Category Archives: Section I

Food for thought…

The De Landa reading this week reminded me of this.

I think that comparing new media technologies to technologies of nuclear warfare is pretty legitimate.  In the above, it is mentioned that it is feasible to protect our country with a barrier that will prevent nuclear weapons from hitting us.  However, the consequence of creating such technology would also yield technology able to create nuclear weapons more powerful than we could possibly imagine.  When, for the sake of mankind, do we need to stop technological advances… and is it too late to do such?

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The Ideology of Software

Today, software helps foster the idea that computers are visual and transparent.  Software creates visual interfaces of desktops and folders.  It is transparent in a way that makes the computer readable codes into said desktops and folders.  Software allows for the invisible (the computer readable codes) to become visible (visual interfaces) and also renders the visible to become invisible (all the users and programmers see is what is presented by the software on the monitor).

Before software existed, in the 1940s, human operators participated in direct programming, “making connections, setting switches, and inputting values” (28).  In order to decrease programming time, John von Neumann suggested the switch to store-program computers, eliminating the need to rewire the machines every time to run a new program.  This switch to store-program computers was largely reliant on women.  There presumption that the role of women in computation can be replaced by machines.  However, most operators were young women, like the member of the Women’s Royal Naval Service, with mathematic background.  To say these women follow the commands repetitively like a computer blindly follows a program is unfair.  Women operators must put together the instructions, interpret and learn from previous commands.

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Erroneous Assumptions

War Games

During the days of the Cold War the danger of nuclear proliferation by the hands of the “Red” Soviets weighed heavy over those within the United States Army and the United States government. The impending threat of an nuclear attack and/or war lead to the movement for the monitoring and prediction of enemy military plans by calculation and record of all options within a possible military attack. This threat lead to the eventual research, development and implementation of what is termed in De Landa’s article as war games.

 Two war theoreticians named Jomini and Clausewitz would rise to prominence within this area based of off the strategic military history of Napoleon. Jomini argued for a total elimination of any sources of friction (friction within this article means “any event or circumstance that may upset the implementation of the military plan” ) , and advocated the view of war as an endeavor ruled by “eternal laws”, which did not include the need for political maneuvering. In contrast Clausewitz argued that war did adhere to certain general guidelines or rules, however it included a political view of the military situation which enabled a strategy that could better deal with friction and could be easily manipulated to the situations unique factors. Despite the actual proof of the validity of war games from the Clausewitz’s approach, as witnessed in Helmuth von Moltke’s strategies during the Franco-Prussian war, Jominian theories prevailed due to Sheiflen’s leadership in World War I, and lead to the foundation of the current war game models first devised during the 1950s.

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War Games and the End of the World

In this section of War in the Age of Intelligent Machines, Manuel de Landa recounts the role of modern war games in predicting military conflict. When modern war games first came into being, there were two theories of how these games should be played  to accurately predict battles. There was the theory of Jomini: war as a purely military concern, governed by a set of eternal laws that act as the basis of the game.  There was also the theory of Clausewitz: war as an extension of politics with outside factors such as friction and fear, taken into account. In the end, it was Jomini’s theory that became the basis of modern war games.

De Landa suggests that war games consist of two components:  hardware and software. The hardware component consists of a model of a stretch of terrain or a map. The software component consists of a relatively rigid set of rules that represent the laws of warfare, as suggested by Jomini.

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Catalysts of Modern Computing

The modern computer, capable of handling countless operations as well as various forms of “new media,” has come a long way, owing much of its progress to three distinct developmental drivers.  In this post I hope to touch upon the key points within each of these drivers.

1. Boolean logic and physical form

DeLanda begins his story of the development of computing with a look at the “abstract machine,” an idea that allows us to begin to transfer the power of the human mind to physical machine.  An “abstract machine,” he explains, is self driven and powered by the differences of the mechanisms that run it.  These machines are essentially powered by the flow of energy between two combined entities that existed in different states. Continue reading

Into the Old World…

In the beginning God created the Heavens and the earth; then he created humans so that we may forever praise his glory. Then humans decided to ever follow the image of God and have their own sycophants. Thus, humans expressed their interest to simplify their lives through new creations, specifically through technology.

It is impossible to describe computers before defining the term new media. What is new media? New media is to put simply, the “shift of all culture to computer-mediated forms of production, distribution, and communication.” Most of the people, as well as the generation that will be born from now on will take all this for granted. But yes, there was a time when the advent of technology was nothing more than daguerreotype or the printing press (these items forever changed the world).

So, the focus transitions towards what happened that led to the new media, to a brave new future full of promises and technological advancement we only usher in whispers by watching Star Trek or Star Wars. Before new media and the convergence of almost everything to computer-mediated forms, there existed…The Old World and The Old Media.

Before media converged, it was actually two separate entities. Louis Daguerre developed daguerreotype, the first form of camera, on August 19, 1839. Thus began the media stage of development. In 1833, Charles Babbage commenced the design of a device called “the Analytical Engine,” capable of “doing any mathematical operation; not only would it follow the program fed into it by cards, but it would also decide which instructions to execute next, based on intermediate results.” The Analytical Engine was the first computer, using punch cards to enter data and instructions, a memory for storage, a processing unit to compute the data, and even a printer to print the results. Babbage borrowed the idea of punch cards from J.M. Jacquard, inventor of a loom “that was automatically controlled by punched paper cards.”

In January of 1893, Thomas Edison designed “Black Maria,” the first movie studio, which allowed photographs to be put into motion. Two years later Lumiere brothers “showed their new Cinematographie camera/projection hybrid.” Eventually, movies became longer and further development occurred, allowing for movie going experience as well as intricate movie development and editing. In the 1890s, Herman Hollerith designed an electric tabulating machine to assist in data collection. Hollerith’s Tabulating Machine Company merged with three other companies and in 1914, IBM was born.

Moving into the twentieth century, in 1936, Alan Turing wrote “On Computable Numbers,” which described and laid the foundations of the modern computer. He invented the “Universal Turing Machine,” capable of four operations and can perform “any calculation that could be done by a human and imitate any other computing machine.” The machine operated by reading and writing numbers on tape. During this century, inventors of cinema used strips of celluloid to store information while inventors of computer stored it “electronically in a binary code.” During the same year that Turing wrote his masterpiece, a German engineer, Konrad Zuse, began to build a computer. This is the first “working digital computer.” One interesting aspect is Zuse’s use of discarded 35 mm movie film, a tape, to control computer programs. In essence, a binary code punched over the original content of the movie film.

We can see that slowly but surely, over those years, media and computers developed in parallel courses only waiting to converge through a system of codes. The turning point was witnessed in the twentieth century as Turning’s and Zuse’s machines fused these separate entities (media and computer) into one identity. Thus, ends the separate paths of cinema and computer. As very conveniently put by Manovich, “media and computer – Daguerre’s daguerreotype and Babbage’s Analytical Engine, the Lumiere Cinematographie and Hollerith’s tabulator – merge into one.” Before new media, the old world provided the necessary development and evolution to accommodate the continuous change towards advancements in technology. The computer became the medium to new media: information is accessed through the computer. All media are translated into a numerical language easily computed by the computer. As media is converging, we must now question whether this is a blessing or a disaster waiting to happen.

New Media vs. Old Media

Lev Manovich’s “The Language of New Media” delves into the intricacies of new media. In the first chapter, Lev Manovich goes on to outline the dissimilarities between old media and the new media we are immersed in today. There are five key difference are numerical representation, modularity, automation, variability, and transcoding.

1. Numerical representation

Whereas old media is made up of “continuous data,” new media consists of distinct units and numerical codes (ex.pixels). The digital code allows new media to be described as mathematical formulae, and to be manipulated by other formulas. For example, the entertainment industry is notorious for applying “algorithms” to improve photographs. It can be dishonest and presents the viewers with a distorted and unrealistic media objects.

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