Californium: New Video Game Lets You Experience the Surreal World of Philip K. Dick

Did Philip K. Dick foresee the future, or did he help invent it? While many of his visions belong more to the realm of the paranormal than the science-fictional, it's certainly the case that the world we inhabit increasingly resembles a pastiche of Dick's hyperreal, postmodern techno-dystopias.

Dick wrote about how the shiny, pop-art surfaces of modernity conceal worlds within worlds, none of them more—or less—real than any other, and it's easy to imagine why his characters come unhinged when confronted with one virtual trapdoor after another, their sense of self and object permanence disintegrating. But for Dick, this experience was not simply a fictional device, but a part of his lived psychological reality: from his drug use, to his many failed marriages, to his paranoid anti-authoritarianism, to his life-altering mystical encounter….

And now, thanks to the very Dickian phenomenon of first-person computer games, you too can experience the hallucinatory life of a down-and-out sci-fi scribe in 1960s Berkeley whose mind gets invaded by an alien intelligence. The new game, Californium—developed by Darjeeling and Nova Productions—puts you inside the world of writer Elvin Green, whose life, writes Motherboard, "is an amalgam of real elements from Dick's life… and numerous events and themes that run through his work."

For legal reasons, the developers could not use Dick's name nor the titles of his novels, but "nevertheless," the game "is shaping up to be one of the most fitting tributes to the 20th century's infamous techno-prophet." At the top of the post, watch a trailer for the game, and just above, Youtuber Many a True Nerd walks through a comprehensive tour of the game's architecture, with some lively commentary. If you're convinced you'd like to spend some time in this colorfully addled alternate dimension, head on over to the game's website to download it for yourself.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

John Grisham Is Letting You Download His New Novel as a Free eBook

grisham novel free

FYI: Bestselling author John Grisham is giving away his new novel called The Tumor: A Non-Legal Thriller. Available as a free ebook on Amazon, Grisham has called The Tumor "the most important book I've ever written." And, as the subtitle suggests, this new book isn't another one of those legal thrillers Grisham is known for. No, this novel focuses on medicine and how a "new medical technology could revolutionize the future of medicine by curing with sound."

Here's how the book is briefly summarized on Amazon:

The Tumor follows the present day experience of the fictional patient Paul, an otherwise healthy 35-year-old father who is diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Grisham takes readers through a detailed account of Paul’s treatment and his family’s experience that doesn’t end as we would hope. Grisham then explores an alternate future, where Paul is diagnosed with the same brain tumor at the same age, but in the year 2025, when a treatment called focused ultrasound is able to extend his life expectancy.

Focused ultrasound has the potential to treat not just brain tumors, but many other disorders, including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, hypertension, and prostate, breast and pancreatic cancer...

Readers will get a taste of the narrative they expect from Grisham, but this short book will also educate and inspire people to be hopeful about the future of medical innovation.

You can download Grisham's book here, and find many other free reads in our collection, 800 Free eBooks for iPad, Kindle & Other Devices.

You can also see Grisham talking about the material in his novel at this TEDx talk.

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h/t Robin

Download 2,000 Magnificent Turn-of-the-Century Art Posters, Courtesy of the New York Public Library

nypl art poster

A scroll through any collection of contemporary graphic design portfolios makes for a dizzying tour of the seemingly unlimited range of colors, textures, fonts, etc. available to the modern commercial artist. From the most colorful pop art to the subtlest fine art, it seems that any and every vision can be realized on the page or screen thanks to digital technology. Turn the dial back over a hundred years, and the posters, magazine covers, and advertisements can seem primitive by initial comparison, somewhat washed out and anemic, and certainly nothing like the candy-colored visual feast that meets our eyes on laptop and smartphone screens these days.


But look closer at the design of a century past, and you'll find, I think, just as much variety, skill, and imagination---if not nearly so much color and slickness---as is on display today. And though software enables designers to create images and surfaces of which their predecessors could only dream, those hand-illustrated graphics of the past hold a strikingly simple allure that still commands our attention---drawing from art nouveau, impressionism, pre-Raphaelite, and other fine art forms and incorporating modernist lines and contrasts.

nypl art posters

Any graphic designer working today can learn from the advertising posters you see here, and---thanks to the New York Public Library's Turn of the Century Posters collection---can view and download hundreds more in high resolution, over 2000 more.

The Female Rebellion

"The advent of the art poster in America," writes NYPL, "is traceable to the publication of Edward Penfield's poster advertising the March 1893 issue of Harper's. [See a collection of his Harper's posters here.] Unlike earlier advertising posters, Penfield's work presented an implied graphic narrative to which text was secondary. In this way, and subsequently, in the hands of major artists such as Penfield, Will Bradley and Ethel Reed, the poster moved from the realm of commercial art to an elevated, artistic position." These posters quickly became collector's items, and "became more desirable than the publication they were advertising."


As such, the turn-of-the-century art poster pushed the publishing industry toward graphically illustrated-magazine covers and book jackets. The increasingly stylish, beautifully-executed posters on display in the NYPL archive show us not only the development of modern commercial design as advertising, but also its development as an art form. Though we may have needed Andy Warhol and his contemporaries to remind us that commercial art can just as well be fine art, a look through this stunning gallery of posters shows us that popular graphics and fine art often traded places long before the pop art revolution.

The Century

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Science Behind the Making of Ok-Go’s New Zero Gravity Music Video

There are a number of well known perks to being a rock star. One of the more obscure ones is sustained access to zero gravity, the condition of relative near weightlessness achievable in a state of free fall.

The band OK Go put their privilege to good use in the new video for their song "Upside Down & Inside Out."

Access should not be equated with ease, however, as singer Damien Kulash and his sister, director and choreographer Trish Sie, explain above. The band’s website goes into further detail about the science of the shoot inside an industrial Russian military aircraft flying parabolic maneuvers:

The longest period of weightlessness that it is possible to achieve in these circumstances is about 27 seconds, and after each period of weightlessness, it takes about five minutes for the plane to recover and prepare for the next round. Because we wanted the video to be a single, uninterrupted routine, we shot continuously over the course of 8 consecutive weightless periods, which took about 45 minutes, total. We paused our actions, and the music, during the non-weightless periods, and then cut out these sections and smoothed over each transition with a morph.

The Russian flight crew collaborated with the non-Russian-speaking film crew and band on a mutually comprehensible countdown system that ensured everyone was ready to rumble each time the plane hit zero gravity.

Simulated overhead bins, bus seats, and dummy windows lit from with LEDs provided the illusion of a commercial flight.

The copious offscreen air sickness was not faked (58 regurgitations by Tim Nordwind’s reckoning.)

The finished product, right above, is the crowning achievement for a band long celebrated for tasking itself with one-take video challenges involving treadmills, Ikea furniture, and trained animals. (That's director Sie in front of the camera with tango partner Moti Buchboot for “Skyscrapers.”)

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday

How the Moog Synthesizer Changed the Sound of Music

In my little corner of the world, we’re eagerly anticipating the arrival of Moogfest this May, just moved down the mountains from Asheville---where it has convened since 2004---to the scrappy town of Durham, NC. Like SXSW for electronic music, the four-day event features dozens of performances, workshops, talks, films, and art installations. Why North Carolina? Because that’s where New York City-born engineer Robert Moog (rhymes with "vogue")---inventor of one of the first, and certainly the most famous, analog synthesizer---moved in 1978 and set up shop for his handmade line of modular synths, “Minimoog”s, and other unique creations. “One doesn’t hear much talk of synthesizers here in western North Carolina,” Moog said at the time, “From this vantage point, it’s easy to get a good perspective on the electronic musical instrument scene.”

The perspective characterizes Moog’s influence on modern music since the late-sixties—as a non-musician outsider whose musical technology stands miles above the competition, its unmistakable sound sought after by nearly everyone in popular music since it debuted on a number of commercial recordings in 1967. A curious development indeed, since Moog never intended the synthesizer to be used as a standalone instrument but as a specialized piece of studio equipment. However, in the mid-sixties, a forward-looking jazz musician named Paul Beaver happened to get his hands on a modular Moog synthesizer, and began to use it on odd, psychedelic albums like Mort Garson’s The Zodiac Cosmic Sounds and famed Wrecking Crew drummer Hal Blaine’s Psychedelic Percussion (hear “Love-In (December)” above).

Shortly after these releases, Mike Bloomfield’s psych-rock outfit The Electric Flag made heavy use of the Moog in their soundtrack for Roger Corman’s sixtiesploitation film The Trip (hear “Fine Jung Thing” above), and the analog synthesizer was on its way to becoming a staple of popular music. In late ’67, The Doors called Beaver into the studio during the recording of Strange Days, and he used the Moog throughout the album to alter Jim Morrison’s voice and provide other effects (hear “Strange Days” at the top). Contrary to popular misconceptions, Brian Wilson did not use a Moog synthesizer for the recording of “Good Vibrations” the year prior, but an “electro-theremin” built and played by Paul Tanner. He did, however, have Bob Moog build a replica of that instrument to play the song live. (The Moog theremin is still in production today.)

Then, in 1968 Wendy Carlos used a Moog Synthesizer to reinterpret several Bach compositions, and Switched-On Bach became a novelty hit that led to many more classical Moog recordings from Carlos, as well as to her original contributions to Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and The Shining. (Unfortunately, few of Carlos' recordings are available online, but you can hear The Shining's main theme above.) Switched-On Bach took the Moog synthesizer mainstream—it was the first classical album to go platinum. (Glenn Gould called it “one of the most startling achievements of the recording industry in this generation and certainly one of the great feats in the history of keyboard performance.”) And after the release of Carlos' futuristic classical albums, and an evolution of Moog's instruments into more musician-friendly forms, analog synths began to appear everywhere.

Artists like Carlos explored the synthesizer's use as not only a generator of weird, spaced-out sounds and effects, but as an instrument in its own right, capable of all of the nuance required to play the finest classical music. The modular synthesizer, however, was still an awkwardly bulky instrument, suited for the studio, not the road. That changed in 1971 when the “Minimoog Model D" was born. You can see a short history of that revolutionary instrument above. The Minimoog and its siblings drove prog rock, disco, jazz fusion, the ambient work of Brian Eno, Teutonic electro-pop of Kraftwerk, and soothing Gallic new age soundscapes of Jean-Michel Jarre. Bob Marley incorporated the Minimoog into his roots reggae, and Gary Numan charted the path of the New Wave future with the portable synthesizer.

And as anyone who's heard Daft Punk's now-ubiquitous Random Access Memories knows, the forefather of their sound was Italian superproducer Giorgio Moroder, who brought us nearly all of Donna Summer's disco hits, including the futuristic "I Feel Love," above, in 1977. Although nothing really sounded like this at the time---nor for many years afterward---we can hear in this pioneering track that it's only a short hop from Moroder's pulsing, flanging, synth arpeggios to most of the modern dance music we hear today.

Though we certainly credit all of the composers, producers, and musicians who embraced analog synthesizers and pushed their development forward, all of their musical innovation would have meant little without the inventiveness of the man who, from his mountaintop retreat in Asheville, North Carolina, personally oversaw the technology of a musical revolution. For more on the genius of Bob Moog, watch Hans Fjellestad's documentary Moog, or listen to the Sound Opinions podcast above, featuring onetime official Moog Foundation historian Brian Kehew.

Dear Immanuel — Kant Gives Love Advice to a Heartbroken Young Woman (1791)

kant love advice

What to do when your love life goes south? Twentieth-century America established the tradition of seeking the counsel of an advice columnist, but in eighteenth-century Austria, with neither Dear Abby nor Ann Landers to whom to turn, you'd have to settle for the next best thing: Immanuel Kant. At least the 22-year-old Maria von Herbert, an avid student of Kant's philosophy, felt that was her only option, and in 1791 wrote as imploringly follows to the author of A Critique of Pure Reason:

Great Kant,

As a believer calls to his God, I call to you for help, for comfort, or for counsel to prepare me for death. Your writings prove that there is a future life. But as for this life, I have found nothing, nothing at all that could replace the good I have lost, for I loved someone who, in my eyes, encompassed within himself all that is worthwhile, so that I lived only for him, everything else was in comparison just rubbish, cheap trinkets. Well, I have offended this person, because of a long drawn out lie, which I have now disclosed to him, though there was nothing unfavourable to my character in it, I had no vice in my life that needed hiding. The lie was enough though, and his love vanished. As an honourable man, he doesn’t refuse me friendship. But that inner feeling that once, unbidden, led us to each other, is no more – oh my heart splinters into a thousand pieces! If I hadn’t read so much of your work I would certainly have put an end to my life. But the conclusion I had to draw from your theory stops me – it is wrong for me to die because my life is tormented, instead I’m supposed to live because of my being. Now put yourself in my place, and either damn me or comfort me. I’ve read the metaphysic of morals, and the categorical imperative, and it doesn’t help a bit. My reason abandons me just when I need it. Answer me, I implore you – or you won’t be acting in accordance with your own imperative.

Von Herbert's letter began a brief correspondence taken, two centuries later, as the subject of Kant Scholar Rae Helen Langton's paper "Duty and Desolation." The aged philosopher, writes Langton, "much impressed by this letter, sought advice from a friend as to what he should do. The friend advised him strongly to reply, and to do his best to distract his correspondent from 'the object to which she [was] enfettered.'"

And so Kant drafted his thorough reply:

Your deeply felt letter comes from a heart that must have been created for the sake of virtue and honesty, since it is so receptive to instruction in those qualities. I must do as you ask, namely, put myself in your place, and prescribe for you a pure moral sedative. I do not know whether your relationship is one of marriage or friendship, but it makes no significant difference. For love, be it for one’s spouse or for a friend, presupposes the same mutual esteem for the other’s character, without which it is no more than perishable, sensual delusion.

A love like that wants to communicate itself completely, and it expects of its respondent a similar sharing of heart, unweakened by distrustful reticence. That is what the ideal of friendship demands. But there is something in us which puts limits on such frankness, some obstacle to this mutual outpouring of the heart, which makes one keep some part of one’s thoughts locked within oneself, even when one is most intimate. The sages of old complained of this secret distrust – ‘My dear friends, there is no such thing as a friend!’

We can’t expect frankness of people, since everyone fears that to reveal himself completely would be to make himself despised by others. But this lack of frankness, this reticence, is still very different from dishonesty. What the honest but reticent man says is true, but not the whole truth. What the dishonest man says is something he knows to be false. Such an assertion is called, in the theory of virtue, a lie. It may be harmless, but it is not on that account innocent. It is a serious violation of a duty to oneself; it subverts the dignity of humanity in our own person, and attacks the roots of our thinking. As you see, you have sought counsel from a physician who is no flatterer. I speak for your beloved and present him with arguments that justify his having wavered in his affection for you.

Ask yourself whether you reproach yourself for the imprudence of confessing, or for the immorality intrinsic to the lie. If the former, then you regret having done your duty. And why? Because it has resulted in the loss of your friend’s confidence. This regret is not motivated by anything moral, since it is produced by an awareness not of the act itself, but of its consequences. But if your reproach is grounded in a moral judgment of your behaviour, it would be a poor moral physician who would advise you to cast it from your mind.

When your change in attitude has been revealed to your beloved, only time will be needed to quench, little by little, the traces of his justified indignation, and to transform his coldness into a more firmly grounded love. If this doesn’t happen, then the earlier warmth of his affection was more physical than moral, and would have disappeared anyway – a misfortune which we often encounter in life, and when we do, must meet with composure. For the value of life, insofar as it consists of the enjoyment we get from people, is vastly overrated.

Here then, my dear friend, you find the customary divisions of a sermon: instruction, penalty and comfort. Devote yourself to the first two; when they have had their effect, comfort will be found by itself.

Von Herbert's original "long drawn out lie," according to another letter Langton quotes from a mutual friend of Von Hebert's and Kant's, came about when, "in order to realize an idealistic love, she gave herself to a man who misused her trust. And then, trying to achieve such love with another, she told her new lover about the previous one." But by the time she picked up her pen to cast her fate to the judgment of her favorite thinker, the problem had transcended the state of a lovers' quarrel to become an all-consuming state of desire-free hollowness. Only Kantian principles, she insisted, stood between her and suicide.

She lays out her situation even more clearly in her reply to Kant's reply:

My vision is clear now. I feel that a vast emptiness extends inside me, and all around me—so that I almost find myself to be superfluous, unnecessary. Nothing attracts me. I’m tormented by a boredom that makes life intolerable. Don’t think me arrogant for saying this, but the demands of morality are too easy for me. I would eagerly do twice as much as they command. They only get their prestige from the attractiveness of sin, and it costs me almost no effort to resist that. […] I don’t study the natural sciences or the arts any more, since I don’t feel that I’m genius enough to extend them; and for myself, there’s no need to know them. I’m indifferent to everything that doesn’t bear on the categorical imperative, and my transcendental consciousness—although I’m all done with those thoughts too.

You can see, perhaps, why I only want one thing, namely to shorten this pointless life, a life which I am convinced will get neither better nor worse. If you consider that I am still young and that each day interests me only to the extent that it brings me closer to death, you can judge what a great benefactor you would be if you were to examine this question closely. I ask you, because my conception of morality is silent here, whereas it speaks decisively on all other matters. And if you cannot give me the answer I seek, I beg you to give me something that will get this intolerable emptiness out of my soul.

"Kant never replied," writes Langton. "In 1803 Maria von Herbert killed herself, having worked out at last an answer to that persistent and troubling question — the question to which Kant, and her own moral sense, had responded with silence. Was that a vicious thing to do? Not entirely. As Kant himself concedes, 'Self-murder requires courage, and in this attitude there is always room for reverence for humanity in one's own person.'" The words of a thinker, indeed, though we can probably see why no modern-day Immanuel Kant has gone into the business of providing solace to the brokenhearted.

via Critical Theory

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Coffee Entrepreneur Renato Bialetti Gets Buried in the Espresso Maker He Made Famous

At OC HQ you will find two Bialetti espresso makers on the stove--one small, the other large--and together they power us through the day. Invented by Alfonso Bialetti in 1933, the octagonal, Art Deco-designed coffee maker eventually became a staple in Italian homes (90% of them), thanks to his son Renato, who died last week at the age of 93. A savvy marketer to the end, Bialetti went to the grave with his product, buried, as he was, in an espresso maker that doubled as an urn. All in all, I can't think of much better ways to spend eternity.

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