Tuesday, May 01, 2018

BPN 1739: 25 years of consumer internet in the Netherlands

"On 1 May 1993, something remarkable happened. On that day, XS4ALL opened its server to the consumer. The management's objective was to acquire 500 customers in half a year. But at 7 o'clock in the evening, the 500th customer had already signed up. This success can largely be explained by the publication of the article "A continent that belongs to no one yet" by Francisco van Jole "(@2525) in the Volkskrant of the same day".

Besides (old) illustrations on the site of XS4ALL, there is also an old sound found. It is about the sound the handshake of a modem to the server of the IP. After the ringtone of DDS now also one of XS4ALL plus a happy birthday tune. 

Text fragment: Toen digitale media nog nieuw waren - Pre-internet in de polder (1967-1997) - bit.ly/2e1T7ON. Illustration is part of the Collection Jak Boumans.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

BPN 1738: Escher interactive again

The Dutch public broadcasting company NTR is building a series of interactive gems. In 2016 it launched Jheronimus Bosch's interactive documentary The Garden of Earthly Delights on the occasion of the major Bosch exhibition in 's Hertogenbosch. Now the broadcaster has launched a new documentary entitled The Metamorphosis of Escher. Never before has Escher's work been viewed in such detail online; however, Escher's work has been interactively available on CD-ROM since 1996.

Web documentary 
The interactive documentary The metamorphosis of Escher, in which Metamorphosis II is central, enables website visitors to discover and experience Escher's work and follow his life from closely. The online visitor can make an art-historical tour through the documentary, listen to personal stories, and study the technique of Escher. Not only Metamorphosis II, but also ten other works such as Relativity, Reptiles and Verbum can be experienced in this way.

The interactive documentary was made in collaboration with the M.C. Escher Foundation, and has been launched in the same period as the start of the Escher exhibition in the Fries Museum in Leeuwarden as part of Leeuwarden Cultural Capital festival. Visitors to the exhibition can also experience the interactive documentary via a digital table. The specially composed music of Paul M. van Brugge gives the interactive documentary an extra compelling atmosphere.

Visitors can also work on the site with their own piece of metamorphosis. Techniques that Escher has developed over the years have now been incorporated into the so-called 'Metamorphosis Machine'. You can rotate, mirror, shift, and then morphe to a second image. You then add your created work to the digital 'Gesamtkunstwerk' with other web visitors into an infinite online metamorphosis. You can also download, print and share your own work with others. 

CD-ROM documentary 
It is not the first time that an interactive documentary about Escher has been launched. In 1996 the silver disc Escher Interactive was released, discovering the art of the infinite presented in Dutch and English. The producer of the disc was Michael M. Chanowski , a TV producer turned creative ICT.

The CD-ROM program was available on a Multimedia MPC 2 with a minimum specification of Windows 3.1, 25MHz 4865X, 8MB RAM, 640 x 480 monitor x 256 colours (64K colours recommended) and 16bit audio. 

The CD-ROM received nice international reviews, although Harold Goldberg from the New York Times Book Review wondered: “Ultimately, this is a disk that doesn't quite know if it wants to be a game or a reference tool”. 

I myself wrote a column on the disc for the Dutch trade journal De Ingenieur (no. 15 - 25 September 1996): 
The CD-ROM Escher Interactive, discover the art of the infinite is an interesting interactive exploration through the legacy of Escher. The disk also provides much more information than any other book about Escher. The module about his life alone consists of photos, images, sound and video fragments. This module has become a document humaine, in which a person starts to get alive and in which it becomes clear what interests a person. The same applies to the module with the Gallery. The graphical works are presented here one by one, with or without biographical information or expert comments. Although these parts are interesting and have been done with a touch of style, a kind of tradition has developed in art CD-ROMs. The other modules make the disc outstanding: Plane distribution, Concave and Sphere, Animations, Concaves mirrors, Morphing, Magical images and Impossible puzzles. These modules make use of the computer's computing power. For example, you can create your own Escher-like drawings with an advanced drawing program in the plane distribution module. Interesting is the game Concave and Sphere, in which optical illusion is exploited as an element of play. The computer's computing power is also used for the animations. In this way one can see the Moebius strip, over which ants continue to run into infinity. In the concave mirrors module, you can view images as if you had a large drop of water on the screen and could move it with your mouse. The effect is alienating between the detail and the two-dimensional image. The Morphing module shows how figures of griffons gradually change into frogs. In addition, a user can enter his own design, made in the Plane distribution module, and have it changed into a real Escher figure. The Magic Images module is for lovers of three-dimensional images; it is not given to everyone to explore these depths. The Impossible Puzzles module is a real brain breaker. The note in the accompanying booklet, that all puzzles are soluble, indicates that one must have the necessary perseverance. 
The disc has style, is not a translation from print to electronic, but a truly interactive product. In short, superlatives for the product. That does not mean, however, that there are no minor beauty flaws and missed opportunities. At a maximum setting - translated as an acceptable speed - the CD-ROM requires 9Mb of disk space of external memory. The sound on the commentary disc is screeching. There is a missed opportunity in the Gallery module, where a loop could have been built in; if you do not touch the keyboard for some minutes, all images will be played back in historical order, with or without comments. Nevertheless, the disc remains a rare beautiful CD-ROM product. 

Online: https://escher.ntr.nl/en 
CD-ROM: Escher Interactive: Exploring the Art of the Infinite (Windows Edition) Multimedia CD, published by Simon & Schuster Interactive (1999); ISBN 978-1572600096 (Dutch version is part of the Collection Jak Boumans)

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

BPN 1737: The one-button mobile

Both pictures © Ton Mooy/www.bel-engel.nl 

An angel flew into my study recently. It looks like a regular angel with wings, but it is not. It is sporting a one button telephone and computer satchel and is fashionably dressed in a pantsuit. The angel is a miniature  of a statue standing on a 15 meter high pillar outside the gothic Saint John’s Cathedral in ‘s-Hertogenbosch (The Netherlands), built between the 14th and 16th century. The angel is overlooking a marketplace at the Southside of the Cathedral. The statue is one of a series of 14 angles carved during the restauration of  the gothic Saint John’s Cathedral. The modern angel was especially designed show that the prolonged restauration has been completed in modern times.

When the statue was unveiled in 2011, a tourists’ circus broke loose. Despite the one button for calls to heaven on the mobile, paid telephone numbers were published (see anecdote below). But also fridge magnets, pendants, mineral carved amulets and coarse miniatures were sold online and promoted on Twitter. However this wave passed by and artist Ton Mooy, who chiselled the statue of the mobile angel (auf Deutsch: handy Engel), has produced a miniature, resembling the statue.

To me the mobile angel embodies two eschatologies, two doctrines about the green grass on the other side. In the Christian religions angels are part of the end times, particularly of heaven. In ICT eschatology is the metaphor for the absolute best in devices and apps.

To the Christian eschatology I have been exposed for a quarter of my life. In fact, there was also a link with the Saint John’s Cathedral.  When I went to the minor seminary, a boarding school for boys who want to become Roman Catholic priests, we had one annual trip to the Cathedral. On the early morning  of the first Sunday in May, we went for a 30 kilometres walk from the neighbouring city of Tilburg to ‘s-Hertogenbosch. We attended mass and went back to the seminary by train. The pilgrimage was all part of the training, which included the church teachings about escatology such as heaven, angels, hell and devils as well as limbo and purgatory.

As life went on, I got a job in publishing, particularly in what first was called new media and as internet got introduced, has been coined digital media. We started out from mainframes to mini-computers, from desktop to notebooks, from personal digital assistants to smartphones and tablets. They all have a tax deductible cycle of three to five years, before the next, best thing has to acquired. So is the iPhone 10 the latest device to have as it is the next closest thing to heaven?

An angel sporting a one-button mobile and a computer satchel, may incorporate a glimpse of heaven for believers. For digital-media tifosi, it has not been heaven yet as no mobile manufacturer been able to disrupt  the industry with a one-button mobile. May be the speech assistants Siri and Alexa are showing the way? 

BTW. In a NYT article of  March 5, 2012 it is noted that “when Steve Jobs died, the phone rang endlessly. The angel told the callers: “Steve Jobs will soon arrive upstairs — perhaps I’ll get a new model!” 

For more information on Ton Mooy and the miniature, see: http://bel-engel.nl/ and http://www.beeldhouwertonmooy.nl/projecten/bel-engel. The information is in the Dutch language, but the sites contain also visual information.

Monday, January 08, 2018