Google-fu at jimmyr.com

jimmyr

Too busy to figure out Google Hacks? Check out the custom Google Search tool at jimmyr.com to quickly refine your searches and locate items based on filetype, subject matter or media category. I’ve been using it to find .pdfs and for casual mp3 searches, and have found that it’s a good way to learn about the many "hidden" parameters available to Google users.

Muxtape

muxtape

Since its launch in March of ’08, Muxtape has become ridiculously popular. I’ve made a mix that you can listen to here. Some background:

There’s nothing like making a mix-tape for that special someone, but when was the last time you actually bought a blank cassette and put in the two hours to actually do it? Or a mix CD for that matter? Well, as the times change and digital slowly snuffs physical media, it’s good to know we can still whip one up. Thanks to Muxtape.com, your mix can be compiled without desperately searching for that lost glue stick. Despite some by-passable restrictions — a 12-song maximum per identity — the service only requires a quick registration before you can dig into your computer’s crates and craft your comp. With a simple yet savvy interface and a flourishing community to trade with, Muxtape makes life easier for that enthusiast looking to share the latest finds or woo a crush. (Exclaim! Magazine)

Transmedia Storytelling 101

Henry Jenkins, head of the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT and founding member of the Convergence Culture Consortium, has shared an excellent list of 10 key concepts in the theory and practice of transmedia storytelling. This is a great starting point for learning and teaching about transmedia, and I’ve quoted it in its entirety here (but make sure to visit Henry’s blog anyway; it’s chock-a-block with great resources and insights):

1. Transmedia storytelling represents a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. Ideally, each medium makes it own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story. So, for example, in The Matrix franchise, key bits of information are conveyed through three live action films, a series of animated shorts, two collections of comic book stories, and several video games. There is no one single source or ur-text where one can turn to gain all of the information needed to comprehend the Matrix universe.

2. Transmedia storytelling reflects the economics of media consolidation or what industry observers call “synergy.” Modern media companies are horizontally integrated – that is, they hold interests across a range of what were once distinct media industries. A media conglomerate has an incentive to spread its brand or expand its franchises across as many different media platforms as possible. Consider, for example, the comic books published in advance of the release of such films as Batman Begins and Superman Returns by DC ( owned by Warner Brothers, the studio that released these films). These comics provided back-story which enhanced the viewer’s experience of the film even as they also help to publicize the forthcoming release (thus blurring the line between marketing and entertainment). The current configuration of the entertainment industry makes transmedia expansion an economic imperative, yet the most gifted transmedia artists also surf these marketplace pressures to create a more expansive and immersive story than would have been possible otherwise.

3. Most often, transmedia stories are based not on individual characters or specific plots but rather complex fictional worlds which can sustain multiple interrelated characters and their stories. This process of world-building encourages an encyclopedic impulse in both readers and writers. We are drawn to master what can be known about a world which always expands beyond our grasp. This is a very different pleasure than we associate with the closure found in most classically constructed narratives, where we expect to leave the theatre knowing everything that is required to make sense of a particular story.

4. Extensions may serve a variety of different functions. For example, the BBC used radio dramas to maintain audience interest in Doctor Who during almost a decade during which no new television episodes were produced. The extension may provide insight into the characters and their motivations (as in the case of websites surrounding Dawson’s Creek and Veronica Mars which reproduced the imaginary correspondence or journals of their feature characters), may flesh out aspects of the fictional world (as in the web version of the Daily Planet published each week by DC comics during the run of its 52 series to “report” on the events occurring across its superhero universe), or may bridge between events depicted in a series of sequels (as in the animated series – The Clone Wars – which was aired on the Cartoon Network to bridge over a lapse in time between Star Wars II and III). The extension may add a greater sense of realism to the fiction as a whole (as occurs when fake documents and time lines were produced for the website associated with The Blair Witch Project or in a different sense, the documentary films and cd-roms produced by James Cameron to provide historical context for Titanic).

5. Transmedia storytelling practices may expand the potential market for a property by creating different points of entry for different audience segments. So, for example, Marvel produces comic books which tell the Spider-man story in ways that they think will be particularly attractive to female (a romance comic, Mary Jane Loves Spiderman) or younger readers (coloring book or picture book versions of the classic comicbook stories ). Similarly, the strategy may work to draw viewers who are comfortable in a particular medium to experiment with alternative media platforms (as in the development of a Desperate Housewives game designed to attract older female consumers into gaming).

6. Ideally, each individual episode must be accessible on its own terms even as it makes a unique contribution to the narrative system as a whole. Game designer Neil Young coined the term, “additive comprehension,” to refer to the ways that each new texts adds a new piece of information which forces us to revise our understanding of the fiction as a whole. His example was the addition of an image of an origami unicorn to the director’s cut edition of Bladerunner, an element which raised questions about whether the protagonist might be a replicant. Transmedia producers have found it difficult to achieve the delicate balance between creating stories which make sense to first time viewers and building in elements which enhance the experience of people reading across multiple media.

7. Because transmedia storytelling requires a high degree of coordination across the different media sectors, it has so far worked best either in independent projects where the same artist shapes the story across all of the media involved or in projects where strong collaboration (or co-creation) is encouraged across the different divisions of the same company. Most media franchises, however, are governed not by co-creation (which involves conceiving the property in transmedia terms from the outset) but rather licensing (where the story originates in one media and subsequent media remain subordinate to the original master text.)

8. Transmedia storytelling is the ideal aesthetic form for an era of collective intelligence. Pierre Levy coined the term, collective intelligence, to refer to new social structures that enable the production and circulation of knowledge within a networked society. Participants pool information and tap each others expertise as they work together to solve problems. Levy argues that art in an age of collective intelligence functions as a cultural attractor, drawing together like-minded individuals to form new knowledge communities. Transmedia narratives also function as textual activators – setting into motion the production, assessment, and archiving information. The ABC television drama, Lost, for example, flashed a dense map in the midst of one second season episode: fans digitized a freeze-frame of the image and put it on the web where together they extrapolated about what it might reveal regarding the Hanso Corporation and its activities on the island. Transmedia storytelling expands what can be known about a particular fictional world while dispersing that information, insuring that no one consumer knows everything and insure that they must talk about the series with others (see, for example, the hundreds of different species featured in Pokemon or Yu-Gi-O). Consumers become hunters and gatherers moving back across the various narratives trying to stitch together a coherent picture from the dispersed information.

9. A transmedia text does not simply disperse information: it provides a set of roles and goals which readers can assume as they enact aspects of the story through their everyday life. We might see this performative dimension at play with the release of action figures which encourage children to construct their own stories about the fictional characters or costumes and role playing games which invite us to immerse ourselves in the world of the fiction. In the case of Star Wars, the Boba Fett action figure generated consumer interest in a character who had otherwise played a small role in the series, creating pressure for giving that character a larger plot function in future stories.

10. The encyclopedic ambitions of transmedia texts often results in what might be seen as gaps or excesses in the unfolding of the story: that is, they introduce potential plots which can not be fully told or extra details which hint at more than can be revealed. Readers, thus, have a strong incentive to continue to elaborate on these story elements, working them over through their speculations, until they take on a life of their own. Fan fiction can be seen as an unauthorized expansion of these media franchises into new directions which reflect the reader’s desire to “fill in the gaps” they have discovered in the commercially produced material. (Henry Jenkins)

See also: Transmedia Entertainment webcast from the Futures of Entertainment Conference.

Gold Farmers doc at LABoral


Regine at We Make Money Not Art interviews Gold Farmers director Ge Jin about his exploration of China’s underground game-labor economy:

Gold farmers have the challenging task of constantly navigating between clandestinity and the need to advertise their service. i suspect that finding and getting the “gold farmers” to talk must have been difficult. how did you locate the players and how did you gain their trust?

It is indeed difficult to get into the exclusive “gold farming” circle. But I was lucky to have an old friend in Shanghai who was running gold farms from 2003 to 2005. This friend introduced me to some gold farm owners. But the reason that the gaming workers/gold farmers trusted me was mainly because I treated them with respect. They face discriminations from non-gamers who see them as game addicts who are losers in real life as well as discriminations from gamers who think they care about more about money than gaming itself. I tried to be a good listener for them and they can see I didn’t approach them with many assumptions.

How much has the phenomenon evolved since you started working on this documentary in 2005 (I think)?

Yes I started following this phenomenon since 2005. I think the market become much more competitive and the profit margin for gold farmers are much smaller now. Meanwhile, more sophisticated services like power-leveling have become the mainstream of real money trade. Also, the domestic demand for in-game goods in China has risen so much that Chinese gold farmers no longer just work in foreign games.

In your documentary, you are neither pointing the fingers to gold farmers and saying “look this is evil!”, neither are you saying that this is kind of labor embodied in play is the best thing that happened to the gaming scene. I had the feeling that you are not taking a stand. Am i right?

You are right that I’m not taking a stand. And I try to let the people involved in real money trade to tell their own stories in my documentary. But I think some of my “biases” do make their way into the documentary. For example, I don’t really care if real money trade changes the regular gaming experience, I’m more concerned with how people’s virtual life and real life affect each other, so you don’t hardly hear the game industry’s point of view in my documentary. (WMMNA)

Glenn Greenwald on "military analyst" story blackout

The Pentagon has posted to its website the roughly 8,000 pages and audio tapes it was forced to provide to the New York Times regarding its “military analyst” program. Anyone who reads through them, as I’ve now done, can only be left with one conclusion (other than being extremely impressed with David Barstow’s work in putting together this story): if this wasn’t an example of an illegal, systematic “domestic propaganda campaign” by the Pentagon, then nothing is.

Despite this, the truly extraordinary blackout by the major television and cable news networks — which were complicit in this program — continues. Howard Kurtz of CNN and The Washington Post previously called this blackout “pathetic”, and yesterday, The Politico published a relatively impressive article further documenting the “deafening silence” from the networks at the center of this story. (Salon.com)

Late Fragment DVD Release

late-fragment
Daryl Cloran, Anita Doron and Mateo Guez’s interactive feature film, Late Fragment, is being featured at the Future of Cinema Salon at the Cannes Film Festival before it gets its DVD release on July 10th. You can check out a brief live demo of the work online at the NFB.

The future of cinema will not be defined by a single direction. Old genres will live alongside new genres. But it is increasingly becoming clear that at least one of these directions will take the form of cinema as some kind of participatory experience, where the audience of one or many may impact how a narrative unfolds itself over space or time. These new forms should not be reduced as simply “choose your own adventure” models but instead should be seen as the coming to life of post-modern preoccupations with multiplicity, diversity, open-endedness, spatial conceptions of self, and story puzzles explicitly expressed through interactive technology.

Late Fragment is an interactive film that lets audiences piece together, both literally and figuratively, the cinematic narrative in front of them. The physical experience is not unlike channel surfing in front of the television, except imagine that each channel presents different scenes from the same story. Sitting on the couch, remote control in hand, audiences can click “enter” on their remote control, and impact the way the story unfolds, sequencing the events of the story depending on when and how often they click “enter.” Late Fragment is like many of the non-linear movies we have come to love including Crash, Short Cuts, and Amores Perros. But with Late Fragment audiences now impact what scene they may get next. (nfb.ca)

Why Nick Bostrom hopes SETI finds nothing

From Technology Review:

The next decade might see a Mars Sample Return mission, which would use robotic systems to collect samples of Martian rocks, soils, and atmosphere and return them to Earth. We could then analyze the samples to see if they contain any traces of life, whether extinct or still active.

Such a discovery would be of tremendous scientific significance. What could be more fascinating than discovering life that had evolved entirely independently of life here on Earth? Many people would also find it heartening to learn that we are not entirely alone in this vast, cold cosmos.

But I hope that our Mars probes discover nothing. It would be good news if we find Mars to be sterile. Dead rocks and lifeless sands would lift my spirit.

Conversely, if we discovered traces of some simple, extinct life-form–some bacteria, some algae–it would be bad news. If we found fossils of something more advanced, perhaps something that looked like the remnants of a trilobite or even the skeleton of a small mammal, it would be very bad news. The more complex the life-form we found, the more depressing the news would be. I would find it interesting, certainly–but a bad omen for the future of the human race. (Technology Review)