you know you want to

First watch this fantastic Battlestar Gallactica fan vid.

Now you know how I feel about Ashes to Ashes.

In a world where watching a new Doctor Who episode is a rare and wonderful thing in itself, it is nice to stumble across a series that captivates and seizes your attention so fully that it invades almost every other thought in your day.

I was very impressed with the first series Life on Mars from creators Matthew Graham, Tony Jordan and Ashley Pharoah and equally unimpressed by the dreadful US remake of the first series by David E. Kelly that was mercifully canned. It was John Simm who pulled me in, but I stayed for Philip Glenister and the music.

I’d heard rumours of a new series, but promptly got on with life until I found Ashes to Ashes via the ABC’s ivew app this week while searching for an episode of Pepper Pig for X.

I’d love nothing better than to ‘occupy’ the couch for a week and watch both series back to back and get through the two seasons of Ashes to Ashes I’ve yet to watch. Still, thanks to Grooveshark, I can go back to the 80s and live these songs that were the wallpaper of my childhood, and imagine the stories I’d write if fan fiction was something I could get paid to do.


a problem solved?

After my complaints earlier in the week about WordPress, I took a look around the app store for a better blogging tool and found Blogger+. So far so good, it let me add both wordpress and blogger blogs effortlessly. No bugs or issues and it also lets me save drafts and mange images nicely. It definitely helped my blogging this week. Would be nice if the app had YouTube, Flickr and Twitter integration, but I don’t understand why these aren’t integrated more directly into the iOs – although I haven’t downloaded the latest iOS version yet so I should go do that. Blogging from the tablet device is much more fun than from the desktop, it feels a lot less like work.

Digital Humanities

I have been watching some of the HUMlab seminars and reading about the Digital Humanities and the work of Dr Patrik Svensson. From what I have read so far, Dr Svensson (2010) contributes to the conceptual mapping of the Digital Humanities (especially the shift of the Computing Humanities). He recognises Professor McPherson’s (2008,) typology of the Digital Humanities where the Computing Humanities (and its focus on building tools, infrastructure, standards and collections) is separated from the Blogging Humanities who – it is said – are more concerned with the production of networked media and peer-to-peer writing. McPherson (2008) also outlines a third a sphere of digital humanities, a multimodal domain for scholarly  tools, databases, networked writing and peer-to-peer commentary, while also leveraging the potential of the visual and aural media arts that are part of contemporary life.

Presner et al (2010) dates the first wave of Digital Humanities between the 1990s until the mid 2000s, noting a focus on the quantitative, automating, digitizing, and projects of infrastructure. The second wave expanded the field with a qualitative focus that involved critical and interpretive interaction in digital contexts to produce  new convergent fields, as well as hybrid methodologies of old and new models of analysis, curation, research and publication. Berry (2011) suggests a third wave of digital humanities, concentrated around the underlying computationality of the forms held within a computational medium, such as Software Studies and Ian Bogost’s Platforms Studies. The study I want to present at HUMlab, (I hope) will follow in these lines. The culture of players, of gamers, is well established, as is the academic field of games studies, but the analysis of the culture of video game production is less well attended. Bogost’s Platform Studies draws attention to the role of hardware alongside that of software, in the history of video games, but the network is not complete without the actors with access to the means of production, the programmers, developers, engineers. I’m not so interested in the political economy of the industry, or at least that isn’t my primary interest but a necessary part of the picture.

What I am interested in is the cultures of production, and what those who make video games think about their work, and how that translates in the use of social media. Berry (2011) considers the way digital technologies are already part of everyday research practices, influencing and being shaped by that use. Students access to mobile and highly convergent technologies, that have changed the nature of study, attending university and doing their own research. Similarly, in the culture of video game production at a very local level, digital games technologies are transformed by the use of social media, from Facebook, to Skype,  Forums, Twitter, even Wikipedia, Podcasts, etc. Hardware also had its role in the reshaping of the industry, especially with the success of the iPhone and iPad as mobile games devices. Understanding the intersections of play and production, means better understanding the relationships between those involved in the production of the digital and physical objects of games and the conditions of their play.


Berry, David, 2011. ‘The Computational Turn: Thinking about the Digital Humanities’, Culture Machine, Vol 12.

McPherson, Tara 2008. ‘Dynamic Vernaculars: Emergent Digital Forms in Contemporary Scholarship’,  Lecture presented to HUMLab Seminar, Umeå University, 4 March 2008.

Svenson, Patrik,  2010. ‘The Landscape of Digital Humanities’, Digital humanities quarterly, Summer, vol. 4, no. 1.

Presner, Todd, et al. 2010. “The Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0”. UCLA Mellon Seminar in Digital Humanities.

Presner, Todd, 2010. Digital Humanities 2.0: A Report on Knowledge.  Connexions, June  8, 2010.

How the App Store works

I’m currently engaged in some background research on Australian app developers, and I figured I need to look into how the Apple app store App Store actually works (Apple has previously attempted to claim ownership over the term ‘App Store’). As a digital distribution platform, the App Store is entirely closed (as opposed to the Android App Store which is nominally ‘open’) allowing Apple to tightly control the service and take a 30 per cent share in each app sold (subscriptions services sold directly from a website for an app can now avoid this cut).
The App Store business model has been phenomenally successful. Developers have to pay US$99 per year to gain access to the development software, which are then submitted to Apple for approval. More than 500,000 apps have been approved, with 14,000,000,000+ downloads generating an estimated $3.6 billion (an unverified but impressive figure).
David Smith has a excellent timeline of the development of the iPhone, App store and iOS (Apples operating system for mobile devices) here, and he covers many of the current concerns with Apple’s approach, particularly the way Apple can refuse applications and incorporate those features into its own iOS updates (Apple employs an NDA to restrict information about the terms of rejection from the store).
One of the major issues for developers is the arbitrary approval process for Apps, and the way that Apple
can ban apps from the store and then appropriate (steal) those innovations within new versions of the iOS (see also this blog on those apps to be affected by the new iOS5 update). Apple has its share of defenders and the ‘jailbreaking’ option provides a way for user to escape the confines of the Apple oligopoly, but jailbreaking is not as attractive an option as it was before Apple launched the software development kit (SDK) for developers allowing innovation to make it way into the app store.
Being ‘featured’ in the App Store is highly advantageous to developers as it increases sales of their apps, and can happen in a number of ways. The ‘New & Noteworthy’ section seems only nominal different to the Staff Favourite section, and both, I presume, are arbitrarily decided on by a bunch of Apple boffins. I quite like the idea of the Staff Favourites section, I imagine various compulsory polls and surveys that Apple employees have to take each week to decide which apps will be featured, or perhaps some sort of in-built surveillance that tallies the aggregate use of apps by Apple staff just for this section.
The ‘Genius’ featured page is even more obscure, it seems to offer a list of recommendations based purely on apps that I have installed rather than the ones I actually use on a regular basis. The Top Chart feature page seems very straight forward, and has the added bonus of helping those apps doing well, do better, in terms of sale. I’ve jut noticed the new ‘purchased’ tab, which I swear wasn’t there yesterday, that has a listed of all the apps I’ve previously installed (not just the ones I have paid for but the free apps as well).
Still no real insight into the process on becoming featured, other than simply gaining some kind of attention of those in charge of the App Store at apple, via sales or positive reviews, so more digging needs to happen there.

Made in Australia: a brief exploration of Australian iPad apps (June, 2011)

The Apple Store (accessed via the iPad) ‘Featured’ tab now includes a ‘Made in Australia’ section subtitled ‘Great Apps for Australians’. What counts as made in Australia, or an Australian app, let alone Apps for Australians isn’t clearly defined, and something I plan to unpack further in the future. Similarly, there is no information as to what it takes to make this secion and there seems to be plenty of apps made by Australian developers that are missing. An earlier report mentions that 70 apps are featured in this section, but only 45 are currently listed (perhaps the higher figure refers to both iPhone and Ipad apps?).

Currently the ‘Made in Australia’ section includes 45 apps and the page can be sorted via Name, Release Date and “Featured” status (note-to-self find out how apps become ‘featured’). Sorted by name, 12 apps are displayed per page.

starting with the A’s…

ABC Foodi
Category: Lifestyle
Seller: Australian Broadcasting Corporation
This app includes 120 recipes from chefs on various ABC TV shows. The app itself is very well produce, and the recipes include nice elements like the ‘cook mode’, inbuilt timers and a shopping list function. There are no details of who actually worked on the app, there is no credit section, but digging around a little it seems that all ABC apps are developed ‘in house’ under the auspices of ‘ABC Innovation’ a branch of the ABC formed in 2007 that includes the ABC’s entire online presence, the ‘BlueBird ARG’ and the Gallipoli: The First Day Web application which seems to be a co-production. According to The Australian, the ABC Innovation producer is Caroline Kinny-Lewis, and there appears to be a presence as Southbank, Victoria, so I plan to check out that further.

There are currently 85 user ratings, which doesn’t give a good indication of the total number of downloads or active users.
The user reviews are very positive.
67 users rank the app 5/5 stars
8 rank 4/5 stars
1 rank 3/5 stars
2 rank 2/stars
9 rank 1/5 stars

ABC iview
Category: Entertainment
Seller: Australian Broadcasting Corporation
The ABC, in my purest form of opinion is the only network in Australia that offer any real innovation when it comes to contemporary television, especially in regards to distribution. It has advantages as the national broadcaster, funded by the commonwealth, which leaves the network largely independent from advertising, but it offers a digital service with iView that makes all the other networks look positively last century. iView is great on the web but even better on the iPad. The video streaming is smooth and the sound and picture quality is excellent. The navigation is easy to use and Miss 4 can find her programs with ease. Useful features like a watch list are handy, and there is a ubiquitous share function for email and posting notifications to Facebook and Twitter. I don’t have the 3G version of the iPad but I’ve heard the 3G network is terribly for streaming video and I imagine quite expensive (I will have to research this further).

There are currently 141 user ratings, a few reviews reveal some interesting issues, a couple mention that 3G doesn’t work, which is a major issue for users in rural areas where the only connection available is 3g. The video can’t be viewed out side of Australia due to copyright restriction and some of the feature cause the app to crash on occasion.
91 users rank the app 5/5 stars
12 rank 4/5 stars
9 rank 3/5 stars
12 rank 2/5 stars
17 rank 1/5 stars

43 more apps to go…

Historical rationality: some thoughts on Civilisation 5

During a short trip to Tasmania last week for my grandmother’s fabulous 90th birthday celebrations, I managed to cram in two activities – reading a little of Raymond Williams (1977) Marxism and Literature, and playing quite a bit of Civilization 5 (Civ5) – about 15 hours worth. Civ5 is the latest in the turn-based strategy series created by Sid Meir back in the early 1990s. Like many PC gamers, I’ve spent hundreds of hours over the years training settlers, exploring territory, waging war and researching new technologies, all in the name of empire building. For those unfamiliar with the series take a quick look here for more of the basics. Some good ‘reviews’ of the game are here, here and here. I mention the Williams text because I was intrigued by the parallels between Williams’ account of the term ‘civilization’ and my experiences with the new version of the game.

Civilization, according to Williams (p.13), is an expression with two senses that are historically linked: the achieved state (that is the state  opposed to barbarism) and a sense of development that implies historical progress. Both senses are represented in the game – early on your budding Civilization is beset on all sides, by ruthless Barbarian raiders, and competing nations (these nations are led by famous political figures and I seem to be up against the German leader, Otto Von Bismarck and the Iroquois Hiawatha quite a lot) – and the new addition of city states (fortified and independent one city regions with which you can ally, trade or conquer). Historical progress, as always in Civ games, is positioned as a marker of success (inversely an indication of a ‘bad‘ player is stagnation). Progress occurs as you settle (or conquer) cities and research new technologies, which unlock further military units to produce and buildings to construct. As Williams says of the Enlightenment, Civ5 combines historical rationality with self-referential celebration of an achieve condition of refinement: as each turn your cities contribute research points and each successfully researched technology is announced with celebration of an achieved condition. There is a great sense of inevitability about the conclusion of the game – right from the start and despite the hundreds of turns it requires to finish, that although the goal is to build something, what you will produce is something that has already been built before – it’s a game of turn based emulation. This can have great entertainment and pleasure attached to it, but it can also be hard to shake off the ennui of déjà vu. Although this is tempered slightly by the small differences between the different ‘races’ or ‘Civs’ that you can play in the game – each time you found a new city it will be named accordingly – choose England and your cities will be named London, Yorke, etc, and each Civ has ‘unique’ units and traits – Englands gets +1 movement for naval units and the Longbowmen archers to play with.  But whether you play the Americans, the Chinese, or the Egyptians, your Civ’s real identity is generated through the technologies you research and the path to victory that you choose to pursue: annihilating others for the World Domination victory, researching technology for the science ‘Space Race victory, producing culture and civic policies for the Utopia Project victory. It is very much a systematized triumph of rational values.

This version of the game is wonderful to look at, and the streamlined interface makes it much easier to play and balance out the improvements in the cities. The introduction of hexes rather than squares for unit movement, and the limitation of one unit-per-hex, makes combat highly rewarding and over comes much of the boredom of the late game found in earlier versions. Game play is always centered around the success of the metropolitan – keeping the citizens of your cities happy with culture, food and wealth, while the regional areas purely exist to be cultivated, tamed and provide raw mineral and agricultural resources. For me greater connection between my ‘workers’ who ‘improve’ the environment by building farms, chopping down forests, mining resources and the improvements in my cities – building theaters, schools, or gardens for example, would make the game more rewarding to play (or at least make managing these units more interesting).

Some of the less successful changes to the game are the civics and cultural research elements and gone is the ability to take over other civilizations through religious indoctrination and cultural export: one of my favorite tactics in Civ 4 was world domination by cultural imperialism. Civilization has become much more secular and liberalised – choosing a Marxist inspired civic policy for your civilization no longer results in a period of instability in your governance but happier workers in your cities (?!). The diplomacy victory is very elusive, and its near impossible to please all the AI Civs and City States simultaneously without generating massive income to bribe them all.

In most Civ games culture is conflated with cultivation and scientific progress, these are are just processes of accumulation and refinement: even once you have completed the research tree your scientists continue to generate generic ‘future tech’ to increase your game score. All this makes me wonder about a very different turn based civilisation-building strategy game, one that generates a narrative based on your actions, where your choices in what you build, where you explore, what technologies you develop and how you treat those you find in the game. A game where the civilization is a result of your decisions, actions and the outcomes of your negotiations and battles, one that isn’t purely based on historical rationality and is connected more closely to the ties between the state and the citizen: through art, literature, religion, entertainment, and the institutions of the state and practices, meaning and values of the population but perhaps this would be too complex.  Civ5 does a good job of being complex in the menu structure without being too obviously complex for new players but I want more emergent narrative – I want my workers to mean something, my military success and losses to mean something for the virtual people in my virtual cities and a story that builds rather than an inevitable conclusion that occurs from jumping through predefined hoops. Williams account of the term civilization, as it became linked to  then separated from and again reunited with – culture and industrial society, and then eventually linked to past glories as a received state rather than continuing process that face challenges from socialism, democracy and consumerism, for me, hints at the much more exciting experience that a Civ game could be.

The interactions with the AI Generals are far too simplistic and erratic – why do leaders that convince me to attack their enemies refer to me as bloodthirsty? For my mind the best version of the series is still Alpha Centauri – which allowed you to terraform the environment to suit your civilization and create units by researching various parts and assembling them in weird ways. This version of CIv5 looks to be modding friendly so I still have my hopes, and I’m sure there will be a series of (expensive) content to download keep me playing, which brings me to two serious gripes about this Civilization version: cost and buggy game launch.

Australian gamers are penalized for buying the game through Steam – the digital distribution service run by the Valve Corporation. The game’s publisher 2K are selling the game for $US50 in the States, while I can understand this equates to a AU$70 for physical retail copies it doesn’t explain why the digital version at launch was $79.99, especially give the new parity of the AU and US dollar. The launch was also one of the worst experiences I’ve had with games through Steam, and after installing the game through Steam it corrupted by Steam folder, refused to operate and I had to trawl through hundreds of – how to fix CIV5 game crash blog and forum posts from irate gamers struggling to get their game to work. Strangely enough while the game wouldn’t run on Direct X version 10 and 11 on the the desktop PC with Win 7 – yet it would run on the laptop with Direct x version 9 and Vista. however, from this experience I’ve learned two important lessons – not to buy games like Civ (which are mostly single player experiences) at launch (Fallout: New Vegas – you are going to have to wait until after Christmas and your price comes down) and hold off at least until the first patch is released.