A summer double feature to ease us all into the pandemic isolation of New York. Our book pairing turned out to be extremely well aligned in technology, cultural context, and temporal context. The disturbingly dim investigation of human agency in an age of massive data and ubiquitous computation explored in New Dark Age by James Bridle sits well with our current world crisis. Humanity's resistance to the horrors of war and anxiety about the unpredictability of weather kicked off over a century of computation, computerization, and computerization of our lives. We have collectively resigned our culture and daily lives to the data wardens of Google, Amazon, Microsoft and world governments as digitized bio-metrics become a Timothy Morton hyperobject. The book explores many more dark aspects of the insidious nature of technology that is leading to an age of obfuscation and willful ignorance where anything and nothing is real in the simulation. And this is where Exploded View ties in so nicely. A delightful procedural detective story at heart with a massive distributed conspiracy riding underneath. The darkening world painted by Sam McPheeters paints a bizarre near future full of powerful technology, exaggerated class strife, endless amusements, and thermo-nuclear refugees to glue everything together. Reality is completely mutable since it is over-saturated by computation and systems of simulation beyond the conceptual capacity of any individual. Computation is out of control and completely integrated, no one is paying attention and nothing is real, not even your memories.



No more risk of spoilers and the group highly recommended the fun and fast paced story of Exploded View. If you are up for a more disturbing journey into our simulated reality then I do think New Dark Age is a great parallel (I read then side by side over a few weeks, switching back and forth between them to slow down the fun or smooth out the terror). One issue with a double feature is that if not everyone reads both books (there were a lot of availability issues with the pandemic shutdown) then it is hard to have a rich discussion without revealing too much. As the books slowly arrive hopefully everyone can stat to catch up as we move into our next book.


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For July 202 we are reading Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower

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With the important bit out of the way, now we can get on to the fun bits, tv shows, movies, and other media for entertainment consumption. Feed us our realities. That is, if I can find my notes, they have to be around here somewhere, my desk is not that big...


..ah there they are, safely tucked away inside Exploded View, because I like paper books and even remotely I bring them to the meeting in case I want to read a few lines.


We felt that Exploded View had some parity with the 2012 D.R.E.D.D. movie (at least during the Downtown tower raid scene. This was a slight upgrade form the 80s version that led to the masterpiece of Demolition Man, currently showing a strong possibility of predicting our near future.


EV also reminded us of Charles Strauss's Halting State, which we read 7-8 years ago. The ever present integrated tech visor is nothing new, but when Google glass failed to launch it slipped away for awhile. Hardware is making a comeback as computers get smaller and batteries better to allow us to leave the retro steam punch tech modder aesthetic and enter the sleek future we always wanted (or were sold by Apple?).


(thank you for the retro sci-fi deck Paul)


We have also added a movie pairing to our book, though calling it a pairing might be offensive to the book, it is more of a side project. Everyone give Rock-afire Explosion and prepare a 500 word reflection for our next meeting


While that might be a lot of nerdy fun (this is skyfi), we also chose a more serious movie to watch this month.

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Phantasm

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Currently streaming on Amazon Prime


--- Some other movie candidates were:

Captive State

Jurassic Galaxy

Swamp Thing (and the Return)

Stay Tuned

maybe paired with The Running Man


The group agreed that its hard to have commical scifi, some going as far as proclaiming and emphatic NO FUNNY SCI-FI (it just doesn't work to have nerd humor aware of itself, at least not since the 80s). While I didn't love teh movie version of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, the books were a great read back in high school. Plus there is this...

(also from the 80s)

BBC - https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0081874/ - also on Prime


...and maybe Galaxy Quest


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There was a lot of talk about Scandinavian crime dramas (movies, shows, and books), but I wasn't paying too much attention as I was trying to remember the name of the author of the Harry Hole books - Jo Nesbo. I ran through his Oslo detective series a few years back on recommendation of a friend. Fits in well with the Richard K Morgan hard boiled vulnerable hero style. I did grab a few other notes about some things to check out:

Trapped (Iceland)

The Killing (Danish)

Midnight Sun (Swedish) - also a book by Jo Nesbo, but I don't think they are related.


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Everyone seemed to give the new 3rd season of West World two thumbs up. I have a lot of catching up to do since I have only seen the 70s original staring Yule Brenner.


I came across the new telling of H.P. Lovecraft's Color Out of Space staring Nicholas Cage. It is actually a pretty good adaptation and expansion of the original story.

A few more highlights, by my memory is fading and my time is waning.


The Hunt


Chopping Mall


Bloodshot (not fans)

Pitch Black (a classic that kicked off the amazing Riddick series)

I can feel my attention fizzling, but there was another interesting candidate for future reading.

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There There!! by Tommy Orange

(endorsed by Margaret Atwood via twitter - promising)

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That's what I got this time around. I know there was a lot more, but my mind was elsewhere (i''ve been deep diving into consumer computer tech to update myself on the state of PCs - more on that later).


Time to get out of the house and support local bookstores, I am excited for my afternoon walk to The Strand to pick up my copy of Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower.


Read on!


During the Fall '19 and Spring '20 semesters at Pratt I was teaching an architectural design course for NYC high school students to have a taste of what an education in architecture could be like as well as build some skills and portfolio pieces. I was co-teaching the course with Olivia Vien and we decided to focus on exposing the students to common design applications, digital workflows, and fabrication technologies. We made several 2D and 3D design explorations in Rhino3D, translated them into laser cut relief and folding models, and were well on our way to 3D printing some interesting volumetric studies when the Coronavirus pandemic shut everything down. Since the students were dealing with enough in the transition of public school to online learning, we postponed our course and shifted gears to produce two series of instructional videos to offer continued learning and development over the summer. Olivia took on the digital side of our work and I went with the analog drawing and modeling as a way to design at home with whatever you have available. Here are my videos before going through final production with the Pratt K-12 program.


Introduction to the 3 part series and some basic tools and materials to work with. To make it accessible, we are using a minimum load out of scissors, paper, a pencil, tape, and a ruler. Everything starts with sketching and understanding the problem as 2D and 3D geometry.


In part 2 we dive deeper into 2D abstract drawing as a design medium and process. patience and experimentation are key for this, and it is endlessly expandable for any level of skill and experience.


Part 3 translates the abstract 2D studies into 3D form by cutting and folding sheet material (paper). Craft is a big focus here and it takes many iterations to grapple with both the design and way of making. As with the drawing, permutations are limitless and you can expand beyond the cube to explore any solid geometry.


Hopefully this helps a few intrepid young designers develop strong fundamental skills that they can build a rich portfolio of explorations.


Happy making!

Emerging from the black hole of final reviews and the added hustle of wrapping up a semester of challenges I have some time now to get back to this writeup. Luckily I took some notes and already gathered many of the images and references. Just a bit of writing now.


A long gap as the world slowly falls apart and digitally sutures itself back together again into some Frankenstein of AR/VR/NR assemblage of events. The crew joined the virtual meeting flow and came together over Zoom for a couple of drinks from home as we discussed our most recent read, Agency by William Gibson.


Agency is the second book in Gibson's current trilogy, building upon the multi-threaded realities, or stubs, introduced in The Peripheral. In the long gap, several people decided to start with The Peripheral before going into Agency. I feel I probably should have (and will soon) reread it myself after our discussion. The Peripheral is a more complex and driven story as it builds out the near (and slightly further) future with cataclysmic change and significantly advanced technology allowing for the branching of time and reality from past events through computational simulations. The future cast of characters returns in Agency to dig deeper into our more immediate present as autonomous systems and emergent reforming militaristic AI start to transcend the will and understanding of their human creators. The two books live in the same universe but are completely different explorations through the speculative lens. A light (lite) version of time travel based on communication and a multiverse of possibilities. Agency hits much closer to home building a new world from the slight shift in the 2016 US presidential election.

Wheelie - (https://www.doublerobotics.com/pricing.html)


I found Agency most entertaining as an exercise in dialog, primarily between a young tech ware human, Verity, and a rapidly developing synthetic being., Eunice. The well-crafted personality of the AI, built upon the memories and consciousness of a real soldier, adds a rich color to the character that further blurs the distinction between humans and machines. It is often hard to know if the manipulations operated by Eunice are an elaborate hoax of a government or clandestine agency, or truly the laminar structures of a hyper-connected autonomous agent. It is the interaction between Verity and Eunice that forms the emerging identity of the AI. Dialog drives reflection and slows the multi-valent processing to engage with a human agent. Eunice is an abstract representation of a human neural pattern interfaced with myriad platforms of agency and control that allow her to expand into a new being, many and one, with a human interface device and a new concept of self. Interlinked.


Careful who you pick on:


Gibson's gentle tweak to our current technologies opens up a frightening potential for invasion. This subterfuge to our sovereignty that appropriates and transforms our own tools may quickly leave us in the dust. It is never clear if Eunice is benevolent or malevolent or even concerned with those distinctions as she gains greater integration with her self. The emergence of a self-aware computational network with near-limitless (from a human perspective) processing power could perpetrate extreme disruptions and manipulation to agency.



The book is really just the word, Agency, with all its baggage and complexity. Who has it, and when, in what context. I am reminded of the thoughts of Alan Watts or perhaps the wisdom of Buckaroo Bonzai, "Wherever you go, there you are." I hear the discussions of final reviews and project meetings shift to the topic of agency every day. It is something we all search for, forgetting that it is something we always have (or never will). I think it is this point that the book makes most sharply and without every really saying. The pace and tempo keep the reader in expectation of a larger agenda to the plot, the exertion of the author's agency over the reader to build sustenance and surprise. It never quite comes, never quite pulls back the curtain, the question remains ambiguous, the answer elusive. The humans do as they are told because they desire meaning, Euarnice directs from the network with no real desire but autonomy which the humans seem to already have. In the end, everyone is a pawn and an individual, an agent of themselves, legion, and singular. The more we simulate, plan, scenario, and organize the less we see our agency to affect the system, and yet, any time we chose we can surrender to the void.


So, while I agree that The Peripheral is a more exciting and dynamic story, I think that the blurred and ambiguous complexity of Agency is for more thought-provoking and evquietly menacing. It seems that perhaps the cover designer understood this best of all. I look forward eagerly to the third addition to this storyline.


We may be in a Vespasian stub!


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Per usual, we generated a boatload of tangents and misdirections that should help to keep everyone busy in their conception and critical reflection during the summer of social distance.

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GIBSON TRILOGIES Sprawl trilogy: - Neuromancer (1984) * - Count Zero (1986)* - Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988) The Difference Engine (1990; with Bruce Sterling)

Bridge trilogy: - Virtual Light (1993) - Idoru (1996)* - All Tomorrow's Parties (1999)

Blue Ant trilogy: - Pattern Recognition (2003) - Spook Country (2007) - Zero History (2010) The Peripheral (2014)* Agency (2020)*


And if text is not your thing:

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Movies and Television

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Vero's Top Picks:

1. Train to Busan

2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

3. The Thing

And everything Nicolas Cage: Conair Mandy Faceoff


Battle Beyond the Stars


Children of Men


Bad Times at the El Royale

ENVY

28 Days Later

The Beach

Red Dawn (1984)

V for Vendetta

The Fits


Devs

West World Season 3

Altered Carbon Season 2 (still hasn't found the aesthetic of the books)

The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.


We are all very excited for Dune


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Graphic Novels

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Tokyo Ghost - Artist: Sean Murphy


Metabarons - Artist(s): Juan Giménez; Das Pastoras - Written by: Alejandro Jodorowsky


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Norm MacDonald on the Pandemic

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Our next book is actually two books, one SkyFi Detective and the other Non-fiction

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Fiction :: Exploded View by Sam McPheeters

(primarily selected for the headshot)




Non-Fiction :: New Dark Age by James Brindle

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