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<nettime> Reviews of some recent books and then some -
Alan Sondheim on Fri, 12 Aug 2005 11:14:37 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Reviews of some recent books and then some -


Reviews of some recent books and then some -

These are texts relevant to net art. Some I have found personally more useful than
others; this is the result of my own predilection of course. They are review
copies. In some cases, I've failed the te(x)(s)t.

Digital Video Hacks, Tips and Tools for Shooting, Editing, and Sharing, Joshua
Paul, O'Reilly, 2005. I've mentioned this book before. I swear by it. There are
very few digital media books I can wholeheartedly recommend - this is one of them.
The book covers, in the usual 100 'hacks,' every- thing from writing filters for
Movie Maker to distributing DVDs, codecs, converting PAL to NTSC, "See Through
Walls" (obvious but very useful), logging, "making your own weather report,"
Quicktime Pro filters, and ASCII movies. If nothing else, the book has helped me
organize things so I can work faster, something always of concern.

Lara Croft, Cyber Heroine, Astrid Deuber-Mankowsky, Minnesota, 2005. More and more
work needs to be done, not on cyborgs (although this references Haraway, etc.),
but on the re/mediations, mediations, projectivities, introjectivities,
phenomenologies, histories, and mechanics, of avatars as they enter and
enhance/entrance consciousness, singly or multiply. This book covers the game,
movie, creation, continuation, of Croft in a mere 89 pages (not including notes
and index). It's brilliant and a beginning. My only quibble, and that's all it is,
is that virtual idols such as Diki or Kyoko Date (I've written on both, so I have
a stake in this) aren't men- tioned; it's as if gaming and its emissions existed
outside the apparatus of popular music. A second quibble is the expense - $17.95.
On the other hand, this slim text sets a foundation like none other. Chapters
include The Phenomenon of Lara Croft, A Duplicitous Gift, The Origins of a
Cultural Icon, The market and the Hardware, Medial Origins and Sexual Grounds,
Virtual Reality, The Interactive Movie, The Loss of Surface, The Medialization of
the Body, The Universal Medium, Tomb Raider: The Movie, The Question of Sexual
Difference, and Afterplay: The Next Generation. This is wonderful!

Web Mapping Illustrated, Tyler Mitchell, O'Reilly, 2005, Using Open Source GIS
Toolkits. If you are working in locative media, GET THIS BOOK! The chapters
include Introduction to Digital Mapping, Digital Mapping Tasks and Tools,
Converting and Viewing Maps, Installing MapServer, Acquiring Map Data, Analyzing
Map Data, Converting Map Data, Visualizing Mapping Data in a Desktop Program,
Create and Edit Personal Map Data, Creating Static Maps, Publishing Interactive
Maps on the Web, Accessing Maps Through Web Services, Managing a Spatial Database,
Custom Programming with MapServer's MapScript, and two appendices, one on map
projections, and a MapServer Reference Guide for Vector Data Access. This is heavy
on GIS; Google and WorldWind are not mentioned. I've only read this book; I'm not
in a position to apply it (I use an inexpensive GPS, that's about it, please, if
you have a better one, send it to me!), but it's absolutely clear that it provides
a framework for any sort of positional work - not only that, but a framework which
goes a long way towards making WorldWind (which is of course open source) useful
as a GUI for artists! Mapping is increasingly moving into the forefront of web
graphics; this takes you way beyond the surface. The book uses a webpage for
auxiliary downloads, taking the user step-by-step through the chapters.

Current unix fortune: !07/11 PDP a ni deppart m'I !pleH

Start Your Engines, Developing Driving and Racing Games, Jim Parker, Paraglyph,
2005. I'm not interested in creating driving games (although there are
downloadable and modifiable files at the website accompanying the book, that make
for a very interesting beginning), but I am interested in the physics, interfaces,
and phenomenologies of them. This book provides these in abundance; I can't think
(at least for me, with my limited knowledge) of a better introduction to a kind of
gaming that is based on the physics of world-creation (i.e. little or no story
required, but all the makings and packagings of a planet). Chapters include:
Starting Your Engines - Basic Design Elements, Game Architecture for Driving and
Racing Games, Basic Graphics for Driving and Racing Games, Building a Basic 3D
Driving Game, Game AI and Collision Detection, Incorporating Intelligent
Opponents, Audio for Driving and Racing Games, Using Ambient Traffic, Physics for
Driving and Racing Games, Simulating Continuous Time, Cinematography for Driving
and Racing Games, Creating Terrains, Designing the Manic Mars Racer Games, Coding
the Manic Mars Racer Game, The Bonus Game--Charged!, refs and resources, a math
tutorial, and more. The graphics work through polygons. The book takes nothing but
programming for granted. (For intermediate to advanced levels.) I'm fascinated by
such things as the need to create continuity, designing collision detection
routines - all these things that are of course taken for granted in the 'real.'
Terrains are constructed from random functions by the way - the programs can be
applied elsewhere. The book demonstrates what goes into perception and the
relationship of perception to coding. The games are clearly phenomenology writ
large, Husserl's Logical Investigations inverted into the construct of mediations
among subject, real, codons. I recommend this for anyone interested in gaming,
whether or not they're practicing such. It's expensive ($39.99 or as we like to
say $40), so I wouldn't purchase it unless you're going to really use it, in which
case it's cheap at the price.

Home Networking, The Missing Manual, Pogue, O'Reilly, Scott Lowe, 2005. Okay, I'm
stupid about a number of things, including putting things together so that they
fit. This goes a long way towards helping me. How to hook up PCs to a router to
wireless to each other and possibly to a Mac using something called Dave? It's all
here. The Missing Manual series is pretty good in general, giving you the basics
that aren't readily available elsewhere. The next step would be the hacks. In any
case there are chapters are outlining your home networking plan (if it's not just
random cables as mine tends to be), through ethernet, wireless, and powerline,
onto various PC/Mac connections, then to the road, various, etc. etc. I need books
like this. I'm tired a lot. They tell me what to do and generally they don't make
mistakes. Recommended.

The Souls of Cyberfolk, Posthumanism as Vernacular Theory, Thomas Foster,
Minnesota, 2005. I have read into this work, repeatedly, and at this point I don't
feel I'm the right person to review it. So consider this an aside before going on
to the book. I an increasingly finding theory impoverished / machinic - I can 'do'
multiculturalism, postmodernism, postmodernity, poststructural, postoffice,
various gendering theories, psychoanalytics, and so forth, and for the most part
this doing doesn't take; I'm not learning more than I knew and what I find I need
to know is often on the practical side of things. Lara Croft (above) strikes a
good balance; this book is strong on theory and I've been having trouble getting
through it. Some of the material is stunning, for example a section on The
Discourse of Trauma (in the chapter "Replaying the L.A. Riots, Cyborg Narratives
and National Traumas). The chapter on "The Sex Appeal of the Inorganic" relates
well to both Kyoko Date and Lara Croft, and there is a discussion of Turing's
description of the Turing test and its relation to gender ("Instead he takes a
detour through another 'imitation game,' based on gender. In this game a man and a
woman are concealed from a questioner, who attempts to determine which of the two
is the man and which is the woman. Turing suggests that the man try to deceive the
interrogator about his gender, while the woman tries to convince the interrogator
that she is in fact a woman. Turing then asks, 'what will happen when a machine
takes the part of [the man] in this game? Will the interpretor decide wrongly just
as often when the game is played like this as he does when the game is played
between a man and a woman? These questions replace our original, "Can machines
think?"'" Foster then relates (potentially) Turing to queer theory. Moments like
these are absolutely wonderful, and I find myself constantly reading into the
book, rather than following it chapter by chapter. The chapters are: Introduction:
Cyberpunk's Posthuman Afterlife, 1. The Legacies of Cyberpunk Fiction: New
Cultural Formations and the Emergence of the posthuman, 2. Meat Puppets or
Robopaths: The Question of (Dis)Embodiment in Neuromancer, 3. The Sex Appeal of
the Inorganic: Posthuman Narratives and the Construction of Desire, 4. Trapped by
the body: Telepresence Technologies and Transgendered performance; 5. The Souls of
Cyberfolk: Performativity, Virtual Embodiment, and Racial Histories, 6. Replaying
the La. Riots: Cyborg Narratives and National Traumas, 7. Franchise Nationalisms:
Globalization, Consumer Culture, and New Ethnicities, and Conclusion: The
Antinomies of Posthuman Thought. (From a distance I question the 'posthuman,' just
as I question 'cyborg,' 'manifesto,' 'theory.' I find myself tending more towards
Penrose and Bohm on one hand, Noh and Buddhism on the other, reconfiguring
histories of industrialization from source materials, thinking through early
history of untamed radio. I still go back to Kittler perhaps. Language tends to
short-circuit otherwise in me, tread paths which appear, but probably aren't,
already too familiar. It's not clear whether philosophy is dead or not or even
what 'philosophy' and 'dead' mean, but it's clear that philosophic machines,
ideological algorithms, deconstructive mechanisms, have already been set into
motion, doing the {therapeutic} work for us. The work that needs to be done, might
be, most likely is, entirely else- where. I've been thinking about chaparral,
avoiding Iran and NK's nuclear arsenals-in-the-making, Bush's and others'
fundamentalist ultraviolence. What is the relation of theory to any of these? Does
it return, resonate internally, shackled with yet another machinic analysis? This
is of course not the case with Foster - parts of the book, for me, are
spell-binding, but the project of the book has raised these questions (unfairly, I
know) in relation to my own attempts to make sense of the world. For I think, no,
know, the world is deeply senseless, causal chains 'hold' only some of the time,
and it's not language but randomness which conceals and congeals the violent. In
any case, there I am, and apologize for this review. I do say, however, that Lara
Croft and The Souls of Cyberfolk are the beginning of a kind of analysis which
both has to break the shackles of current theory and tend towards a sort of
realism that remains all too absent as long as the 'real' (like 'nature' or
'wilderness') remains in quotation marks. We don't have time for this! We are too
small in the cosmos and too strong and greedy in our own befouled nest. Let
freedom ring.)


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