On Quality Over Quantity

Well I guess that’s it. I can’t think of anymore passionate things to say at the moment and don’t want to make you read the obligatory twilight-zone writing – “will the robot monkeys take over? Will the new economy be based on emoticons?” and etc, that I whipped up last minute.

Maybe I should get some credit for quality over quantity? I feel like we need more of that.

On Augmented Reality

Some food for thought.

Augmented reality games are becoming more and more common, with portable devices that have cameras, GPSs and an always-on web connection. While the game industry is still figuring out how to make ARG fun, as apposed to just a gimmick, I believe other conglomerate industries are not going to waste time to use it for marketing and collection of metrics.

This video says it better than I can:
http://penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/args-part-2

^I keep referring to these guys, but I really like what they have to say. ARG is eventually going to become  big part of our life, if not with Google glasses, than  some other overlay interface. Cars now have instruments built into a HUD on the windshield for comfort. How long before the gps naviation is integrated for convenience, from there, how long before real billboards are replaced with inexpensive augmented reality billboards that are sent to your vehicle (and personal peripherals) based on your personal metrics? Removing the need for physical installations for advertisers is like finding a money tree – it takes away the risk and the commitment involved in physically installing advertisements.
And if ads become virtual, what’s next? What if we can have an AR receptionist, friend, or an idol?  Having a twitter account of your favorite political humorist is one thing, having him actually converse with you in a personal manner is something we may not be ready for. In fact, whatever AR is going to bring in the future is going to be unexpected, and I’m sure I can’t be ready for it.

But, AR has enormous potential to make the world a better place as well. Taking the car example from above, how great would it be to have augmented vision that highlighted pedestrians and important traffic signs/signals? There are plenty of uses for “terminator vision” AR in situations that require a high level of visual alertness and perception. A heart surgeon could be projecting live images of your insides as they’re operating, cutting down on human error. There is a ton of applications for those with disabilities, for the military and law enforcement, and just every-day convenience – so long as we don’t let marketers run away with their  unlimited-free-billboards cash cow.
AR would be the next step for integrating the web into our  life. We would no longer need a screen, if our eyes are the screens. First it will be glasses… then contact lenses, and eventually your retina will need an upgrade to keep up with the world. We can have it all go wrong, or very very right.

On Virtual Environments

Do we become indoctrinated by our virtual environments? Are we in control of our interfacing with the web, or does the interface control who we are? That is one of those questions that does not have a simple answer – it is always contextual and dependent on specific personalities of the subjects.

We know that given the right conditions, a real environment can dominate the behavior of people as well as their personalities and identities.

What interesting is that a similar result can be seen when people are introduced to virtual environments. Go to nearly any message board online and you can see examples of what an illusion of power does to people. The effect that web anonymity (false as it is) has on users is similar to that of Stanford prison experiment – it lets them adopt a different role: a prison guard, a prisoner, a rebel, or whatever they want. The most common role dichotomy is that between mods and users – where mods feel power and users feel the need to either rebel or adapt to the power. Sampling nearly any online community reveals these power issues between admins, limited users, premium account users, veterans, people with more friends, celebrity accounts.
What makes virtual environments different from normal environments is that they exist nowhere, yet they are always accessible, and people mostly participate in these voluntarily.
This removal of barriers to entry (ethical or physical) means that we want to participate in power relationships – most of us want a role of either the guard or the prisoner. For the first time in history being part of the authority or being oppressed by it is something we can do recreationally at any time, because this is the first time that we have an endless variety of virtual regimes for us to assimilate into.

Taking this a step further we have to ask if this new way of dealing with authority is positive or negative. It could be that we’re just making ourselves easier to subjugate. But it’s also possible that by satisfying this need in a virtual space, we are able to avoid indulging it in the real world.  Because of how casually we become involved in virtual environments, its difficult to tell when looking at ourselves – as the Stanford experiment shows, we rarely notice when an environment affects us. But I believe if the sample size of the experiment was larger we would see that the ability of environments to influence people and vice versa changes on case-by-case basis, because of the vast variety of human personalities. On the web we do have access to a larger sample, and I have seen very different outcomes rise from instances of humiliation and power exertion.

If the parallel of religion helps: some people adapt the lessons and philosophies of religious teachings that are applicable to modern situations, others – adopt the religion as a sort of exclusive movement, allowing the authority figures of that religion to exert their authority over them and shape their moral values. That church is a community, and virtual communities are no different.

On Civilization

Is our civilization driven by sex?

That would certainly make sense. Every person achieving something can probably be tied to some romantic interest in the past. And its definitely true that reproduction is a major biological drive for mammals – us included.
But we can’t attribute everything to it, especially things that do not result in sex as a reward logically.

Some examples of human achievement that probably had nothing to do with trying to get some:

-Shaolin martial arts
-Quantum entanglement theory
-Seat belts
-Whisky

These ^ were invented either for entirely different reasons than getting tail: survival, self-discipline, getting wasted, etc. What that shows is that some of the best stuff we do is done either from some deep philosophical conviction, a need for survival, or the need for entertainment. The civilization is not going to collapse if suddenly sex is not an option. Some people will be affected, but the same can be said in the case of removal any major influence. If Christianity is gone, some people will lose their little minds and abandon all will to live. If warfare is gone, then certain military career men will have nothing to do with their lives.
We have a lot more to lose besides our sexual drives. If robot partners are readily available, the sexual tension would definitely be a huge loss, but a civilization collapse is unlikely. I’d like to think of it as a way of weeding out those individuals who use sex as a motivator – so maybe we’ll lose a decent number of politicians – and  leave only those with deeper and more complex motivators to control society. What’s wrong with that future?

On Clutter

Article in question
Movies tend to portray our future as clean and minimalistic. In addition to Lucas’s THX 1138 and Kubrik’s Space Oddyssey, BBC’s Black Mirror, Andrew Stanton’s Wall-E, J.J. Abram’s Star Trek, and a bunch of other films give us the idealized future with perfectly clean steel tables, sterile white walls, and spotless shiny touchscreens. That seems to be our idea of future convenience – clean and untarnished as well as impersonal and cold.

Taking the example of Wall-E, WallE’s very existence is the representation of clutter:

he is build of rough mechanical components, his parts protrude and have a complex messy geometry, he is covered in rust and dirt.

In comparison to him, Eve, representing the future of robots, is a perfectly clean, seamless “egg” with  only moving parts attached invisibly with a magnetic field.

From looking at this, the advantages of the minimalist design become clear – more efficient design allows for better functionality, more convenience, less need for maintenance and cleaning. We can see these benefits all around us, the iPhone came in as the first phone to utilize a touchscreen for nearly every function. What that means is that when the keypad on a nokia wears out because of constant mechanical operation, the iphone’s screen (having endured no physical strain) will keep working. the screen also lets you utilize any interface, display full screen images, play movies, and do just about anything that a non-touchscreen phone would struggle to do as well. Similarly, if your table had some function which eliminated the need for a clutter of various tools on top of it, it would have the same benefits of being easier to operate,  easier to maintain/clean,  and having more functionality.
Convenient. Clean. Efficient.

But, impersonal, cold, and boring. That is the other side of that coin. When we get a climpse inside WallE’s “house,” we see that he has collected an impressive and interesting mass of scrap for himself (as apposed to compacting and disposing of it as he was designed to do) in a surprising revelation of a personality.

walle's house

The main theme is actually centered around efficiency vs humanity – humanity being defined loosely in the context of robotic protagonists – and is about WallE’s quest to show Eve that some things, including her, matter to him more because he develops a personal attachment to them.

The “clutter” is often associated with creativity. Artists, scientists, engineers are often thought of as the type to use an “organized chaos” as a system of organization. But that is just a polite way of saying our living and work spaces always look like a hurricane’s hit them. The reasons for that are not so much creative as personal, we (and I am speaking of everyone, not just artists) feel more comfortable in spaces that have our personality extended onto them. That is the reason cubicles are decorated, new homes are furnished, phones get bedazzled, skinned, and wallpaper’d <– these do not improve efficiency, comfort, or functionality. These changes personalize our space – be it your own room, or your PlayStation®Home, or your PC’s desktop, and that personalization is so inherently human that it makes us sympathize with WallE (a garbage collecting machine) instantly.

Because of this, I am not afraid of the depersonalized, cold, minimalist future – it is never going to come. That is another extreme design element, put in the movie to make a point, but it is not accurate to our nature or to our future. We care so much for our clutter that we even carry into our virtual environments.

P.S. even prison cells are personalized by the inmates.

On Japan

Ok, so Japan is clearly more technologically in-tune with the future than us. However I am not convinced that they are better socially prepared for it, only because they allow for some of their citizens to indulge in technology to the point of social exile. That’s kind of like arguing that someone’s more prepared for a flood, because they’ve already drowned their cat.

The contemporary Japanese culture is no more sacred than that of America. Sexism is still very prevalent, for one, and some unhealthy obsessions with underage girls’ underwear and a bunch of other things

http://www.oddee.com/item_96684.aspx take a look at # 1 and 8 – this has been around for 10 years at least.

Vending machines are the primitive examples of how technology is allowing for ordinary people to indulge in things that are socially or morally unacceptable without having to face social stigma.

People who have unusual (and often illegal) tastes who would normally earn special attention from society, are now able to shut themselves off and live off a virtual job, virtual pleasure, and home-delivery services. Japanese society, more so than any other, effectively makes special accommodations for those with socially unacceptable, morally questionable, and often dangerous mentalities. Arguably this may have benefits:

– Their exposure to society is limited, which makes them less harmful if they are dangerous;

– They are still allowed to function as a cog, in some system somewhere;

– What if their lifestyles are not so morally outrageous, but are just too strange for us to accept?

However, there are also quite a few dangers:

– Firstly, it is becoming easier for people to become escapist and socially uninvolved, which makes them into docile consumers;

– If the population of shut-ins continues to grow, Japan may become a society of people whose lives depend entirely on their ability to consume, taking away their control over their own lives;

–  Americans have experienced a similar period of self-indulgence in the 1970’s, which ended badly with regards  to the original goal of commercial independence and personal growth, and with the technology in Japan making the process of consumption so much easier, a worse conclusion may be waiting;

– Making it easier for someone to exist as a shut in pedophile, socially inept, or morally ambiguous human being is not addressing personal growth and happiness of the individual in question or the society, it only sweeps the problem under the carpet.

My huge problem with Japan, in a nutshell, is that technology is being used to remove socially unacceptable people from the public eye, instead of helping them. This allows others to ignore them and continue to participate in society in convenient ignorance. Imagine if we had technology to teleport all homeless to a secluded area, where they would be adequately accommodated, in order to keep them off society’s radar. It would make things awfully convenient, but it would not solve homelessness as an issue. In fact both of these uses of technology will exacerbate the problem by making it easier to ignore and be one of the ignored.

 

On Free Market

Free Market America’s video and the following suspension of their twitter account (where it was distributed) is worth discussing in two parts: how true is the video and how justified is the ban?

The message of the video was, if nothing else, idealistic. Unfortunately idealism can hardly be taken seriously when it itself is based on bashing the idealism of the opposition. The video vilifies the liberal agenda, clearly, by taking the far extreme versions of leftist objectives and straw manning them  – abandonment of petroleum energy, destruction of big businesses, dismantling the middle and upper class. The video makes them sound ridiculous and evil – underlined by the running pre-face “If I wanted America to fail…” – while conveniently leaving out significant facts that would counter the Free Market America’s argument:

Firstly, petroleum oil is a limited resource that cannot be renewed – that is the unfortunate fact of modern world. The prices of oil are set by the controlling companies in the market and are often justified by its scarcity. In addition the oil industry exists almost entirely outside the US, unlike local alternative energy systems.

The upper class and large corporations are not something to be idolized – they are usually the largest enemy of startups, because the free market forces small businesses into the same economic space as the large competitors. Once gone public, the small companies can be bought and processed by the more wealthy competitors.

Since most large businesses outsource labor as well, the argument of liberal agenda damaging the working class and encouraging unemployment is on thin ice as well.

The free market in itself is not something to be worshiped as some sort of natural order. The right wing agenda criticizes the “hippie ideal” for believing that the ecosystem is perfect as is, and it is our interference that destabilizes it, while they are guilty of the same fallacy. The video elevates the free market as some form of natural order that is perfect as long as the government does not get too involved and destabilizes it. But there is no evidence or logic to it. Just as the climate has always changed (sometimes cataclysmic ally) without human interference, the free market is constantly changed by the people who participate in it. The participants will always  strive for maximum profit for themselves.In an ideal system, perhaps where all participants are logical machines,  the competition is supposed to create a balance where the supply, demand, and unit price are at the perfect balance. However, any economist will tell you that this is rarely the case. The problem is that the economy is a system made of people, and people are illogical. We have tastes, irrational hungers, moral preferences, and even the capacity to cheat the system. The market is a complex system with both real and virtual influences that make it difficult to predict its state. If the system was perfect it would be possible to predict every future change, and most economists would be out of a job.

That rant over, the suspension of the twitter account was not by any means justified.  However I am questioning whether or not it was even real. Kicking up the dust on a popular video that has become (in the increasingly leftist US) a beacon of the counter-popular politics is just the kind of push that would allow its message to spread and gain validity. I am not saying this is a conspiracy, although it could very well be, but it is certainly a convenient problem for Free Market America.

In short, both the video and the twitter ban have accomplished one thing – make out the liberal agenda as morally bankrupt and anti-American. That is the video’s only accomplishment.

On Male and Female Bodies in Art

I am a strong proponent of equal rights between sexes but I want to challenge the view that using women in media in a sexual context, such as the one below, should immediately be marked as objectification.

I know many women artists whose favorite subjects are women, hot women, sexy women. The thing I grew to understand while training as an artist and talking to other artists is that artists at their base are often bisexual. Being straight and male, I have intently studied, inch-by-inch, the bodies of many men, young, old, fit, and fat, and have incorporated them into many of my final portfolio pieces. As I have with women of various builds and ages. Sexual appeal in that context, as I found out, is inseparable from appeal of design. Any decision to portray the model with sexual connotation is done because the entire work looks more appealing – better designed – as a result. I have no sexual desire for men, but I can use principles of design and appeal to draw a really hot picture of man. Similarly, my female friends-artists often chose their subjects as sexually appealing women and captured the appeal of sex in their art regardless of their persuasion.

Building a 3D model of a man or a woman is no different then drawing or sculpting a maquette. The argument that Kara was designed and modeled as a sex object assumes that the designer was thinking about her in sexual context. So is the assumption here he (if it was indeed a man) had to keep his boner from hitting his desk the entire time, because he was thinking “damn this chick is hot?” I am stripping that sentence of euphemisms to show just how ridiculous that assumption is. Highly paid professionals are people of much more experience than me. They have drawn and ogled many men and women and could not have made it this far in their career if they pitched a tent every time like 14-year-old boys.

What I learned in my short time as an artist is that almost everyone prefers to draw and see women. Women have more dynamic proportions, more interesting facial features, and more appeal – that is just what most artists arrive at. Males are build from less interesting design elements than women. Whether that is due to a memetic factor or a genetic one, I don’t know, but its a very simple statistical fact. Male bodies are ugly and female bodies are appealing – to both genders.

If you have any doubts still, I propose that a male Kara with appealing proportions would work nearly as well. The reason a “blond hunk” (as proposed in class) would not work is due to his large build, which would suggest power. In a parallel situation, a very buff woman would also be unsympathetic compare to the slender and soft looking Kara. In art it really isn’t about sex, its about appeal – and they are different things in a viewers head.

Also, one of the first rules of analysis of an artwork/literature is not to confuse the motivations of the author and the characters in his work.

On Modern Economics

I admit I was a bit surprised that banks are not required to store physical currency to back their clients’ investments. But that seems to be the case with modern economics everywhere. The money we have on our accounts are not real.

Lets take a look at how often we encounter real money in the real world. typically I have anywhere around $20 in my pocket for small expenses, and the rest on plastic. This means that at any point in time if my bank refuses or isn’t able to honor the amount indicated in my account, I can end up with naught but the 20 big’uns to my name. But it doesn’t stop there. Every two weeks or so I get paid – which for me in practical sense means that the bank changes a couple numbers next to mine and my employer’s names. For some people, payday may still mean that they get a little official slip of paper that then tells the bank to change the numbers. So there is at least some hard documentation, right? Maybe. But in the end of the day, our payment for working our asses off is that a few numbers in a huge database are changed, which makes us happier.

If you step back from this, then the whole thing seems like a huge lie. Maybe becoming a weapons trader or a drug dealer is worth the risk? At least they have real money in hand when it all counts. And yeah, I suppose in a less civilized world – a less complex world it does. Unfortunately, international economics would not work well with paper currency. The world we enjoy today – world of instant international transactions over web, where you can order a game system from Hong Kong and have it delivered in payed for in two days – cannot exist if paper is the medium of our financial system.

Money is not no longer paper, it is information – bits of data pulsing from server to server over the entire planet. In out world everyone owes everyone. This system is fragile, as we have seen with the market crash, and has to be carefully maintained, but it is efficient and we should not take that away. We should make it more stable, more reliable, while keeping the convenience.

On Black Mirror

The video raised a lot of questions. It’s certainly portraying the very ideally degraded version of future society, in its very British manner. It’s the far more likely dystopia, one that is diabolically presented to our eyes as the utopian pinnacle of technological convenience. The flip side of this is complete surrender to commercialism. In this future, much like on the web today, the commodity being traded is us.

When you watch a streaming video on hulu or megavideo, clogged with ads, and the service presents you with a subscription packet, that site is asking you to pay for avoiding the ads. As someone who has been on the web since dialup age, I can say this certainly is becoming more and more common. It used to be that online video was rarely interrupted by even one commercial. But as the web crowd is beginning to overgrow and cast its shadow on the tv viewership, the situation has exacerbated. What the show does is follows the exacerbation on its logical exponential path.

Advertising has always needed a way to propagate itself cheaply and efficiently. And until the web came along, it was always limited by something in the hardware. Newspaper ads were slow at distribution and had a very limited range, phone marketers could be hung up on and could only reach us if we were home, answering the phone. The television came close, but again was limited by the hardware of its stationary units. The web is the first medium that allows for comfortable viewing of content and adds at any time. And we are addicted to its convenience.
With the web, we have a constant stream of renewed information that we want, supplied to us at any time, almost anywhere. Web devices solve the problems of TV’s immobility and printed media’s limited range. In addition, it solves the problem of marketing to the wrong audience. Marketers no longer have to call or go door to door, wasting their time asking “are you interested in our new line of…,” because if enough of our personal metrics are available to them online, they already know the answer. This makes it cheaper for them to deliver the appropriate product ads to us, and for us to find what we want.

It is reasonable to submit to commercial powers in exchange for convenience. That’s why we do it.
For example, I feel its unreasonable to have my phone re-triangulate my global position every time I launch my map app. I’d much rather the server stores my location so that it takes less time and data to navigate, when I really need it. The important factor here is that I weighed my options and decided that the trade off is worth the risk. Even if my location data is stolen or used commercially (to direct local ads to my device), I feel that I can live with that.

Recently, when Play Station Network was hacked, my personal data was stolen as that of many other users. There were some heated responses, but the one that stood out to me – one that addressed the issue of personal security vs convenience in the real world – was this one:

PATV – Extra Credits: Not a Security Episode

However, we could be in danger of collectively trading in our entire selves for the conveniences the market offers. The extreme version of that, in my opinion, is the Black Mirror. And if we apply even some basic common sense we will not have to live in a world quite so degraded.