Our Disconnectedness From Wars and Violence

Yesterday, a video I saw made me realize how disconnected we as silly civilized westerners are from the violence that happens in war areas, even if we see it on the news every day. The clip I mean is simply titled “West Bank”, and it is part of the No Comment series by EuroNews. You can download those clips in Miro for example, here’s the channel page on the Miro guide.

In case you don’t know EuroNews’ No Comment: They are very short clips from various places in the world, but without any commentary. Pictures that speak such a powerful language that they don’t need to be narrated. In this West Bank clip, there is no real violence. A soldier shoots at something that is off-screen once. Two cars that look like they are used to transport prisoners drive up to each other, back to back, and a prisoner is switched from one car to the other through the rear hatch. Gunshots are heard, far off and then closer. We are watching a group of well-equipped soldiers sneak around the outside walls of a house. From their equipment, I’m guessing they are Israeli. That’s all you see in the clip.

But even if that’s all you see, that’s not all I felt. The clip is permeated by an atmosphere of violence. It’s as if war itself had grown a toweringly huge body and is now stalking through the neighborhood, turning the air thick, leaden and unbreathable, messing with soldiers’ nerves. Have a look at that clip, maybe you can see what I mean.

This is something I once felt quite some time back, during the genocide in Rwanda. Some news stations had dared to broadcast nearly unedited material from the area, and it was sickening. It’s also the same feeling I get when watching some of the more serious movies about World War II. We look at these movies today, thinking “How could anyone ever be so cruel? How could they do this to each other? What turns a man into that kind of monster?” and we shake our heads. We shake our heads disbelieving what we see, we chalk up the atrocities shown to the creativity of the director or the drama of the actors.

But reality has no director, real pain is not acted. It happens right now, today, all over the world. I am glad there are things such as No Comment, that turn this reality into a video clip. This puts a barrier between the viewer and the subject, a barrier that is similar to what Hollywood does for us when we watch those WW2 movies. It is very weird that it takes this barrier in order to make me truly feel the way I should feel whenever there is talk of wars and violence. Maybe it’s the immediacy of the videos that drive the point home. Maybe Hollywood has conditioned us to react emotionally on queue and in time with what we see on screen. I’m not saying that I have the brains to find out why this is so, but this little clip has shown me that there is something there in how human empathy works that is worth studying and exploring.

I’m just glad the clip wasn’t from Darfur.

Deeply Flawed Report About Violence in Games

Recently, German state-run TV channel ZDF aired a consumer rights show that among other things included a report about violent games and children. ZDF claimed that the violence children see in games has a more profound effect on their own behavior than previously noticed, and that studies claiming the opposite are essentialy sponsored by EA Games and originate only at Cologne university. That’s a mouthful.

However, the report and the study were deeply flawed. Let me quote the program:

  • Our study found that children who play indexed games show a 20% higher probability of developing violent tendencies in real life than the control group that did not play video games.

Now hold on a minute. Children playing indexed games? Why do you let them play indexed games, you idiots? In Germany, it is illegal to sell indexed games to minors! It is illegal to advertise indexed games! It is illegal to publish reviews of indexed games! These children should never have seen these games in the first place! I hope you can see I’m upset.

The “index” is run by the German media censorship board. There is a reason Germany does not allow the sales of such games to minors: They are not for children, they are 18+. If your kid is playing such a game, you are either doing something wrong or you know fairly well that your child is mature enough not to be influenced by it. Did the people who ran that study break the law when they made those games accessible to children? I don’t know German law well enough to make a good guess there.

People, especially incompetent journalists, still seem to believe that games are something for children. When will they realize that a video game is no different from a movie, that there are some that are suitable for children and some that are not? Why is the gaming market still not taken seriously enough?

The World's Best Graphics Card

brain2.jpgLet me sound old for a few paragraphs. In the last twenty years, the raw processing power of graphics cards has increased tremendously. This has had a large effect mainly in the gaming sector. In the 80s, video games were pixely things. If you wanted to see something rendered in more than 32 colors, you had to visit an arcade, since that particular luxury was reserved for arcade machines costing several thousand Euros.

During the decade that followed, the games’ resolution and color palette increased, but games were still predominantly 2D. The first true 3D games appeared around 1992, again arcade-only. Sega’s Virtua Racing was one of the first racing games to use fully polygonal cars and characters. We thought we were in heaven! Smooth, silky movement. Like liquid chocolate! Or egg nog! We had dramatic camera angles, 60 frames per second… Mmmmmh!

Hit the link to find out why graphics don’t matter with some games, and which ones I mean.

Continue reading “The World's Best Graphics Card”

Final Preparations for the Bergtagung

I’m currently running around making final preparations for the Bergtagung. It’s a relatively humid and hot day here in Zürich. I’ll spend the next hour printing posters and flyers, finding a desktop projector for us to use and then sinking my teeth into a lovely Lebanese mali. Mmmmmh, mali.

You are welcome to join us at the Bergtagung, here’s the invitation. Get your arses up that mountain!

Democracy Player Now Called Miro, Still Fantastic

sub-logo.pngDemocracy Player is was a video player with an iTunes Store-like interface bolted on. “Gah,” you say, “boring, next!” But the difference is, this player plays your content, video made by countless amateurs and professionals and distributed over the net. The channels Miro offers are somewhere out there, but to find them on your own is nigh impossible. The player makes it easy by grouping content into channels, giving them some order and making them searchable. All content is free (as in beer), and because Miro uses BitTorrent for its downloads, popular content can stay popular without costing the maker a fortune in bandwidth.

Another intriguing feature, in case you somehow got addicted to HD content, is that Miro offers plenty of that. They claim they have more HD movies than any other source, either online or off. I can’t verify that because I’d be waiting weeks for a HD clip to finish downloading, what with my throbbing 600 Kbit connection and all, but I’m sure it’s true.

Even if you’re not interested in downloading any of that stuff, the interface I mentioned makes it easy to sort your own collection of videos and the built-in VLC player can play almost any format ever, ever!

Grab Miro for GNU/Linux, Mac OS X or Windows from the Miro website.

Youth, the Dumpster of Culture

Risking to sound far older and grumpier than I am, I’d say that culture today is something that’s completely wasted on our youth. I base this statement on a number of facts that I’ve been observing for quite some time now, but what encouraged me to write a little blurb about it was this conversation I heard on the train today. Picture two girls, perhaps 15, talking about their German exams. They appear to be reading Kafka right now. Keep in mind that we’re in German-speaking territory, so Kafka is certainly an ordinary read in school at that age.

We’re joining our pair as they are discussing probable exam topics:

Girl 1: “Well, with Kafka I would get a good grade! He doesn’t use so many foreign words!”

Girl 2: “Oh yeah! Hell, I know! That other guy uses lots of them! It’s so shitty, you don’t understand shit!”

Girl 1: “But people now keep telling me that I have to learn foreign words too. But then I think maybe I would get used to them, and I don’t want to, because then I’d start using them myself! And nobody would understand me anymore because you just don’t understand foreign words!”

German, if spoken even with the slightest hint of eloquence beyond the requirements for being a McDonald’s burger flipper, is chock full of foreign words. I’m quite sure that I cannot relay the shock I’m feeling about the above conversation into English properly.

All of this is not just an isolated incident, I think it might be a symptom of something deeper. One of Switzerland’s largest newspapers, the NZZ (Neue Zürcher Zeitung) has a writing style roughly comparable to that of the International Herald Tribune of the US. Several people my age have complained to me that they are not capable of understanding the NZZ’s articles, and that the NZZ therefore is “stupid”.

With that, I rest my case.

Bergtagung 2007: Call for Entries and Invitation

Ever gave a talk while standing on a juicy, grassy meadow, in the middle of the forest, in the middle of the night? Everything around you pitch black, ants crawling on your flipchart, a flashlight the only source of illumination? And all that in the Swiss Alps?

How about speaking in your own little classroom, talking about that FreeBSD-based fruit juicer you’ve invented, with your audience of geeks sitting on small wooden chairs made for six year olds?

Well, I guess now you can have that.

        ........ Introducing the BERGTAGUNG              ..
        ...... A Meeting of Free Spirits and Open Minds ...

        ..... Somewhere in the Swiss Alps             .....
        ...  Involving Beer    (and probably cows)   ......

                                     --[ bergtagung.org ]--

We’re so bloody open that you can dump the abstract of your talk in our wiki yourself.

Submit your talk to: bergtagung.org/wiki/Talks


If your mind is reasonably open and your software predominantly free, you’re the perfect participant. If that does not sound like you, don’t worry. We have decent mind-stretching equipment and there will surely be some nerds around to fix you up with a liberated operating system of your choice.

Whatever you do, don’t stay at home!

Bergtagung 2007
(First Annual!)
July 20 – 22

Siat, Switzerland

Coming? Register at: bergtagung.org/wiki/Participants


NRK is a Norwegian Treasure Chest

NRK (Norsk rikskringkasting, the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation) has one unbelievably huge website. Hidden somewhere on it is NRK Nett TV. Yes, that’s streaming net-TV. They seem to put nearly all of their broadcasts online for anyone to watch, even going back several months as far as I can tell. Some other national broadcasting corporations, such as the BBC, started doing similar things, but almost always with the caveat that you have to be within their nation’s borders to watch the content. Not so at NRK, there are no restrictions here.

This is a great tool especially if you’re stark raving mad, like me, and want to improve your Norwegian. NRK can’t even imagine what a fantastic present this is for the language learner.

Unfortunately, they use the closed, proprietary WMV format for their files. It would be better with a free format such as Ogg Theora or XviD. But all is not lost, it’s not a problem for mplayer to play the stuff, you can even make a copy (via the -dumpstream option) to your own drive. Whether this is legal, both the playing of WMV and the dumping of the stream, depends on your jurisdiction, of course.

GIA Mirror gets own Forum

If you look at my GIA Mirror these days, you’ll notice a new information bar at the top of every HTML page. Don’t worry, the files are all still in pristine condition, I wouldn’t go and add things to any of them. The message on the top is dynamically added to the page. But what’s probably more interesting is what the message says.

“If you feel like reliving your nostalgia, why not look at our forums? Any news about the mirror itself will be posted in the Meta forum.”

So there! I’m calling all GIA nostalgists and gaming nostalgians to bathe in their memories and mingle with the rest of us. And if you can handle an overdose, try this: Buy the newly released Final Fantasy VI Advance, if you’ve played FFVI back in the day. Ah heck, buy it even if you’ve never heard of it and don’t own a GBA. Then play until right after Narshe, right when all your memories are flooding back, right when you remember the puberty-driven silly names you gave your characters back when you played it the first time, when hearing the overworld music activates a part of your brain that hasn’t been exercised for a decade, bullied by worries about tax reports and juggling real life’s growing responsibilities.

Then read this review. Now cry a little tear for what has been.