Monthly Archive for November, 2006

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“Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society” leaks out of Japan…

Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society (close-up)

In the midst of setting final exam questions for a Mass Media Effects course I’m assisting, I chanced upon some online murmurs of a third movie from Masamune Shirow, namely Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. Solid State Society. Ever since the 2nd TV series ended, I haven’t seen or heard much about it. This is a surprise to me, but a delightful one since today marks the day when the third movie gets released on DVD in Japan… and as always, it’s already leaked onto the Internet (e.g. bittorrent), complete with English fansub.

You can catch the trailer here, then watch the whole movie in 12 parts as originally uploaded by a Japanese kid. Needless to say, this YouTube escapade might soon be taken down.

I’ve been a major fan of this sci-fi thriller ever since I laid eyes on the original Ghost in the Shell movie back in 1995. I love how the entire theme takes current trends in our culture and society, then extrapolates it into the future. Issues of identity/nationality in virtuality, cybercrimes vs. real-life crimes, even the meaning of life are all explored.

Having watched both subsequent seasons of its television series entitled “Stand Alone Complex” (S.A.C. 1st & 2nd Gig), I was treated to a second graphically-rich movie entitled Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. Innocence begins with a quotation from Auguste Villiers de l’Isle-Adam’s Tomorrow’s Eve (1886): “If our Gods and our hopes are nothing but scientific phenomena, then let us admit it must be said that our love is scientific as well.” As you can guess, the movie is filled with references to fantasy, philosophy and Zen and addresses aesthetic and moral questions.

I’ve seen anime of all sorts, but nothing has been closer to me than this series. Masamune Shirow’s original manga and anime has inspired most of the cyberpunk thrillers we’ve seen in movies, from The Matrix all the way back to Johnny Mnemonic. Reviewer Lawrence Person wrote a great piece comparing this series with other sci-fi movies we’ve seen in our time so you can find more references on his post.

If you want to get started on the series, look up Wikipedia for a rundown on the three movies so far, as well as the TV episode guide on Yellow Menace. There’s the original GITS manga you could read too, but even I haven’t made it that far yet.

“Launch all browsers and prepare to attack!”

As we got seated at 1.55pm EST today, Peter and I readied our browsers in preparation for our assault on Amazon. In my mind, it felt as it we were doing final inspection on our rifles, making sure everything was set.

I could imagine my commander giving me the order…
“Launch all browsers and prepare to attack! Ready all logins and calibrate for multiple entry points. On my mark, clear your cache and prepare for full refresh on multiple browsers…”

“It’s two o’clock!”, my Mac signaled in it’s pseudo-womanly text-to-speech voice…

Multiple salvos of refreshes were made across our browsers. We didn’t discriminate between Safari, Firefox, Omniweb or Camino… everything was thrown at Amazon in hopes of hitting that elusive Xbox 360 (core) for $100 exactly at 2pm. As Peter explained, whenever we get online deals like that, it’s really hit or miss.

Frankly speaking even before 2pm, we couldn’t even see the web page. As expected, everyone was thinking the exact same thing and many of us were left out in the cold. A few frustrating clicks later, Peter made it through the virtual mob of buyers only to see that there was nothing left. The 1,000 Xbox 360s were gone in less than 10 seconds.

What the hell is Second Life? A Primer.

Over at the popular Singapore aggregator, there was a post about Second Life’s CTO visiting Singapore. In the short description, it described the emergence of Second Life from a financial perspective. To the uninitiated, I felt that this might have given them the impression that this metaverse was simply about making money, so here’s my little primer for anyone trying to explain what this strange thing called Second Life to newbies.

So what the hell is Second Life?
Just to set the record straight, Second Life (SL) isn’t a game. There are no mission, no quests, no experience points to earn. Unlike games like World of Warcraft, you don’t get told what to do…

Think of these MMORPGs as like renting a fully furnished apartment. Everything’s in there and you just need to mix and match items and strategies to navigate your world. Now think of Second Life as like buying an empty house. It’s not much fun when you start out, but you get to ultimately have full control over how you want it to turn out (you make more choices). In other words, SL is fun in a different respect… one where the canvas is larger and one’s creativity is almost unbound.

For most SL residents, it’s an open-ended metaverse where you can interact socially, by meeting new people, attending virtual conferences/concerts/clubs streamed from real-life (RL) or even make hot cyber-love if you’re so willing, just to name a few. I spend most of my time in there exploring the immense world, experiencing both the beautiful and the ugly.

Basic accounts are free and there’s really no reason to pay for it unless you want to earn weekly stipend of Lindens (SL currency) and/or to own land (to build homes, shops, etc). Lindens are the virtual currency for buying all sorts of virtual items (e.g. clothing, gadgets) or services (like in RL).

As you can see from Rinaz’s video, more advanced SL residents own land, build items (e.g. homes) and even make a living virtually as the system supports intellectual property (IP) rights. You can set the level of creative commons you want on items you distribute (free/forsale), including transfer rights, modify rights, copy rights.

For those interested in getting a Second Life but need a starting point, there’s an “SL Singapore” group you can join. Simply search and join the group, or add “Alvin Korvin” as a friend (he’s the group coordinator). I think there were just under 30 members from our previous in-world meetup (see Vantan’s and RamblingLibrarian’s posts).

I personally see these metaverses as the “New Web”. Since Second Life is ever-changing thanks to constantly user-generated content, SL makes the case where it exists as the most feature rich multi-user virtual environment (MUVE) I’ve seen so far. It’s applications have gone into the realm of education, research (e.g. sociology, psychology), business, etc. Still, SL isn’t the “be all end all”. Just as when Mosaic first gave us the means to experience the visual web, I see Second Life as giving us the first glimpse at a tangible online social space. There should be more competition in this genre in time to come.

Before you go, here are some random tidbits related to Second Life…
You Know You’ve Spent Too Much Time In SecondLife When…
Via Intelligirl’s Second Life Education Research blog, this oldie but goodie post tells you ten signs you’ve been spending too much time in Second Life.

Making a One Minute Machinima in Second Life
Electric Sheep Company shares their tips on making a short machinima. Thing is, for a quality video recording, you need quite a bit of hardware…

Explosive public attention for Second Life
As expected from the influx of publications and commercial involvement with Second Life, more people are starting to get curious about this virtual world. I wonder how many stay on vs. drop off SL after trying it…

Vimeo: Ordinal Malaprop’s clips
A good example of machinima used for showing how particular SL items work. Ordinal Malaprop demos some of the items he has for sale in Second Life.

Slick Flickr Browser in Second Life
Siobhan Curran / Kisa Naumova made a slick Flickr browser item for Second Life. Useful for quick presentations.

Today’s Links: Turns your blog into a book…

blurb: Turns blogs to books

At APEC Summit: Guess what President Bush and PM Lee are thinking…

Vietnam APEC Summit 2006

Stranger than fiction… Eagle-eyed MrBig spotted this perculiar photo in this Yahoo News article:

Dressed in traditional ‘ao dai,’ leaders of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) walk to a garden of at the National Convention Center for a group photo session in Hanoi Sunday, Nov. 19, 2006. From front: Peruvian Vice President Luis Giampietri; U.S. President George W. Bush; Russian President Vladimir Putin; Thai Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont; Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong; Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono; and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. (AP Photo/Hoang Dinh Nam, Pool)

While President Bush seems to be putting on his trademark smirk, our Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong seems outstanding for some reason. Do the colors signify anything? Like level of friendship? Isn’t this picture simply begging for your caption?

Spotted On A Singapore Bus: Racial Tension or Drunk Troublemaker?

Indian punches Malay bus driver in Singapore?

First, there was the infamous bus uncle video which brought us closer to Hong Kong (see full story). Now, there’s a pretty violent clip (NSFW) showing an Indian passenger verbally and physically assaulting a Malay bus driver… right in Singapore!

According to Brennan (who uploaded the video captured by a friend), the clip shows an Indian man accusing the Malay bus driver of something (apparently a racial slur) when he actually had no money to pay for the bus fare. After threatening to call the police, the Indian man then proceeds hurl more vulgarities and to punch in the direction of the Malay bus driver, where I believe he was just hitting the wall out of frustration.

A few thoughts about this:

  1. Racial tension in Singapore is uncommon, but it isn’t non-existent. Still, this incident is really an exceptional case.
  2. Camera phones rule. It’s a discreet form of surveillance every citizen should possess.
  3. We still don’t know the full story… why didn’t several passengers step in to help mediate the situation? Did I hear the bus driver still insulting his attacker?

I just hope Singaporeans treat this as an isolated case and nothing more.

Aside: What is it with public transportation and abusive psychos? They seem to have an affinity for one another.

Today’s Links: Gwon Osang’s Amazing Photo Sculptures

Gwon Osang's Photo Sculptures

President Bush gets jeered by university students in Singapore

Caucasian girl gets questioned for protest umbrella @ NUS

It’s not everyday that you get President Bush visiting our tiny country, and it just so happens that it’s not everyday you see people actually protesting in Singapore. Thanks to Agagooga (and Elia Diodati), we get to see what happened at the National University of Singapore (NUS) when Bush dropped by to give his speech. Apparently someone organized a heckling session outside the NUS Cultural Center via FaceBook (smartmobbing!) which looked something like this:

Name: Bush Heckling
Tagline: Because he’s here, and we’re not allowed to!
Type: Causes – Protest

Time and Place
Date: Thursday, November 16, 2006
Time: 2:30pm – 8:00pm
Venue: University Cultural Center (Yusof Ishak House is probably the closest we can get)

Bush is giving a speech at NUS on Thursday at the UCC and I dont particularly want him here…and I’m sure neither do you.

Come join the fun as we try to avoid getting arrested by the Singapore Police for protesting, shot by the Secret Service for insulting “the man” and expelled for breaking some school rule that probably prohibits gatherings of more than 1.5 people for anything other than accademic reasons.

If you’re wondering what’s going on in the photo above, the female student gets questioned by the police for her perculiar umbrella. If you can’t make out what it says, you can find more photos, as well as videos, over at Agagooga’s blog. Heck, you can play the “Spot-the-ISD agents” game while you’re at it!

Nothing “virtual” about virtual crimes…

The CopyBot incident in Second Life has renewed interest on the impact of virtual crimes in real life. This becomes especially dramatic when you consider how more virtual economies are now tied to real world economies (e.g. LindeX, Virtual Currency Chart). In essence, as Wired magazine noted back in Jan 2004, virtual cash breeds real greed.

So far we’ve seen Linden Labs handle this from both a legal (ToS violation) as well as architecture (programming code) perspective. According to Lawrence Lessig’s Code and other Laws of Cyberspace, these two actions account for both Law and Architecture. The two other bounding factors in cyberspace include Norms and Market. Norms can be seen in how Second Life residents feel about the issue and take action against it (e.g. protests, using defensive scripts). However, the Market isn’t in favor of the general populace since it’s what motivates unscrupulous residents to use CopyBot for personal gains.

On the Second Life Educators Mailing List, some residents wanted Linden Labs to take a more proactive approach about this. They said that we should learn from previous experiences, even from other MMORPGs, to figure out how such issues were dealt with instead of wasting time deliberating about it. There were similar cases of course… On July 2005, CmdrTaco of Slashdot reported a duping bug found in the World of Warcraft game where items (e.g. gold, rare items) could be endlessly duplicated (see screenshot). Instructions on how to dupe items were released but this bug was eventually fixed by the developers at Blizzard. Note that Blizzard owns the intellectual property (IP) of the entire game, and thus can take drastic measures to control the game. In Second Life though, the case involves an open-source software, but more importantly, since IP is granted to resident builders in the metaverse, a more democratic (read: careful) approach was needed.

Aside from Second Life, I believe that part of the reason why virtual crimes are getting more prevalent might be due to how society in general strongly perceives the connotation of “virtual” as “not real”. In the Intro to Internet class I guest lectured at today, many undergrads still perceived gamers / residents as having no life. They felt that since there’s no real physical money involved (e.g. American dollar, gold), no one was going to take such crimes seriously and that we should simply blame online residents for being so naive. As you can see, the “not real” aspect causes a lot of social problems… in most cases, even to the stigmatization of online victims.

On the point of online residents / gamers as having “no life”, we should first remember that everyone has the right to their own individual interests. Recall that the reason why most of us have personal hobbies would be purely under uses and gratification. In other words, we are what we do. While someone spending $1,000 to build beautiful model trains might be respectable in real life, someone spending a similar amount to buy and develop a beautiful island in Second Life should be given the same respect too.

In light of metaverses having no physical equivalent of money, Kumagoro made a priceless quote on Slashdot when he/she said, “[k]eep in mind that our economy is completely virtual too. Money is just a promise from the government that this particular peice of paper or hunk of metal is worth something useful. Our “real world” isn’t as “real” as many people choose to believe.”

In a world where we often oversimplify things (e.g. war = good vs. evil?), we have yet to learn how to see the grey areas in between. Virtual isn’t as fake or unreal as we think anymore… we’re starting to see an imminent convergence between our real and online world. We simply have to be prepared to face the challenges that come along with this next wave.

CopyBot Related Links:
Video: LibSecondLife Clone Demo (as shown above)
Video: CopyBot Protest in Second Life
New World Notes: Copying A Controversy
SLexchange: Anti-CopyBot items

Metaverse Crime Related Links:
The SL Herald: New Crimes, New Punishment
Virtual crime present literal challenge for real life police
New Scientist: Computer characters mugged in virtual crime spree
Second Life Police Blotter

Those damn Playstation 3 mobs: Who’s to blame?

PS3 line @ Target

Thanks to the incredible photographic talent of my co-pilot (joking!), we got a shot of the Sony Playstation 3 line outside our local Target store. You might not be able to tell much from it, but unlike the other cities, Buffalo’s PS3 mob was rather peaceful, if not tamed by comparison.

Perusing Technorati for real-time citizen reports on the PS3 situation, I’ve seen all kinds of nastiness happening… from lines being robbed at gun point, to being pletted by BB pellets (hitting a TV news reporter as well), to a riot with cops tossing people away from the store, and even a young staffer name-dropping Senator Edwards just to get one at Walmart!

Corey Clayton, an online journalist for the Lancaster New Era, has been keeping a crime watch relating to the PS3 lines across the nation on his blog called Hard Drive Life. With eBay auctions for PS3 going as high as $10,000 (higher ones mostly bogus / revenge-motivated), you can see why so many people are clamoring for one.

Yet I don’t know who to blame for all this madness…
The mobs of people for exhibiting the worst kinds of behavior due to greed?
Or Sony for bad planning resulting in limited supplies for an exhorbitant game console, creating marketing hype and overblown demand?

For the entire North America, Sony confirmed 400,000 PS3s for the US launch. If you think that’s retarded, guess how many countries like Taiwan will be getting… five hundred (Thanks Peter!).