• "These are clearly black market frankenproducts – made from a combination of surplus mobile phone components and car alarm key rings. I wonder how much they actually cost to manufacture. I wonder if the bits are stolen." Ben Bashford on the magic of Shanzai. And, of course, when a video camera is eight pounds, it's no longer precious, and you start doing weird things with it: Youtube is full of examples.
  • "Curveship is an interactive fiction system that provides a world model (of characters, objects, locations, and things that happen) while also modeling the narrative discourse, so that the narration and description of the simulated world can change. Curveship can tell events out of order, using flashback and other techniques, and can tell the story from the standpoint of particular characters and their perceptions and understandings." This looks both bonkers and brilliant.
  • "Data combined with narrative creates personality. It can be used to construct a larger and richer history around a subject.

    The world is already divided in to two camps: People who are going to watch the Super Ball and those who aren't. This is an opportunity to delight the former and reach the latter, by providing a larger and more playful cast of characters to describe the events during the game." Nice!

  • "Economics has been defined as the science of distributing limited means among unlimited and competing ends. On 12th April, with the arrival of elements of the 30th U.S. Infantry Division, the ushering in of an age of plenty demonstrated the hypothesis that with infinite means economic organization and activity would be redundant, as every want could be satisfied without effort." Remarkable article; fascinating for its subject matter, when it was written, what it describes, and the patterns that hold up inside such a regimented economy. A must-read, really – can't believe it took me so long to get around to it.
  • "Our attempts to bridle the player's freedom of movement and force our meaning onto him are fruitless. Rather, it is a distinct transportative, transformative quality– the ability of the player to build his own personal meaning through immersion in the interactive fields of potential we provide– that is our unique strength, begging to be fully realized." Some great Steve Gaynor; reminds me of Mitch Resnick's "microworld construction kits" all over again.
  • "It's an easy, irresistible, almost childish pleasure: the ground meat dissolved into a dark blood-red sauce until they are one and the same; no hacking, slicing or cutting needed; a slurpy goodness; the oily bolognese hanging on to the slippery pasta; guaranteed joy in a world that's just ruled it out." Recipes for ragu.
  • "Suddenly, instead of Pong, Nolan Bushnell unleashes a stark, monochrome rescue challenge on the world. AVOID MISSING PRINCESS FOR HIGH SCORE burns itself into the brains of a generation. A couple of sequels expand the world of this strange new hero and, keen to bring its popularity to bear on the 2600, Atari execs strong-arm Warren Robinett into populating Adventure with mushroom monsters and making the green dragon friendly." Delightful alterna-history from Margaret in her Offworld column.
  • "Soon enough, amid the daily grind of his obsession, he would see in the game itself a way out of the bleak hole he had fallen into. He would take a clear-eyed, calculating look at what he and his fellow players had been doing all those months—at the countless hours they'd given over to the pursuit of purely virtual but implacably scarce commodities—and he would recognize it not just for the underexploited form of productivity it was but for the highly profitable commercial enterprise it might sustain." Fantastic article from Julian Dibbell on IGE, the massive real-money trading operation.
  • "We will both have to take responsibility for our consumption. A product that keeps working for longer uses less-resources in the end. The key ingredient to all this is quality. To make something well, you know, the best you can do. To go the extra mile that it takes to do that. Every stitch, every zip, every little feature considered. The weakest points made strong. Then, and only then, have we made something that will last the test of time. Guaranteed for a minimum 10 years. Each product will come with a hand me down contract. You will sign who you want to leave the product to. This is legally binding."
  • "Trust begins when I can see the design intention of an application." Great stuff from Rands on how sync should work – namely, in the dumbest way possible – and what building trust into application design looks like.
  • "Throughout most of the year, gaming is distraction and entertainment. November separates the proverbial patriarchs from their upstart offspring. In November, the Gamer! and the With Job! blur. I spend my ill-defined work hours thinking, talking and writing about games. And the time I'm playing games become a form of work – a struggle to keep up no less frenetic than that of the clock-manager in Metropolis." This year's November release schedule was crazier than most, too.
    (tags: games writing )
  • "the brains behind the siduhe bridge decided to ignore all those options and break another record instead. they attached the 3200ft cables to rockets and accurately fired them over the valley, becoming the first people to do so." Woah. The photographs are awesome.


31 July 2006

I recently did some consultancy for openTrust, the parent company of openDemocracy, and now that the project in question – chinadialogue – has gone live I wanted to mention it, mainly because I’m so impressed by how the final product turned out.

The best way to describe chinadialogue is as an entirely bilingual online publication about the Chinese environment, built on top of an entirely bilingual CMS.

By “entirely bilingual”, I mean that all content appears (eventually) in both English and Chinese on the site – not just links and headings, but the full text of every article, and of every comment. The site is designed so that whilst everything appears in both languages, the original source language is always highlighted. The translation between languages is performed by Mark 1 Human Beings, incidentally. I found a certain frisson to seeing English and Chinese standing side-by-side everywhere you look; it feels very subversive, given all the issues around Chinese state censorship.

My role in the project was admittedly very limited. I did some early-stages exploratory work around publishing platforms, considering whether to use a pre-existing, open source CMS/blogging tool and extend it either through plugin APIs, or a more major fork of the source code, or whether to build from scratch – and if so, in what. One of the major factors in this decision was the bilingual nature of the project: extending any existing system would require heavy use of the plugin API, but that would mean one language’s content would exist as the primary “content” for an entry, and the other would be banished to the meta-fields. Given that either could come “first” in the workflow of the site, and that both are of equal importance, I suggested that both should also be of equal importance in the database schema.

In the end, they went with the final option, and built the project from scratch in Ruby on Rails. We discussed this option at some length, as whilst there was a strong internal desire to build in Rails, the first thing that comes to mind when you say “Chinese” and “Ruby” in the same sentence is “holy Unicode support, Batman!”

But Unicode-in-Ruby can be stepped around if you know what you’re doing (and try nothing too fancy), so it’s great to see that they not only made Rails work for them – and, by all accounts, had a good time doing it – but also they managed to step around one of the more common Ruby gotchas.

Best of all, I note that they’re planning to release the CMS that runs chinadialogue as open source towards the end of the year. I’m really looking forward to seeing some of that code.

All in all, a pleasant experience, and very cheering to see the results. If you’re working on social publishing projects of any form, and want someone to throw ideas around with (for a reasonable rate) do get in touch.