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Digital art swaggers down the cul-de-sac of obsolescence • The Register

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Something for the Weekend, Sir? Argh, where did I put that old comic? Someone told me it’s a collector’s item! It has value!

You may be disappointed to learn that I am not hunting down an issue #1 heirloom featuring caped billionaire fascists or drug-pumped soldiers in patriotic catsuits. What I’m searching for has less of the crime bashing and more, er, kangaroo snogging.

Found it! Found them all, in fact: a complete set of Deadline, all 64 issues from launch to collapse. Given that my move to France a couple of years ago effectively turned my house upside-down, it made sense that everything that used to be stored in the attic would now be in the cellar – and that’s where they were.

I’m not looking to sell. I’m trying not to buy.

Maybe you’re the same, I dunno, but I have an annoying habit of buying the same thing over and over again. The process goes like this:

1. I notice a serialised comic strip that appeals to me in an anthology that I subscribe to.

2. Months afterwards, I purchase the whole series anew when they are collected and republished as a graphic novel.

3. A decade later, I have forgotten where I put the graphic novel and end up buying the repackaged reprint all over again.

4. After reading the reprint, I pop it onto a bookshelf, only to find I have inserted it right next to the edition that I couldn’t find.

Determined not to make all the same mistakes over and over again, on the cusp of ordering Shaky Kane’s Good News Bible I went hunting for Mr Kane’s originals in my copies of Deadline that I bought in late 1980s and early 1990s from my local newsagent. Hmm, I see the pages have yellowed a bit, especially after they switched to cheaper paper a year after the launch. Maybe I should buy the digital edition.

Ah, now. I forgot to mention step 5:

5. Despite owning the original print run and two alternative collected volumes of the comic strip series, I convince myself that buying a digital edition of the same graphic novel will ensure longevity.

Photo of early issues of Deadline magazine

So 1980s! Some Deadline magazines in Dabbsy’s cellar

Here’s where things get sticky, because this is often followed by a step 6:

6. The company that sold me the digital comic goes out of business and its app stops working. So I feel obliged to buy it all over again on another platform – as before, for reasons of “longevity”.

Anyone would think the media format wars for video and music just passed me by, unnoticed. Yet I know plenty of people who own the same albums in multiple formats: on original vinyl, then cassette, CD with copy protection, post-1990s reissued CD without copy protection, Minidisc, MP3, FLAC, streaming and, of course, vinyl again.

It’s a similar story for many dedicated movie fans, whose attics and cellars are piled high with multiple copies of their favourite films on VHS or Betamax (or both), laserdisc, DVD and Blu-ray, only to buy or rent them over and over again via download and streaming because they can’t find a working VHS/Betamax/laserdisc/DVD/Blu-ray player compatible with their 8K TV which is equipped with an Ethernet port, an optical port and nothing else.

Which brings us to media content wrapped up in NFT platforms. By the power of Greysk… er, Ethereum and various copycat blockwagons delivering smart contracts, clever digital media such as animated, interactive 3D art can be bought, sold and generally pumped up in fiat currency value without losing track of ownership – even shared ownership of the same content.

Cryptocurrency trading simulator Crypto Parrot calculates that the cumulative trading volume of the 10 leading NFT marketplaces reached $1.63bn earlier this week. So disruptive!

Yes, it’s all hype, but what isn’t? If the art-as-investment market appears to be gambling on NFT, well, gambling on short-term value is what art dealers do. And who can blame the artists making a quick buck on the craze? It’s not just the Banksys and Winklemen, either: London-based artist Andrew Brown recently put 40 of his works up for sale at $500 each and sold the lot almost immediately, earning him $20,000 in 20 seconds. Its value then increased by 25 per cent a week and the last time I looked the collection was worth in excess of $300,000. That’s why art investors are interested.

None of this bothers me. I’m not an art collector, even less so if I can’t hang it on a wall or balance it on a shelf. All that interactive digital wank is like art installations: they belong in a gallery, museum or pretentious loft space, not squeezed between the sofa and coffee table in my living room. And certainly not locked away inside the same bloody computer I’ve been sitting in front of all day, not to mention an arcane proprietary NFT platform and obligatory wonky VR headset.

But what’s this? Oh no! The NFT craze is threatening to infect the comics industry!

The hugely talented, award-winning and very popular comics artist Nick Percival will see his forthcoming graphic novel Bloodlines published later this month in Terra Virtua NFT-only format. Good luck to him and all that but, kuh-rist almighty, not another format, surely?

“From any device, collectors can use the app to delve into Nick’s different creative layers,” says Terra Virtua’s Jawad Ashraf. Judging from the Terra Virtua site, I suppose “any device” is NFT disruptor slang for “Windows and Android only”.

Nick himself says: “I became fascinated in the ways NFTs enable people to experience art in ways that aren’t possible in print.” Examples of this experience might include animated artwork, being able to peel back creative layers to reveal original concept sketches, and discover “Easter eggs”.

Yes, yes, I remember all this being said about animated books created in Macromedia Shockwave format around the turn of the century. And what happened to my investment in Dr Seuss’s finest moments on CD? Now used as coffee coasters, the lot of them. And Shockwave’s successor, Flash? Urgh. I’d have a better chance of getting Peter Gabriel’s XPLORA1 interactive game from 1993 to run on a Hypercard emulator.

Do what you like with your Non-Fungible Tokens, kids, but I’ve been down the digital format detour too many times already and it always leads to a cul-de-sac. One day you’ll discover – just as with my Shockwaves, AVE comics, Minidiscs, VHS tapes and all – that NFT ultimately stands for “Not Fucking There”.

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Alistair Dabbs

Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. He acknowledges that he may be wrong about all this, especially about the main aspect of collecting art, which is the process of building the collection rather than the art itself. He also sincerely hopes the NFT hype will prove to be a genuine and not-at-all virtual source of income for beleaguered comic artists. More at Autosave is for Wimps and @alidabbs.



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Crypto is starting to lose its cool – just look at El Salvador | Rowan Moore

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To its evangelists, bitcoin is a frictionless, empowering form of money that liberates citizens of the world from the shackles of banks and national governments. To sceptics, the cryptocurrency is a tool of kleptocrats and gangsters, environmentally monstrous in its consumption of energy, a digitally glamorised Ponzi scheme whose eventual crash will most hurt those least able to afford a loss.

Confidence may or may not have been enhanced by the unveiling, by President Nayib Bukele, of images of a proposed bitcoin-shaped Bitcoin City in El Salvador, funded with a bitcoin bond, the currency’s logo embedded in the central plaza, a metropolis powered with geothermal energy from a nearby volcano. Bukele, the self-styled “coolest dictator in the world”, a former publicist who wears baseball caps back to front, has already made El Salvador the first country to adopt bitcoin as the official currency. “The plan is simple,” he said. “As the world falls into tyranny, we’ll create a haven for freedom.”

Leaving aside the worrisome Pompeii vibe of the city’s location, some shine has come off the president’s vision with the news that the country’s investments in cryptocurrency have lost 45% of their value, that it scores CCC with the credit rating agency Fitch, and that the perceived risk of its bonds is up there with that of war-torn Ukraine. And Bukele’s talk of freedom doesn’t sit well with Amnesty International’s claim that his recent state of emergency has created “a perfect storm of human rights violations”.

But why worry about any of this when you have shiny computer-generated images of a fantasy city to distract you?

Unsecured credit line

Boris Johnson waves his arms behind a podium with the Elizabeth line sign.
The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan looks on as Boris Johnson gives a speech at Paddington station on 17 May 2022. Photograph: Reuters

The use of constructional bluster by populist leaders – Trump’s wall, for example – is not in itself anything new. See also the island airport, garden bridge, Irish Sea bridge, 40 new hospitals and 300,000 homes a year promised but not delivered by Boris Johnson, and the nuclear power stations he has implausibly pledged to build at a rate of one a year.

Last week his fondness for Potemkin infrastructure took a new twist. Rather than over-promise illusory schemes and under-deliver them, he decided to take credit for something actually built, the £19bn Elizabeth line in London, formerly known as Crossrail, whose central section opens to the public on Tuesday. “We get the big things done,” he boasted to the House of Commons, choosing to ignore the fact that the line was initiated under a Labour prime minister and a Labour mayor of London. He almost makes Nayib Bukele look credible.

Behind the red wall

Characters from The House of Shades gather around a table on stage
Mounting misery: The House of Shades. Photograph: Helen Murray

If you want a light-hearted night out – a date, a birthday treat – then The House of Shades, a new play by Beth Steel, might not, unless you are an unusual person, be for you. It is a cross between Greek tragedy and what was once called kitchen sink drama, a story of ever-mounting misery set in a Nottinghamshire town from 1965 to 2019. It covers the collapse of manufacturing, the rise of Thatcherism, the promises of New Labour and the disillusionment that led to “red wall” seats voting Conservative in 2019.

It features illegal abortion, graphically portrayed, and the effects of inflation, both newly significant. All presented at the Almeida theatre in the famously metropolitan London borough of Islington, not far from the former restaurant where Tony Blair and Gordon Brown did the 1994 deal that shaped some of the events in the play. There’s irony here to make this audience squirm. Which, along with several other not-comfortable emotions, is probably the desired effect.

Rowan Moore is the Observer’s architecture correspondent

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Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon’s lava tubes • The Register

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Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world’s data.

“It’s inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we’re setting off bombs and burning things,” Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. “We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe.”

Stott said Lonestar’s efforts to build a data storage facility in space are a bit like trying to preserve all of the world’s seeds in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, located on the Norwegian Arctic island ofSpitsbergen. But instead of trying to protect crop diversity, the upstart wants to safeguard human knowledge. 

“If we don’t do this, what will happen to our data on Earth?,” he asked. “The seed bank flooded due to effects of climate change. It’s also susceptible to other forms of destruction like war or cyber attacks. We need to have somewhere we can keep our data safe.” Lonestar has its sights set on the Moon.

One side of our bigger natural satellite is tidally locked and constantly faces Earth, meaning it would be possible to set up a constant, direct line-of-sight communication between devices on the Moon and our planet.

Lonestar is currently closing its $5m seed round from investors like Seldor Capital and 2 Future Holding. To raise more money, it’ll have to prove its technology is feasible and will start with small demos on commercial lunar payloads. Last month, it announced it had signed contracts to launch prototype demonstrations of its software and hardware capabilities aboard two lunar landers with NASA-funded aerospace biz Intuitive Machines.

Under the space agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, Intuitive Machines will, after some delay, send its Nova-C lander to the Moon for its first mission, dubbed IM-1, at the end of 2022. Lonestar will run a software-only test, storing a small bit of data on the lander’s hardware. IM-1 is expected to last one lunar day, an equivalent of two weeks on Earth. 

The second launch, IM-2, is more ambitious. Intuitive Machines plans to send another Nova-C lander to the Moon’s South Pole carrying various bits of equipment, including NASA’s PRIME-1 drill for ice and a spectrometer as well as Lonestar’s first hardware prototype: a one-kilogram storage device, the size of a hardback novel, with 16 terabytes of memory. IM-2’s is expected to launch in 2023.

Robots and lava tubes

The tiny proof-of-concept datacenter will be storing immutable data for Lonestar’s early beta of its so-called Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS), Stott told us. “[We will be] performing upload and download tests (think refresh and restore of data), and performing edge processing tests of apps as well. It will be running Ubuntu.” The company is still in the process of determining bandwidth rates, and has secured permissions to transmit data to the Moon and back to Earth in the S, X, and Ka-Bands in the radio spectrum.

Lonestar’s opportunity to test its technology on the Moon for the first time will depend on whether Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C landers successfully make it to the lunar surface in one piece. Soft landings on the Moon are notoriously difficult; numerous endeavors from the Soviets and the US in the Sixties have ended in failure. The last two attempts that ended badly were in 2019, when Israel’s SpaceIL and India’s National Space agency’s respectively crashed their Beresheet and Chandrayaan-2 lunar landers.

The strong gravitational pull of the Moon and its very thin atmosphere means the speeds at which spacecraft approach the surface have to be considerably slowed in a short amount of time to land gently. Nailing the landing process is key to lunar exploration, whether it’s sending robotic spacecraft or a crew of astronauts. 

“Our turnkey solution for delivering, communicating, and commanding customer payloads on and around the Moon is revolutionary,” Intuitive’s president and CEO, Steve Altemus, told us in a statement. “Adding Lonestar Data Holdings and other commercial payloads to our lunar missions are critical steps toward Intuitive Machines creating and defining the lunar economy.”

The path from a book-sized prototype to real fully fledged cloud storage datacenters, however, is handwavy. Stott said Lonestar has plans for future missions to launch servers capable of holding five petabytes of data in 2024, and 50 petabytes of data by 2026. By then, he hopes the datacenter will be able to host data traffic to and from the Moon at rates of 15 Gigabits per second – much faster than home internet broadband speeds – beamed from a series of antennas. 

If the company is to continue scaling and storing data long-term, it’ll have to figure out how to protect its datacenters from cosmic radiation and deal with the Moon’s fluctuating surface temperatures, which can go from a scorching 222.8°F (106°C) during the day to a -297.4°F (-183°C) at night.

Stott has an answer for that: nestle the datacenters in lunar lava tubes, cavernous pits bored below the surface of the Moon by the flow of ancient basaltic lava. Inside these pits, the temperature will be steadier and the servers will be better shielded from harmful electromagnetic rays.

And how will the Lonestar get them down there? “Robots… lots of robots,” Stott said. ®

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Here are the Royal Irish Academy’s newest members from STEM

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14 of the 29 new members being welcomed by the Royal Irish Academy this year are from STEM. We take a quick look at what they do.

Every year, the Royal Irish Academy admits new members to its prestigious roster of researchers from across the island of Ireland for their exceptional contributions to the sciences, humanities, social sciences and public service.

This year, the 236-year-old institution has elected 29 new members from universities and bodies across Ireland, officially welcoming 24 of them at its Admittance Day event held in Dublin today (20 May).

Future Human

“We are immensely proud of these 29 new members who we are recognising today for their scholarly achievements, their research and international distinction or for significant contributions to Irish society,” said Dr Mary Canning, president of the Royal Irish Academy.

“As new members of the Academy, they will contribute to and strengthen our capacity to provide expert advice on higher education and research policy.”

Here we take a quick look at 14 new members who have a background in STEM-related fields.

Linda Doyle, TCD

Doyle made history by becoming the first woman provost of Trinity College Dublin in its 429-year history last year. Before that she was a professor of engineering and the arts at Trinity and the university’s dean of research from 2018.

Geraldine Boylan, UCC

A former Science Foundation Ireland Researcher of the Year, Boylan is the director of the Infant research centre for maternal and child health research and professor of neonatal physiology at University College Cork.

Mary Cannon, RCSI

Cannon is a consultant psychiatrist and professor of psychiatric epidemiology and youth mental health at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. She is a leading researcher in the area of youth mental health and childhood and adolescent risk factors for mental illness.

Rónadh Cox, Williams College

One of this year’s five honorary members, Cox is the Brust Professor of Geology and Mineralogy at Williams College, Massachusetts. She is prominent internationally within the coastal erosion and geomorphology community.

Marie Donnelly, Climate Change Advisory Council

Donnelly is the only new member in this list not associated with any university. Instead, she is the chair of the Climate Change Advisory Council. She previously worked with the European Commission for three decades.

Gary Donohoe, NUI Galway

A professor of psychology at NUI Galway, Donohoe is an internationally known researcher in the cognitive neuroscience and mental health space. His work focuses on understanding and treating factors relevant to social and occupational function.

Fiona Doohan, UCD

Doohan is a professor of plant health at University College Dublin’s School of Biology and Environmental Science. She is one of the co-founders of agricultural sustainability company CropBiome, which is one of the many high-potential start-ups backed by Enterprise Ireland.

David Jones, QUB

A professor of pharmaceutical and biomaterial engineering at Queen’s University Belfast, Jones is an internationally recognised researcher in polymer-based implanted medical devices and enhanced pharmaceutical dosage forms.

Patricia Kearney, UCC

Kearney is a professor of epidemiology in the School of Public Health at UCC. A recognised clinical triallist, her research focuses on population health and health services.

Mairead Kiely, UCC

Another researcher working in the area of health, Kiely is a professor of human nutrition at UCC. Her research focuses macronutrients, particularly vitamin D, and their impact on health and child development.

Hannah McGee, RCSI

McGee is the deputy vice-chancellor for academic affairs at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and a scholar in psychology. A former president of the European Health Psychology Society, she was also appointed as the deputy chair of Ireland’s National Research Ethics Committee for Covid-19.

James P O’Gara, NUI Galway

A professor of microbiology at NUI Galway, O’Gara’s research focuses on the mechanisms underpinning biofilm production and antimicrobial resistance in staphylococci, including MRSA.

Stefan Oscarson, UCD

Oscarson is a professor of chemical biology at UCD and an internationally known researcher in the field of carbohydrate chemistry. His synthetic work underpins the development of drug and vaccine candidates against various infectious diseases.

Patrick Wyse Jackson, TCD

Curator of the Geology Museum based in Trinity College Dublin, Jackson is also a professor of geology at the university. He is an expert on the history of Irish geology and his research focuses on fossil bryozoans – a large phylum of invertebrate animals.

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