Saturday, August 05, 2006

on + magick: Ultraculture Massive

From Ultraculture Gate:


'Ultraculture Massive

A reminder message to all interested. This Sunday is the first Ultraculture ritual.

All those who may wish to participate are welcome to do so freely and of their own volition.

The statement of intent is “Manifest Ultraculture as a working, open magickal collaboration, empowered to create positive change in the world, without causing suffering to any, and completely protected from misuse, corruption or interference from ill-meaning or self-serving forces.”

The method is any ritual, traditional or self-invented, which you feel most comfortable and effective with.

General guidelines on basic ritual construction can be found here:

All those who wish to participate will from thereon be considered aligned with the Ultraculture, which is not a physical organization of any stripe, but an idea. A developing, loosely affiliated magical current which aims at the construction, on all levels, by each individual in their own unique and self-directed way, of positive adaptive strategies to Twenty-First Century life.

We will never seek to do anything but broadly suggest practices and areas of inquiry that we have found personally useful. We do not “run” this show and neither does anybody else, and if anybody tells you otherwise, ignore them.

Individuals interested in the idea of an Ultraculture will find a direct method (many thanks to my friends Danny, Colin and Mr. Truth-of-the-Human-Condition for suggesting this one), which is the practice of Tonglen.

Visualize the suffering of all life. Every person, animal, spirit. Deformed, irradiated Iraqi babies moving in their slicked cots. Celebrities terrified of stalkers, shivering and alone behind their cultivated smiles. Beggars in India given forcible amputations by mafia doctors to increase their earning potential for their masters. Rich politicians and executives terrified of losing their wealth and trapped by their addiction to power. Your friends. Your enemies. You. Everybody and everything.

Visualize suffering as black smoke. With every in-breath, take the suffering of the world into your heart; breathe it all in, take it all in. Watch it dissipate in the secret central chamber of the heart. Now breathe out pure compassion for all life.

I hear doing this for long enough makes you a Buddha, but all religious doctrine aside I personally find it’s the only “spiritual” technique I’ve ever been satisfied with as being absolutely pure, the best way to truly get glimpses of overcoming the selfishness of the ego, to attain peace of mind, to keep happy and the best way to orient myself towards the world.

This, more than specific rituals, is the essence of this “Ultraculture” thing, and I have found its daily and regular use, with the goal of consciously tying it to each breath cycle at least six times a day, to be the most “real” thing I have as of yet found in religion and magic alike.

This can become a very strong guiding principle for your life. No monastery or complex ceremonialism required, unless that’s your thing. No gods, no priests, no secrets. Just your life, re-oriented towards decreasing suffering for all. A positive node in the cosmic network. And make no mistake—this is hardly “wishful thinking” or “creative visualization,” it’s heavy psychic lifting, and you don’t have to be a quote “magician” or a Buddhist or anything except a person in order to do it and perfect it.

Do that regularly and you’ll be so freaking Ultraculture that you’ll be too cool to even call yourself Ultraculture.

This is my will. I birth this child into the world, cut the cord and have faith that She will grow up healthy and strong and make me proud, and trust in you to help her become something capable of pouring light and compassion into this world.

Love is the Law, Love Under Will.


[The original notice, in case anybody missed it:

It’s now been nine months since the release of Generation Hex and the seeding of the Ultraculture idea. Nine months to get it circulated, get a rise in people’s attention, toss a few cryptic remarks out, provoke the naysayers, and eventually lose people’s interest. So, the hype now out of the way, we can birth it and get something a bit more genuine going.

First off, it’s just a word. Any grouping of two or more magicians can be considered an ultraculture. Ultraculture is a word for a social movement that is quite merrily occurring all on its own. Use the word if you like. Use the symbol in any way you deem fit to identify yourself, if you like.

Now, as to the “talk is cheap” part. We’re not interested in organizing people, telling people how to think or creating another online forum. There’s one way to learn magick, and that’s by doing it. So here’s a chance to do some.

The Ultraculture website will act as an open focus for monthly world-changing magick, the aim being to raise energy to encourage positive evolutionary developments that benefit the entire human race, in as specific and directed of a way as possible, working with the world instead of against it. Sure, it’s been done before. Sure, tons of other people, from your local meditation circle to your local Christian church, are doing the same thing as we speak. Good. What else you gonna do?

Ritual will be planned the first Sunday of every month. An intent for ritual will be posted on the website well ahead of time. No specific ritual will be recommended—all who choose to participate are welcome to use any method for manifesting the posted intent that they feel most comfortable with, although sample methods will be offered that can be customized by anybody who might happen to want to participate.

Anybody who chooses to do so is welcome to do ritual to manifest the posted intent on the day specified. They are also welcome to keep their participation completely to themselves.

Each month a new intent will be posted, drawn from current headlines and emerging trends. Eventually a system for recommending and voting on intents will be in place (in the meantime, you can suggest them to

I’ll be doing the first ritual on Sunday, August 6. The intent will be “Manifest Ultraculture as a working, open magickal collaboration, empowered to create positive change in the world, without causing suffering to any, and completely protected from misuse, corruption or interference from ill-meaning or self-serving forces.” If anybody happens to want to do a ritual for the same intent on the same day, good for you.

Future intents will be for assisting, in specific ways, climate change, renewable energy, defanaticization, universal human rights, cultural diversity and the like. Remember, though, that the truest and most direct way to change the world is to gain understanding of, and to purify, your own mind (i.e., mind considered as a non-local field, as in “All is Mind”), a life-long, and painful—though ultimately rewarding—process. The Ultraculture art project can be used as one focus in your personal process, and a means of accumulating positive karma alongside those of similar persuasion. That’s the main point—beware lust of result.

We take no responsibility for anybody who happens to be inspired by this website to do ritual on their own time and of their own volition. This is not an organization of any type, nor do we condone any specific practices of any sort.

That’s it. Everything else is hype. Participate or don’t. Tell others or don’t.

At your leisure.]'

Friday, August 04, 2006

Interview: Steven Markley: The Bulldog of Good Game Design

Steven Markley has been building and playing games of all sorts since, what, the late-1980s? Having written work for the big games, he has also designed many of his own. He's a quiet master of alternative worlds and generative, collaborative gaming systems -- if you pay attention to gaming, you have seen his work online. He joins us here for an interview.


1. What is the most exciting project you're working on these days?

I don't have as much time to devote myself to writing and the like as I used to. My own RPG projects are long dead, washed away by Katrina, so I devote what free time I have to writing stuff for White Wolf's World of Darkness games (both the original WoD and new WoD). I don't mind this; WW makes great games, and they're worth my love and time.

Specifically, I'm splitting myself between two gaming projects now. One explores fu dogs, fu lions and ki-rin in a Werewolf: the Apocalypse context, an old WoD game line that has been discontinued but that I continue to love and support. Another thing I'm working on is a new game line for the new WoD called Nephilim: the Legacy.

2. What's "gaming" all about, and why should librarians care?

Gaming is a fancy term for play-pretend. Really, that's all it is. Think of it as a play, but the playwrite (called the game master, Dungeon Master, or Storyteller) lays down the foundation of a play, but she lets the players write their character's personalities, lines and actions. The dice, rules and stuff come in to add definition to the characters, decribe capabilities and resolve potential conflicts. Beyond the game itself, it's a great social activity.

See, most of us sit and wait for our stories to be hand-fed to us, occasionally flexing our imaginations within the bounds of what's been given to us, but otherwise not bothering to think beyond that. But RPGs force us to interact with the story and contribute to its telling; there's a certain magic that results from the ideas of four or five people bouncing around a table or living room or wherever. There's no telling where a story may go, and so will always go in directions the game master doesn't expect due to player input. And that's the beauty of it.

3. Lately we've been talking about "Finite and Infinite Games" in the context of role-playing games. Are RPGs "infinite" by nature?

Stories told through RPGs (called campaigns or chronicles) can be infinite, but aren't necessarily by definition. In fact, they usually aren't. Stories have a beginning and ending, and this is true of RPG chronicles as well. A game master may decide that the campaign will revolve around conflict with a certain foe, and will climax when that conflict resolves in some fashion or another (a peace is brokered, the enemy is defeated, the players' characters fail, etc.); the end of the campaign is the resolution of the climax, character subplots, loose ends. This isn't a bad thing. Campaigns are stories, after all, and the most successful ones still follow that time-honored format.

Still, RPGs can be infinite, if the game master and players want it to be. RPGs allow for that sort of thing. A campaign can end, and another can begin with the same characters or in the same setting with fresh characters, letting the story continue while giving a sense of accomplishment to the players. Or a campaign can be run on and on, never reaching any conclusion but simply continuing until the players move away or burn out... and maybe never really stop. Most RPGs aren't run this way, but the thing is that they can support that style of play.

4. When I last checked, gaming was mainly the domain of boys. Is this still the case? Where are the girls?

Usually staying the hell away from us.

Seriously, gamers have a bad image in general, and with the ladies especially. While some of this is mainstream snobbery toward the fringe, I honestly think a lot of it is gamers' fault. For whatever reason, gamers tend to be poorly socialized males that generally view women as objects of desire or unknowable x-factors, not real people. I think that's true of many men, but gamers end to be especially guilty of it. These guys end up being able to relate to fantasy women better than real ones. One must look at archetypal female portrayals in games to see why: cover models in chain mail bikinis, helpless damsels waiting to be rescued, sultry leather-clad vamps, skyclad hippy-esque elves. The objectification of females is pretty overt in RPGs (though less so nowadays), and it makes sense that not many women try gaming, and those that do often don't stick with it for long. Even female gamers themselves are objects of fixation and unwanted attention by their male counterparts.

There hasn't been a concerted effort to bring women into gaming until relatively recently -- with the advent of White Wolf Publishing. White Wolf helped broaden the appeal of gaming, though, drawing more female fans into the hobby. They did this in several ways. One is language they use: they often use "she" as a gender neutral pronoun, instead of always defaulting to "he"; this is something I've picked up, and I apply to my writing as well. (Others, like Wizards of the Coast, have since picked up on this practice as well.) A small thing, but don't underestimate the impact a subtle shift like this can have. Another thing WW did was make female characters strong and viable personalities, rather than merely sex objects (though there is a subtext of eroticism in the contemporary vampire myth, which WW plays on). Finally, the emphasis of WW games was more on the characters themselves and interpersonal interactions, rather than combat tables and beating down the opposition -- so the goals became more about issues personal to the character, and less about concrete goals like leveling up, kill counts or treasure.

Still, there aren't many female gamers compared to males, even in WW games. I think this is a sad thing, but considering all the previous factors (plus others I didn't consider or I'm unaware of) it's understandable.

Here's something funny related to this issue:

5. Manga is pulling many females into the usually-male world of comics. Does this have any affect on gaming?

Not being a fan of that genre, I can't say much about it. I do notice a lot of female gamers are also anime fans. It's possible there's some sort of correlation, there. WW has an anime game called Exalted that's doing quite well, and many fans of the WoD are also Exalted fans, and vice-versa, creating a lot of genre mixing.

6. I reckon Manga might save comics by bringing a whole new generation of readers in. Is there anything comparable going on in the world of gaming to bring in the next generation, or are the Wizards and White Wolves content to settle for the audiences they've got?

There's always an effort by any business to expand their customer base, man. You don't do that, you fail, or at least fail to thrive. Cater to a small core of purists at your eventual peril. At one time RPG publishers targeted only select demographics (gamers and hobbyists), but they've been doing some clever marketing lately. There's been cross-pollenization between Wizards of the Coast's collectible card games (like Pokemon and Magic: the Gathering) and their D&D property; they've also green-lighted two Dungeons & Dragons movies (though the first was awful), and when they showed the last movie on the Sci-Fi Channel cable they advertised the game itself during the movie. Very slick, very smart. WW brought in anime fans with Exalted, has always and still poaches customers from the goth, punk, iconoclast and "counterculture" crowds with the WoD properties, and promotes t-shirts, custom dice, board games and other products based around their games.

7. Computers and PS2s are up, dice and pencils are down -- is the end near for tabletop games? And what about "live action" gaming?

According to some, the gaming industry is having to deal with a shrinking market, but the reduction isn't that much; other figures say that the number of gamers is holding steady or even that there are more gamers. I guess depends on how broadly you apply the definition of gaming or interpret the numbers. But even there is a shrinking number of gamers, that doesn't worry me; it's the lack of diversity in the market that is the cause of concern. And diversity, whether we're talking about a free market or ecosystem, is essential.

Right now, Wizards of the Coast dominates the market, and with the Open Gaming License other publishers can put out d20-compatible books as long as they display the OGL logo and abide by a few other guidelines. Since ecology was already invoked, think of WotC as a whale shark, the undisputed giant of the waters. White Wolf is a great white shark, while smaller sharks in the form of Steve Jackson Games and Guardians of Order claim their share of fish too. This ocean is brutal, because some sharks have gone extinct or are floundering: FASA, Palladium Publishing, Last Unicorn, and many others. And then there are the small sharks and remoras that feed off the giant whale shark, growing fat off the scraps the monster leaves behind: Green Ronin, Eternal Knot, Malhavoc, etc. Hell, even White Wolf got in on the OGL action and made some excellent d20 products. So in a sense, the WotC juggernaut and its OGL setup has been great for a lot of gaming companies.

However, what this also does is reduce the number of systems available. The d20 whores thrive, while other systems fail. If you'll forgive another analogy, think of Wal-Mart running small businesses out of small towns. I'm not saying d20 sucks; it's a fairly good system, and it's nice that pretty much everyone knows it. If you're hankering for a game, just grab anything d20 off the shelves and you're in business with a solid majority of your gamers. But it's not the best system out there, and even if it was a lot of great ideas and innovative mechanics are being lost to bankruptcy as d20 pushes them out. We need options, choices, alternatives. Gamers rarely form around new games, so as a game publisher you're drawing from a pool of existing gamers -- and with only so much time to game and money to spend, many just buy what they're familiar with rather than blow $30+ on something they've never heard of.

There are good and bad sides to monopolies, but something inside me jerks uncomfortably when I see one start to form.

Anyway, to address your question in short: pen and paper gaming as a whole is doing fine, as far as I know, and I don't see consoles and other gaming mediums being direct competitors, as they fill different gaming needs -- it's like saying basketball threatens football. However, there are fewer gaming systems and companies out there, and from what I can see that trend shows no signs of reversing or even slowing.

8. Okay. I'm a librarian, say, and say I want to establish an ongoing gaming meetup for my patrons. I've ordered all the basic game books (GURPs sets, World of Darkness sets, D&D sets, some others), I'm keeping the library's community room open till midnight on Saturdays, and I've even made arrangements to have coffee, cokes, and popcorn! What's next? And how do I keep the gamers happy so that this keeps on going for months and years?

Well, you've got a good start with just that. I'd get the word out there, to let people know that the option is available to them. Do the security setup on the game books. Definitely go for the three Dungeons & Dragons core rulebooks (Players Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, Monster Manual), 3.5 Edition: they're popular with gamers, are well-known, and have brand recognition. If you have the budget for it, I'd invest in the "core" books for a variety of other systems; the new World of Darkness and associated game cores are a good bet, as well as 2nd Ed Exalted, GURPS plus a couple of its setting books, and whatever else you think will tickle gamers' fancy. You might even ask patrons what they want and let them vote. Read up on the books and play or run something. After that, the game groups will gel or fall apart based on the participants; you can create an environment for them, but it's the people that make the games. So try to find good ones. (Don't bother with supplying dice, they'll disappear on you.)

And here's a sneaky thing you can do to your players: inspire them to read non-gaming books you have in the library. For example, say you're running a semi-realistic D&D game set in fantasy Renaissance France. Give bonus experience points to players with well-rounded character backgrounds, or that can answer certain questions about that time period, or brings you useful information about the setting. And then apply the info in the game in neat ways. They get an under-the-table education, and you [get] better players.

But you gotta have Mountain Dew. There's no real way you can game without it.

9. What are some of the best gaming books that you know librarians don't have on the shelves? Assume we've got the biggies -- what are we missing?

Well, I've never seen gaming books in any libraries. But the gaming books that are my favorites, the nearest and dearest to my heart, aren't necessarily what's the most popular or most available; it can be a bitch running down out-of-print books, believe you me. In the interests of helping you invest your money wisely and appealing to the most gamers, just go with what I recommended immediately above. For D&D, I've heard the Eberron setting is pretty good, and for the new WoD Vampire: the Requiem is the most popular game.

10. What sort of themes and settings are your own games concerned with?

I've pretty much focused on World of Darkness games since my gaming collection was unexpectedly downsized, and thus modern horror is my forte. There are a lot of variations on that theme, as each WoD game focuses on a different niche. Vampire: the Masquerade's theme is Gothic Punk, deals with the loss of Humanity to the Beast within and the uncaring mechanizations of the Jyhad (the eternal struggles the eldest vampires wage against one another, using other Kindred as their pawns). Werewolf: the Apocalypse's theme is Savage Horror, as animistic werewolves strive to save the worlds of flesh and spirit from encroaching doom while struggling with their Rage and personal flaws. Demon: the Fallen is Dark Revelation, in which fallen angels in the bodies of humans reap Faith from mortals while trying to find meaning in a ruined Creation, and struggle with issues of God, Lucifer and rebellion. Different games offer unique takes on the darkness.

11. What has been your biggest source of inspiration as a game designer?

Wow, big question. I'd have to say I've always been trying to recapture the magic I felt when new games were revealed to me, that fascination with their settings and elements. I never could quite do it, though; no matter how meticulous I was with the game's setting and premise, or how painstakingly I designed the system, it always rang a bit hollow to me -- there was no mystery to it, as I was the man behind the scenes, the guy in the black suit making the puppets dance. Endless rewrites and revisions to revitalize my creations did no good. It took me the longest time to realize that. It's just as well all that baggage was washed away.

I still feel the magic for the two World of Darkness, though... with more love for the old than the new. I enjoy writing house material for those games. I write for something bigger, with broad appeal and that still holds magic for me. It's not my own exclusive creation anymore, but I'm participating in my own way, and some people actually like what I do. I get no money or official recognition from White Wolf, but who cares? I'm not sure I could write what I want to if I actually worked for them.

Thanks, Steve!


Editor's note: In 2005, Katrina turned Steve into a refugee. He considers himself lucky to have survived. He's back on his feet now, rebuilding his life on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. If you have questions or would like to contact him, you may do so at ihatealllife {@} gmail {dot} com. Steven is also a life-long friend and blood relative.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

writing systems and languages of the world

Try Omniglot for learning about writing systems from all over the world (and some from outer space, Fairie, etc.).

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

happy trees

Bob Ross on YouTube -- there's a lot. Here's one:

your library just got smarter

After thinking on for a bit, I'm really really excited:

This is like taking the best from post-Google web interfaces (simplicity of design, aesthetic appeal, and making web tools people-centered [“find books in a library near you”!]) and putting it to work for our libraries. This is big-boy Library 2.0 business, here. This is the sort of 2.0 that means so much business it actually brings virtual and real worlds closer together. This is the sort of 2.0 operation that'll hasten A.I. Hasten that viridian and silver future of truly ubiquitous and benevolent computation. This is the kind of move that's going to save libraries. I can't say enough, or I'll say too much. I'd better stop.

Excited, yes yes: this is me wearing rose-tinted augmented-reality specs.

11 info viz: internet of things / places / images

I don't know how to embed the video, but have a go on your own. Live Labs is doing something pretty darn cool. Their Photosynth project blends the 'real' and 'virtual' worlds through patching together all the photographs they can get from all the places they can get to.

If this works well, how long before we can put realia in place of images to create a networked library of 'things' that are both real and virtual at the same time? Would these be spimes? Is this a real, practical step towards kirkyans?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Monday, July 31, 2006

13 comics: Warren's free webcomics portal?

From Publishers Weekly / The Beat:

Warren Ellis to Launch Free Webcomics Portal

Warren Ellis is putting his money where his mouth is with his interets in webcomics, according to a post by Joey Manley at Comixpedia:

I am working with Warren Ellis to launch a free webcomics portal using the new Webcomics Nation Collective Edition Engine. This latest addition to the Modern Tales family will be all free, all the time, and defined by ‘Warren Likes This Stuff.’ He’ll be making a call for submissions soon. Gary Chaloner will be designing the site. This is the first new (as opposed to pre-existing) site to launch with the beta version of the WCN Collective Edition engine, soon to be a commercial product available to anybody who wants to launch a multi-creator webcomics portal (your own Keenspot or Modern Tales, in other words) inexpensively and with ease. The name of Warren’s new site, and its URL, will be announced soon, probably at The Engine.

That could be good. The more I learn about Webcomics, the more interested I am -- and it will be nice to have a bunch of them curated for me by a writer I like, so I don't have to sort through lots of junk for days before finding the good stuff. Read Scott McCloud's thinking on the "infinite canvas" if you haven't already...

how to stay cool without an air conditioner

The AC went bust Saturday afternoon, Texas, July. Hot weather.
Here's some steps we took to stay cool in the rising heat.

1. Turn on the fans. Circulating air makes you feel cooler than you really are. Plus, you can use the push and pull of fans in different parts of the house to move warmer air out of the room you're in.

2. Get naked. Why insulate?

3. Create heat sinks. Fill a tub with water, dump ice in it. If you can, do this in spare bathroom and kitchen sinks too. This pulls heat out of adjacent surfaces and air. Empty the tub or sink when water gets warm. Repeat.

4. Make a make-shift air conditioner. I froze water in a big plastic mixing bowl, then propped a box fan up in front of it on a towel. The fan pulls air across the ice, then blows the slightly cooler air out across your room. Have another bowl freezing so that you can switch them out when the first melts.

5. Keep it dark. I taped sheets of white paper on our windows to reflect the sunlight (aluminum foil would have worked better, I think), then closed the blinds. Light = more heat!

6. Don't move around much. Lay still and drink something cool while you read or watch Deadwood.

7. Don't open your doors much. If you need to go outside, coordinate it with others in your house so you can all go out and come in together, thereby reducing the amount of time the door is open and the amount of warm air that comes in.

8. Use ice if you've got ice, and make as much ice as you can. You're freezer will become your only source of cold when your AC is out!


Note: I thought it would be a good idea to fill plastic bags with water -- the kind you get in the produce department for your veggies -- and pop them in the freezer to make more ice. This ain't a good idea. When the water crystalizes, it can pierce the thin plastic and the unfrozen water'll leak all over your freezer.


Watching: The World's Fastest Indian
Listening: 16 Horsepower
Weather: Yeah. Weather.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Carnival of the Infosciences #47

We got two submissions for the "Carnival of the Infosciences".

One from Mark Lindler pointing to Family Man Librarian's post about the visibility of library services on homepages. If you go to your organization's homepage (a university, say), will you see a link to the library right there? Or do you have to dig a while? Family Man Librarian finds it troubling "that the library'’s online presence needs to be defended so often, and that there is frequently an assumption that the link to the library should be buried somewhere within an institution'’s site."

The other submitted post is from David Bigwood at Catalogablog. He suggests using the Semacode application in libraries. (You might also read previous posts here, here, and here for more on that subject from ISHUSH, and here for more on that from Library Journal. See also Kaywa QR code.) David asks: "What if our barcodes or RIFD tags linked to some content a user could access with their phone? How about tagging an exhibt to connect with other resources both in and out of the library?"

Thanks Mark and David.
Thanks, all, for reading.

Next up will be Connecting Librarian with Carnival #48 on 7 August.