Thank You for Smoking

I’ve just watched the film Thank You for Smoking. It’s a light entertaining movie that almost ever reader of mine must have seen already, since it came out last year. I simply missed it at that time—unfortunately, because it is a very funny film. The uncomplicated moral of the film is that taking responsibilities is more important than paying the mortgage and it contains some very good observations about rhetorics. It’s perhaps a good idea to combine this film with The Insider to a double-feature movie night.

Best novel I’ve ever read

Yesterday I finished Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Pale Fire and I have to admit: I’m flabbergasted! This novel is without doubt one of the best novels I’ve ever read! First of all, it is the final reckoning with literary critique and scholarship and it is a really well constructed novel which is written in a way that it can never become a movie. The novel consists of a foreword, an “heroic” poem of 999 lines (by the imaginary writer John Shade) and a scholarly commentary to the poem (by the unreliable narrator  and scholar Charles Kinbote. Perhaps, this sounds boring to you, but in the commentary a totally different story is told which turns out to have something of a thriller. Why there is such a story (only) within the notes will become evident in the last commentary to the poem. I shall refrain from writing a spoiler, because you really have to read it yourselves!

The construction of the novel is really very special, although it remains highly readable throughout. I have said that it is the final reckoning with literary critique and scholarship, but it gives even literature itself a hard time. And it is very critical with the US and Old Europe (as usual in Nabokov’s novels). After reading Lolita and Pnin, I didn’t really become a fan of Nabokov’s writing (although at least Pnin isn’t bad either), but Pale Fire was a revelation for me. It is no surprise that the novel figures in the Random House lists of the 100 best novels.

LinuxTag bag

Linux-Tag bag

Due to my anger about Flickr’s censorship (which still annoys me), this post comes a bit late. Actually, I wanted to write about the last LinuxTag, which (finally) found its way to Berlin, but I think it’s too late to write a lengthy article about it. So a brief summary this year’s LinuxTag must suffice: the most attractive project for me was OpenStreetMap, whereas FreeBSD had the most attractive people. 🙂 And enjoy this pic of a LinuxTag bag, which I took inspired by the BoNY photoblog, powered by Jonathan.

Second Thoughts on Second Life

About a week ago, a friend of mine from the Chaos Computer Club introduced me to the hypy avatar chat community Second Life (SL). It took me some time to get into it, because I had to get used to moving my avatar through the virtual worlds of Second Life, in order to find interesting places, but in the meantime I feel at home in the SL universe and started to read some articles about the phenomenon. Strikingly enough, I found a number of misconceptions even among secondlifers, and the wider public seems to be particularly ill-informed. This may be due to Linden Lab’s sensationalist information policy (understandable with regard to investors) and the less understandable predilection of journalists for magnified and distorted information from cyberspace.

Second Life is not a virtual economy

Randolfe from Capitalism 2.0 has thoroughly analyzed the financial and internal economic implications of Second Life (with predictions on future developments). What is going on within SL is what Randolfe rightly labels “The Linden Dollar Game”. It is just a game with concepts of real-life economy where―as in real life—hazard and fraud play an important role. Such a game may even be funny, as long as one doesn’t expect to get money out of it. Unfortunately, Linden Lab and certain journalists present matters quite differently.

That doesn’t mean that it is impossible to make money with SL, but of course this happens in the real economy: Since SL is a popular platform, people who want to advertise and sell products in the real economy should be present in the virtual world as well. Programmers and skilled virtual designers can create virtual branches, agencies and stores within SL and get paid with real money. But again: this is part of “first life” economy and by no means a separate virtual economy.

Second Life is not a game

In Randolfe’s articles SL is considered a game, and I mentioned the economic game above, but SL as a whole is not a game. Normally, I would define game as a goal-oriented and rule-governed interaction between people (this is a very broad definition, other criteria, such as playfulness, break-off possiblity, conventions etc. may be added). The rules of SL are too general to be considered rules of a game and there is no common goal, nor even a set of common goals, that every participant of SL strives for. The “Linden Dollar Game”—though important—is one game out of many. SL is just a platform where people get into contact and interact, and most of the SLers that I have met (virtually and in real life) take no interest in the “Linden Dollar Game”. I would even go as far as calling SL a fancy-graphic chat room.

Second Life is cybersex

I’m pretty convinced that cybersex is one of the main attractions of Second Life and therefore an important factor for its success. Recently, a German lawyer concluded that engaging in cybersex in Second Life can be punished as making pornography accessible to people under the legal age. For something to qualify as pornographic, it has to be sexually arousing, but the avatars in SL are less arousing than explicit drawings in public toilets. The eroticism of Second Life comes from the conversation between people (and I know what I’m talking about—thanks to Kip, Flori and Enrique, you were great!). I wonder how such conversations can be forbidden. If the telephone had been invented only now, German “youth protection” would certainly try to prohibit phone sex, perhaps even normal phone calls, because they could potentially convey pornographic content to people under the age of 18, who should not be allowed to touch a telephone! And even under the present circumstances, I wouldn’t wonder if it is forbidden to imitate animal sounds while having phone sex.

Don’t underestimate Second Life!

Although I maintain that SL is just a platform for chatting, trading, having (mostly virtual) sex, playing games etc., I am pretty sure that it will be more and more successful: people advertising and selling goods through Second Life will make a lot of money (in real-life economy). In the end, Second Life or future similar platforms may substitute the World Wide Web, or the World Wide Web will at least be similar to a Second-Life derived platform. I wouldn’t be surprised to find a Second-Life client integrated into Apple’s iPhone.

Don’t overestimate Second Life!

From a technical point of view, Second Life is not much more than a multi-media web browser with fancy animations, a built-in chat and instant messaging modules. SL simply is the vanguard of a technical development that will change our habits of using the World Wide Web, but it will neither redistribute wealth nor create a new economy.

2006 favorites

Since I bought a PowerBook, which I started to use on January 1st, 2006, I immersed myself into the world of podcasting and multimedia, although I didn’t succeed in producing my own podcast (with one exception thanks to Tim). Interestingly enough, I managed to watch a lot of movies and to read some books too, although 2006 was a fairly busy year. Here is the shortlist of the best I came across:

Rebecca Horn & Month of Photography

On Saturday, I went to see the Rebecca Horn exhibition at Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin. I was a bit disappointed by what I saw: surprisingly, Rebecca Horn’s art struck me as somewhat outdated. It reminded me of past documenta exhibitions. I couldn’t help feeling that this was art of a past generation which has lost its impact. The feeling was corroborated by the almost total absence of significantly younger people in the exhibitions, which is peculiar in Berlin.

Afterwards, I went to the two photo exhibitions at the same place. They were part of the Month of Photography that took place in Berlin, Bratislava, Luxembourg, Moscow, Paris, Rome, and Vienna (I already wrote about it in November). I was lucky to see these exhibitions, because the closed on Sunday.

The Hamburg art initiative klubfoto showed pictures (and texts) under the title berühmt (‘notorious’). The photos were quite different in (artistic and technical) quality, but most of them were funny. Of course, a group that calls itself “klubfoto” is obviously interested in campy art.

Under the title Mutations I the organizers of the Month of Photography had selected works of young artists from the participating capitals. As far as I understood they had to undergo a double selection process on the local/national and on the international level. The resulting selection was impressive. Especially, the contributions from Berlin, Bratislava, Moscow, and Vienna impressed me very much. Especially, in Eastern Europe young photo artists come up with really new and promising ideas! And the other contributions weren’t bad either – with the exception of Luxembourg, but Luxembourg is simply too small and provincial to have a thriving art scene comparable to that of Moscow, Paris and so on.

It’s a pity that the traditional Long Museum Night won’t take place at the end of January, as it used to be until last year. I hope they will revive the tradition in summer, since that is always a good occasion to take a look at what is going on in the art world.

Wilt & IPCRESS

I started the new year more or less in bed, because I had caught a bad flu. As a good civil servant I was ill precisely during my New Year holidays. Although I had different plans, I spent most of the time in bed which wasn’t too bad, since I could catch up with some reading. Unfortunately, I couldn’t concentrate very much, so I had to stick to light reading. So I finished Tom Sharpe’s novel Wilt which managed to cheer me up quite a bit. The book is very British and quite funny. Sharpe knows how to build a very witty plot, and it’s especially funny for people who work in a teaching profession and like absurd situations. Of course, you have to like the British sense of Humour (spelt in the British way).

There is a (seemingly mediocre) film version of Wilt on the market. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get hold of it. I saw another example of British cinema instead: The IPCRESS file, which ranks among the 50 Films to See Before You Die. The film is funny enough and certainly more intelligent than the average James Bond movie (cf. review), although I wouldn’t rank it that high. One can live and die without having watched it.

All in all, I’m not so sure about the 50 films in the list. Perhaps, I’ll try Breakfast Club, which I don’t know either, or wait for further recommendations…

23rd Chaos Communication Congress

As hukl has already stated, there is too much to report about the 23c3. If you haven’t been there, start with the movie Brazil which is at the origin of the Congress motto „Who can you trust?“. You can take a look at the Congress Blog, the Press Review, and the Photo Documentation. Don’t miss the 23c3 pics on flickr. And what is more: the Congress videos will be out very soon (actually, low-quality versions have already leaked through).

Here are some personal impressions:

  • From an organizational point of view the Congress was very smooth. Everything worked well. There were some minor internet problems, esp. on day 2, but on the whole the network did what it was supposed to do and provided high-speed internet access.
  • The program committee did a good job, because the conference program was really good. Since there were four parallel tracks and a Workshop track, there were always something interesting on the Congress schedule. Fortunately, there will be the conference videos to watch the lectures I missed. Actually, I took advantage of the Congress TV, in order to zap between lectures.
  • My personal highlights were:
    • The Konrad Zuse live feature: Again Constanze’s live-feature group presented a very interesting audio-visual feature on a pioneer of computer science.
    • The linguistic fingerprint: Just an overview lecture: It would have been better without the historical approach, and the part about source code fingerprinting, since that is a totally different subject, but I liked the lecture, because it was very stimulating.
    • Honk’s lecture on card data security.
    • Amit Singh’s lecture on TPM, which was biassed (Jake Appelbaum’s question made the point), but interesting nonetheless, since it gave some insight into the internal functioning of Mac OS X.
    • Udo Vetter’s very funny and informative lecture on house searching which was parallel to another interesting lecture on Pr0n by Tina Lorenz. Thanks to the video streaming, I could follow both. 🙂
    • The talk on Pod Journalism was another highlight! I still have to watch the full video version which I have just looked into so far.
    • Last but not least, I have to mention my own contribution which was fun, at least for the people on stage and hopefully for the audience too.
  • The main point of the event is of course the overall atmosphere. I spent much time at the speakers’ lounge, because I took part in the speakers’ support team (in German: Konferenzleitung). That is a great place to meet new and interesting people. I had lots of fascinating chats with people from all over the world. It’s always the right place to be, although it has become a bit small for the great number of lectures who need help.

Popular Music from Vittula, Donnie Darko

Last night I watched two very interesting movies: The first one was a Swedish film with the title: Populärmusik frân Vittula. It takes place in the North of Sweden near the Finnish border and is about two boys who grow up there and try to set up a Rock’n’Roll band. The film is very funny, although it is about the horrors of growing up in a remote village.

The second film Donnie Darko is somewhat similar: it has an even more horrible setting: suburbia and a wonderful sound track (albeit of a different style). First of all, I was quite reluctant to watch this film, because the DVD cover reminded me of a horror movie, but I was wrong! Fortunately, hukl talked me into watching the movie and I liked it very much! Jake Gyllenhaal’s acting is superb, and the story is fascinating. It comes as no surprise that the film is among the best 250 films on imdb and has reached cult status even in Germany.

I wasn’t sure whether I liked the ending of the film, but the more I think about it the better it gets, because there is a certain circularity in the whole plot and, as my readers know, I like non-linear plots. The story shares similarities with The Butterfly Effect, because both are about time travel; Donnie Darko, however, leaves more questions unresolved. Fortunately, there is a helpful FAQ on the net, which I recommend after you have watched the film at least twice.