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March 30, 2010

2010 Living in the Future by Geoffrey Hoyle

I was in elementary school when I discovered 2010 Living in the Future. It was in my school library, and I think I was the first and only person to ever check it out. I don't recall seeing anyone else's name on the card that lived inside the front cover, just my own novice cursive handwriting next to the space for the librarian to stamp with date when it was checked out. I absolutely inhaled this book when I was a boy. There are now several appreciations of the book online. I don't think I ever stopped living in the future.

Posted by Rafael Fajardo at 12:00 AM

March 29, 2010

Mimes, Philosophers, and Presidents

MetaFilter has a rich entry covering the announcement that Antanus Mockus has declared his intention to run as the Green Party presidential candidate in Colombia. Mockus served a term (or two?) as mayor of Bogotá, a city of 8 million people. My family in Bogotá told me stories of Mockus's use of mimes to shame and tame the behavior of aggressive drivers with the aim to make the highly dense city safe for pedestrians. My uncle, a gruff member of the military at the time, was chagrined into kinder, gentler, driving. Mockus moved the dial dramatically on the return to civility in what was becoming an unlivable city. Mockus set the stage for his successor to implement the dedicated bus lanes known as Transmilenio.

Mockus's use of mimes were echoed, not so successfully, by progressives in the US. Several mimes were attacked during demonstrations (for and against) the health care reform measures currently before congress. I don't know what it says about us, here, that mimes might be attacked physically. The ones in Bogotá – to my knowledge – were not.

Posted by Rafael Fajardo at 12:00 AM

March 28, 2010

Call for Participation: Soft Borders - Sao Paolo, Brazil

Full Details

Soft Borders is the 4th Upgrade! International Network Conference and Festival, that will take place in São Paulo city, Brazil, from 18th to 21st/october/2010. The previous editions of the conference happened in New York (USA), Ocklahoma City (USA) and Skopje (Macedônia).

The conference will gather artists, curators and researchers from 30 countries to present and discuss the field of new media art, in the international and local contexts, especially in Brazil, the country that is hosting the present edition of the event. The call for participation is internationally open and the accepted formats are: papers, posters and workshops. Click on "Call for Participation" in the navigation menu to submit your work.

The new media festival that is also part of the Soft Borders evente will present artworks selected by two curators - a Brazilian and an Upgrade! International Network curator.

The Soft Borders theme, that drives either the conference and the art festival, aim to discuss the borders dissolutions between the many fields of the knowledge and life, the contamination of the one another, particularly regarding the relationship between art-science-technology.

Posted by Rafael Fajardo at 12:00 PM

Tom Bissell on his addiction to videogames and cocaine...

Bissell is a gifted writer who has lost the will and the attention span to read, to write, to do much of anything else but play.
Tom Bissell's confessional from the Guardian:

Vice City's sequel, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, was several magnitudes larger – so large, in fact, I never finished the game. San Andreas gave gamers not one city to explore but three, all of them set in the hip-hop demimonde of California in the early 1990s (though one of the cities is a Vegas clone). It also added dozens of diversions, the most needless of which was the ability of your controlled character, a young man named CJ, to get fat from eating health-restoring pizza and burgers – fat that could be burned off only by hauling CJ's porky ass down to the gym to ride a stationary bike and lift weights. This resulted in a lot of soul-scouring questions as to why a) it even mattered to me that CJ was fat and why b) CJ was getting more physical exercise than I was. Because I could not answer either question satisfactorily, I stopped playing.

Bissell still has powers of observation:

"Strange. All that effort to feel this empty." Outside of the inarguably violent missions, it is not what GTA IV asks you to do that is so morally alarming. It is what it allows you to do.

Posted by Rafael Fajardo at 12:00 AM

March 27, 2010

Caught Sleeping - Brandon Boyer interviews Jason Rohrer for BoingBoing

Brandon Boyer, games editor at BoingBoing.net, was given a preview of Jason Rohrer's new game Sleep is Death and created a featured post. In an earlier post from last year Boyer pointed to video of a conversation between Rohrer and Chris Crawford, an eminence grise of the videogame design community. The full length video of the conversation between Rohrer and Crawford is available online.

I have been admiring Jason Rohrer's games for several years. Last year I asked my younger son Diego (then eleven years old) to record his impressions after he had played Passage. He was quite moved by it, more so than I think Diego's written comments show.

Rohrer has been working with a very minimalist palette from which to construct his games. He has been working in opposition to the prevailing logic of the industry, to create more visually faithful replicas of reality. He has instead been focusing on the experience(s) of the player(s), and the meaning(s) they might derive or construct.

Rohrer offered a contrarian manifesto at the Art History of Games conference earlier this year. His games have been received as special, as Art, with a capital "A." He is continually attempting to expand the expressive range of videogames.

New Gamist Manifesto

February 3, 2010

1. Games do not have spoilers.
2. Game cannot be finished.
3. Games do not have characters, except for the characters who play them.
4. Games do not have stories, expect for the stories that players tell through them.
5. Playing a new game is less like reading a new story, hearing a new song, or seeing a new film.
6. Playing a new game is more like learning a new language.
7. Games are interfaces, not between minds and content, but between minds.

Posted by Rafael Fajardo at 12:00 AM

March 26, 2010

Evoke Invoke Provoke

Jane MacGonigal has designed an Alternate Reality Game (ARG) called Urgent Evoke. It has garnered some attention and it has provoked a critical response called Urgent Invoke. I have not played either of the games, and so am not qualified to comment beyond pointing to the emerging conversation. To the set of links embedded in the sentences above, and in the list below, can be added a set of comments on the Games For Change listserv. Here we clearly see claims and counter-claims in a rhetorical exchange.

Posted by Rafael Fajardo at 12:00 AM

March 25, 2010

Molleindustria on "bad guy" point of view

Excerpt from Molleindustria's post-mortem on oiligarchy:

We want to stress this idea by proposing a sort of politically informed post-mortem in which we describe the odd challenges of producing social commentary into a playable form.
Video games are intrinsically opaque texts due to their double nature of source code and playable software. Certainly the source code is the strictest manifestation of the algorithm, but it is generally unavailable or unintelligible to the player. On the other hand, the executable software which is “activated” by the player's performance cannot be fully grasped due to the potentially infinite texts that can be generated by the same algorithm (see Lev Manovich principle of variability in The language of new media p.55) and the complexity of the software's hidden computations. There is no definitive way for the player to assess that a certain output is triggered by a certain input. Because of this opacity we feel committed to breaking apart and explaining in natural language the components of the game that constitute the socio-economic engine. We hope in this way to facilitate the textual analysis and the critique of the game, and, possibly push other producers of activist/political games to do the same.

Dealing with realism
Games referencing real-world elements and historical events are problematic cultural artifacts. Software does not constitute a document itself as a documentary footage or a journalistic report. Games often feature carefully reproduced elements such as characters, vehicles, and weapons, however the way these elements operate and relate to each other via the gameplay is always dictated by an algorithm that cannot be directly related to any actual entity (in the way, for example, a picture or a film have and direct, indexical relationship with objects in time and space). It is possible to create credible representations of phenomena that are already formalized into sets of rules (e.g. physical models), but when it comes to social systems or, more in general, human behavior our programming languages seem to be inappropriate tools.
Despite that, mathematical models constituting the core of a game can be based on documents or derived from well-informed theories. Obviously the goal has not been to produce some kind of scientific, objective representation, but to outline a web of cause-and-effect-relations that can arguably share strong qualitative similarities with the mess we call reality.

Full Disclosure:I have family involved in the exploration for and exploitation of petroleum resources in South America.

Posted by Rafael Fajardo at 12:00 AM

March 24, 2010

Eden Medina Historian of Technology - ALD10 post

For my Ada Lovelace Day 2010 post I would like to call attention to the work of Eden Medina, who I found in true internet fashion, by following a link which led to a link which led to a treasure. Eden Medina is an historian of technology and its impact on society. She has written her doctoral dissertation on – and has a book under contract covering – the Cybersyn project of Chile. Her research moves the center of gravity in the conversations about where technological innovation occurs, and under what circumstances. This is heady and powerful stuff. I want to learn more about her research, I admire the depth and breadth that she covers. I admire that she is an electrical engineer with deeply humanistic concerns. She is an historian with strong technological chops. I think she is an appropriate figure for Ada Lovelace Day.

From Eden Medina's profile at the University of Indiana, where she teaches:

Eden Medina is an Assistant Professor of Informatics and an Adjunct Assistant Professor of History at Indiana University, Bloomington. She received her Ph.D. in 2005 from the MIT Doctoral Program in the History and Social Studies of Science and Technology and holds degrees in Electrical Engineering and Women’s Studies from Princeton University.

Medina's research uses technology as a means to understand historical processes. Her most recent work addressed the history of information technologies in Latin America and the role these technologies played in creating new forms of governance and the advancement of state ideological projects. More generally, her research contributes to scholarship in the history of technology, Latin American history, and the growing field of social informatics and combines these fields in her writings and teaching.

Her current book manuscript Cybernetic Socialism tells the history of the Chilean Cybersyn Project, an early computer network designed to regulate Chile's economic transition to socialism during the government of Salvador Allende.

Medina has received grants and fellowships from the Social Science Research Council and the American Council for Learned Societies, the National Science Foundation, the Charles Babbage Institute, and the Dibner Institute for the History of Science and Technology. In 2007 she received the IEEE Life Members' Prize in Electrical History. She is also the recipient of a 2007-2008 Scholar's Award from the National Science Foundation.

Eden Medina has lectured at Harvard's Berkman Center for Cyber Law for which there is video available online.

Find out more about Ada Lovelace Day
Search Twitter and Facebook for hash tags #ALD10, #ALD2010, Ada Lovelace Day 2010
Finding Ada is the homepage for the celebration.
A nice animation about the life of Ada Lovelace can be found at BrainPop.com.

Posted by Rafael Fajardo at 12:00 AM

March 21, 2010

Urban planning idea from Bogotá appears in NYC, declared visionary

Excerpt from Fast Company
The New York proposal marks a huge coup for an idea that began in Curitiba, Brazil; and then was co-opted in Bogota, Colombia; and it's now been spread around the world by Enrique Peñalosa, the former mayor of Bogota who's become a globe-trotting evangelist for better urban planning.

With lots of American cities finding themselves with the same problems as Bogota, you can bet we've only begun to see the influence of the Transmilenio, and Peñalosa.

Original to StreetsBlog.org

Posted by Rafael Fajardo at 05:45 PM

March 20, 2010

Devin Monnens writes a critical essay about Brenda Brathwaite's "Train"

Tactility and Ambiguity : The mechanics and message behind Train by Devin Monnens from his blog, Dessert Hat

This reading, I argue, is flawed and seems largely the result of insufficient coverage of the game (reduced in large part to the fact that only one copy exists and fewer people have played it than have played Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril). This argument also becomes moot if we are to take the manifesto of the game design collective Tale of Tales seriously, whose first point states: “Games do not have spoilers.” Simply, you can still experience Train knowing ‘the reveal’.

I played Train recently at the Art History of Games conference in Atlanta where the game was exhibited along with several other works of game art commissioned specially for the conference. I had read about the game before, so its theme and contents were not a surprise. In this regard, my only disclaimer is that I was unable to play without the experience of someone who had never heard of Train before. But more on this later.

Posted by Rafael Fajardo at 10:00 AM

Santiago Dreaming - Project Cybersyn of Allende's Chile

proto-cyberpunk non-fiction in South America. I've got to find Andy Beckett's book, Allende Pinochet in Piccadilly. This article for the guardian is so deliciously provocative that it whets my appetite for more. He shares some details of an early electronic information network that was developed by cybernetics researcher, Stafford Beer, for the government of Salvador Allende in Chile. Also to look up will be Eden Miller Medina's PhD dissertation that includes some detail on the network called Cybersyn.

Santiago Dreaming by Andy Beckett for the Guardian

This was known as Project Cybersyn, and nothing like it had been tried before, or has been tried since.

Stafford Beer attempted, in his words, to "implant" an electronic "nervous system" in Chilean society. Voters, workplaces and the government were to be linked together by a new, interactive national communications network, which would transform their relationship into something profoundly more equal and responsive than before - a sort of socialist internet, decades ahead of its time.

via Kottke.org
MetaFilter has expanded coverage of CyberSyn

Posted by Rafael Fajardo at 08:41 AM

March 16, 2010

reblog: Bruce Sterling - The Farmville Horror

From Bruce Sterling's blog Beyond The Beyond

*Play labor. The click machine. The monolithic block of eyeballs. The scam engine. The cognitive surplus.
*The obscure, dour, leftist terror that the exploited capitalist masses might be having fun somehow.
*Renrou sousuo yinqing, compare and contrast.

Sterling points us to a critical review of Farmville by A. J. Patrick Liszkiewicz, who began blogging in January as "afeeld"

Afeeld's critical reading of Farmville

One might speculate that people play Farmville precisely because they invest physical effort and in-game profit into each harvest. This seems plausible enough: people work over time to develop something, and take pride in the fruits of their labor. Farmville allows users to spend their in-game profits on decorations, animals, buildings, and even bigger plots of land. So users are rewarded for their work. Of course, people can sidestep the harvesting process entirely by spending real money to purchase in-game items. This is the major source of revenue for Zynga, the company that produces Farmville. Zynga is currently on pace to make over three hundred million dollars in revenue this year, largely off of in-game micro-transactions.[10] Clearly, even people who play Farmville want to avoid playing Farmville.

I find this critical review (and it is worth the effort to read the whole piece, this is only a small part of the argument) as I am about to publish a conceptual work that involves gameplay within Farmville that relates back to Juan and the Beanstalk. This gives me pause.

Full disclosure, I know the Chief People Officer at Zynga, and I am a fan of hers. I have been playing Farmville since November. Farmville offers some "mechanized" methods for saving mouseclicks as powerups, but I have resisted the temptation to buy into them. I want every bean to be picked by "hand". I am likewise a fan of Howard Zinn, who is quoted at the beginning of the review. I can be said to have a complex and contradictory relationship with Farmville.

I drafted this entry before the Game Developers Conference of 2010, and I publish it now, a couple of days after the conference has finished. During the conference there were continued salvos with respect to Farmville. The game was awarded a prize as Best Social Networking Game for the year. At the same time several respected voices among the game design community gnashed their teeth and dubbed players of Farmville (and its ilk) "cow clickers." These communal, mutually exclusive, sentiments make me feel that there is something important about Farmville. Members of the game design community in the past once decried the non-hard-core gamer as illegitimate scum not worthy to soil the sole of their shoes. Now their is room for casual game players and designers among the population. There is an emerging appreciation for games that critique, and games that will exist as objet d'art. It remains to be seen if cow clickers will ever be accepted on their own merits.

Sterling points to Jaron Lanier and Jesse Schell openly anxious about the success of the business model and of the stickiness of Farmville.

Posted by Rafael Fajardo at 05:00 PM

March 07, 2010

Medellin Analysis: Critical Activism emerging from Harvard's Graduate School of Design

Nancy Levinson at Design Observer has pointed to a set of interrelated articles where the former mayor of Medellin, Sergio Fajardo, is interviewed and credited with transforming the city. The excerpts below are from the UTNE Reader online, Bomb magazine onine, and from a set of architects who have studied at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. The Harvard grads are theorizing that transformation as an example of "Critical Activism", a kind of critical practice -- a praxis, really. They go on to detail their emerging definition for critical activism. Full disclosure, Sergio Fajardo is running for president of Colombia, and seems to be a distant relative. I haven't met him. That he might be adopted by theory-driven, activist designers is a coincidence.


Over the past ten or so years, the city of Medellín, Colombia, has undergone a high-profile transformation, shedding its reputation as one of the world’s most violent cities. In an interview with architect Giancarlo Mazzanti in the art magazine Bomb, former Medellín mayor Sergio Fajardo discusses the vital role of architecture and design in the city’s renewal, which he explains was driven by the concept of “the most beautiful for the most humble”—a departure, or “rupture,” he says, from the notion “that anything you give to the poor is a plus.”

As we reported in November, during Fajardo’s term as mayor (from 2004 through 2007), any reduction in violence was immediately supplemented with a “concrete community improvement.” So as Medellín’s murder rate plunged, many of the city’s poorest neighborhoods became home to sparkling new schools, housing, community spaces, and “library parks” (the Parque Biblioteca España, designed by Mazzanti, is pictured above, at left).


In recent years, Medellín has become a necessary stop for architects visiting Colombia, and indeed, anywhere in South America. Conferences and events are held to display and promote the city’s new architecture, student excursions are organized around visits to these buildings, magazines are noticing them, and the sites are slowly being converted into symbols for the city, the images that don its postcards. Medellín has become an example of how urban transformation based on good architecture can reshape the mentality of its inhabitants. The mastermind behind the city’s transformation is the mathematician and university professor Sergio Fajardo, who was elected mayor of Medellín in 2003 and served until 2007. He is a presidential candidate in Colombia’s 2010 election. Using a coherent and inclusive urban strategy, he has changed the face of a city that in the ’90s was considered among the most violent in the world. Fajardo has introduced a positive state presence in the poorest and most violent areas by initiating multi-level urban projects, the foundation of which is architecture, most of which originates in public competitions that are open to Colombia’s youngest architects.

In the late ’90s, tired of his city’s corruption, Fajardo formed the Grupo Compromiso Ciudadano (Citizens Commitment Movement), which sought to transform the city and create greater opportunities for its citizens. This aim would carry the group to the mayor’s office, where they would undertake one of the best examples in the world of urban transformation, basing their policies on the slogan “Medellín: from fear to hope.” They worked to decrease poverty and violence by creating opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship, all while reducing social inequality through educational policy reform. In this way, they decreased the indexes of violence and insecurity and reduced the isolation of the inner city’s poorest areas through integration-focused architectural projects like parks, libraries, and modernized schools.


During the interview the two men touched on two of the issues central to DSGN AGNC's research. First, Fajardo and Mazzanti discuss how architecture can be a tool of political change, but in order to do so effectively the architect has to become part of the political process listening to and working directly with communities and decision makers. Then Fajardo launches a critique of typical development work, cautioning against viewing anything that is done in a poor neighborhood as an automatic gain.

Continuing his critique, Fajardo argues that poor communities should not receive infrastructural 'crumbs' wrapped around claims of meeting basic needs. In short, these communities deserve the best from the professions that are serving them. In architecture that means, for Fajardo and Mazzanti, to be able to bring high aesthetic values to the comunas. The larger point, I think, is that architects are at their best when they work by closely looking at historical precedent and discourse, even in a context like Medellin. The challenge is finding ways that the constraints and challenges found in the comunas can become opportunities to further design ideas and the profession itself.


Back on May 2009 DK and I faced the end of our graduate studies at the GSD and a hostile economic climate. We knew the issues we were interested on pursuing but did not yet have a project. It was then that we decided to go on a research trip to Colombia and see what we could learn.

While in Colombia we went everywhere from the presidential palace in Bogota to the barrio Lleras (comuna 3) in the port city of Buenaventura. The trip opened our eyes to many things, but perhaps nothing was as helpful as understanding the scale of the problem. Colombian government officials estimate that the country needs at least one million housing units, and that number grows every day.


In the current model of practice the architect waits for a single client with the appropriate funds to give them a project. This leads to a profit driven system making the architect subservient to the myopic whims of the market. This system is simply not flexible enough for architects to engage the built environment in a way that can change it.

The practices identified as part of the critical activism tackle the problem of practice in two ways. First they find a new organizational structure and model of financing. Estudio Teddy Cruz (ETC), Rural Studio, Urban Think-Tank and Elemental are all tied to academic institutions while holding a non-profit status as well. This set-up allows flexibility in the identification, design, and financing of projects. Second, this firms are open and seek active collaborations with design professionals and practitioners from other disciplines.


Welcome to DSGN AGNC, a design and research collaboration that seeks to address the global problem of spatial, social, economic, and political inequality in the world's urban peripheries through design praxis. We offer as operational platform the concept of critical activism--that folding activism into the discourse of critical practice opens up new possibilities to rethink the structure and scope of design process. Critical activism postulates that no product is ever final; recognizing that design can only optimize products by calibrating process and performance over time.

As a critical activist practice we believe that the best design solutions emerge out of processes based on collective discovery and experimentation. It is then important for design firms to embrace an open-source methodology, encouraging a larger conversation and sharing of information. As part of our commitment to transparency we are using simple and widely available web tools to pull back the curtain of the design practice; sharing the processes, methodologies, research and ideas that guide our designs.

Entrevista en español con Sergio Fajardo

SF A mí me gusta explicar todo esto de la siguiente manera, Giancarlo. Yo vengo de un mundo privilegiado. Cuando terminé de estudiar bachillerato en Medellín, quería estudiar matemáticas. Era el único de todos mis compañeros que quería hacer algo de esa naturaleza; todos los otros querían ser arquitectos, administradores, ingenieros, médicos, economistas, y ese tipo de cosas. Yo quería estudiar matemáticas y me vine a estudiar acá a Bogotá a la Universidad de los Andes, una universidad privada muy buena. Estudié la carrera y quería seguir estudiando, así que hice una maestría. Quería seguir avanzando y llegar a lo más alto en el mundo científico académico, así que hice un doctorado en Estados Unidos. ¿En qué consiste el privilegio? Tenía puertas abiertas en frente. Para la mayoría de las personas en nuestra sociedad esas puertas no existen. Una de las motivaciones más grandes que yo he tenido siempre ha sido que tener puertas en frente no dependa de la condición social, que no sea un privilegio sino un derecho de una sociedad justa. Y una inquietud personal mía es cómo pasar de la cantidad de lugares comunes asociados con el tema de la educación para hacer de ella algo entendido en el sentido más amplio. Habitualmente la educación se refiere al colegio, el bachillerato, la primaria, etcétera… ¿Cómo hacer una educación donde se incorporen ciencia, tecnología, innovación, emprendimiento, y cultura? ¿Cómo hacer que el motor de la transformación social sea la construcción de la capacidad de las personas para hacer una sociedad justa?

Teníamos claro que íbamos a luchar contra una mezcla única de problemas para nosotros en Colombia: las desigualdades sociales y una violencia con raíces profundas. ¿Cómo ir todos los días disminuyendo la violencia, pero cada vez que la logremos eliminar, llegar con oportunidades sociales? Muchas personas en nuestra sociedad tienen enfrente un muro sellado: en un extremo está una puerta para entrar al mundo de la ilegalidad. El narcotráfico se ha encargado de darle unas dimensiones extraordinarias, y más aún en Medellín. Otra de las puertas conduce a la informalidad. El reto nuestro siempre ha sido como ir abriendo en ese muro sellado puertas, puertas para que la gente pueda transitar e ir participando en la construcción de la esperanza. ¿Qué es la esperanza? Cuando alguien en una comunidad ve un camino que puede seguir. Si solamente está viendo un muro en frente y no ve cómo opciones más que la ilegalidad o la informalidad, esas no son realmente alternativas.

Posted by Rafael Fajardo at 05:22 PM

Tenth Anniversary

Crosser tenth anniversary coming this December. That will mark the tenth anniversary of the existence of SWEAT. I have to figure out what to do to commemorate this moment.

Posted by Rafael Fajardo at 02:41 PM