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Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

Packing my bags

In Musings on August 31, 2010 at 11:23 am

With the imminent release of the aptly named Diaspora project, which has been defined by the team as a “privacy aware, personally controlled, do-it-all, open source social network,” I am faced with a dilemma. Will I; a 21st century casual surfer of the interwebz and client of the now half-a-billion strong Facebook network pack my digi-bag and move to greener pastures?

This exodus would involve me fully terminating my membership at  Zuckerberg’s fortress of solitude. All my pictures, friends and witty, vaguely pretentious posts will be deleted and (hopefully) wiped from the information banks of the great beholder. Four years of virtual history will be erased, will I miss it? Do I miss msn?

No, no I don’t.

For me Diaspora represents the next step in evolution of web based social networking. It promises privacy coupled with open source, and that makes the biggest difference. It gives social networking back to the social network. Instead of building a “private” hub that collects everything you type or send, it relays directly to your friends. This is of course not the first of such network projects to spring up in the wake of Facebook that keeps it aim on privacy (http://gitorious.org/social/pages/ProjectComparison) – but it is one which is promised immense financial and moral backing.

I don’t think that Diaspora will beat Facebook in the social networking branch of the interweb olympics, but that’s beside the point. Diaspora represents a rising confidence in keeping things private and personal – which for me represents the essential fundamentals of serious web-based interaction.

More on Diaspora:http://www.joindiaspora.com/index.html

Mayday, Mayday

In Musings on May 2, 2010 at 9:56 am

It’s May 2, 2010. The location: Kreuzberg, Berlin.

I arrived at Schonefeld 8 in the morning, May day. I had slept 2 hours the night before, but managed to indulge in my fair share of coffee and pork sandwiches to keep me going until I found the apartment I would be crashing in. I forgot my toothbrush back in London and I have been committed to finding one ever since I landed. After a quick meet and greet with relations, I spent the afternoon touring Kreuzberg and the surrounding area, sucking in the feel of this seemingly tranquil city. This is my first trip to Berlin and I was unsure what to expect. I heard loads of rumors and comments of how friendly the city and its inhabitants are, and I am positively surprised that the gossip turned out to be true.

May 1 is International worker’s day and a whole bunch of people had gathered around Kreuzberg’s oranienplatz to celebrate Communism, 
Marxism and Socialism, as well as to boldly condemn Nazism and Capitalism. The different speakers were particularly fervent in their damning of Nazism, something which, at times, seemed slightly forced. The Nazis themselves had organized a parade this day, and I can easily understand how the collective German volksgeist would rally and confront such an event head-on. They had decorated their respective stands in bright red socialist slogans “Capitalism is organized crime” read one, “Anti-Nazism, Anti-Capitalism” read another. The Dj’s spun some energizing tunes, and people were already banding together to forming cohesive troupes, as if preparing to fight the system with the power of interpretive dance.  The atmosphere was electric, but it reminded me more of a music festival than an ideological sponsored political rally. As one guy was shouting “Nazis are shit” through a massive speaker, most people were just standing still, leisurely nursing their beers while chatting amicably with one and other. I went for some early lunch, had a quick discussion about culture and then went back to the apartment for a few hours of well-deserved rest. The toothbrush remained unprocured.

Around six in the evening we went for dinner in Friedrichshain. I had some falafel. It was delicious. We then went for a walk back towards Kreuzberg to find a shop that sold toothbrushes (I really wanted to brush my teeth). As we were peacefully strolling down a cobblestone road, admiring the mild Berlin night, a massive crowd of chanting, dancing and marching people came boiling into the street. The atmosphere shifted immediately and we were caught up in a wave of passionate disorder. The whole ordeal was very exciting, people were yelling and chanting their socialist jingles, the street was quickly littered with broken bottles, plastic cups and splintered signs. A car’s window was smashed by brick, and the crowd gained momentum. We came to one of the streets leading down to orianenplatz, and I witnessed the dramatic process of a police van being bounced from side to side amidst a rabble of protesters. Again the atmosphere changed, this time violence was in the air. We could all hear yelling and whistling from around one of the corners and moved closer to see what was happening. Out of nowhere bottles streaked through the air and came crashing down ahead of me. The shatter of glass on pavement was followed by an eerie silence, which culminated into the thunderous stomping of a few dozen humans running for their sorry lives. The crowd ahead of me heaved, buckled and broke as panicky, pack mentality gripped me. I shot around and started sprinting as fast as I could the way I had come. The whole crowd dispersed as green, flack-armoured riot police descended on those stupid (or drunk) enough who decided to stand their ground. It was exhilarating, amazing and terrifying all at the same time. Interestingly, the only thing I could think as I ran was “fuck, now I’m never getting a toothbrush.”

We spent the rest of the night trawling the mean-streets of a raging Berlin, looking for a zahnbürste. A task that would ultimately prove impossible. The riot was clearly a halfhearted measure. Thousands of people stand aimlessly around Kreuzberg strasse gawping at the military efficiency of the police as they patrol and secure areas in proper regimental standard. It is truly striking how cooly efficient the police force handles the situation. Different divisions acting independently of one another, responding rapidly to any sign of violent disturbance amongst the populace. I was literally bugged by a journalist and prompted to go and talk to one of the armour clad police officers. I asked about the unit structure and how the peacekeeping force was organized during the riot, I also asked about the differing colours on the uniforms of the policemen (some wore green, some black, and some blue) He happily answered my questions. Explaining in broken English that during May day, Berlin calls in landespolizei from all the different German states. These are clad in green and dark-blue uniforms. Traditionally they only wore green uniforms, but since 2005 they have been changing the colour scheme. There were several large armoured vehicles and water cannons stationed around us, they all bore the mark “Bündespolizei.” When further prompted with my inquisitive nature on who they were, he smiled knowingly and told me that they were the Federal police force, (clad in black riot-gear) entitled with the task of protecting the borders, subways, federal buildings and providing internal security. In many ways they inherited the mantle of the Wehrmacht, and they had come to supplement the forces of the Landespolizei. We shared a cigarette and shook hands. My mission was complete. I returned to my grinning acquaintances, the hero of the hour. Many of the streets have been shut down, and the police were forming strategic checkpoints, forcing people to either persuade the stationed officers to let them pass by convincing them that they live in the isolated areas, or just by whining enough. The latter seemed to work for us.

I’m currently sitting in the kitchen of my sisters apartment listening to homemade bombs going off in the distance, raging crowds and the Bündespolizei cracking heads.

I ended up brushing my teeth with my finger.

Warming To The Sprawl

In Musings on April 30, 2010 at 2:53 pm

When I was younger I hated the big city life. The hustle and bustle of commuting through the nebulous maze of the underground twisted and hurt my yokel mind. The stench of urine, sweat and sickening perfume overpowered my bumpkinian schnoz. Given three hours into the wastelands of Hackney my body would be crippled and my senses overloaded due to the overwhelming presence of physical and psychological activity. In other words, I would not be a happy camper.

I would complain, I would weep, I would whine and ball my fists in savage defiance to the unnatural constructs of the concrete jungle. I swore that I would never feel home in an urban environment, never appreciate its grime-based hoppity culture, with its spirit-crushing, monotonous asphalt lining every winding path one trod. “Not for me” I would assure myself when faced with the vast uniformity of the brick-city skyline. As a holy-fool recites his daily mantra to empower his spiritual-trancendency, I would fill my mind with pictures of blossoming greenery native to my home town. I would suffer from depression due to being surrounded by the poverty and urban-decay which is an oppressing constant in all urban environments. I would be appalled by the younger generations carefree attitude towards their natural surroundings, with their casual and infectious “high-fives”, their inane attraction to cannibalizing their vocabulary into guttural barks, and their naked, blue, blabbering frogs. It was enough to drive a man insane.

Then something happened. Be it divine providence, an ever evolving sense of inner-city attunement, and/or having close relations acting as committed ambassadors towards a hostile regime, I managed to extend the proverbial “calumet.”  The metropolitan Leviathan accepted my peace offering, and has in turn presented its own gift; the pulsing teat of contemporary society is now mine to grasp and suckle.

Where I would previously become incapacitated and forlorn, my body now throbs with the rhythm and energy of the sprawling megalopolis. Just by being in the presence of a bountiful variety of pickings I have become a devotee of exotic cuisine. The vast expanses of the wilderness, though lost to me in this environment, is replaced with illusionary emerald havens, where one can, for a short while, find solemn respite from the troubles of the world. The throng of humanity reminds me of the wilds herds of buffalo that once grazed our hunting grounds. At every corner there stands a shaman, preaching his medicine to the gawking crowd. The walls are covered in colored sand-paintings, reflecting the hearts and minds of the collective proletariat as it heaves and quakes through shifting generations. The sounds, sights and stench of humanity are forever driven forward by the great manitou of progress. It all culminates in a clamor of cultures clashing on the battlefield of life, each struggling to have its voice heard amongst the cacophonous uproar of modern-day society.

In this 21st century Ur, dreams are made, crushed and rewritten.

Coffee from Yuggoth

In Musings on April 28, 2010 at 11:14 am

That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons even death may die.

I have always been a fan of horror in all its g(l)ory. When I first discovered the maddening parchments describing fanged and tentacled creatures conceived at the epicenter of the universe by the blubbering, radioactive idiot-god Azatoth, I could barely conceal my excitement. After spending many dank hours, my nose firmly embedded in the charnel transcripts of this deceased neurotic necromancer; I realized that his writing, world and fantasy would forever serve as an inspiration for my own.

One of the many things I find motivating with Lovecraft’s writing lies in his ability to evoke a strong feeling of archaic horror. He himself admitted that the strongest source of influence came from the ethereal writings of Edgar Allan Poe, a connection that clearly emerges when one is confronted with his vividly gothic and grotesque descriptions. The unrelenting fear that things beyond the reason and faith of men flounder and splash in the viscous ponds of the black goat, ever waiting for the unawares academic to come stumbling in on scenes of baphometical deviance, is an ever-recurring theme. The notion that man is similar to an insect, skittering along a predetermined, antediluvian cosmic strand spun by the elder gods in the age before ages, is a subject he seems to persistently explore in many of his stories

Since his stories never focus on a traditional hero, his weird tales lend themselves a strong air of nihilism, which agains lends a feel of originality to his compositions. Many have criticized a  ‘lack of character development’, and in many instances, his automatonic protagonists seem bereft of all human sentiment. Characterisation never plays a significant role in Lovecraft’s work, instead, the heroes of his stories are nothing more but inquisitive “mirrors” reflecting the horrors they themselves inadvertently release upon the unsuspecting world.
I personally don’t see that as a minus. I don’t read Lovecraft for his insight into the spectrum of human emotion ( he himself being notoriously shy and introvert), I read it because I love horror, and he does horror like no other.

I prize Lovecraft’s otherworldly descriptions. Even now, having read and reread his work on many occassions, I still have to pause, reflect and conceptualize when I peruse his foreboding passages. An example being his description of the cyclopean coffin-city of R´yleh from“The call of Cthulhu”:

“ I suppose that only a single mountain-top, the hideous monolith-crowned citadel whereon great Cthulhu was buried, actually emerged from the waters. When I think of the extent of all that may be brooding down there I almost wish to kill myself forthwith. Johansen and his men were awed by the cosmic majesty of this dripping Babylon of elder daemons, and must have guessed without guidance that it was nothing of this or of any sane planet. Awe at the unbelievable size of the greenish stone blocks, at the dizzying height of the great carven monolith, and at the stupefying identity of the colossal statues and bas-reliefs with the queer image found in the shrine on the Alert, is poignantly visible in every line of the mates frightened description.
Without knowing what futurism is like, Johansen achieved something very close to it when he spoke of the city; for instead of describing any definite structure or building, he dwells only on broad impressions of vast angles and stone surfaces – surfaces too great to belong to anything right or proper for this earth, and impious with horrible images and hieroglyphs. I mention his talk about angles because it suggests something Wilcox had told me of his awful dreams. He said that the geometry of the dream-place he saw was abnormal, non-Euclidean, and loathsomely redolent of spheres and dimensions apart from ours. Now an unlettered seaman felt the same thing whilst gazing at the terrible reality.”

It is an awesome experience to be sucked into his world, letting your mind be enveloped in the eldritch escapism that he so masterly summons. I cannot laud his work highly enough, and for all those who enjoy horror, the literary world Lovecraft is a gem worth experiencing

Mypad

In Musings on April 20, 2010 at 8:04 pm

There has been tons of news of the emergence of the new plaything from apple. What does it do? Is it practical? Is it any good at what it does? Again, what does it do? All these questions and more are in the process of being answered by the collective American tech-wizardry coalition(TM). Many people hate it, many love it, one thing they all have in common is that they recognize it for what it is. Specifically, another flashy gadget from everybody’s favorite overlord, Steve Jobs.

The ipad has already hit the shelves in America, and is due to come crashing down on the European market any day now. I for one, can hardly wait. The dimension that I’m now currently inhabiting, the region spanning from the American pad’s release to the European one, is a space filled with meditative contemplation. I’m spending the days and nights in fitful desperation trying to justify the expenditure of Smaugs golden hoard on a small flicker-screen, bought mainly by people who are either veteran mac-warriors, hardened Jobbenites, apple-drones, people who either have too much money, or are sponsored by their respective workplace. I see myself as belonging to none of the aforementioned, though I do have a passion for reading and writing, have always seen the Mac as the best platform do creative typing from, and I’m a sucker for shiny-objects with a cannibalized fruit logo. I guess that puts me in the same booth as those pesky Jobbenites, huh?

The reason I’m so interested in the ipad and what it can do (besides from being an overgrown iPhone with a sucky selection of ebook’s) stems from a series of blog posts from a motley crew of hardened dreamsmiths who have mentioned that the ipad may soon revolutionize the way we think of writing, laptops and information attainability. Some of the more adventurous pen-men have amplified the utility of the ipad with a bluetooth keyboard, making it possible to divulge batches of word-mash on the slick, sexy and streamlined screen-of-the-future. Some say that this proves laptops will soon be a thing of the past, while others hold firm that the ipad cannot (yet) replace the utility and power of a MacBook.

I can’t really make up my mind. I really love my MacBook, I don’t want anything replacing it. I really love books (I haven’t really tried reading an ebook yet) and I can’t picture myself writing my essays and masters on the ipad. A big part of me wants to be “the” consumer-whore and line the pockets of those devious applenauts with my silver; while another part tries desperately to resist the siren calls of Steve. I think it all boils down to a question of image luxury. If I can afford a new gadget that instills me with the overrated feeling of being rocketed into the 21st century, and it proves to be a practical gizmo for the aspiring tale-teller, I’ll probably end up buying it. If not, well, I’ll just ignore “my own personal Jesus” and go on living, albeit as a self-proselytized luddite.

Funny Games

In Musings on April 15, 2010 at 3:44 pm

Peter Molyneux. Dreamweaver.

Peter Molyneux is raising the stakes on the new Fable installment. It seems that all the lonely men and women out there can now realize their dank fantasies of child bearing through the virtual construct. It was recently revealed that in Fable 3 you will be able to impregnate a lucky player with your bastard-child.

http://www.joystiq.com/2010/04/12/make-babies-with-a-co-op-partner-in-fable-3/

Fascinating and abhorrent at the same time, this news forces the avid gamer to reflect on what such an “otherworldly” option brings to the table. Is it really necessary for us to have the option of impregnating other players with our man (or women)-babies? What new level of inter-character and multiplayer relations will this feature force us to explore? I personally have an awful premonition that this aspect will release an ancient and dungeoned horror. A dark and sinful secret, privy only to those who have regressed into the cavernous, raven orifices of the web;

http://www.everquest.com/

More realistically, like the guys and gals’ over at the “Escapist” point out, it will probably just become another avenue for gamecrush rejects. To be honest, I’m more interested in the other bits of information that have come creeping out of Molyneux’s shadowy hive.

http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/98265-Molyneux-Reveals-Why-Fable-3-Will-Piss-Players-Off

The “touch” mechanic seems especially awesome.A component that allows the player to “punish” or “play” with children is definitely a winner in my book…

New Apartment Roleplay Presents

In Musings on April 13, 2010 at 1:19 pm

An acute representation of a "nerd-cell"

Roleplaying games. An expression that conjures up a host of different meanings depending on the targets background. Be it everything from larp, mmorpg, pen & paper or, more often than not; a bunch of deviant grognard’s sprawled across a viscous bed of cheese snacks, guzzling down vast quantities of fizzy liquids and sampling gaseous bouquets with the nose of a true connoisseur.

The term “grognard” was originally coined for veteran war gamers. Since wargaming and roleplaying coexist on much of the same levels of geek (or freak) its easy to apply it towards role-players, especially when the physical resemblance of both races tend to make it difficult to tell them apart.

Its an uncomfortable truth tough to admit for any veteran role-player that the hobby has a seemingly disproportionate number of weirdos, freaks and mutants all of whom will happily try to share their views on the pros and cons of classless systems and why Shadowrun second edition is still much better than third. If one’s truly unlucky these ghoulish looking pedants may latch themselves onto your weekly gaming sessions, slowly sabotaging your beloved game by sowing seeds of dissent using the black arts of rules lawyering or other such miscreant behavior.

It is a well established fact that all elfin-hobbies such as a pen & paper games attract these kind of people. There are always many who feel they don’t fit in mainstream society, and these will usually find a place together in some sort of awkward coalition of like-minded individuals. I would know, I’ve been one of them for 10 years.

These nerdy hobbies have seen a big rise in the past few years. They have been in the limelight of moviemaking, series and especially gaming. Video games have become so increasingly popular the past 20 years that the rest of the world couldn’t help but notice how this “childish” subculture suddenly clawed itself to the top, becoming the worlds Nr.1 avocation, leaving behind a heap of shattered detritus reflecting the unwanted crumbs of our collective plasma-dreams. Video games paved the way for eccentric hobbies. It made nerds housebroken, freaks became mainstream.

Nowadays gaming communities are everywhere. Boys, girls, men and women all take part in this revolutionary social experience. For it is social, even though people sit around a television pretending to shoot terrorists, they share the experience. Either they shoot each other online or they talk about it later at school or other figurative “watering hole.”
Even the older generations have picked up on the gaming craze. Tons of men and women have a profile in WoW (world of warcraft) and other Mmorpg’s, many use it as a way to make new friends. Gaming is essentially a social activity and it is everywhere.

When I tell people I play RPG’s they will greet this tiding with a smile since they can relate, thanks to gaming companies like Bioware who recently released polished rpg installations.
They continue with asking pertinent questions like:
“What kind? WoW? Diablo?”
“No, no” I reply, with a serpents hiss. “Nothing like that. I play pen & paper.”

The conversation stops. A pregnant pause hovers, swollen in the air. The complexion of my curious companions face slowly shifts from a rosy red to a dull grey. Their eyes start flickering as if hexed. A sense of shame cloaks me with its bitter fabric. I turn away, my erstwhile friend stands alone in shock of the revelation. A Sakura tree sheds its blossoms in the fading background.

Even in this day and age there is a prominent sense of still being the “outsider” when confronted with the eccentric hobby of roleplay. Even though we see references to the Gygexian literature in modern-day media, there is still a large level of stigma attached to the subject. Perhaps much of it is generated by our own volition. We are not willing to let go of our small but significant “nests” that we made for ourselves during the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. There, we could escape and be free from the prejudice of the social stereotype. We were the definition of nerds, we bought that definition by getting beat up, teased and coined as losers. Now that everyone wants to be a nerd we feel challenged, we feel we need to protect that which is rightfully ours. We need to make sure that it doesn’t disappear under the heels of “easy-roleplay” encroaching on our hard-fought territory. Our legacy, an offshoot of the honorable literary tradition, should not be lost to the pimply coughs and wheezes of the casual gamer.

The Good, the Bad and the Subhuman(oid)

In Musings on April 7, 2010 at 1:54 pm

Interesting thing. I was watching The Descent (or Discesa nelle tenebre as its known in Italy, thank you Imdb) the other day, good flick really. One of Neil Marshall’s gory diamonds. Got me thinking though, what’s the deal about subhumans in modern day media? Sub-humanity is essentially awesome. Fascinating and horrific at the same time, it conjures up a deep-set fear that something once human, a race of privileged and sentient beings capable of generating mind-boggling civilizations, articulating and forming a postmodern (not even going to try to define the term) philosophical debate, and being the sole provider of all foods frozen, can regress into a mindless,(or at least unreasoning) cannibalistic man-beasts. Recently there seems to be a resurgence of subhumans all over the glistening bauble-screens that serve as our modern day techno-mediums. Before, in times beyond our videodromic reckonings, the debased ape-like creatures we have all come to know and love infested the dank and fetid cavernous networks of the hardback novel.

Countless takes on Morlocks and the unpeople of the hollow earth spilling forth like purulent ash-plumes from an infected volcano, smothered dime-novels of the early 20th-century in an inky secrete of enthralling word-smithery.  Before the days of Victorian horror there exists countless annals of the dog-headed humans of the steppes, mountains and other dark corners of the world.

Adam of Bremen reckoned there was a tribe of beastmen living in medieval Sweden. In the old Scandinavian law-books of the 12th and 13th centuries there are a surprising amount of references of what to do with children born with the features of an animal. Disposing of the unlucky critter-child quickly as possible was uniform, and even making sure that they were baptized first depended wholly on the severity of their deformity.

Crab people are a well known race of subhumans

Herodotus (6th-5th century B.C) tells tales of an eastern Indian race of men who have the heads of dogs named Kynokephaloi. They had a society based around hunting and would feature as a popular “animalistic race” in later Greek and Roman annals. In the Gothic history (Getica) penned down by Jordanes in the 6th century A.D. We are introduced to the Halirunnae (hell-runners). These were a series of witch-women tied to the practice of shamanic rituals, much like the Scandinavian Völva in Norse paganism. They were cast out by Filimer and forced to travel the wastelands. The following excerpt is taken from the Getica.

” There the unclean spirits, who beheld them as they wandered through the wilderness, bestowed their embraces upon them and begat this savage race, which dwelt at first in the swamps,–a stunted, foul and puny tribe, scarcely human, and having no language save one which bore but slight resemblance to human speech. Such was the descent of the Huns who came to the country of the Goths.”

Once again we are acquainted with the subhumans, now in the shape of the terrifying, all-conquering, blood-drinking Hun.
If we now leave the swamps of the Cimmeria and dash back-up to our modern day thirst for abbreviated fun and excitement in the form of the great silver screen, we find subhumans everywhere.  In the shape of the subterranean man-bat-monkeys eating spelunking superwomen, inbred yokels wallowing in guts of teenage vanilla-soldiers or Persian death-orcs marching across the Hellenistic landscape to threaten the civilized world with their demonic decadence, the subhumans are legion. Not only do we find them on the big screen, but smaller monitors of reverie and vision project the blasphemous demi-humans with regular intervals.
In the gaming world unhallowed cave dwellers flow through the digital interwebz like flies towards a storm-giant’s crackling feces.
The ideas surrounding post-apocalyptical fever dreams spawn a regular smorgasbord of skinless ghouls intent on feasting on your steaming flesh, while degenerate cyber-apes, equipped with surgically grafted rocket-fists infest the tropical island paradise you were once so keen on discovering.
Then why is this all-encompassing fear and fascination of the subhuman so important?  I have described it as being an innate fear that rests, cocooned in a shell of modernity, within every one of us. Nowadays it’s even more important, with concern to the worlds current situation both technologically and politically. The human race stands before a precipice, we have already taken our first baby-steps into the void itself, and it’s getting more and more probable that we one day soon will stumble upon an alien civilization. If we do, and if they, the aliens, take any hints from the Vulcan, Romulan or Klingon, they will view our race in favor of our history. If so, the god of irony will give a chortle, for we would be hard-pressed to appear as anything other than the subhumans we ourselves seem to loathe and fear.