Archive for September, 2006

GWOT Boardgame

September 29, 2006

Risk is a great board game, but it’s so 20th century. Wouldn’t you prefer whiling away a lazy afternoon at the cottage with a more up-to-date tabletop conquest game that better reflects the non-state-based nature of contemporary warfare? If so, War On Terror: The Boardgame might just be for you:

It’s got suicide bombers, political kidnaps and intercontinental war. It’s got filthy propaganda, rampant paranoia and secret treaties…and the Axis of Evil is a spinner in the middle of the board. You can fight terrorism, you can fund terrorism, you can even be the terrorists. The only thing that matters is global domination – err, liberation. (War on Terror: The Boardgame)

The designers of this game have a very dark sense of humor, and the game’s website has lots of little descriptive gems and rulebook entries like this one:

The end game

There are a few possible endings to the War on Terror…

1. An empire liberates the world

The scream of a winning empire. They grab enough land, they build enough cities, they drop enough nukes, they manage to keep the terrorist threat under control and they liberate the world! This is the most common ending.

2. The terrorists claim the planet for their own

Terrorist Victory. Through cunning use of political kidnaps, plane hijacks, terrorist attacks, suicide bombers – and all the other vicious strategies available to them – the terrorists destroy all the Empires and the world has no governments. Perhaps.

3. World peace

World peace, man. A rare but strangely satisfying end to the game. When there are no terrorists on the board, all remaining Empires can claim world peace, give each other a hug and go home knowing that they’ve learnt something special. This has happened once so far.

4. Never ending war

Is there no end to war? The game descends into chaos and the players sacrifice finishing it to save their minds. Luckily, after two years of development and an unhealthy disregard for our own sanity, this doesn’t happen too often anymore. (War on Terror: The Boardgame)

Via Water Cooler Games.


links for 2006-09-28

September 28, 2006

Identity, Photography and Flickr

September 27, 2006

German artist Sascha Pohflepp‘s continued investigation of how photo-sharing technologies like Flickr mediate self-perception recently rose to poetic heights with “Buttons,” a “blind camera” that captures not images but moments:

Buttons takes on this notion of the camera as a networked object. It is a camera that will capture a moment at the press of a button. However, unlike a conventional analog or digital camera, this one doesn’t have any optical parts. It allows you to capture your moment but in doing so, it effectively seperates it from the subject. Instead, as you will memorize the moment, the camera memorizes only the time and starts to continuously search on the net for other photos that have been taken in the very same moment. (blinksandbuttons)

No More SMS From Jesus

September 27, 2006

Gumption presents a nice digest of Genevieve Bell‘s (cancelled) Ubicomp presentation, “No More SMS from Jesus: Ubicomp, Religion and Techno-spiritual Practices:”

The title derives from a Reuters headline announcing the demise of a Finnish mobile service that offered text messages from Jesus, in response to prayers received from subscribers. Genevieve goes on to highlight a range of other techno-spiritual practices, including

Genevieve notes that “religion shapes ideas about time, space and social relationships” (very much in line with obserations Brenda Laurel made in her closing keynote on day 3 of UbiComp regarding the influence of art and music on our understanding and representation of time and space in nature), and the importance of ritual and magic in many primitive religions (calling to mind some of Bruce Sterling‘s condemnations of magic on day 1 of the conference). (Gumption)

Foo Fu

September 24, 2006

According to Wikipedia, “Foo” is the “canonical metasyntactic variable.” In plain english, a metasyntactic variable usually means a nonsense word or other string of characters used as a placeholder in computer code (a really simple example of this would be: if Foo=10, then 5*Foo=50). Peek into programs written in anything from Javascript to C++ and you’re likely to find “foo” — along with other commonly used variables like bar and baz.

So I started to wonder where it all came from, especially in light of the fact that the premier IT insider get-together/unconference is called “Foo Camp.” Well, it turns out that Foo Camp derives its name from a completely different source — Foo in this case standing for “Friends of O’Reilly,” the tech guru who runs the exclusive invite-only yearly event. Foo the metasyntactic variable supposedly comes from very different sources. A complete etymology of foo can be found here. Apparently, it’s unclear whether it’s a leftover from WWII slang or a reference to an old Warner Bros. cartoon.

Importantly (if anything can be important with regard to subjects like this), Foo is only one of a long list of placeholder names used in computer code and language in general. The Wikipedia entry on placeholder names contains a great list of these kinds of words. Each of these words gave me a chuckle, so here they are for you in hopes that they may brighten your day:

* buddy[1] (Newfoundland English)
* chummy[2] (Newfoundland English)
* crap
* crud
* da’ kine (Common in Hawaii)
* dealie or dealy
* dealyjobber
* dingus
* doobri or dooberry
* doodad
* doo-hickey
* doofer
* doover or dooverlacky
* efamijig
* frammis
* frammisite
* frobnitz
* gadget
* geemie
* gewgaw or geegaw
* gizmo
* gubbins
* hickey (Common in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
* hodad
* hingmy (Scottish, derived from thingummy)
* jawn (Common in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
* jobby (Scottish, popularised by Billy Connolly)
* junk
* machine[3] (Newfoundland English)
* kerjigger
* McGuffin
* mumble
* oojamaflip
* oojamafurkle
* oojamawotsit
* phlebotinum
* shit
* stuff
* thing
* thingamabob
* thingamaflap
* thingamajig
* thingamajigger
* thingamajobber
* thingum
* thingummy
* thingy
* widget
* whatchamacallit
* whatnot
* whatsit (often spelled wotsit)
* whatsitsname
* whoosiwagger
* whozis
* whozeewhatsit
* yoke (Commonly used in Ireland)


Predestination: Loca and mobile surveillance

September 23, 2006

Imagine that you are walking down the street when you hear a beep from your phone.  You see a message reading:

“You were in a flower shop and spent 30 minutes in the park; are you in love?”

The thing is – you were in the flower shop an hour ago and then you did go to the park for half an hour!

How would you react to this message? How would it make you feel? (

Well, I’m not sure how I’d feel. “Creeped-out” comes to mind. But as soon as I found out that these strange stalker-like text-messages were part of a city-wide art project, I’d probably feel pretty cool and want to learn more.

Loca, “an artist-led interdisciplinary project on mobile media and surveillance,” uses a network of Bluetooth nodes scattered around the city to track the movements of anyone with a Bluetooth-enabled device. The tracking data is fed into a database, which is then parsed according to “urban semantics” to make guesses about what the tracked individual is up to. The system then sends a potentially relevant message to the subject, such as the “are you in love?” question above.

See also: John Krumm‘s talk at Ubicomp 2006, “Predestination: Inferring Destination from Partial Trajectories” (.pdf).

links for 2006-09-21

September 21, 2006

Ubicomp and Social Science

September 21, 2006

The Mass Observation meme just won’t go away in these parts. While browsing various roundups of Ubicomp 2006, I came across this post on Pasta and Vinegar:

…the most interesting part (to me) was the discussion about the bridge between qualitative and quantitative methods. Yahoo/UC Berkeley’s Marc Davis advocated for a new “computational social science” that would use mixed-methods (quali-quanti), aka “the new social science of the 21st century”. His point was that we have access to an incredible quantity of data (ranging from interview to logged actions) that would allow us to gain information about different layers: from micro scale cognitive insights to large group processes (social groups, national issues…).

Unlike Anne which states that “quantitative methods are still being trotted out to save qualitative methods from their perceived inadequacies, a.k.a. “Real Science To The Rescue!”“, I haven’t felt that. Given the fact that the conversant were largely qualitative-data oriented, he tried to summarize the advantages of bridging both qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis:

  • Large datasets can enable us to know who to talk to (who to interview, or with whom to deepen the study with ethnographic methods): who are representatives (or not) in the groups
  • It can allow to reveal unconscious behavior (that users cannot state)
  • A nice avenue of research they’re pushing forward in his team is to compute visualizations (based on quantitative data) and then get back to the users to discuss with them. This is exactly what I am doing with CatchBob! visualizations of coordination as well as presenting the players a replay of their activity. This provides a basis for the discussion about “what they did” and “why they did it” (with of course some different “epistemological levels”).
  • Qualitative analysis can also allow to redesign the sensors and the logged information that would be better suitable/more interesting. (Pasta and Vinegar)

Interactive Fiction Resources

September 20, 2006

Despite literally decades of declarations that interactive fiction (IF) is a “dead” art, the form remains alive and well today — indeed, it seems to be only growing in popularity as writers and readers alike discover the surprising breadth of IF’s expressive range. Mainstream publishers, sensing the potential for IF to become another selling point for the Holy Grail that is the Digital Book, have begun to pay attention, with heavyweights like Random House using online adventures to market new releases. For creators, writing IF has never been easier, and new “natural language” authoring platforms promise to broaden the talent pool in the coming years.

The lingua franca for IF is the “Z-Machine,” a flexible hypertext software engine developed back in the late 70s (find Z-Machine interpreters here). Everything from classics like Zork to new releases by authors such as Emily Short run on some variant of a Z-Machine, so make sure whatever platform you use can compile and output compatible code.

Depending on your comfort level with writing computer code, you have several options when it comes to choosing an authoring tool. Inform 7 (Mac OS X, Windows) is the latest iteration of the Inform series, which is as close to the Microsoft Word of IF as things get. It’s extremely functional, and sports a new, intuitive “natural language” authoring system. I’ve been using it for a while, and believe me, it’s amazing how simple the “code” is to write. Here’s a sample:

East of the Garden is the Gazebo. Above is the Treehouse. A billiards table is in the Gazebo. On it is a trophy cup. A starting pistol is in the cup.

This will create a playable virtual map, telling the Z-Machine where the Gazebo is relative to the Garden, where the Treehouse is, and what’s in the Gazebo. Adding functionality such as timed events, portable objects and conversations with other characters is equally straight-forward, and novices shouldn’t have much trouble putting together a simple adventure soon after installing the program.

For those familiar with writing code for Z-Machines or who just like coding in general, there are several other platforms to look into: TADS (Text Adventure Development System) is a strong multiplatform contender, with full installations available for Mac OS X, Linux and Windows. You can also check out a variety of programming utilities at the IF Archive.

Beginners can also check out the FAQ for more information about getting started.

UPDATED links to resources:

Real Time Geographic Radio

September 20, 2006

Continuing on the theme of Mass Observation, check out, a nifty Flash site that displays what’s playing on radio stations across the U.S. — as the songs are played.