Imitation & Flattery

I’ve been lucky enough to own this domain name for a number of years, and populate it with loads of content along the way. For a while, I ran a dedicated Tumblr sideblog of the same name which I have since merged into this site. More recently, I founded Digital Cortex Ltd., a formal means of handling a clutch of consultation projects. And now, this site is the front-end to my hosting business, offering virtual private server space to a few happy clients, as well as a playground for a few of the other little projects I’m working on.

Meanwhile, plenty of other people / groups / products have laid their claim to the Digital Cortex name, and I wanted to provide a quick review of them here, just for fun, but also to signpost should anyone have got lost in the ether.

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Chris Chan on Twitter

https://twitter.com/digitalcortex

A dude who’s only tweeted four times, not much else to say…
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Question Authority on YouTube

http://www.youtube.com/digitalcortex

A highly politicised channel featuring clips from documentaries and news broadcasts. It’s seemingly anti-corporate  / anti-government / anti-war. Whoever runs the channel quotes:

America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter, and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves. (Abraham Lincoln)

Makes it all the more charming that one of his playlists is called Why I Love the 80’s, doesn’t it?
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Doc on Instagram

http://instagram.com/digitalcortex

I guess this is a tattooed guy who I assume wears glasses, eats pasta, and likes beer. He describes himself as “PhD -Piled Higher Deeper enuff said 😉
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Digital Cortex – The Movie

http://www.digital-cortex.com

A chap called Serhan Meewisse, a storyteller from the Netherlands, is making a film. He posted the below trailer to his YouTube channel:

About the film (autotranslated from Dutch):

Digital Cortex is a fiction story about Matt, who has just graduated from the film academy. Matt, the speed of the eternal accelerating system not keep after his studies. He gets his unattainable vision into depression and have thoughts about suicide. In desperation get Matt to his friend Andrew. Andrew may be the only solution for him.

A device that he can continue. system

Digital cortex makes the flow of information along the human visual cortex digital. Thoughts and fantasies are visual and are immediately visible on screen. Matt’s life is gaining momentum. Success is his second name. Because Matt is continuously working to become reality and fantasy begin to merge. Together his fantasy reality Matt is getting delusions and hallucinations. He stands for choice, back to his unhappy existence or lose himself in his imagination.

Sounds kind of cool – wonder if I’ll get an invite to the screening!
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Digital Cortex on LinkedIn

http://www.linkedin.com/company/digital-cortex

The leading social media marketing and customer experience agency. We help Business understand the power of having a marketing and communication presence through the Social medium.

Hmm… Not sure if they realise, but their web address redirects back here. Further googling suggests they might not be doing too well.
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Digital Cortex on SlideShare

http://www.slideshare.net/theopriestley/digital-cortex

A bit more info on what the above company does:


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Digital Cortex on SoundCloud

https://soundcloud.com/digital-cortex

Three guys named KyRow, Nebtune & Aaronson, who make Drum & Bass that sounds like this:

I recommend you also check out ‘Skull Fucker’, ‘nothing like a bowl of frosties’ and their remix of ‘Lana Del Rey – Born To Die’. They are also on Facebook and YouTube. Good shit, lads.
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DIGITALCORTEX.COM

Not active, but the WHOIS record indicates Brian Winn, a Professor of Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media and Director of the Games for Entertainment and Learning (GEL) Lab at Michigan State University. We emailed a couple of years ago, and he provided some interesting backstory about the domain:

In terms of releasing digitalcortex.com, I am not interested at this point. I actually had a consulting company called Digital Cortex back in the late 90s and digitalcortex.com was the domain name for the company. Interestingly enough another company wanted the domain name and bought it for a substantial amount of money. Enough that we changed our company name and got a new domain name. Well, the story goes that a year or two later, that company went belly up in the .com crash and I bought the domain name back. I am not holding out for a big sale in the future (though I would not oppose it). I just have a sentimental connection with the domain … and I am thinking of using the name again for a new company.

Best of luck with it all, Brian.
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Digital Cortex in the US Trademark Records

COMPUTER SOFTWARE, WHETHER EMBEDDED IN ANOTHER PRODUCT OR ON A STAND-ALONE BASIS, WHICH ALLOWS THE USER OR ANOTHER COMPUTER SOFTWARE PROGRAM TO CAPTURE ANY DIGITAL CONTENT, AND TO USE, MANIPULATE, PROCESS, AND ROUTE THAT CONTENT, INCLUDING ORIGINAL ATTRIBUTES, TO AND FROM ANY COMPUTER SOFTWARE APPLICATION

The registrant was AnySoft, a tech company based in Newton, MA. From what I can dig up, their software ‘Digital Cortex 2.0′ was an approach to solving system and application interopability’ acting as a sort of software layer between various networked machines. More info here. Possibly the same guys who bought the domain from Brian Winn? Anyway, the trademark was cancelled a couple of years ago. A shame, too, because they also had this super snazzy logo:

Digital Cortex Anysoft Logo
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A few more:

Digital Cortex on Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/alamocityit

Providing IT Solutions for local non-profits and healthcare businesses.

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Digital Cortex Media

http://www.linkedin.com/pub/mark-fenger/11/43a/485

Digital Cortex is a small animation studio specializing in educational videos. We just completed work on ‘Echo’ a computer animated accent reduction tutor, prior to that we created a series of videos to accompany medical textbooks.

Sounds pretty cool, but couldn’t uncover any of their work.
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Digital Cortex by Dactilar

http://www.beatport.com/track/digital-cortex-original-mix/4307073

A deep house track, with a couple of good remixes. I really like this one.
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Digital Cortex on ‘Wandering Stan’ Blog

http://wanderingstan.com/2006-11-16/we_need_a_digital_cortex

A mini series of interesting blog posts by Stan James, starting with this.
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Digital Cortex dot IT

http://digitalcortex.it

Hi, I’m Matt Hileman, chief do-it-all at Digital Cortex […] Contact us any time with issues regarding any aspect of IT, networking, wireless, software installs and/or upgrades, PC’s, servers, storage, disaster recovery, backups and more…

Seems like there’s lots more going on behind the scenes.
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Digital Cortex dot CA

http://blog.digitalcortex.ca

This blog has up to date information on Network Security.

Last updated, Wednesday, November 3, 2010…
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Digital Cortex dot DE

http://digitalcortex.de

Another dead IT site.
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Cortex Professional Digital 4-in-1 Titanium Curling Iron

http://amzn.to/10V87la

You’d be surprised how much of my traffic comes from searches for this product!
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Cortex Digital

http://cortexdigital.com

A complete mystery…
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And that’s all I could find! Hopefully, I can remain the top site for the keyword, but if not the crown is bound to go to one of the above contenders. My money is on the trio of drum+bass producers – those search bots seem to love ’em!

Fingers

[box]This post originally appeared on the FTMF.info planning blog.[/box]

What does the word ‘digital’ mean to you?

dig·it·al /?d?d??tl/ adv

  1. of or pertaining to a digit or finger
  2. resembling a digit or finger
  3. manipulated with a finger or the fingertips: a digital switch
  4. displaying a readout in digital form: a digital speedometer
  5. having digits or digitlike parts
  6. of, pertaining to, or using data in the form of numerical digits
  7. Computers. involving or using numerical digits expressed in a scale of notation to represent discretely all variables occurring in a problem
  8. of, pertaining to, or using numerical calculations
  9. available in electronic form; readable and manipulable by computer

So digital means either ‘relating to  fingers’, or ‘relating to computers’, right?

My argument: fingers are, by definition, the most digital part of our body. We touch, type, gesture and manipulate our environment (real or virtual) through the interfaces that surround us: a shiny black screen, a keyboard, or even through thin air.

And that’s what digital means to me: the ability to effect a change in the world through the lightest of touch – powered by technology, thought, and action. More on these themes later in the week, but for now I’ll leave you with an illustration – unleash your fingers:

Nucleus Medical Media

Nucleus Medical Media’s 2011 3D medical animation demo reel shows surgery, anatomy, mechanism of action (MOA), and physiology produced for medical devices, pharmaceutical companies, biotechnology, marketing agencies, lawyers, and more.

What Nucleus don’t include in their showreel’s YouTube description, but will become apparent, is that they are probably among the finest computer animators working today.

In my view they depict very complicated biomechanical processes so very clearly, and quite beautifully too. Here’s the aforementioned showreel:

My question is, how is it these guys are nailing it so hard?! Are they scientists trained in CAD, or the reverse?

Pixar’s Zoetrope and the 4th Dimension

As leaders in computer animation, in terms of box-office takings, technical prowess and industry awards, it’s easy to forget that Pixar’s roots are in traditional animation: the frame by frame progression of a set of still images at speeds that trick the eye into perceiving a single moving image.

But in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, it’s hard to explain the essentials of what Pixar really do without spoiling some of the magic: as any Behind the Scenes DVD extra will show you, it’s a probably a bunch of sweaty animators slaving over their Wacom tablets for months on end.

traditional zoetrope
a traditional zoetrope

So when Disney sought to showcase their acquisition (they bought Pixar back in 2006) in a couple of their resorts, they tasked Pixar with a demonstrating how animation works in a way that keeps the magic in.

What they came up with – a modern re-imagining of the zoetrope – is something to truly surprise and delight.

Take a look at this:

Lovely, isn’t it?

What caught my attention is the point animator Warren Trezevant makes:

It’s the clearest explanation of animation, because you get to see every frame of animation before your current frame […] and every frame of animation after it. Here you have the opportunity to see the tricks the animators use to make things move.

Dr Manhattan
Dr. Manhattan

Thinking more deeply on this, one could consider the zoetrope’s design as illustrative of one other concept: four dimensional perception.

Unlike traditional screen-based animation, the zoetrope lends observers the ability to see ‘through time’. One can rewind or fast-forward through frames with a slight adjustment in perspective, much like Watchmen’s Dr. Manhattan.

This recalls an essay I wrote applying McLuhanism to comic books, which talks around the medium’s unique ability to force a sort of cognitive leap between the panels of a page (despite speeds far lower than 30 fps).

In comics, the reader’s mind fills in the blanks, making it probably the most effective animator of all. And now that Disney owns Marvel too, perhaps we’ll see more examples of Disney playing around in the fourth dimension.

Experience a Glimpse of 3D Web Browsing

Coming Soon: 3D computing. Well, it makes sense, doesn’t it?

3D Windows XP Icons
image credit: http://goo.gl/98PXI

My claim is that 3D is the next step in object-oriented user interface (OOUI), which is the way most of us interact with computers after someone (at Apple, I think) had idea that we’d store ‘documents’ in ‘folders’ rather than access them via a command line. Ever since, we’ve  been using ‘object-oriented’ analogies to interact with our machines.

Now is the age of 3D screen technologies, with Hollywood fighting back from piracy with a new golden age for cinema, Samsung outperforming Sony to becoming the number one manufacturer of 3D TVs, and the Nintendo 3DS making use of prismatic 3D in it’s menus, and of course in-game (think I might be buying Ocarina again soon). Not to mention Microsoft’s Kinect, which changes the way we interact in the three dimensions of physical, as opposed to virtual space.

But before all of this, there were innovators trying to make 3D compliant with everyday use, such as TATMobile who, without the power to print prismatic screens, force a behaviour change through the use of 3D glasses, or sell expensive stereoscopic 3D projectors, had come up with a pretty cool lo-fi solution:

The video above demonstrates the use of a front-facing camera on one’s mobile phone to track the location of your eyes, augmenting what’s onscreen, allowing you to see ‘behind’ icons or onto different screens by peering around. Hopefully you can imagine how a 3D screen might alter the way you interact with your device, so it’s no wonder they were bought by RIM and are now developing UI for BlackBerry.

While we’re at it, also check out the work of Bumptop (sadly now defunct), Johnny Lee‘s Wii hacks, and even YouTube‘s foray into 3D video.

Another lo-fi solution to making 3D useful comes from Mozilla, outlined in this fascinating article. Their technology, called Tilt, is not a way to physically see in 3D (it’s just software at this point), but certainly nods towards the future 3D stereoscopy web content. You can test Mozilla’s Tilt plugin in Firefox with their beta plugin at that link, but here’s a demo:

All we need now is for computer, laptop, tablet & mobile screens to become 3D-enabled, and for vast swathes of web designers to optimise their sites for WebGL, and suddenly those social buttons become a bit more clickable.

Applying McLuhan

I begin with McLuhan, whose Laws of Media or Tetrad offers greater insights for Mobile AR, sustaining and developing upon the arguments developed in my assessment of the interlinking technologies that meet in Mobile AR, whilst also providing the basis to address some of this man’s deeper thoughts.

The tetrad can be considered an observation lens to turn upon one’s subject technology. It assumes four processes take place during each iteration of a given medium. These processes are revealed as answers to these following questions, taken from Levinson (1999):

“What aspect of society or human life does it enhance or amplify? What aspect, in favour or high prominence before the arrival of the medium in question, does it eclipse or obsolesce? What does the medium retrieve or pull back into centre stage from the shadows of obsolescence? And what does the medium reverse or flip into when it has run its course or been developed to its fullest potential?”

(Digital Mcluhan 1999: 189).

To ask each of these it is useful to transfigure our concept of Mobile AR into a more workable and fluid term: the Magic Lens, a common expression in mixed reality research. Making this change allows the exploration of the more theoretical aspects of the technology free of its machinic nature, whilst integrating a necessary element of metaphor that will serve to illustrate my points.

To begin, what does the Magic Lens amplify? AR requires the recognition of a pre-programmed real-world image in order to augment the environment correctly. It is the user who locates this target, it is important to mention. It could be said that the Magic Lens more magnifies than amplifies an aspect of the user’s environment, because like other optical tools the user must point the device towards it and look through, the difference with this Magic Lens is that one aspect of its target, one potential meaning, is privileged over all others. An arbitrary black and white marker holds the potential to mean many things to many people, but viewed through an amplifying Magic Lens it means only what the program recognises and consequently superimposes.

This superimposition necessarily obscures what lies beneath. McLuhan might recognise this as an example of obsolescence. The Magic Lens privileges virtual over real imagery, and the act of augmentation leaves physical space somewhat redundant: augmenting one’s space makes it more virtual than real. The AR target undergoes amplification, becoming the necessary foundation of the augmented reality. What is obsolesced by the Magic Lens, then, is not the target which it obscures, but everything except the target.

I am reminded of McLuhan’s Extensions of Man (1962: 13), which offers the view that in extending ourselves through our tools, we auto-amputate the aspect we seek to extend. There is a striking parallel to be drawn with amplification and obsolescence, which becomes clear when we consider that in amplifying an aspect of physical reality through a tool, we are extending sight, sound and voice through the Magic Lens to communicate in wholly new ways using The Virtual as a conduit. This act obsolesces physical reality, the nullification effectively auto-amputating the user from their footing in The Real. So where have they ‘travelled’? The Magic Lens is a window into another reality, a mixed reality where real and virtual share space. In this age of Mixed Realities, the tetrad can reveal more than previously intended: new dimensions of human interaction.

The third question in the tetrad asks what the Magic Lens retrieves that was once lost. So much new ground is gained by this technology that it would be difficult to make a claim. However, I would not hold belief in Mobile AR’s success if I didn’t recognise the exhumed, as well as the novel benefits that it offers. The Magic Lens retrieves the everyday tactility and physicality of information engagement, that which was obsolesced by other screen media such as television, the Desktop PC and the games console. The Magic Lens encourages users to interact in physicality, not virtuality. The act of actually walking somewhere to find something out, or going to see someone to play with them is retrieved. Moreover, we retrieve the sense of control over our media input that was lost by these same technologies. Information is freed into the physical world, transfiguring its meaning and offering a greater degree of manipulative power. Mixed Reality can be seen only through the one-way-glass of the Magic Lens, The Virtual cannot spill through unless we allow it to. We have seen that certain mainstream media can wholly fold themselves into reality and become an annoyance- think Internet pop-ups and mobile ringtones- through the Magic Lens we retrieve personal agency to navigate our own experience. I earlier noted that “the closer we can bring artefacts from The Virtual to The Real, the more applicable these can be in our everyday lives”; a position that resonates with my growing argument that engaging with digital information through the Magic Lens is an appropriate way to integrate and indeed exploit The Virtual as a platform for the provision of communication, leisure and information applications.

It is hard to approximate what the Magic Lens might flip into, since at this point AR is a wave that has not yet crested. I might suggest that since the medium is constrained to success in its mobile device form, its trajectory is likely entwined with that medium. So, the Magic Lens flips into whatever the mobile multimedia computer flips into. Another possibility is that the Magic Lens inspires such commercial success and industrial investment that a surge in demand for Wearable Computers shifts AR into a new form. This time, the user cannot dip in and out of Mixed Reality as they see fit, they are immersed in it whenever they wear their visor. This has connotations all of its own, but I will not expound my own views given that much cultural change must first occur to implement such a drastic shift in consumer fashions and demands. A third way for the Magic Lens to ‘flip’ might be its wider application in other media. Developments in digital ink technologies; printable folding screens; ‘cloud’ computing; interactive projector displays; multi-input touch screen devices; automotive glassware and electronic product packaging could all take advantage of the AR treatment. We could end up living far more closely with The Virtual than previously possible.

In their work The Global Village, McLuhan and Powers (1989) state that:

“The tetrad performs the function of myth in that it compresses past, present, and future into one through the power of simultaneity. The tetrad illuminates the borderline between acoustic and visual space as an arena of the spiralling repetition and replay, both of input and feedback, interlace and interface in the area of imploded circle of rebirth and metamorphosis”

(The Global Village 1989: 9)

I would be interested to hear their view on the unique “simultaneity” offered by the Magic Lens, or indeed the “metamorphosis” it would inspire, but I would argue that when applied from a Mixed Reality inter-media perspective, their outlook seems constrained to the stringent and self-involved rules of their own epistemology. Though he would be loath to admit it, Baudrillard took on McLuhan’s work as the basis of his own (Genosko, 1999; Kellner, date unknown), and made it relevant to the postmodern era. His work is cited by many academics seeking to forge a relationship to Virtual Reality in their research…