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Machine Embodiment: Discovery Through Reverse Engineering May 4, 2009

Posted by jbork in Hypertext and Critical Theory, new media assignments.
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Machine Embodiment: Discovery Through Reverse EngineeringAlthough it’s likely that most humanities scholars would shun the idea that in their spare time they should ‘pick up the soldering iron and build circuits’ . . . . The best way to approach digital media pedagogy may well be to train students in the art of ‘well-informed dilettantism.’ (Marcel O’Gorman, E-Crit)

Project Rationale

An important point N. Katherine Hayles makes in her detailed historical study of the founding of cybernetic sciences, the Macy Conferences, in the opening chapter of How We Became Posthuman, is how specific exigencies affected the evolution of information theory. She writes of the competing agendas of Claude Shannon and Donald MacKay:

Why did Shannon define information as a pattern? The transcripts of the Macy Conferences indicate that the choice was driven by the twin engines of reliable quantification and theoretical generality. . . . To be workable, MacKay’s definition required that psychological states be quantifiable and measurable – an accomplishment that only now appears distantly possible with such imaging technologies as positronic-emission tomography and that certainly was not in reach in the immediate post-World War II years. It is no mystery why Shannon’s definition rather than MacKay’s became the industry standard. (18-19)

We might say that the metaphysics of machine embodiment (ME) default along two axes: first, those having an anthropomorphic bent because of the convenient crystallization of analogies between human and machines in experiences familiar to human embodiment; and second, those trending towards immaterial, semiotic/linguistic ontologies, following the other familiar human image as the bodiless Cartesian consciousness. At the same time, what makes the question of ME different from the disembodied concept of information as it was cast in the 1950s is that there is no fundamental epistemological abyss between the materiality of machinery and our theorizing about them, as there was and largely still is with respect to the quantization and measurability of human psychological states.

My concern with ME responds to contemporary emphasis on putatively disembodied, virtual- and network-centric technologies like the WWW by humanities scholars of texts and technology. Core to Hayles’ interpretation of a privileging of the Cartesian consciousness as leading to the misperception that embodiment ought to be disregarded is the tendency of late twentieth century philosophers to equivocate the body with language. As she ironically phrases it, “one contemporary belief likely to stupefy future generations is the postmodern orthodoxy that the body is primarily, if not entirely, a linguistic and discursive construction” (2: 192) so that, “as though we had learned nothing from Derrida about supplementarity, embodiment continues to be discussed as if it were a supplement to be purged from the dominant term of information, an accident of evolution we are now in a position to correct” (2: 12). And so it is for machines, in spite of the concrete instantiation of all network communications and computational phenomena in a very anti-Cartesian corporeality of integrated circuits, wires, motors, relays, and so on. Moreover, from a practical standpoint it is easier to work purely in the code upon the virtual realm. The difficulty of troubleshooting mixed reality environments is that slips and mistakes in either the symbolic or the real manifest themselves in the same phenomena.

If reading Hayles leaves us with a better appreciation of the role of human embodiment in structuring reality, as a reality in which the body is inextricably and therefore naturally connected to technological systems – prostheses – then it is reading Donna Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century“ that inspires daring ventures into conceptualizing machine embodiment along the same rigorous, material specific lines as the human:

There are several consequences to taking seriously the imagery of cyborgs as other than our enemies. . . . . Intense pleasure in skill, machine skill, ceases to be a sin, but an aspect of embodiment. The machine is not an it to be animated, worshiped, and dominated. The machine is us, our processes, an aspect of our embodiment. (180)

What does a machine experience? What does a machine feel? What does it feel like to be a machine? What does a machine feel like? What does a machine look like? How do we look at machines? This strange battery of questions reveals a natural discomfort with confronting the otherness of nonhuman technoscience, whose quintessence is the digital electronic computer. It is, with respect to humanities-based critical theory, what O’Gorman characterizes as the remainder, “the ‘other’ of academic or scholarly language” (4). To straddle this position within the world of simulacra is to adopt the very language of phallogocentric, capitalist technoscience and reappropriate that knowledge through heuretics – Gregory Ulmer’s inventive discovery – to extend our senses beyond the limits of our current modes of embodiment, while rediscovering the material specific contexts of ME. Again invoking Haraway: “As Marx showed for the science of wealth, our reappropriation of knowledge is a revolutionary reappropriation of a means by which we produce and reproduce our lives. We must be interested in this task” (45). We must be interested in this task.

The selection of electronic pinball machines from the late 1970s for the subject of this investigation has been developed in the Linux Journal article “Controlling a Pinball Machine Using Linux” and my masters thesis Reverse Engineering a Microcomputer-based Control Unit. The pinball machine is susceptible to both functionalist and cybernetic analyses. Its prima facie division into component circuit boards aligns with function and maps onto the textbook model of a closed loop, feedback control system: microprocessor board as control element, solenoid, lamp, and digital display driver boards as final control elements, and the game play as the process whose disturbance variables involve the human player (Bork 2:21). A task of the hands-on exercise with the Bally Strikes and Spares pinball machine is to link these concurrently by discovering through reverse engineering how the component parts (organs) interface with one another in self-contained closed loop feedback control and communications circuits.Textbook Closed Loop Feedback Control System

We are using reverse engineering for pedagogy and for resistance to the tendency to ignore the material reality of machinery and to rely solely on information represented in patterns of symbols rather than the actual material objects that constitute the thing itself being discussed, which may be probed with digital multimeters and oscilloscopes to reveal phenomena existing in temporal orders of magnitude incomprehensible, if not unimaginable, to human animals. “Reverse engineering creates knowledge through research, observation, and disassembly of a system part in order to discern elements of its design, manufacture, and use, often with the goal of producing a substitute” (Bork: 16). One of the goals of this iterating, continuing study is to respond to unasked or unreflectively articulated questions of style, for instance how to cite free, open source software (FOSS) code and the consequences of citing GNU Public License (GPL) and GNU Free Documentation License (FDL) covered material in blogs such as WordPress whose terms of use may imply conflicting license restrictions. For this reason, many of the diagrams contain a copyright notice announcing that they are licensed under the GNU FDL.

Four Aspects of ME

From a phenomenological perspective, how do we look at machines? Hayles complains that contemporary theorists and philosophers see through ‘linguistic and discursive’ lenses, for which machine phenomenology is cast as human readable source code, circuit schematics, and assumptions about values like voltage, current, and impedance. Reverse engineering often requires investigation by instantiation so that the shortest explanatory path is through instrumentation-mediated data collection activities themselves, activities that are absorptive, material and context specific, like Hayles’ good bye wave (2: 198). To illustrate this point, four provisional aspects of ME are evaluated on the basis of technical correctness and for their heuretic potential in drawing out comparisons and contrasts between human and machine embodiment. They are alien temporality, amplification, multiplexing, and distributed control.

1. Alien Temporality

Consider a diagram that represents temporal orders of magnitude spanning relatively long intervals of one second to very short intervals of one nanosecond. There are realms of activity incomprehensible to humans in which machine activity abides, from the boundary of visual perception at the latency of retinal images around 20 Hertz noted by studies of subliminal perception such as William Poundstone’s Project for Tachistoscope (Hayles 1: 139; Poundstone), to the nanosecond delay caused by electron motion in semiconductor logic operations.Distributed Control across Temporal OOM

Without delving too deeply into human physiology, it is evident that the boundary of human perception, and therefore guided voluntary muscle response such as the button pressing by a pinball player lies at the ‘long’ end of the continuum. The processes we investigate and learn about through reverse engineering the operation of the machine lead to discovery of realms beneath the subliminal and into the incomprehensible. Another aspect of the otherness of the electronic domain is the sheer magnitude of quantities involved. When teaching the basics of electricity and electronics, the character Eddie Electron is often invoked to help visualize the motion units of charge in conductors. Eddie is very small, moves very fast (nearly the speed of light), and naturally seeks the path of least resistance. Like blood flowing from the heart through arteries, organs, and back to the heart through veins, Eddie Electron travels through conductors from the positive voltage to the ground return of the power source. One ampere (A is the symbol for the unit, although current is also symbolized by I for intensity) of electrical current is 6.25×10 pow 18 Eddie Electrons, or one coulomb of charge, flowing past a given point in second. One volt (V) is defined as when one joule of work (0.7376 ft-lb) is required to move one coulomb of charge between two points. One ohm (symbol Greek Omega) is the resistance to flow of current when one amp develops 0.24 calories of heat for one second (Grob). Let us describe these basic electrical characteristics and the continuum of temporal domains in terms of the operation of the pinball machine’s continuous solenoids, which also introduce the second concept of ME, amplification.

2. Amplification

The transistor (short for ‘transference resistor’) is a basic component of electronics, used for amplifying signals, high speed on/off switches, and even storing binary data. A typical transistor has three terminals to which other circuit components are connected: base, collector, and emitter. When there is sufficient positive voltage a small current can bridge the diode gap between the base and emitter of the transistor, causing a much larger current to flow across the collector to the emitter with minimal resistance. Otherwise, the resistance is very high. Thus a small voltage produced by a digital output on a conventional Intel x86 architecture compatible integrated circuit like the 8255 Programmable Peripheral Interface (PPI) can be amplified by transistors to turn on a relay, which itself enables a much higher voltage and current carrying circuit such as the flipper buttons. In keeping with the theme of discovering parallels between machine embodiment and human bodies, continuous solenoids can be likened to muscles that are normally tensed or relaxed, and then change state for relatively long durations, such as the stomach valve, bladder muscle, sphincter, and so on. However, while we have imperfect scientific understanding of how the brain controls these circuits, in our pinball machine example the technology is well documented and can be witnessed using the Pinball Machine Reverse Engineering Kit (pmrek) software and a voltmeter. This process, broken down into eight steps from the user pressing keys on the computer keyboard to manipulate the control program through the energizing of the flipper enable relay, which produces an audible click, is depicted in the following diagrams using Eddie Electron (a small red bug).

Continuous Solenoid Operation Steps 1-3Continuous Solenoid Operation Steps 4-5Continuous Solenoid Operation Steps 6-8As the circuit board schematic illustrates, sometimes you turn something on by turning something else off in the chain of operations. It may be a little confusing how the continuous solenoid control circuit has been designed. Two transistors are used: the main driver is enabled when the secondary transistor is disabled, not conducting. When the control line is not attached, a resistor connected between the +5 volt power and the base of the secondary transistor keeps it conducting, disabling the flipper relay. That is why the schematic calls the control line “FLIPPER DISABLE.” From examining the schematic diagram of the solenoid driver board, it appears that the trigger for the continuous solenoid controlling the flipper enable relay can be tested with a digital voltmeter at R37, a 3.9 K Ohm 1/8 Watt resistor. This control layout is adequate when there is a small number of devices. However, the one-to-one correspondence between control output lines and devices does not scale for the majority of the solenoids on the pinball machine; the 48 ports on the I/O board would be quickly exhausted just for the 16 kickers, thumper bumpers, pop bumpers, saucers, scoring chimes, and others. Therefore, a design strategy based on multiplexing is employed, which is the next concept of ME to examine.

3. Multiplexing

The problem of amplifying many circuits is that control lines are expensive; as designers we want to conserve them. This is where the concept of scarcity steers production, despite of misperception of the unlimited availability of resources inhering in electronic machine worlds that is without doubt a result of the equivocating all machine life with the seemingly endless storage capacity of the WWW. Hardware engineers and real-time control systems programmers know otherwise. Multiplexing is a design strategy for reducing the number of signal carrying lines through time division, such is in the plain old telephone system and computer operating systems that run multiple programs with a single processor, or through the use of encoding/decoding schemes. In the latter, intermediary codes generated by computer programs and output as binary digits may be deciphered by electronic circuits. The pinball machine solenoid driver board utilizes a 74LS154 four into sixteen decoder/demultiplexer integrated circuit to allow four input bits plus a fifth enable line to fire any one of sixteen momentary solenoids sequentially for a brief pulse, usually 23 milliseconds (National Semiconductor).74LS154 Decoder/Demultiplexer ICUnlike the continuous solenoids just studied, these devices are only activated periodically for short times, but with a very high current, like a human karate punch or kick. That is why they are referred to as momentary solenoids. The control operations required to fire a solenoid such as the knocker that creates a loud noise when a free credit is won during the game play or awarded for a match at the end of the game span the nanosecond OOM, for the PC machine code execution and semiconductor logic propagation delay, through the microsecond OOM, for the setting of the A-D encoded data and G2 enable line, through 0.01 (hundredths) of a second OOM, for the precisely timed solenoid energization. In the following example, start with the Strobe Input (G2) High (1) by writing 1 bit to the output on the I/O board connected to it. All of the decoder outputs are High. The first transistor is ON. The second transistor is OFF. Write the binary representation of the output number to enable using four bits from the I/O board connected to DCBA inputs. Output 6 is the binary encoded 0110. Set the output of the I/O board connected to the Strobe Input (G2) to Low (0). The single output corresponding to the input will be decoded and set Low (0), turning off the first transistor which turns on the second transistor and energizes the solenoid coil connected to Output 6. A different binary word set up on DCBA would fire one of the other sixteen outputs (Bork: 74-79).

Multiplexed Relay Driver Step 1Multiplexed Relay Driver Step 2Multiplexed Relay Driver Step 3In a live demonstration, the loud popping noise produced by the knocker solenoid is good evidence that this is the case. However, to verify that the pulse is indeed on the order of 20 milliseconds, an oscilloscope or other measuring tool placed on the decoder output is required, for the pulse borders on the liminal boundary of ‘normal’ visual perception.

4. Distributed Control

By now it should be apparent that through reverse engineering it is discovered that the notion of a monolithic process handling all of the behavior of the machine is incorrect.Distributed ControlThe final concept of ME has been implicit in the previous three, the notion that control operations are distributed among various circuits and processes spanning multiple temporal orders of magnitude. The PMREK utilizes two basic control processes that run concurrently on the PC. Linux Kernel Module Workqueue ProcessA Linux kernel module workqueue handles primitive I/O control to the ISA card that is connected to the final control elements of the pinball machine via the interface board.It executes once every three milliseconds (333 Hz) for a duration of 20 to 100 microseconds, issuing the high speed read and write operations that ultimately control the continuous solenoids, momentary solenoids, feature lamps, switch matrix, and digital displays. User Game Control ProgramThe second basic process is a much less frequently executed – four times a second (4 Hz) – supervisory control program that regulates the actual game play and responds to input from the user via the keyboard to perform diagnostic tests. Besides these programs, there are all the background processes making up the Fedora Core 5 GNU/Linux operating environment in which they run, including a MySQL relational database and Apache webserver to provide a web interface to the game showing statistic information about the games played on it (Bork: 106-139).

In some cases, control functions are embedded in discrete circuits rather than soft-wired in program code. This is the case for the third subsystem from the pinball machine to be examined, for which there are no direct parallels in human bodies, the feature lamps. Perhaps in the near future, our cyborg bodies will evolve forms of bio luminescense. These are up to 64 light bulbs positioned within the playing field of the game and the head piece that contains the circuit boards and digital displays behind the painted back glass. Like the solenoid driver board, the lamp driver board utilizes 4-to-16 decoders, but four instead of one are laid out so that two, four-bit binary coded numbers can specify each of the 64 lamps individually. In conjunction with a single strobe output, all 64 lamps are controlled using only nine outputs. The precision timing required to light the lamps involves the microsecond and millisecond temporal OOMs. Silicon-controlled rectifiers (SCRs) are used to turn on each lamp during the rising 120 Hertz alternating current (AC) waveform from the bridge-rectified standard, 60 Hz power supply after a transformer has reduced the 120 volts AC to about 6 VAC (Bork: 85-89). DC Waveform at Feature Lamp SCR AnodesThe narrative account of how the pmrek kernel module workqueue process that can be developed by examining the C program source code (pmrek.h and pmrek.c) is preferable to using instruments to capture these control operations, although the theory should be validated by finding a clear indicator. In a live demonstration, an oscilloscope probe can be attached to the SCR gate of a selected feature lamp in order to show the clipping of the AC waveform that occurs when the gate is energized.


A final aspect of distributed control returns us to the graphic depicting how human and machine activities relate to temporal orders of magnitude. Our cyborg embodiment conjoins the two, such as in the experience of playing a game of pinball on a reverse engineered unit based on the FOSS PMREK. On the one hand, lack of training in basic science and technology on the part of humanities scholars who pursue such theorizing, combined with the aforementioned bias favoring transcorporeal patterns, perpetuates treatments that foreground disembodied inscription rather than material specific absorption (Hayles 2:198-200). A misguided approach to concrete analysis of the machine would be tracking the flow of electrons through the circuits of the hardware. That is like trying to understand an organism from the perspective of the flow of bodily fluids. On the other hand, when embodied in specific systems, such as a reverse engineered bricolage, custom code and circuitry makes sense within the function of its particular context, like a good-bye wave.

Socrates gave the famous command, “Know thyself!” and seemed to shun investigation of external phenomena in favor of this self-study. In a curious twist, John von Neumann, one of the founding theorists of the electronic computer technology behind both the electronic pinball machine studied in this exercise, as well as nearly all microcomputers in use today, noted that, “of all automata of high complexity, computing machines are the ones which we have the best chance of understanding” (435). Perhaps it is not surprising that we look to our machines today in order to help understand ourselves. Hayles, writing on the materiality of informatics, suggests that

When people begin using their bodies in significantly different ways, either because of technological innovations or other cultural shifts, changing experiences of embodiment bubble up into language. . . . By concentrating on a period when a new technology comes into being and is diffusing throughout the culture, one should be able to triangulate between incorporation, inscription, and technological materiality to arrive at a fuller description of these feedback loops than discursive analysis alone would yield. (2: 206-207)

A first step in this direction is to learn how electronic computers work from the ground up, to get a feel for machine embodiment, by actually picking up the soldering iron, handling multimeters and oscilloscopes, and reading circuit schematics and IC datasheets. Future iterations of this project will first and foremost complete the analysis of the pinball machine by theorizing the ME of the switch matrix and digital displays. There are interesting extensions of the parallels between human and machine embodiment when considering pathologies and breakdowns. For the live demonstration, mixed media installation, a self-contained unit that can be played just like in an arcade or bowling alley, but complemented by video projection screens or monitors displaying animated tutorials with Eddie Electron, circuit schematics, datasheets, as well as quotations from critical theory, video clips, and background music. Finally, the functional/cybernetic approach can be rejoined to aesthetic/ethnographic approaches by considering the pinball machine artwork, especially the highly detailed and suggestive back glass of Strikes and Spares.

Works Cited

Bork, John R. “Controlling a Pinball Machine Using Linux.” Linux Journal 139 (Nov, 2005): 50-59. Print.

—. Reverse Engineering a Microcomputer-based Control Unit. OhioLINK ETD, 2005. Web. 3 May 2009.<http://www.ohiolink.edu/etd/view.cgi?acc_num=bgsu1120167127&gt;.

Grob, Bernard. Grob Basic Electronics. 7th ed. New York: Glencoe Division of Macmillan/McGraw-Hill School Publishing Company, 1992. Print.

Haraway, Donna J. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991. Print.

Hayles, N. Katherine. Electronic Literature. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008. Print.

—. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodes in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999. Print.

O’Gorman, Marcel. E-crit: Digital Media, Critical Theory and the Humanities. Buffalo, NY: University of Toronto Press, 2006. Print.

“Pinball Machine Reverse Engineering Kit.” Sourceforge.net, 2009. Web. 2 May 2009. <http://sourceforge.net/projects/pmrek&gt;.

Poundstone, William. “Project for Tachistoscope.” Electronic Literature Collection. Vol 1. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008. CDROM.

Stallman, Richard M. Free Software Free Society: selected essays of Richard M. Stallman. Boston: GNU Press, 2002.

Final Paper: Queer Identitites Machine May 1, 2009

Posted by jenwojton in Uncategorized.
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HI, All,

I have attached my paper.  If anyone has any input, I would love to hear from you.  Dr. Scott, I have sent my paper as an attachment to your email.


Jennifer Wojton


Cyborg Mating Rituals May 1, 2009

Posted by macotto in Uncategorized.
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Hi all,

attached are links to the three different opening scenes of my video presentation, a link to my theoretic rationale, and a link to the website of Stelarc.
What an amazing class we had. Thanks to everyone.

Have a great summer,






Embodiment is a Process: Where Second Life and Shared Message Systems Converge and Juxtapose-A Pedagogical Tool for Teaching Composition Studies April 29, 2009

Posted by daugmatic in Uncategorized.
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I hated leaving so early last night, but the clock was ticking away before completing and posting my Statistics Final Exam to Webcourses; of course, I hadn’t finished it before coming to class.

Just wanted to say how much I immensely enjoyed meeting the T&T doctoral students and realizing how much we had in common. It was such a delightful experience. Each of you are so talented and will make great contributions to your actor-network. (clearning throat…)

Seriously, I’m hoping I will meet you again in another course before we finish our doctorates. Perhaps I’ll run into you in an Instructional Class over in Education (course numbers start with EMEXXXX). Enough advertising…

I’ve attached my term project on Embodiment is a Process. It proved to be a catharsis and synthesis of the theory, the doctoral experience, and the convergence of T&T and Instructional Technology, for me.

Enjoy the paper and let me know if any part of it resonated with you. Keep in touch!

All the best,

Jan Daugherty, MBA
Doctoral Student, UCF-COE-IT
daugmatic@aol.com; jfdaughe@mail.ucf.edu

brief reading for Tuesday April 28, 2009

Posted by jbork in Uncategorized.
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My project presentation will make more sense if you can take a few minutes to read this post responding to Marcel O’Gorman’s E-Crit from last semester:


Thank you!

Machine Embodiment / Phenomenology April 21, 2009

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Project Proposal: Machine Phenomenology / Embodiment Circuits

Major Theorists: Haraway, Hansen, Zizek, Ulmer, O’Gorman

Target Audience: an undergraduate course on digital literacy or the philosophy of computing; texts and technology scholars

Does it make sense to explore what it means to be a machine? Imagine embodiment in electrical circuits such as a pinball machine. What would reality be like? What would ‘you’, as the assemblage of wires, resistors, semiconductors, solenoids, light bulbs, plastic and wood, feel while you were powered on, while some human was playing you? The inspiration for this project is Haraway’s statement in “A Cyborg Manifesto”:

There are several consequences to taking seriously the imagery of cyborgs as other than our enemies. Our bodies, ourselves; bodies are maps of power and identity. Cyborgs are no exception. A cyborg body is not innocent; it was not born in a garden. . . . Intense pleasure in skill, machine skill, ceases to be a sin, but an aspect of embodiment. The machine is not an it to be animated, worshiped, and dominated. The machine is us, our processes, an aspect of our embodiment. (p. 180)

And a call long ago by Michael Heim for a cybersage. What does a machine experience? What does a machine feel? What does it feel like to be a machine? What does a machine feel like? What does a machine look like? How do we look at machines? This strange battery of questions reveals a natural discomfort with confronting the otherness of nonhuman technoscience, whose quintessence is the digital electronic computer. It is, with respect to humanities-based critical theory, what Marcel O’Gorman characterizes in E-Crit as the remainder, “the ‘other’ of academic or scholarly language” (4).

To straddle this position within the world of simulacra is to adopt the very language of phallogocentric, capitalist technoscience and reappropriate that knowledge through heuretics (Ulmer’s inventive discovery) to extend our senses beyond the limits of our current modes of embodiment, again invoking Haraway: “As Marx showed for the science of wealth, our reappropriation of knowledge is a revolutionary reappropriation of a means by which we produce and reproduce our lives. We must be interested in this task” (“The Biological Enterprise”, p. 45). We must be interested in this task. So how do we prepare for it?

Like the exercise Sonia and I developed for understanding machine communications, I am proposing to create a mixed media installation in which I will demonstrate some ways to consider machine embodiment in the context of a crash course in digital electronics and cybernetic control. The instructional example will be a 1970s era electronic pinball machine, which contains a number of interrelated subsystems that each exhibit a distinct form of machine embodiment: solenoids, lights, digital displays, and switches. It will include the upper portion of a Strikes and Spares pinball machine (to bring the entire machine into class is excessive but the next iteration of the project would be a fully playable machine, similar to the monstrosity I created for my masters thesis project and carted around pinball conventions in Ohio and Michigan), modified to run under the control of a personal computer using a free, open source software project hosted on Sourceforge along with a combination of generic operating system components, including a relational database. The control console of the pinball machine program will be projected on the screen in conjunction an Open Office Impress presentation. I am tempted to include video clips of theorists and amusing background music, but time limits may call for a skeletal implementation with notes about where it could go with further time and funding.

An important point of this project is to show how many of the metaphors grounding our fantasies (unanalyzed impressions and beliefs, as suggested by Lacan and Zizek) about the life of machines come from our visceral feelings of embodiment and their ‘pop-science’ accounts. Thus I will draw analogies between electrical current and blood flow, wires as blood vessels, power supply as heart, ground wires as veins, electrical devices as organs, and of course microprocessor unit as brain. Daring to use such obviously phallogocentric organ metaphors means allowing ourselves to consider solenoid driver units and wires as nerves and muscles, for example continuous solenoids as slow cycling, involuntary muscles and momentary solenoids as high speed voluntary muscles. Likewise a switch matrix may be compared to self feedback inducing skin, proprioception, fingers (Hansen). Going beyond the equipment of standard humans, blinking lamps are bioluminescence organs. It even seems helpful to compare the pathology of machine and human bodies, in which a broken wire has the effect of a broken blood vessel or severed nerve.

But this is a lesson in basic electronics and closed loop feedback control system design. I will invoke the helpful Eddie Electron from introductory electronics to stretch the analogy between machine and human embodiment to the point that the metaphor breaks, so that we realize how anthropomorphizing the former robs us of valuable heuretic potentials. Eddie Electron traverses electrical circuits as the logical flow of current from positive to negative potential (not quite how the physical process actually happens, which is referred to as the flow of holes in the opposite direction), at nearly the speed of of light. Again, Haraway seems to call for this kind of study as a preliminary to applying her postmodern cyborg mix of the organic, technical, textual, and mythical to science.

One should expect control strategies to concentrate on boundary conditions and interfaces, on rates of flow across boundaries, not on the integrity of natural objects. . . . ‘Degrees of freedom’ becomes a very powerful metaphor for politics. Human beings, like any other component or subsystem, must be localized in a system architecture whose basic modes of operation are probabilistic. . . . In particular, there is no ground for ontologically opposing the organic, the technical, and the textual. But neither is there any ground for opposing the mythical to the organic, textual, and technical. . . . The privileged pathology affecting all kinds of components in this universe is stress – communications breakdown. . . . The cyborg is text, machine, body, and metaphor – all theorized and engaged in practice in terms of communications. (“The Biopolitics of Postmodern Bodies: Constitutions of Self in Immune System Discourse”, p. 212)

The details of these linkages can be articulated by considering Hansen’s Bodies in Code. I will update this posting soon with more theoretical linkages, and look forward to suggestions and feedback in our upcoming workshop.

Anyone have Massumi I could borrow? April 20, 2009

Posted by lamothej in Uncategorized.

I’d like to take a look at the Massumi text for my final project, but I don’t have a copy of it and it’s too late to order it and get it in time. Thanks,


Update to SL Identity Idea April 20, 2009

Posted by M K Gardner in Uncategorized.
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I am focusing in on the idea of portraying identity in SL through static images. The sphere idea is not working out. There have been several hours spent trying to get the shape right and it really looks quite unappealing. So the idea is switching to more of a billboard type array of pictures. In my case, I am going to actually create an image tree. I had an idea for it several days ago and there is one image that sort of leads to most other things/people/places in my life at the moment.

Both O’Gorman’s E-Crit as well as Ulmer’s Mystory come to mind as this could be a self reflective exercise. The images brought into display on the panels do not have to be pictures. If the individual can find images on the web that s/he identifies with then those images are placed on the panels. Given there is no depth, height, length limitations (well you cannot fill a sim with an image but that is unlikely to be a problem) the panels can be adjusted proportional to the value of the image to the individual.

The take-away for anyone who wants to participate in the activity is quite valuable in SL. Aside from the reflective aspect which of course can help the individual with his/her in-world (or real-world) identity, the person who takes on this project will learn basic ‘build’ing skills as well as how to create custom textures. The images, once uploaded to SL become textures. The user then must put the textures onto the panels. In SL understanding the dimensions of objects as well as how to shape and move them is valuable. An individual unfamiliar with SL will learn some basic and very helpful skills while engaging in this kind of project.

There are two friends in-world that I wanted to create one of these so I could demo them in class. I was looking forward to having the class look at the images and try to ‘identify’ something about these people. Like the sphere idea, that is not working out. One of them is doing a total of 7 speaking session in SL this month and is swamped and the other just had his father pass away. There is one other possibility but I have not approached him yet. Keep your fingers crossed or else there will just be my panels to look at for the display portion of my project.

Oh – and I thought this was interesting. Since we were all discussing earlier this term how the great it would be if links in texts could be updated – someone of course is already doing this! I am intrigued!

What is happening NOW April 18, 2009

Posted by M K Gardner in Uncategorized.
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Want to see what is happening NOW? This is pretty cool:

Pretty Cool stuff!


Jenny Holzer Exhibit (interesting! relevant!) April 17, 2009

Posted by Lela in Uncategorized.
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I thought some of you might be interested in Jenny Holzer’s work. It reminds me of some of the examples we’ve seen of art playing with texts and technologies and the political implications of both. This exhibit was briefly reviewed on Feministing.