Technology – shaping the body

Posted by jerry on August 12th, 2007 — Posted in Journal, Technology

Years of playing the violin have shaped the ends of the fingers on my left hand. My beard grows slightly thinner where the chin-rest has interfaced with my head and there is a fairly permanent red mark where the shoulder-rest meets the front of my shoulder. And I have retained a high degree of upper-body flexibility as a result. The finger-memory – the body trained over years to land each finger precisely within a tenth of a millimetre enables sounds to be reproduced at the right pitch, and the wrist ensures that at whatever speed, the bow tracks (mostly) straight across the strings. So my body has adapted to the technology.

I still trim my fingernails to interface with technology – both hands to avoid the nail tapping on the keyboard of the computer, the thumb nails just slightly longer to facilitate texting on my phone.

Finger-memory again on the keyboard enables me to type faster than I write (by just a fraction), and perhaps others train their thumb positions for texting.

We wear our clothes in more ways than one – our feet being shaped to the shoes while in turn shaping our shoes.

How much do we shape our body to the technology, rather than the technology to the body?

SL meets Home and Garden

Posted by jerry on August 10th, 2007 — Posted in Journal, New media, Technology

The New York Times Home and Garden Section has an article on SecondLife homes and gardens, profiling several ‘builders’ and ‘gardeners’ – this is a good change in the media from sensationalist pieces about sex, griefers and terrorists and is starting to bring the old media discussion back to where the majority are in SecondLife.

New York Times

That is, using SL to build the house of their dreams and playing out harmless fantasies that are not too dissimilar from real life – but without the cold wind or the wet holidays.

So bouquets to the New York Times for bringing the discussion back to the reality of virtuality.


Steam vehicle model

Posted by jerry on August 6th, 2007 — Posted in Journal, Steam, Technology

Gakken steam vehicle

A while ago I was intrigued with a short vid on YouTube showing a strange steam car model and an obscure reference to the maker – Gakken in Japan. I searched and eventually found a Japanese hobby store that noted this one as no longer in stock (produced in 2005). I wrote to them and asked to be put on the waiting list for the next one – it appeared to be a discontinued model. I got an email back telling me to order it and if they couldn’t source it in 3 months they would consider it cancelled.

I fully expected that to be the last I would hear from them. Until this morning. A package arrived from Japan 🙂

Gakken steam vehicle

And inside was what was described as a magazine, but it incorporated a box with a beautifully packaged model in its component parts. The accompanying magazine/catalogue had instructions – in Japanese – but clearly illustrated, so it was no problem to follow the directions just from the diagrams. The Japanese do graphic drawings well – although there was a certain Manga style to it, making me wonder if the vehicle belonged to the “Steam Boy” manga series.

Gakken steam vehicle

And within about half an hour I had a tiny steam vehicle. The only thing missing was the wick, but looking at the instructions it was clear that all you needed was a small square of cotton fabric – like from old jeans and then it was just a matter of ensuring the engine ran freely by blowing through a tube, and then filling the tiny boiler with the (supplied) dropper and then fill the burner with meths from the (supplied) smaller dropper, light the wick and in a few seconds it was ready to run.

The engine ran slowly and then picked up speed, but I found a small steam leak from the boiler where I had neglected to tighten one of the screws. And then success 🙂

This is a toy that should be in every science shop – it’s safe, low pressure and clean enough to run indoors on your kitchen table and could be used very effectively to show the principles of steam power. And it was only the price of about one-and-a-half newsagent magazines – about AUS$27.


Talk (and fiddle) in SecondLife

Posted by jerry on August 4th, 2007 — Posted in Journal, Music, New media, Technology

With the latest release of SecondLife comes a talk function – so I was eager to test it out. Anya Ixchel and Ailja Writer were already online and they were testing the talk function too. I invited them over to my modest block of land and was quickly joined by Sharon aka Teal Etzel, and soon we figured out the new menus and talked about talk. The quality wasn’t bad from my end – although the processing speed meant a slight delay between talking and hearing. And as more bandwidth was used the voices became a little broken – at one point I sounded like a Dalek from Dr Who!

But the real test came when I played fiddle through the talk function – it was hilarious! Anya rezzed up a dance object and soon all the avatars were dancing so I pulled out the Guarnerius violin from my inventory and set my avatar playing while I played in real life. And it worked really well – my first live concert in SL 🙂

SL fiddle

Interestingly some of the SL neighbours also flew in to see what the fuss was about, so we gave the function a good test with in the end about seven avatars together and nearby.

Certainly this build is MUCH more stable than the beta “FirstLook” version, and it was easy to set up the talk function. But the sound was much better through Sharon’s MacBook laptop than through the mac G5 as the desktop one seemed to pick up a lot of hard-drive noise. It also worked much better through headphones in order to prevent echo from the mic picking up the voice on its return through the speakers. So it can take a bit of practice to get the levels right. In the end I managed to get a reasonable talk quality.

Living Online – Cybermind and online community

Posted by jerry on August 3rd, 2007 — Posted in Journal, New media, Theory

I’ve seen some exciting news on Angela’s blog: Jon Marshall – a very good friend of mine – has written a book about online communities – based on Cybermind, an email discussion list that began on 10 May 1994. How do I know the date? I was was one of the founding members.

Living Online - Jon Marshall

The discussion list was opened to discuss the philosophy and psychology of the internet, and in the process became one of the most remarkable online communities. It was founded and co-moderated by artist/musician/poet Alan Sondheim and film theorist the late Michael Currant began and could have gone the way of many academic online communities – exchanging a few theoretical snippets and eventually moving on. But it didn’t. The list was waiting to happen, and within days had more than 500 subscribers. There were a few fairly academic exchanges of a more or less formal nature, some discussion about the name – should it be capitalised or split into two words, and a few opening thoughts on the nature of community in the abstract.

The sudden death of Michael Currant was a physical and emotional shock, and abruptly the list went quiet, with a few bizarre appearances of response from Michael himself, that had been held up n this or that server and finally delivered. Soon a few started to write about their feelings about Michael’s death and the list transformed into a community of people sharing their feelings as well as their academic thoughts – a new phenomenon in the online world.

Cybermind went on to spawn physical meetings in cybercafes – flesh-meets – and an academic conference in Perth Western Australia which was the first of its kind probably in teh world – a discussion-list conference with simaltaneous chat being projected behind the speakers and the whole thing videoed and streamed live via cuseeme onto the web – and this only two years after the worldwide web was made fully public domain. At the after-conference party I played my first live-streamed fiddle concert onto the web. It was an extraordinary effort by many people working behind-the-scenes to keep the technology running throughout the conference.

And one of the early members was Jon Marshall, an Australian anthropologist/academic who lived among the online tribes, and one of the few who kept a good archive of the early days of Cybermind. I’ve met him several times and deeply respect his intellect.

His book deals with issues of identity and gender, the nature of community and online ethics. I shall be in the queue when his book launches – forget Harry Potter! Buy Living Online 🙂