“News” is a generous term. This is where I keep occasional track of projects, conferences, conversations, ideas (of mine, of others), news, rumors, gossip, and events related to my research interests in digital culture, science fiction, environmental practice, electronic literature, digital art, the history of science, the concept of nature, and many other weird and wonderful things under the sun.
The MLA was a jam-packed extravaganza. My panels went well, I met lots of neat people, and I got to see many amazing people that I don’t get to see nearly enough; I also learned lots of new stuff about online games, OCR, phonographic audio-books from the Victorian period, Thoreau, code, and the evolution of microfiche. But my favorite part of the conference occurred at around 10:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, in panel #486. It was at this point that Mikhail Gershovich demonstrated to a crowd of many the pedagogical potential of MaKey MaKey by using the kit to control his computer with…wait for it…a banana. Yes, a banana. The MLA has reached new heights.
We recently checked out “The Art of Video Games,” on tour from the Smithsonian. It was a blast! Not only did we get to play old arcade favorites and wax nostalgic about the home entertainment systems of our bygone youths (hello, ColecoVision!), we also got to see some games that departed familiar gaming conventions (i.e., the first-person shooter, the quest-oriented adventure, the OCD creature that needs to consume (or touch) everything in its path). I enjoyed the whole exhibit, but I particularly enjoyed playing ThatGameCompany’s Flower for PS3. There’s no object to the game, really. You “play” the wind and as the wind you blow through different environments, picking up flower petals along the way. It’s a gorgeous game. You get to be the wind. You get to participate in an (albeit simulated) eco-system. You get to move your whole body, not just your wrists and fingers. I enjoyed how I felt when I played it: I could lean into it, bend away from it, glide and drift with it. I didn’t feel anxious or tense (the way I can sometimes feel in games in which I am chased) when I played it. Instead, I felt relaxed and a little dizzy, like I’d been flying.
Last night we went to the Jaffe Center for Book Arts here at FAU and heard an amazing talk by Matthew Reinhart, the fiendishly clever paper engineer (aka pop-up *master*) and author of some of my favorite contemporary pops: The Pop-up Book of Nightmares, The Pop-up Book of Phobias, etc. The entire event was a treat. In keeping with the theme, the folks at the Jaffe Center served popcorn, soda-pop, and m&ms in little boxes stamped with the word “pop!” on them. Reinhart told us his story about how he came to be a pop-up master and showed us some of his techniques. It was mind-blowing. I had no idea that everything was made by hand–all the way up to and through production. Reinhart showed us how he drafts his works–first by sketching, then by making paper, then by tracing, folding, sculpting, and more sculpting. It was fascinating to watch. It rekindled my love of paper and books (as if this needed rekindling) and made me want to try making pop-ups of my own. Fantastic stuff!
I’ve been re-reading Oryx and Crake for my Science Fiction and Environmentalism class at FAU. Atwood’s an amazing writer—lyrical, funny, smart. But I was more disturbed this time around by the Pigoons than I was the first time I read the book. Maybe because I’ve been thinking much more about animal intelligence these days. I’m not sure. But they horrified me on a visceral level, which is odd, because I remember thinking before that they seemed almost silly. And then this morning I read about the enviropig project in Canada, which aimed to genetically engineer a pig that would not produce as much phosphorous in its droppings as normal pigs do. The funding for enviropig has just been cut, but I wonder how much press it got when Atwood was writing the book.
I’m having a hard time getting my head around this weird, misguided proposal. As much as I love science fiction, the thought of giraffes, zebras, and rhinoceroses roaming through the Everglades due to some human error (happens all the time) or as a consequence of a natural disaster (again—this is Florida—it happens all the time) is an unwelcome one. When we were in college in Sarasota, a bunch of parrots got loose from Jungle Gardens during Hurricane Andrew. They did really well. And while it was oddly cool to see their bright green and yellow bodies take wing, they became a raucous and invasive airborne street gang. And let’s not forget the pythons. Oh boy.