Don’t blame the booze for the binge: Anthropology and Alcohol

An excellent bit of anthropological analysis on the culturally relative effects of alcohol. It’s not the booze, but the british to blame for the binge.

The effects of alcohol on behaviour are determined by cultural rules and norms, not by the chemical actions of ethanol.

And coffee culture would not be any better. I’m glad I’ve gone teetotal on the coffee. I seem to be getting into fewer fights since giving it up.

If I were given total power, I could very easily engineer a nation in which coffee would become a huge social problem – a nation in which young people would binge-drink coffee every Friday and Saturday night and then rampage around town centres being anti-social, getting into fights and having unprotected sex in random one-night stands.

I would restrict access to coffee, thus immediately giving it highly desirable forbidden-fruit status. Then I would issue lots of dire warnings about the dangerously disinhibiting effects of coffee.

announcements, mindblank

Bristol Open Data Hack Day

Today I’ve been helping out at the Bristol Open Data Hack Day. We’ve invaded Colston Hall and camped out across a couple of floors. It’s been sponsored by Delib and Connecting Bristol.

We had a couple of hacks around the Nick Clegg Your Freedom consultation data.

Oliver Humpage has been turning the Your Freedom data into Haiku’s and Limericks.

Jess and Richard have been creating prototypes for visualisation and word/content analysis, playing around with opencalais and finding out which words will get you good ratings.

The remainder focussed on Bristol City Council open data.

Thaigo and Steve from the Web Design course have been plotting shopping trolleys in rivers.

Chris Wallace and team have been working on mapping water quality data and opening up to annotation and amendment.


FinallyDaniel Lewis has been trying to connect House of Commons debate data with recent news. To see if the MPs actually talk about what is going on in the real world.

Issues raised from the day
Stuff raised at the end of the day

  • Need domain experts to advise
  • Want APIs and feeds rather than bulk data
  • Lack of semantic descriptions and relations
  • A need to know some more maths and stats to make better sense of the data
  • Data quality issues
    • Lack of precision
    • Lack of geo-located data
    • Much is really just statistics not raw data
    • Many misspellings or no controlled names
    • A lot of the data came as HTML
  • Good wiki needed to support/record the day
  • IRC is vital (needs the right ports open on the firewall to work)
  • 2 days were needed

But the overall feedback is that Colston Hall is certainly a great place to have it.

mindblank, playing with reality

Location based games 2010 and beyond

Nicolas Nova is on the mark with his comments on the state of locative games. These mainly address the idea of device-based, lone-player, location-based game, where the socialisation or gameplay is computer mediated, with a minor digression into ARGs. My take away points are:

  • Real world gamification – Oh no, there it is again. For example services like foursquare or SCVNGR.
  • Building on existing platforms – Using the APIs and services that exist as the technology route. Facebook places, latitude, or Foursquare yet again.
  • Location based data as another piece of the game design, not part of the core experience

The ubiquity of Foursquare makes me a bit sad. There is no richness in this locative ecosystem, Foursquare are uninterestingly dominating the space. Mind you, it is just like Facebook dominating social networking. Is it just like Highlander? Can there be only one?

Conclusions from his post:

So, what did we learn?

  • Geolocation is only one kind of data that can be employed and LBG should be framed in a broader context: ARG or pervasive games. Coupled to pertinent and original forms of storytelling and game mechanics, the articulation of data such as location, pictures, SMS, tweets, or the ones generated by touch sensors (NFC on iPhone?), accelerometers, have the potential to lead to curious interactions.
  • In terms of innovation, the video game industry is definitely not the right actor here. Rather digital communication agency, small interaction design boutiques and digital studio who work on interactive fictions seems more willing to push the envelope. Curiously, the new media art community has slowed down on the “locative media” meme. I have to admit that I haven’t seen a lot of projects in the field in the 1-2 years (which correlated with the release of “Spook Country by William Gibson).
  • I haven’t mentioned Augmented Reality, I don’t know what to think about AR and location-based games.

And what are the possibilities ahead?

  • To avoid the empty room problem there is a need to design for single-usage, then for collective usage. We can expect platforms like these in the near future.
  • Focus not only on geolocation but also other types of data. There will be games that combine the different sorts of data that can be captured or collected. Of course the most simple forms of data (self-declared such as check-ins, pictures taken with the camera) are the most likely candidate.
  • Location-based games with scenarios that are too disruptive and complex for daily usage will continue to remain niches. Will people change their route to go to work in the morning? it’s a bit unlikely.
  • There is still some room in different urban activities: think about urban sport (skateboard, rollerblade, fixie/bike ride, parkour, etc.). The articulation of location-based games with these types of sport is an original idea that can produce good possibilities.

William Gibson, science fiction, technicity and technological agency

Following on from Gibson’s talk the other night I’ve got to thinking about his writing. In the section he read on Wednesday, I was struck by the detailed cataloguing of the quotidian environment and the character’s relationships to the physical world around them. I can’t help but feel that he is still writing science fiction, that he is still writing genre books. This got me to thinking about the connection between his science fiction, sci-fi in general and Gibson’s recent writing. What is the link, what is the commonality between sci-fi and the Bigend books?

It seems to me the thing that science fiction has over contemporary fiction is that it ascribes agency and real effect to technology. The core sci-fi ‘what if’ premise gets deployed in a wide and wild number of ways, but the physical changes to the environment are always assumed to have an effect on the people as well as the story. I was stuck by the thought that it is the fiction of Actor-Network Theory, stories that explore our technicity.

This is not to say that they are actually about future technicities, they are very definitely about the now. The old adage that sci-fi is not about the future it is about the now is very much true in this case as it is in any other.

This then is also what Gibson is doing in his recent trilogy, is writing a book about technicity, ascribing agency to the technical environment around us. This time it is not through electrodes in the brain, or the social implications of “the sprawl” it is through the a more subtle observation of the world around us. The fetishizing of the footage, or especially in Cayce’s allergy to brands are good examples of the way in which technology shapes the lives of the characters in his books. This is fiction exploring everyday technicities, which are not necessarily those of advanced physical artefacts, blatant bodily modification or galaxy spanning technologies.

To a certain extent, this approach to writing was what made Gibson’s sci-fi interesting, but it is definitely what makes his contemporary work all the more fascinating. He has done away with the central conceit of sci-fi – to project into the future to tell a story about the technical now. However, by his own words, he had to learn his sci-fi chops before he could write the work he is writing now. So maybe his contemporary fiction will have a wider and more interesting impact and can be appreciated outside of the sci-fi ghetto.

UPDATE: His talk is available to watch on the DShed. I would also recommend watching No Maps For These Territories.