It’s only the future

I bought my MacBook Air today and it really is a great little machine. This is my third Apple purchase (phone, pad, air), though I’ve received three iPods as gifts from my parents over the years. For someone who has read a bit and pays attention to the technology he uses, buying into an Apple product means buying into all the criticism of production processes, Foxconn abuses, leaderly bullying and abuse by the late Jobs, etc, etc. Yes, there aren’t a lot of options for ethical electronics purchases, and the competition might be as bay or worse than Apple and it’s suppliers, but that’s a pretty lame excuse.

I got started thinking about the morality of these purchases from the perspective of someone in the future. What are our great-grandchildren going to think about our present habits, about what’s presently permissible? It’s not hard to imagine there will be things that seem barbaric and downright mad to them (Slavery was once acceptable). I heard a story about an actress in Hollywood in the 20s whose name escapes me – she was an early feminist, expected equality in pay, treatment, etc, and never received it from the studios or from the rest of society. In the end, she went mad, but the truth was (to us) everyone else was mad. She was just ahead of her time.

While it’s pretty clear one source of condemnation for our generation will be the treatment of animals. But my great new apple things got me thinking about whether we will be condemned for our purchases and habits of consumption.

In 100 years time school children will likely learn all about how the early 21st Century burned fossil fuels, mined the earth barren, all the while knowing that one day it would all run out… And kept on using them anyway. We even used fossil fuels for transport, they will be told and they may well be incredulous. “You mean they wasted precious oil just going places? What a luxury!” Perhaps they won’t all even be in the same room, but commuting via high speed Internet.

They will also be incredulous that anyone could be so ignorant and uncaring as to buy gadgets knowing full well they were causing wars in other parts of the world… but they kept doing it anyway. Perhaps out present condition will be given a catchy name – distributed denial of responsibility, where everyone knows but no one believes they can do anything about it…

And it’s hard to argue they won’t be right. It is bizarre that we do many of the things we do. It is also horribly unfair that we are delivering a for our children’s children that has the potential to be horrid.

I have no excuse! But I still need a laptop…

On the home stretch

I’m about 3/4 of the way there with the chapter, and the last quarter should come reasonably smoothly tomorrow. It has benefited most, so far, from what is the most extensive culling I have ever done to a paper. I forgot to word count the bits I’ve now excised, but I suspect it’s around four thousand words.

It’s taken on quite the life of its own in a rather scary fashion, and it feels like an snidely different paper from the one I presented in Oxford. Most sadly of all, however, I ended up removing the better part of all my discussion of Latour, but it definitely had to go. There just wasn’t the space – conceptual or numerical – for a thoroughly integrated discussion of ANT or even a cut-rate version of Latour’s basic ideas (the trouble being he doesn’t really have basic ideas, but rather an entire system). I’ve feel like I’ve kept the spirit of Latour in there by talking a lot about specific objects and even though I don’t mention flat-ontology or actor-network theory specifically I think readers familiar with those ideas will notice the influence.

Two last chunks of writing remain for Friday – something concluding and summarising the big middle section and leading into the somewhat more bizarre third section, and a bit more discussion in the third and final section. It’s probably the closest to what I originally had in mind for the paper – emergent ‘mind-community’ which knows stuff, deals with controversies, has some kind of total-community-emergent-authority: some kind of aggregate result of all the best minds thinking about video game criticism all scuffling with each other and having arguments. I’m not sure how convinced I am by my own idea here anymore, but I can at least position it speculatively.

T help motivate myself, I’m going to promise that I can go buy a replacement for my now dead laptop once I finish. I’m probably going to get a MacBook Air. It’s about $600 cheaper than I was expecting, and as it’ll be primarily a portable writing machine I’ll make do with the entry level model. That’s been a great decision with my iPad that I haven’t regretted.

Like Graham Harman wrote about a few months back (which I linked to), if a significant portion of my life and career is reliant on a piece of hardware it’s not a bad idea to treat it as a bit more essential than usual. His point was about having two of them, but I’ll be content with one that just works efficiently and that won’t start falling apart after a few years of hard work. My last Toshiba (a gift from my parents) only lasted a disappointing two years. I did work it pretty hard though, to be fair and the slightly more compact one that my brother got (essentially the same model but smaller) is still going strong like the day he turned it on. It’s certainly running a lot more smoothly than mine has for a long time.

I got my GDC schedule appointments today, and I imagine I won’t be able to cover panels and sessions for Gamasutra on my iPhone or iPad. I did write this post entirely on my iPhone, but as quick as I am (above average quickness I’d say) it’s nothing compared to what I can do with a full ten fingers and a proper keyboard.

Harman on the up/down-sides to continental philosophy

Harman:

…there will be an upside and a downside just as with every choice in life. The upside is that you’re likely to take a longer historical perspective and not become bewitched by the transient, chiselling fashions of Leiter-ranked university departments, nor will you be so chipper and facile about hunting for “bad arguments” in authors such as Plato and Leibniz. The downside is that you’ll tend to view great works of philosophy as existing on a plane far above that of normal human Ph.D.’s, and as a result you may become depressed about your own ability to make a real contribution to the field, and thus you may begin to do purely historical work (which certainly has its place, but continental philosophy has often lost all sight of the distinction between historical and systematic work).

Welp, that’s certainly the case for myself. I wish to be as original and ground-breaking as any Plato, etc. but what are the actual chances I am? Pretty slim. Certainly the chances that I hit that target on the first shot, as it were, are almost impossible. I’m just not that good.

Far Cry 3 gameplay vid speculations

Things that I liked:

– Ziplines, but the larger point is there seemed to be plenty of freedom of movement in the arenas where firefights occur. Some of the other sections looked more scripted/tunneled.

– I liked that the hands and arms were quite prominent and active, though perhaps not to the degree seen in FC2.

– Some of the stealth looked okay, that was always a very hit-n-miss aspect of FC2.

– The jungles are looking pretty.

– Super glad to see that the crouch-slide maneuver is back! This is like one of the coollest things about movement in FC2.

– Press ‘A’ to mantle. More games really should be doing this type of thing.

– The guns (well, we saw three of them: an AK, a pistol and a shotgun, plus a grenade if that counts) seem nice and meaty.

– FUCK YEAH, SHARKS!

 

Things that I disliked:

– The generic voice over. I said it on twitter, but FC2 never needed protagonist voice because your hands and arms were expressive enough. Everything that needed to be “said” int he game was said through your hands (shoot, grab, splint, heal, etc)

– Return of the pseudo-mystical elements from Far Cry 1 & the earlier games. The horror-realism of FC2 would have been diminished if there was any supernatural element.  You can’t have both Lovecraft and God/Magic.

– Was there any fire propagation? Granted, it’s a jungle not a crackling African savannah but it’d be a real shame if they pulled out that tech just for some reason like “the jungle is too wet” or whatever. Napalm burns wet things, I’m sure. Oh well.

– The existence of a minimap.

– I didn’t notice how this was working till  Brendan pointed it out – but arrows that point to every enemy? What is the point of that?! This run-through is obviously on an easy difficulty setting (he spends much too long out of cover to live if it were anything else) so hopefully these things are only guides for the easier settings (or perhaps they can be turned off, the are very distracting).

– I’m going to miss the authentic accents, and I don’t care what anyone says about rushed dialogue. It was never that bad (except for in a few places) but I’ll take rushed authentic accents over the best amero-generic ones six our of seven days of the week.

 

Great Michel Serres quote

“The more one writes, the less one reads – it’s a question of time. But I stress: an authentically philosophical book is distinguishable from a learned book. The latter, loaded with quotes and footnotes, struts its erudition; it flourishes its credentials in the academic milieu, brandishes its armor and its lances before its adversaries. It is a social artifact. How many philosophies are dictated solely by the preoccupation with being invulnerable to to criticism? They present themselves as fortresses, usually sheltering a lobbying support group. In the wide open spaces of fear, only trepidation reigns.

I have come to believe that a work achieves more excellence when it cites fewer proper names. It is naked, defenseless, not lacking knowledge but saturated with secondary naivete; not intent on being right but ardently reachng fortoward new intuitions.

A university thesis aims at the imitable; a plain and simple work seeks the inimitable.”

From Michel Serres and Bruno Latour’s Conversation on Science, Culture, Time, p.22.

The price of land

The always sensible Alan Kohler on debt levels in Australia – but not credit card debt, housing debt:

The combination of rising population, a lack of arable land and artificial restrictions on residential development in cities has led to a six-fold rise in the median house price since 1986, from $93,000 to $550,000 now. Over the same period, average household incomes have risen 3.5 times.

And now there is widespread terror that house prices will eventually collapse and leave millions with no equity, as happened in the United States. As a result the savings rate has skyrocketed and consumers are on strike, putting money aside for Armageddon.

Debt is making everyone grumpy and hypersensitive. When ANZ put up its mortgage rate by just 6 basis points last week – 0.06 per cent for heaven’s sake! – there was national outrage and attacks in parliament.

The government’s success in dealing with the GFC and holding unemployment at 5.2 per cent is nothing compared to its failure to bring down mortgage rates.

It makes me wonder what kind of a future I’m in for – there’s a lot of people invested (literally and metaphorically) in house prices staying high, but it seems inevitable that, long term, this level of price-to-income ratio isn’t really sustainable. For me personally, I guess I’m interested in thinking about the chances of it eventuating that I spend the rest of my life living as a renter (if prices never fall; or if something tragic happens to my career prospects; or if I simply don’t see the benefit in a mortgage for life…). There’s too many variables, and it’s all speculation anyhow. There are more than a million potential scenarios that could see me owning my own place eventually, and though I’d rather not treat it as an inevitability, it’s certainly a distinct possibility.

History and Uncertainty: The Umbrella Man

This video by Errol Morris is the story of ‘The Umbrella Man’, a conspicuous figure present at the assassination of JFK. It’s  told by the author of one of the many books on the assassination, but Josiah Thompson seems to be a class above the average conspiracy nut. He talks about the process of spotting this man in the film – holding an incongruous black umbrella open on a beautiful sunny day – and after a process of investigation he appealed to the man to come forward and explain himself to the senate committee investigating JFK’s assassination. The explanation was so “wacky” and so bizarrely out-of-left field that one could, quite literally, never invent it – so it must have been true. From this Thompson concluded something very important about the limits of our knowledge of historical events:

“…if you have any fact which you think is really sinister… is really obviously a fact which can only point to some sinister underpinning – hey, forget it man. Because you can never on your own think up all the non-sinister perfectly valid explanations for that fact.”

Which is a fantastic point, and which Thompson calls a “cautionary tale”. If only it were heeded more often.

In response to ‘The Umbrella Man’ John Updike, in a piece for the New Yorker, allegedly came to the following conclusions about history and historical research:

“We wonder whether a genuine mystery is being concealed here or whether any similar scrutiny of a minute section of time and space would yield similar strangenesses—gaps, inconsistencies, warps, and bubbles in the surface of circumstance. Perhaps, as with the elements of matter, investigation passes a threshold of common sense and enters a sub-atomic realm where laws are mocked, where persons have the life-span of beta particles and the transparency of neutrinos, and where a rough kind of averaging out must substitute for absolute truth.”

Go watch the video – it’s only 6 minutes long, and well worth watching if only for how bizarrely tangential the Umbrella Man’s reasons are.

If sentences are ships…

One sentence is like a rowboat, it can turn on a dime.

Two sentences is like a sailboat, it has to tack and work with something other than itself.

At about 8,000 words the number of sentences might be roughly 400. That feels like trying to turn a super-tanker, but in reality it’s probably much more like trying to steer a medium sized ferry.

At least now I seem to have a sense of the right direction, even if it is vague, and to stretch the nautical metaphor a bit further, I think I’m standing on the bridge now.