Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Phishing attack -- purporting to come from Absa bank

Click this pic for a clear view of the text:

If you see one of these in your inbox, go to the institution in question and send them a copy of the email. (Go directly to the site in question without clicking any links on the email itself. The email will take you to a duplicate site that LOOKS like the institution in question. It's all fake.)

Then, if you're using Gmail, report it as a phishing attack, and it'll be deleted. If you don't use Gmail, delete the mail.

Do NOT click on the link. If you're curious, when you receive a phishing attack, you can hover your mouse over the link, and look at the address bar at the bottom of your browser. In this case, the address comes up as something at ''. Does that sound like a legitimate Absa address to you?

I've screengrabbed this with 'Show Details' on. Notice the 'Mailed-By' field. It's ''. You can easily see that that's nothing to do with Absa if you delve into the innards of the message.

But the rule is this: your banking institution will never send you a request of this kind. Ignore them.

The telling part here for me is that I'm not even an Absa client.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Dulce Door Sign

Dulce Door Sign, originally uploaded by royblumenthal.

I was sitting in Dulce coffee shop in Centurion yesterday with J when I noticed a terrible sign on the door.

Someone had scrawled a very untidy, nasty sign saying, 'Please use the next door'. It was pug ugly.

I had my computer on. And I thought I'd do them a small service. So I took a snapshot of their logo with my phone, bluetoothed it to my tablet pc, and quickly made them a colourful design.

I nipped off to the print shop next door and ran off three 6"x8" photo prints.

The way to use the sign is to simply snip off the arrow that's facing in the wrong direction.

I presented the prints to the manageress.

She said, 'Uhm... it's... uh... nice. But, you know, uhm, we don't really NEED a sign. It's just cos of the cold weather, you see--'

I cut her off. 'I should have explained,' I said, 'I did this for you for free. I saw some people looking confused, and I had my machine on, and it's really a pleasure to have done it for you.'

Her face lit up, and the hesitation in her voice disappeared. 'Oh, thanks very much! I hear there's another cold-front coming. So it's going to be VERY useful. Please come back for some coffee soon!'

J and I had to go to Woolworth's to get some groceries, and when we passed the shop, the manageress had already made the required snip, and put the sign up.

If you own a Dulce store, feel free to download this graphic and use it as you like. If you own any other stores, just Photoshop out the logo, and feel free to use it for your own purposes.

This door signage was painted in ArtRage 2.2 on my Toshiba Tecra M4 tablet pc in a cold Centurion, near Pretoria.

419 Phishing -- the scams that hurt the internet -- how they work

Arthur (Goldstuck, I presume?) commented on my post, 'Gone Phishing', pointing out that technically, what I received is the standard '419' scam, and that phishing is a lot more sophisticated.

It's worth looking at this in a little detail.

The '419' works like this... I receive an email, seemingly targeted at me, mentioning some vast amount of money that has been erroneously left in someone's bank account. For some reason, normally to do with the tragic death of the bank account holder, that money has to be disposed of by a certain date, or else it gets redistributed to someone in power.

The person sending the email is empowered through some technicality to involve me in the transaction, and for simply receiving and forwarding the money, I'll get a percentage of the money.

Phishing is different. I get an email from a banking (or other) institution, informing me most sincerely and convincingly that there's been some sort of security breach on my online account (whether or not I hold one), and that I must go to the institution's site and redo all of my security settings.

When I follow the link to the site, I'm asked for all sorts of interesting and useful information. Such as my ID number. My bank account number. My 'old' password. The size of my underpants.

And like the dutiful idiot I am, I supply all of these details, convinced that my bank would never bend me over a barrel and slather my nether regions in KY Jelly, ready to take one for the team.

Fourteen seconds later, my cellphone beeps, telling me that everything I've earned in my entire life has now been transfered to an account in the Bahamas. Clever me.

Now how do I equate the two scams?

Firstly, out of sheer laziness. But secondly, cos they're both con-based. Both scams rely on the naivete of the user for the hook to sink.

The 419 uses pure greed as its lure. And the phishing scam uses fear.

With the 419, my brain sees sums like £30 000 000, and 10%. And my brain short circuits. And I think, 'Hell! Ten perCENT? They outta their cotton picking minds??? I'm gonna take the WHOLE LOT!!!' And so, I'm already plumped to be reeled in as they make their strange and quaintly illiterate requests for information and cash and bank account details and ID numbers.

Phishing uses the fear that someone might be in the position to scam me. 'Someone' has breached the bank's security. And this 'someone' has the power to strip my account of all my earnings and my entire overdraft. And if I act FAST, I'll be able to thwart the scammer! And so I play right into their hands and hand it all to them on a plate.

Both are very clever. And both operate on a subtle level.

The crazy broken English of the 419 scam is deliberate, I would say. They make themselves SOUND as though they're thicker than two scoops of soft-serve in Iceland. And that's all in the service of activating our greed. They WANT us to think, 'Oh, jeez! This chump can't even speak English! I'm a phenominally gifted person in the brains department! Surely one such as I can outwit this scumbag? How stupid can he think I am???'

If that happens, we don't stand a chance.

We must resist. We must say, 'If I were to run a scam like this, how would I want my 'opponent' to feel about me?' The correct answer is: 'I'd want my opponent to think that my brains are runnier than a Mumbai sewer.'

The subtlety of phishing scams is that they make me feel that they're deeply concerned about the safety of my money. I respond to their concern by thinking, 'Well, they MENTION things like fraud and theft and stuff like that, so that means they're obviously NOT fraudsters themselves. I mean, what kinda fraudster would actually MENTION their fraud in the fraud setup? No way. This MUST be legit.' And then we're dead. Bye bye money.

So. Let's resist this crud. If you get a phishing or scamming attack, here's what Arthur suggests you do...

When I get these, I take great delight in c&p'ing the e-mails header record, and then forwarding the e-mail with the header to the relevant ISP and/or e-mail service. When that's the likes of Yahoo or Hotmail, I usually end up by getting an e-mail saying that the user's address has been canned. And at the very least, they'd have to find another e-mail address. It takes me all of 30 seconds. I also do it for the "lottery winner" scams.

I'd like to think that the reason I get far fewer of these than I used to, is because of these services of mine to the online fraternity. But it's probably because of better ISP filters.
If you're a Gmail user like me, you MIGHT know that they've got a 'Report Phishing' button in the 'Reply' dropdown menu. Click it, and it asks you to confirm that you're reporting a phishing attack. (I kinda wish Gmail would wake up to the Web2.0 potential of this tool. If they 'rewarded' their users by revealing how accurate their phishing reporting activities were, so many more people would be aware of the crime. I'd LOVE to know how accurate my efforts have been.)

Another thing to do, especially with standard Banking phishing attacks, is, in Arthur's words, to 'forward the e-mail and header to the "real" supplier'.

The thing NOT to do is reply or respond in ANY way. Your email header contains a heck of a lot more information than you'd like these crazed lunatics to know. They can deduce all sorts of stuff about you if you respond. So don't do it.

Now. I'm off to Columbia, where someone's widow is offering me free sex and eighteen billion Deutsche marks. What's that in Zim dollars?

Monday, June 25, 2007

Gone Phishing -- Anita Fripong promises me my share of a measly 4.5 million US dollars. Cheapskate.

A note from Roy: This is a phishing attack. Do NOT reply to Ms Anita Fripong. If you do, you'll be giving her a lead as to who you are, what your legitimate email address is, and some kind of a clue as to how to fleece you out of some substantial amount of dollars. I'm reproducing it here cos it's basically just plain hilarious that some people actually get duped by this rubbish.

from: Ms Anita Fripong
date: 25-Jun-2007 14:42
subject: Compliments

From: Ms Anita Fripong
Accra, Ghana.


I got your contact during my search for a reliable, honest and a trust worth person to entrust this huge transfer project with. My name is Ms Anita Fripong, Branch manager of a financial institution here in Ghana. I am a singal mother with a kid. I am writing to solicit your assistance in the transfer of $ 4,550.000.00 Million United States dollars only.

This fund is the excess of what my branch in which am the manager made as profit during the 2005 financial year. I have already submitted annual report for that year to my head office here in Accra as I have watched with keen interest as they will never know of this excess.I have since, placed this amount of $ 4,550.000.00 Million United States dollars only to an Escrow Coded account without a beneficiary (anonymous) to avoid trace.

As an officer of the bank, I cannot be directly connected to this money thus I am impelled to request for your assistance to receive this money into your bank account on my behalf. I intend to part 30% of this fund to you while 70% shall be for me. I do need to stress that there are practically no risk involved in this. It's going to be a bank-to-bank transfer. All I need from you is to stand as the original depositor of this fund so that the fund can be transferred to your account. If you accept this offer, I will appreciate your timely response urgently.

With Regards,

Ms Anita Fripong

Sunday, June 24, 2007

It's Lunchtime in the City -- a performance poem by Roy Blumenthal

This is one of my favourite performance poems.

I wrote it many years ago as part of the libretto for a Flamenco ballet that a work colleague of mine composed and choreographed. He asked me to put a story together. So I wrote a bunch of poems for it.

The musical backing here has absolutely nothing to do with the original Flamenco backing. This one is a mashup of a piece of Creative Commons licensed free music that I found on the web. I've been reluctant to put the piece online cos I lost the original music file, and I simply cannot recall who composed it, nor where I downloaded it from.

If you recognise the backing track, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE let me know, so I can credit the muso.

All of the voice-work in this performance is by me. I laid a basic track down, then sliced and diced the music around that. Then I did several more vocal takes, which I assembled around those elements.

For some bizarre reason, I imported the music file in mono (it was my first project in Logic HitKit, so I guess I didn't really know what I was doing). Which has led me to keeping the entire mix mono. But it still works for me.

This piece is released under a Creative Commons 'Share-Alike, Attribution, Non-Commercial' license. This means you can download it, give it to your buddies, mix and match it, do whatever you want with it, as long as you don't make money out of the deal, and you mention my name as the originator. Enjoy!

I built the track in Logic HitKit, on my Toshiba Tecra M4 tablet pc, using the microphone supplied with the HitKit (it was one of those Dorling Kindersley educational packs -- book, microphone, software; a very cheap way to get a professional piece of music creation software!). Disclosure: I do not get ANYTHING from Toshiba or Logic for mentioning their products. I mention them cos I like to let people know how things are made. I'm an open source kinda guy.

Direct download: roy_lunchtime_st_full_mix.mp3

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Roy Blumenthal: Five Most Dominant Themes of Talent

CSP Tug of WarOn the advice of a friend, I bought Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton's book, NOW, DISCOVER YOUR STRENGTHS. I bought it primarily because the book contains a code to do the web-based strengths finder test.

So, needless to say, like any good activator, I did the test immediately, before reading the book. This is the result...
The Signature Themes report below displays my five most dominant themes of talent, as indicated by my responses to Clifton StrengthsFinder, The Gallup Organization's Web-based talent assessment tool.
People strong in the Activator theme can make things happen by turning thoughts into action. They are often impatient.

People strong in the Ideation theme are fascinated by ideas. They are able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.

People strong in the Strategic theme create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.

People strong in the Input theme have a craving to know more. Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information.

People strong in the Learner theme have a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve. In particular, the process of learning, rather than the outcome, excites them.
I would have thought 'Ideation' would have come first, with 'Strategic' second, and 'Activator' third. But on second thoughts, the order is probably right. Fascinating stuff (for me).

Please note that the online test appears to be a bit of a marketing gimmick from Gallup International. In order to get the order of the remaining 34 strengths as discovered by the test, you've got to pay them around US$550. Which I'm simply not going to do. That's ridiculous.

Basically, if you buy the book cos of the free test... Yes... it's a good test. Yes... the methodology appears to be correct. Yes... the results are useful and interesting to a certain extent. However... I would really like to see my BOTTOM five strengths. So if that's what YOU want if YOU buy the book, you ain't gonna get it.

The pic is titled 'CSP Tug of War' by Christopher Potter. I sourced the pic by searching stock.xchng for the term 'strength'. Used with permission, based on Christopher's licensing condition that the work is free to use, with a request from him that I let him know how I've used it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

2007-06-20 Geoff & Shekha

2007-06-20 Geoff, originally uploaded by royblumenthal.

I was at a long and fruitful client presentation this morning. Left my place at around 6:10am.

The meeting went really well. But there was a section of the meeting that had very little to do with me. There was a bit of a tussle between the client and one of the other service providers.

So I decided to bite my tongue. I've contracted to Blue Moon on this one, and we're there to supply content, and I'm doing the creative direction on it, as well as writing it.

This means that it's not appropriate for me to stick my nose in when the bickering starts.

Which left me to play with my tablet pc. I was taking notes in Microsoft OneNote, and I had doodled Geoff, the client, in black lineart. While the tussle was happening, I decided to export the pic from OneNote into ArtRage, via CorelDraw, so that I could do some colour work on it.

This is the result.

When we finally broke for lunch, I popped it onto a memory stick for Geoff, and handed it to him.

'Oh, no!' he said. 'No! I don't like it at all!'

Graham (from Blue Moon) said, 'Better not show that to your wife, Geoff. She'll fall in love with you all over again.'

2007-06-20 Shekha

Shekha also started off as a doodle in the same client presentation. She was also distinctly unflattered by the lineart version.

I enjoyed the process I followed in making the Geoff pic. So I thought I'd give it a shot on this one.

Really had fun with it.

This painting was made on my Toshiba Tecra M4 tablet pc. The lineart was doodled in MS OneNote. I copied and pasted it into CorelDraw. Then exported the image as a jpeg. Finally, I pulled it into ArtRage, and started colouring.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

2007-06-16 Illustration Friday -- Rejection

I got my girlfriend -- J -- to pose for this portrait. It's for this week's Illustration Friday topic, 'Rejection'.

I decided to 'reject' some of the work I'm busy doing in order to make this pic. I'm on several deadlines at the moment. Two clients. Loads of writing to do before the end of Sunday.

It's all coming together very nicely. But sometimes I need a break. Hence the painting.

I painted this one in ArtRage 2.2 on my Toshiba Tecra M4 tablet pc, with Snow Patrol and Blue October playing in the background, and J sitting in bed doing sudoku, and me sitting on the edge of the bed. The electric blanket is on, thanks to it being winter in South Africa.

Thursday, June 07, 2007


Figure 1: Han Hoogerbrugge's "Modern Living/Neurotica" series can be found at


The Manipulation of Opaqueness and Transparency of Interface in Han Hoogerbrugge's 'Modern Living/Neurotica' Series

by Roy Blumenthal (Student Number: 8608887T)

WSOA7007: Critical Debates in Digital Arts and Culture
Wits School of the Arts, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa

3470 words


Han Hoogerbrugge's series of ninety-nine interactive Flash-animations in his web-based 'Modern Living/Neurotica' series are all self-portraits. They offer the viewer the opportunity to explore the interface.

The works lay bare the artifice that underlies the computer interface. This artifice, this constructedness, reveals the presence of boundaries. This ‘revealing’ allows the interacting viewer to glimpse the power of the boundary. When an interface attempts to be transparent, it seduces the viewer into a false sense of safety. In contrast, when the interface is apparent, the viewer is presented with choice.

This paper looks at how interface is revealed in some of the individual works in the series, and how these works further inform the full body of work. This analysis is situated largely in the arguments dealt with in Bolter and Gromala's WINDOWS AND MIRRORS.

Key Words

Hoogerbrugge, Interface, Boundary, Ideology, Flash, Digital, Art, Culture.

My Argument

When interface is shown to be artificial, created, an artifact, it becomes possible to apprehend the interfaces which surround us. These interfaces exist in all areas, and we're generally oblivious to them. When we are able to apprehend interface, we are able to become aware of how we may be manipulated by our own obliviousness. Ultimately, we're able to resist manipulation if we're aware of it. Hoogerbrugge's "Modern Living/Neurotica" series offers many experiential paradoxes and contradictions which bring the artifice of interface to light.

Figure 2: A still from "Modern Living/Neurotica #60: 'New Religion'.


An interface is, according to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, a 'surface forming [a] common boundary between two regions'. It's also a 'place, or piece of equipment, where interaction occurs between two systems, processes, etcetera'.

Hoogerbrugge's art places the viewer or user or interactor in an uncomfortable position. He makes us leap between regions as we interact with his work, figuring out its inner workings, and wondering what the content of the work means. We are at once on the surface, and inside the work. We are exploring how to interact, and we are interacting regardless.

Figure 3: In Modern Living/Neurotica #96: 'Summer', Hoogerbrugge's avatar responds to your mouse movement by reaching up and tearing off the mask he's wearing. This reveals that beneath the mask is his own face. Which is yet another mask. Not to mention the buzzing of the flies.

Snippet online:

Who is Han Hoogerbrugge?

Hoogerbrugge is a Dutch artist living and working in Rotterdam in the Netherlands ("Web Wizards: Digital Design Museum"). He started out as a paper-based cartoonist, and then in 1998 started making animated gifs of his work. Shortly after, he started using Flash to make the pieces interactive. And so the "Modern Living/Neurotica" series was born.

Hoogerbrugge explains the quirkiness of the self portraits: 'I wanted the character to make funny gestures and moves. If you loop those movements you’ve got neurotic behavior.' (Vlaanderen).

For him, the title "Neurotica" refers to the 'erotica of a neurotic person. The character in Neurotica is not a person suffering from an actual neurosis, but it’s more like… you know, when you’re bored and you’re just sitting around doing something and suddenly you wonder what the hell it is that you’re doing. It’s like lip syncing in front of the bathroom mirror. You only do that when no one else is around to see you. Or picking your nose. Private stuff.'

The fact that these are self portraits, and that the moments defined by the works within "Modern Living/Neurotica" universe are private, makes the viewer/interactor both a voyeur and a transgressor.

Figure 4: In Modern Living/Neurotica #97: 'Rash', you start off with an avatar averting his gaze. Every now and again, the eyes make fleeting contact with the viewer/interactor. Then, when you put the mouse over the face, spikes tear out of the skin wherever the mouse 'touches', and the avatar stares unrelentingly at you.

Snippet online:

Penetrating Deeply

Hoogerbrugge's work could be referencing Walter Benjamin's idea that the production mechanisms in the making of a movie cause the movie-making equipment to have 'penetrated so deeply into reality'. (Benjamin 233). In Hoogerbrugge's work, he literally has the viewer/interactor slicing into his self portrait, his avatar. And it is this slicing that causes the artificiality of the interface to become apparent. For Benjamin, his movie-maker-as-surgeon 'greatly diminishes the distance between himself and the patient by penetrating into the patient's body'. (Benjamin 233). It's precisely the removal of distance in the Hoogerbrugge universe that paradoxically creates the distance necessary to perceive the artifice. More on paradox below.

There are important differences between the way a film and an interactive artwork such as Hoogerbrugge's penetrate into reality. In film, the viewer could be argued to be a passive receiver of the image. In the interactive work, the viewer/interactor takes action to embrace that penetration. In film, it's the machinery, the means of production of a film, that Benjamin sees as making the penetration possible. In Hoogerbrugge's work, it's the means of production as well as the interaction that wields the scalpel.

Figure 5: In Modern Living/Neurotica #67: 'All Work', Han's Avatar is banging away at a computer keyboard. When a viewer rests their mouse on the Hoogerbrugge-lookalike, he stops typing, and looks imploringly at the viewer. When you click, the avatar leaps into the computer screen with a loud 'whoosh', onlyto emerge again from nowhere.

Snippet online:

Leaping Into Paradox

Hoogerbrugge is also being playful. He says, 'For me it's very important to seduce people to enter my work. The humor in my work has to do with that. It doesn't have to always make you laugh, but humor is a good starting point to make my work more approachable.' (Vlaanderen). The humour is one of the tools that he's using to manipulate the user into being taken in by the works.

It's the seduction present in Hoogerbrugge's universe that reveals how powerfully tempting it is for us to succumb to the lure of the transparent interface -- in his world and outside. This is because a good deal of the humour he uses relies on paradox.

When we make the man leap through the computer screen (in piece #65 "All Work") only to emerge again on our screen, we are taking part in an act that makes the interface apparent. Without the interface, we couldn't perform the action. It was only through our process of exploration and discovery that we found out what that interface was. Finding the interface has us causing this man to dive into a monitor as if it were an entrance into another world -- only to emerge from it (again and again, as long as we keep clicking) as if nothing has happened.

In their introduction to "Windows and Mirrors", Bolter and Gromala assert that ‘[d]igital art shows that the computer is not becoming invisible in our culture, as the electric motor did. We don’t want computers to disappear.’ (Bolter and Gromala 2). In Hoogerbrugge's art, the pervasiveness of the computer is highlighted. When we play with his interfaces, we are reminded just how mechanical our world has become. We are presented with the reality of computers, not as devices like electric motors, but as things that we can use. However, the underbelly of Hoogerbrugge's work is the seduction inherent therein. If we look past his interfaces, and instead find ourselves compulsively clicking on his pieces to repeat our transgressions against his effigy, aren't we being lulled into the trap of actually forgetting about interface?

At the same time, the paradox in the Hoogerbrugge universe also gives us access to the 'virtual', which 'cannot but be felt, in its effects' [my emphasis]. (Massumi 133). Every time we encounter a seeming-contradiction in one of these scenes, we're traversing the boundary between the real world of us sitting at our own computer, and the virtual world of things happening inside the computer. In #65: 'All Work', the moment Hoogerbrugge's avatar enters the screen, we gasp. We feel that avatar being sucked in. We share the trip into the bowels of the computer. And then he gets spat out the other end in some mysterious way, having to do with how those innards work. In Massumi's view, 'The appearance of the virtual is in the twists and folds of formed content, in the movement from one sample to another.' (Massumi 133). Right here, in these moments of absorption and re-embodiment of the avatar, we find our senses joining in to somehow find the merging between virtual and analog.

For me, this particular scene fuses these two notions: Bolter and Gromala's fear of the invisibility of computers and interfaces, and Massumi's assertion that the apprehension of the virtual is enabled by interface.

Figure 6: In Modern Living/Neurotica #58: 'Target', Hoogerbrugge's avatar appears in the cross hairs of a rifle's telescopic sights. When the viewer/transgressor clicks, the avatar performs some form of gruesome self-mutilation, accompanied by the sound of what turns out to be a camera shutter. Compelling stuff.

Snippet online:

Make the Hurting Stop

This brings us right back to Benjamin. For him, 'representation of reality by the film' (much like the reality presented in Hoogerbrugge's Flash-created milieu), 'is incomparably more significant than that of the painter, since it offers, precisely because of the thoroughgoing permeation of reality with mechanical equipment, an aspect of reality which is free of all equipment.' (Benjamin 234). Hoogerbrugge's mechanical wizardry thrusts us into the paradoxical role of surgeon, artist, voyeur, transgressor. All of these things serve two purposes. They dissolve the interface, and they also highlight its very existence.

Isn't Hoogerbrugge being cunning here? He's blurring the boundary between himself as artist and himself as subject. He's blurring the boundary between us as art-consumers and us as artisans. When he makes us hurt the self portrait he presents in a rifle site (in #58, "Target"), it's as if we're hurting the real him. But we know that we're not actually hurting anyone. Firstly, it's a representation of him. And secondly, there's no actual pain involved. But that doesn't stop us from flinching when our click causes his image to draw blood. And it doesn't stop us from giving it another click. And another. And another. We're hooked.

Each time we flinch for the pain we imagine the avatar to be experiencing, we're enacting the embodiment of Massumi's virtual. For him, what 'makes the virtual appear' is this very 'felt thought'. (Massumi 135). In confronting the viewer with the collision between the feelings of the avatar and the feelings of the viewer, Hoogerbrugge forces us to confront the intersection between the real and the imagined, the keyboard and the computing going on beneath the surface. He's making it impossible for the computer to disappear from sight and thought.

To my mind, Bolter and Gromala might have pushed their definition further. Hoogerbrugge's work demonstrates that one of the roles of digital art is precisely to prevent the computer from becoming invisible, to keep the interface opaque.

Figure 7: In Modern Living/Neurotica #90: 'Black Hole Vertigo', when the interactor/user/viewer clicks on the upside-down man, he flips over. At the same time, the entire interface also flips over. This leaves the whole screen upside down, until you click on the dude again. You can navigate away from the piece to other pieces, and they stay upside down. Something is always upside-down, no matter what you do to rectify the situation.

Snippet online:


When we explore the myriad short scenes presented in "Modern Living/Neurotica", we are disorientated by the melange of music, the number of different scenes, the stark simplicity of the artworks. While we may be focusing intently, our focus is actually fairly shallow. These scenes are shown small in the centre of our screens. They're surrounded by a sea of black. These are more reminders of the fact that we're looking at a screen, that we're interacting with an artifact.

We're almost certainly not on Hoogerbrugge's site with the lofty aim of appreciating and apprehending high art. We're surfing the web. We probably found Hoogerbrugge's site by accident, or because someone mentioned that it was 'cool'.

It doesn't really matter why we came to the site. It matters that the site isn't a formal gallery. It's not something that imposes the conventions of canon on the artwork we're experiencing. Quite simply stated, it's just another website. We could be at work. At home. Taking a break. Relaxing.

This puts Hoogerbrugge at odds with Benjamin:
Distraction and concentration form polar opposites which may be stated as follows: A man who concentrates before a work of art is absorbed by it. He enters into this work of art the way legend tells of the Chinese painter when he viewed his finished painting. In contrast, the distracted mass absorbs the work of art. (Benjamin 239).
He's at odds with Benjamin precisely because he's created the conditions for distracted concentration, for shallow focus. When we interact with/view Hoogerbrugge's work, we're absorbing the artifice, not the art itself. Our absorption is in our concentration on the minutiae of causing things to happen within the scene.

This puts Hoogerbrugge dead on target regarding Benjamin's notion of the functions of habit. Benjamin tells us that perception isn't just a matter of seeing. It's about doing too.
For the tasks which face the human apparatus of perception at the turning points of history cannot be solved by optical means, that is, by contemplation, alone. They are mastered gradually by habit, under the guidance of tactile appropriation. (Benjamin 240).
It's the doing by the viewer/user that sets Hoogerbrugge's work apart from being just a trivial amusement. When we get locked into the paradoxical juxtapositions inherent in the scenes, it's the very fact that we're doing, and ending-our-doing, through clicking, and stopping, that allow us to catch glimpses of what it means to have an apparent interface.

When we click, there is a moment where something happens. The first time it happens, it's unfamiliar to us. The second time, we're expecting it. But Hoogerbrugge's work often confounds expectations. Sometimes something else happens. So every gap in doing creates a moment of apprehension. This is apprehension in two important senses of the word: 'the faculty or act of apprehending, esp. intuitive understanding; perception on a direct and immediate level', and 'anticipation of adversity or misfortune; suspicion or fear of future trouble or evil'. ( In the first instance, the viewer is intuiting the presence of meaning. In the second instance, the viewer feels the possibility of something unanticipated. Both of these apprehensions give rise to a moment of newness, of change.

This links very strongly to Brian Massumi's grappling with the virtual versus the analog. For him, doing is about allowing the body to be part of the sensing and creation of the virtual. As he puts it, 'The body, sensor of change, is a transducer of the virtual'. (Massumi 135). In Hoogerbrugge's work, there are echoes of the same contradictions that can be found in Massumi. If we want to embody the virtual, we need to search for it in the spaces between the interface and the interfaced.

Figure 8: A collage of the menu bar. This shows the many options open to someone visiting the site.


The "Modern Living/Neurotica" series presents the viewer/user with a seeming ninety-nine tableaus. There are actually only ninety. And of those, a small number are animated gifs, and are therefore not interactive. Regardless of the actual number of scenes, the choice is actually almost overwhelming.

The pieces were created over a period of four years (from 1998 to 2001). And this can only have been both by design and of necessity. It takes a significant amount of time to create each Flash animation. Presumably, it would have been counterproductive to wait for all of the pieces to be finished before presenting them to the audience. What this means is that the early-viewers/engagers were treated to a broadening of the "Modern Living/Neurotica" universe over time.

As we travel up the scenes, we find a variety of themes emerging. Politics. Religion. Privacy. Cruelty. We find motifs being repeated, but with added twists. (For instance, the recurring image of the avatar's eyes making direct contact with the viewer's eyes. Sometimes it's a glare. Sometimes it's a plea.) We also find that Hoogerbrugge keeps us guessing. Some of his works require just a mouseover for something to happen. Some require a mouse click. Some require both. The entire 'Modern Living/Neurotica' world is a manifestation of Massumi's 'infolding and unfolding: self-referential transformation'. (Massumi 135).

Figure 9: In Modern Living/Neurotica #63: 'Perfect Day', the Hoogerbrugge-avatar dances smoothly in the spotlight. Until you click on him. Then the music changes, and he turns into a skeleton doing the same smooth moves. Each time you click, the change happens, with a library of different looped tune-snippets backing the action.

Snippet online:

Deadly Discomfort

The infoldings and unfoldings, the abundance of choice, and the intoxication of the disorientation we as viewer/users feel, place us in unfamiliar territory. We experience this world in a rather unsettled way. This experience is not a random side-effect.

For Bolter and Gromala, the importance of experience in digital art causes them to devote a section heading to the topic: 'To design a digital artifact is to design an experience.' (Bolter and Gromala 22).

Hoogerbrugge's world is intricately created. It's a semi-insane space, populated by one man (the Hoogerbrugge self-portrait persona) and his twisted fantasies and insights. The characterisation is consistent. The interactive strategies required for us to interface with it are varied, but congruent. It all adds up to a disturbing experience for the user/interfacer. It's certainly no comfort zone. So how does this measure up to one of Bolter and Gromala's criteria for great design?
Today, we do not operate computers; rather, we interact with them, and successful digital artifacts are designed to be experienced, not simply used. The term user is unfortunate (but now unavoidable), as if we were habituated or addicted to the artifact. Good digital designs do not addict; they invite us to participate, to act and react. (Bolter and Gromala 22).
One might say that Hoogerbrugge's world is certainly one of experience, not use. (After all, it doesn't really have a use, in any functional sense of the word.) At the same time, it's possible to see the experience through Bolter and Gromala's use of the word 'addiction' through the entire series. The viewer obsessively clicks on elements of scenes, both to see if something will change, and to continue having the character behave the way it was behaving. Furthermore, the obsession extends beyond individual scenes. One finds oneself obsessively exploring other scenes.

So, even though there is an element of addiction in Hoogerbrugge's universe, the experience is certainly very powerfully designed in that it 'choreograph[s] the experience that the user will have.' (Bolter and Gromala 22). Hoogerbrugge cunningly keeps the scenes varied. He keeps the interactions unpredictable. He offers very strange content. All of this adds up to a user/viewer/interactor threading through the scenes Hoogerbrugge has presented.

Figure 10: In Modern Living/Neurotica #77: 'Slipstream', the viewer/manipulator moves their mouse over Hoogerbrugge's avatar. This makes the shadow hand behind the avatar move in circles above the avatar's head. This in turn makes the avatar move his head around in a daze. A click, and the avatar slaps his own face with both hands, and both shadow and avatar appear to be in pain. Who's in control here? Are we, the viewer, controlling the controller? Or is the controller controlling us? Is Han Hoogerbrugge sitting behind his Wizard of Oz screen chuckling at our antics?

Snippet online:

Who is in Control?

Hoogerbrugge's the master puppeteer in this work. He's pulling the strings, choreographing our experience, and making us think. So what's he getting us to think about?

He's offering us the opportunity to gaze behind the curtain, to see that if we are aware, we may notice who holds our strings. For Bolter and Gromala, being aware of the interface gives us some form of control over our own destiny. 'If we only look through the interface, we cannot appreciate the ways in which the interface itself shapes our experience.' (Bolter and Gromala 9).

When an habituated Mac user attempts to operate a Windows machine, or a hardened Windows junkie tries to use a Mac, massive frustrations are apt to erupt. This has nothing to do with which operating system is better. It's more to do with which one is more transparent or opaque to a particular user. And the transparency is not inherent. It's learned. Our own obliviousness to the fact that its learned gives the artifact power over us, the users.

Hoogerbrugge's work serves to remind us that control, like transparency, is not inherent in any system. When we look at the great big shadow finger spinning our Hoogerbrugge-hero around by the head (in #77, "Slipstream"), it becomes obvious that, once again, a paradox is at play. It is we who are manipulating the manipulator. It is our silhouette appearing behind the Hoogerbrugge-character. And it is Hoogerbrugge himself who is causing us to perform that manipulation. Our silhouette is also his shadow. So we merge with Hoogerbrugge's avatar. Which merges us with Hoogerbrugge. Which merges him with us. It is his programming, his artistry, that make this world of his work like this. It is he who is spinning our heads around.

All of this serves to remind us that in the world outside of Hoogerbrugge's "Modern Living/Neurotica" world, the many interfaces we accept as transparent are actually manipulated creations. The great television news channels like CNN and BBC appear to be neutral and objective. Hoogerbrugge's work suggests that no matter how neutral something may look, it's always an artifact, a creation, a choreography of user-experience.

In a world where interfaces are all around us, being aware of those interfaces allows us the ability to glimpse who is in control. Hoogerbrugge's "Modern Living/Neurotica" series shows us that control is a constantly shifting thing.

Figure 11: In Modern Living/Neurotica #79: 'Faithful', the screen loads up with a white cross in view. When you slide your mouse over the cross, a maniacal Hoogerbrugge-avatar dances puppet-like beneath the holy symbol. His eyes look demonic. His hands curl lasciviously.

Snippet online:

The Outside Agent

Benjamin's shriek from the soul about humanity's lot sums up what happens when we remain oblivious to the powers exerted on us by our own unawareness: '[Mankind's] self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order.' (Benjamin 242). When we chuckle at the spectre of the manipulativeness of religion evident in #79, "Faithful", we're laughing partly at our own self-destruction, and partly at our awareness of that self-destruction.

Hoogerbrugge seems to be suggesting, like Benjamin, that we -- as humans -- seem to habitually place our fate in the hands of puppeteers. Also, like Benjamin, he's hinting that it's all to do with personal responsibility. If we don't take action against the outside agents who control us, we have only ourselves to blame.

Bolter and Gramola contend that '[f]or many digital artists, art is a critical technical practice, a means of critiquing the assumption that technology is a tool to be applied to all social problems'. (Bolter and Gromala 159). In light of this, it's easy to see Hoogerbrugge as using his technology to help the web-surfing world to notice some of the problems we're allowing to crop up. He's certainly using his art, 'both to pose cultural questions and to suggest solutions'. (Bolter and Gromala 158).

For me, the biggest solution I see in his work is for the viewer/user/experiencer/interactor to wake up to the opaqueness of the interface. No matter how transparent it seems, it is an artifact, and is the result of artifice.

Because of the overarching presence in Hoogerbrugge's work of paradox, I'll invoke Massumi again in closing: 'The challenge is to think (and act and sense and perceive) the co-operation of the digital and the analog'. (Massumi 143). While I haven't argued Hoogerbrugge's work as a bridge between analog and digital, I have argued it as a bridge between the transparent and the opaque. For me, Massumi's challenge is to find the centre of any dialectic, whether that dialectic is analog/digital, real/virtual, transparent/opaque, political/personal. And that's where Hoogerbrugge is a powerful artist. His stuff reveals the dialectic, and his works engage the viewer/interactor in glimpsing the dialectic.


"apprehension." Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. Page accessed 12 June 2007. <>.

Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations. New York: Schocken Books, 1968.

Bolter, Jay David, and Diane Gromala. Windows and Mirrors: Interaction Design, Digital Art, and the Myth of Transparency. 1st ed. Cambridge, Mass: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2003.

Hoogerbrugge, Han. "Modern Living/Neurotica". 1998--2001. Page accessed 4 June 2007. <>.

"interface." The Concise Oxford Dictionary. 7th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Massumi, Brian. "On the Superiority of the Analog", Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Durham: Duke University Press, 2002.

"Web Wizards: Digital Design Museum." Han Hoogerbrugge. Design Museum, London. Page accessed 5 June 2007. <>.

Vlaanderen, Remco. "Interview -- Han Hoogerbrugge." 16 August 2006. SubmarineChannel. Page accessed 4 June 2007. <>.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Battle at Kruger

Holy moley! I've never seen anything like this! I didn't even know such a thing was possible!

A pack of lions take on a herd of buffalo. And I'm not going to say too much about the result. Suffice to say that a couple of crocodiles also got into the act.

This is one of the must-watch videos of the century.

Thanks to Marc for alerting me to it. Wow.

Monday, June 04, 2007

2007-06-03 Illustration Friday -- Pair-a-Dice -- 'Your Paradise'

I simply cannot resist an Illustration Friday pun. The topic this week is 'Your Paradise'. So I just had to give you a 'pair of dice' hanging from some car mirror.

But I didn't want it to be just ANY car in ANY old town. I wanted it to be a really classy car in an awesome place.

So I went trawling Flickr, using the Flickr Photo Finder, and found two stunning reference pics.

The car is Carl Palmer's pic of a Rolls Royce. It's titled 'Wedding Car', and he's released it under a Creative Commons 'Attribution -- Share-Alike' license. Thanks Carl. Rock and Roll(s)!!!

The town is based on a pic of 'Streets of St Andrews1' by Maciej Lewandowski. He's released it under the same license as Carl: a Creative Commons 'Attribution -- Share-Alike' License. Ultra-scrumptious pic, Maciej. Thanks!

I've tried to use the strong diagonals of the roofs sloping top left down to the car to try and draw attention to the dice in the window.

But I suspect I made the two passersby a little too dark. So they form a strong focus point for the eye.

I could always post-rationalise and say I intended this effect. Kinda along the lines of, 'Yeah... it makes the dice so much more subtle, and when the viewer notices them, it's all that more satisfying for them.'

In truth, I've only noticed how strong those two passersby are now, as I look at the thumbnail of the pic.

Ah well. It's still a satisfying painting for me.

I painted this on an ultra chilly day in wintry Johannesburg, South Africa, on my Toshiba Tecra M4 tablet pc, using ArtRage 2.2. The pic is yours to play with under a Creative Commons 'Non-Commercial -- Attribution -- Share-Alike' license.