
What one man can do is change the world
And make it young again
Here you see what one man can do

"Think of it. We are blessed with technology that would be indescribable to our forefathers. We have the wherewithal, the know-it-all to feed everybody, clothe everybody, and give every human on Earth a chance. We know now what we could never have known before-that we now have the option for all humanity to "make it" successfully on this planet in this lifetime. Whether it is to be Utopia or Oblivion will b a touch-and-go relay race right up to the final moment."

— R. Buckminster Fuller 1980