Monthly Archives: July 2007

McLuhan 4: Mailer And McLuhan

Posted by PH on July 30, 2007
Marshall McLuhan / No Comments

There’s a 1968 TV show called The Summer Way that has been posted online by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation featuring Norman Mailer and Marshall McLuhan in conversation.

Fabulous it is too: two intellectual heavyweights delicately tip-toeing around one another in front of a live audience and, presumably in those days, also broadcast live. Mailer looks very nervous early on and is clearly at sea, and in the end just muscles his way out of trouble. McLuhan is very calm, very cool, and seems completely in control. He just flies loops around Mailer, and the amused looks on his face at some of Mailer’s comments are absolutely priceless.

It’s about half an hour long and is pure historical gold. Because it’s on Google video I can’t embed it on this page, so clicking here will bring it up in a new window. Enjoy!

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Clare Hale

Posted by PH on July 20, 2007
Students / No Comments

Clare Hale graduated this summer from the School of Digital Media at Swansea Metropolitan University with a First Class BA (Hons) degree in Multimedia. And very well deserved it was too!

Clare was also the outright winner in the ‘Web & Interactive Media’ category of Computer Arts magazine’s Graduate Showcase 2007:

Again, very well deserved and completely justified. Clare has a great range of skills: she’s a sensitive and talented designer with a good range of technical knowledge to back up her artistic flair; she does a mean presentation and is therefore really good at selling her work; she’s a very nice person who works well in a team environment. All of which would be meaningless without the fact she works really hard at it, she puts the hours in…

Her Major Project submission was an interactive web site built using Flash and called mythicalwales.co.uk. Clare’s attention to detail and instinctive design sense are well in evidence, as is her great appreciation of the use of sound in a multimedia object (which, for me, still remains the least-developed aspect of new media production). There are some fabulous touches: check out how she manages going through the front door, and compare that, say, to the way the same thing is handled in the early Resident Evil games. (OK, it’s not really a like-for-like comparison because the RE sequence is basically masking a background load operation, but stylistically the comparison is 100% valid.)

Anyway, you can check out all of Clare’s stuff at summonfire.co.uk. Well done Clare. Best of luck.

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Quote(s) of the Month

Posted by PH on July 13, 2007
Marshall McLuhan, Quote of the Month / No Comments

In designing all functions and all data structures, a computer programmer tries always to use variables rather than constants. On the level of the human-computer interface, this principle means that the user is given many options to modify the performance of a program or a media object, be it a computer game, Web site, Web browser, or the operating system itself. The user can change the profile of a game character, modify how folders appear on the desktop, how files are displayed, what icons are used, and so forth. If we apply this principle to culture at large, it would mean that every choice responsible for giving a cultural object a unique identity can potentially always remain open.

Lev Manovich

The method of our time is to use not a single but multiple models for exploration—the technique of the suspended judgment is the discovery of the twentieth century as the technique of invention was the discovery of the nineteenth.

Marshall McLuhan

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BA (Hons) Multimedia Showcase

Posted by PH on July 09, 2007
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Here’s a short film I made showcasing this year’s BA Multimedia graduates from the School of Digital Media at Swansea Metropolitan University: Clare Hale, Sam Jones, Juliette Tessyman, Geoff Taylor, and Peter Boelen. There’s some excellent work on display here, so well done to all:

As with my last post, this was a project where I made heavy use of screen capture software. This time, because I made the film at home and it was therefore done on a Mac, I used SnapzProX. This seems to be the screen capture software of choice on Macs, and I must say it worked very, very, well. The unusual interface—i.e. there isn’t one when it’s in action—seems to cause people a few problems, but I must say I found it pretty straightforward from the off. We could either say that the guesses I made about its operation were correct, or that the software has been designed in an intuitively correct way…

Ciao!

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Vanda Lewis

Posted by PH on July 08, 2007
Miscellaneous / No Comments

I did an unusual job last week for the South Wales Evening Post. They were running a story on a woman named Vanda Lewis who had been accused and convicted of benefits fraud. Most of the evidence had been gained from the CCTV system installed at the Neath Civic Centre, and the SWEP wanted to include excerpts from the footage as a video podcast.

I received a couple of CDs that included the CCTV footage. This isn’t actually video: the system is simply taking stills once a second. These are then played back within a proprietary software package that shows two camera feeds simultaneously:

The software appears to have been created by a company called Neurodynamics, but according to their website they’ve been bought out by a company called Virage (who in turn are owned by Autonomy). As you can see from the screenshot above, it’s just a basic utilitarian PC package. Aesthetics just don’t come into it. Beneath the generic transport buttons you can see the list of images: this list scrolls as the ‘footage’ plays.

The question was: how do we turn this stuff into video? There was no obvious way to do it from within the software: the images were all contained within a proprietary file, and the export button didn’t seem to do anything useful. I opted to simply to use some screen capture software, and in the end used Camtasia Studio 4. I’d never used it before, but with the help of their online tutorials was quickly able to get some usable output. Although I didn’t need it for this project, I also noted that it allowed you to output video in a custom Flash player—which is neat—and also allowed you to export SCORM-compatible e-learning materials! A well-thought out and very useful piece of software.

vanda lewis

Quite an unusual little project, and one that gave me some insight into the rather clandestine world of these corporate surveillance companies. Of course issues of privacy and the state-sponsored monitoring of our activities are highly topical now, but I’m not sure I’ve got anything original or informative to add to the debate. However:

Because of the potential for being watched we begin to internalize the constraints of the system into our own behaviour patterns and our consciences: we in effect adopt the goals of the system.

P. David Marshall

Needless to say I found it all a bit spooky…

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Microsoft Surface

Posted by PH on July 02, 2007
Marshall McLuhan, Miscellaneous / No Comments

Back in January I had a good look at the iPhone and Jefferson Han’s work on multi-touch interfaces (here and here). And for those of you looking to gain some kind of contextualization on this fascinating and highly topical area of interface design I’ve recently come across Bill Buxton’s historical overview.

I casually mention these only by way of introduction to Microsoft’s (ahem) “new paradigm in computing”, the Surface computer. Here’s one of Microsoft’s own promotional videos:

For something a little more illuminating, and that briefly includes schematics showing the innards of the Surface:

And for the inner geek, here’s a full 18-minute test-drive of the thing:

Yes, it’s pretty impressive (although the thought of that bog-standard PC running Windows Vista hiding inside is a bit off-putting). Some thoughts:

  1. It’s not clear how the security issues will work. I mean, have you ever transferred data from one device to another without generating security prompts? As these will be public devices it seems inconceivable that security will not be a huge issue, and yet not once do we see anyone even inputting a PIN number in any of the videos. As if!
  2. Will all manufactured objects become ‘tagged’ in the near future to allow interfacing with surface computers?
  3. If so, will there develop a universal tagging language that will be understood by all “surface-compatible” products?
  4. Can we predict a new job description: Surface Designer?
  5. I do think there is a certain inevitability about this type of product.
  6. The ability of the Surface to act as a ‘docking station’ for mobile devices calls to mind one of McLuhan’s Laws of Media: if you push a technology to an extreme it flips over into it’s opposite. In other words, as mobile devices have gotten smaller and yet more powerful, the tendency for miniaturization flips over into single large device that many of them can simultaneously attach to like a Mother Ship.
  7. Doesn’t the Microsoft Surface remind you of those black glass-topped gaming tables you used to find in pubs? Space Invaders, anyone?

Of course there are those who quite rightly question Microsoft’s presumptuous and overblown claims for their product: British multi-touch interface designer Andrew Fentem has a reasonable and well-argued critique of both Microsoft and Jefferson Han here. Fentem’s own Spaceman Technologies website is well worth checking out by multi-touch aficionados.

Finally, irresistibly, if only to puncture the corporate pomposity of Microsoft:

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