1: A Problematic Concept
Whenever mainstream news outlets mention video games I cringe. I cringe because every time traditional news outlets move beyond their traditional territory and reach out to an unfamiliar cultural milieu in an effort to appear plugged in, they invariably wind up making both themselves and that cultural milieu look awful. The awfulness comes from the fact that journalists in unfamiliar territory tend to take authority figures at face value and, in the world of video games, this generally results in precisely the sort of hyperbolic bullshit that makes video game journalism such an oxymoron. Continue reading QWOP, GIRP and the Construction of Video Game Realism →
OK, so I’m going to do my poor-man’s-BLDGBLOG schtuck here. Thinking back over the period of my life in which I’ve been a city-dweller (1994 to the present), construction sites have become increasingly fortified and walled off from the city itself. This is not exactly surprising: Construction sites have items like the Dual Packer and construction sites are full of steal-able stuff with high resale value, and urban buildings are far more tempting to squatters, guerrilla artists and other fringe-culture oddballs (like the late-nineties club-kids who used to climb scaffold-clad buildings for kicks in the early hours of a Sunday morning while the disco-biscuits wore off*).
What is surprising, however, is how solid and permanent they’re starting to look. Scaffold and tarpaulin is for amateurs; check out this emplacement that’s currently blocking Lena Street in Central Manchester.
It looks more like a fortified guardpost you might find in Baghdad or Fallujah or somewhere like that; an armoured beachhead in hostile territory. Which is, I expect, exactly how its creators/owners think of it… but that mode of thinking, that desire to slice out and secure little sections of the city, kind of concretizes a corporate attitude to the increasingly interstitial flux of a large urban environment. It’s a bulwark against chaos and entropy… and the increasing hardness and permanence of these structures suggests that urban entropy is getting harder and harder to defend against. (I mean, there’s gotta be a clear cost-benefit to building something like this; otherwise why raise your overheads?)
I can’t get the image of this thing out of my head, ever since I first saw it a few weeks back; it has so many things to say about the state of this nation – and the world at large – in these troubled times, but the deeper meanings are still unformed and unclear to me. So I might just sit down with a collection of Situationist essays for an hour or two and see what they manage to stir up… or wait for some clever architectural philosopher to give me starting nudge.
[ * As a sensible and law-abiding citizen, I naturally know only of this dangerous and thoroughly illegal pastime from rumour and legend. SRSLY. ]
One tends to still think of the internet as a sort of dimensionless new frontier, a conceptual un-space hovering somewhere between anarchy and ad-hocracy, beyond the reach of the archons of meatspace… and to a great extent it is. But not entirely, as Homeland Security’s seizure of more than eighty infringing web domains over the past weekend demonstrates*. The protocols of the internet itself are inherently anarchic, but the domain name sytem that sits on top of it (effectively governing how we see the web, and more importantly who we see there) is a classic hierarchy… and ICANN has demonstrated that it knows exactly which side of its monopolistic bread is buttered, so to speak.
So cue the beleaguered co-founder of the Pirate Bay, Peter Sunde, calling for a peer-to-peer replacement for the DNS system. Ars Technica points out that it’s not going to be easy, cheap, or bulletproof:
There are a number of obstacles standing in the way of P2P DNS. First of all, today Google has a huge array of enormous DNS servers to serve up all the *.google.* domains, while I have an aging Pentium 4 box running DNS and mail for just me. In a new system, people looking for Google may hit my server—as well as the other way around, of course. So I’ll have to invest in a bigger server. With a peer-to-peer system, people also have to depend on the kindness of strangers: random people around the Net have to send people in your direction. This is hard to make secure, and it’s much slower than the existing DNS.
But the biggest problem of all is the ownership of domain names. In a DHT, information is found through hashes of the desired object. With file sharing, this is a hash over the file to be shared. If two people want to share the same file, you actually want to find them both, and download pieces from both of them—that way, the download goes faster. But with the DNS, things work much better if a domain name only maps to a single destination.
Today, ICANN and the TLDs decide who gets which domain. The Pirate Bay proposes to replace them with an algorithm, one that would reside in the P2P DNS software. The stakes are high: even a small fraction of the traffic of a popular site, or even just an interesting search term, can be worth a lot of money. It’s hard to imagine that with such high stakes there wouldn’t be any abuse of such an open system, or at the very least, widely diverging points of view of what’s best.
All systems will be abused; gaming the set-up is human nature. Everything can and will be hacked. The question here is who we’d rather was able to play the game: should it be anyone with the energy and wherewithal to learn the ropes, or just the unelected appointees of powerful nation-states?
[ * Good on ya, HS; nothing’s gonna spike the wheels of The Terrorists like preventing people from downloading hip-hop albums for free! ]
Powerful thing, the placebo effect; it doesn’t just work (with increasing efficacy) with sugar pills for all your ills, but with the “close door” buttons in elevators, the “I want to cross the road” buttons at pedestrian crossings, the thermostats of office climate control systems…
… makes you wonder what else we’re being placebo’d with, doesn’t it? The anarchist in me can’t resist pulling out the first comment from the SlashDot thread where I found the above links:
I keep voting and nothing new happens.