Thursday, August 30, 2007

Pimping Sequential Tart

Over at Sequential Tart, for which I write monthly articles, I've got a piece up on my trip to the Netherlands. It's the first of three and is focused on more touristic aspects of my visit, which I haven't really mentioned here. So if you have been wishing to read more about that, read my Tarticle.

Ontological question from a 3-year-old

"How do we know if someone is reading a story about us? And if we went outside there wouldn't be anything, but if he read about us [being] outside, then there would be something."

Sometimes my children are a little daughter, after asking this, decided it was just hilarious to imagine. Which is certainly better than deciding it was scary and keeping us up all night with nightmares.

But this is an example of how interesting it is to watch my children develop an understanding of language and narrative and their connection to reality, or our perceptions of reality. Even more interesting, they don't develop understanding in the same way. One of my daughters seems to really grasp the larger structure that stories typically have (based on the sample she's encountered so far) and she has an idea of what kinds of elements are needed when you make up a story, what you need to tell people. My other daughter doesn't seem to notice this as much, but she is much more aware on a micro level of what kinds of things people typically say or do in every day situations that might occur in a story--eating, cooking, arguing, going out, going to bed, etc.

At least they aren't playing funeral any more; that was rather disturbing!

On top of all the other challenges and joys, having kids is just so interesting, it raises so many questions and ideas for me, about things I research. I never expected that.

Their questions often reveal my assumptions about all kinds of things. It's cool. And since I can't resist dragging my work into everything, it's a kind of remediation, looking through my children's eyes.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Where to Begin...

As I approach the first week of classes, the pace has picked up on campus quite noticeably in several ways. I'm getting about four emails a day from people trying to schedule meetings I am supposed to attend, my department mailbox has received a flurry of paper about various events, and students are already hounding me for syllabi, though classes don't start for another week.

I'm excited though, because this term I teaching a composition class entirely online and themed around online community and participation; I think it will be really cool! Also, my grad class will be fun--I'm finally teaching one I've taught before--so I can incorporate things that have worked well before and drop those that didn't. --It's nice to finally get to a "second draft." I kind of wish I could teach two sections--it's been over-enrolled by almost half again several times since last spring.

And, the books I shipped via ground transport from the Netherlands have finally arrived, and seem to have survived their journey intact. --I was starting to wonder what I could possibly do fro here if they didn't show up. The box of cocoa powder leaked a bit, so now the books all smell chocolatey. Which, if I was going to choose a scent, isn't bad at all...

Friday, August 24, 2007

Second Life Explorations

What I've found so far:

  • for cheap and free stuff, visit Sarah Nerd and Vienna Freebies--the former has more variety, the latter has better quality (ie, less trampy looking). --But what makes it Viennese, I have no idea.
  • the virtual Rotterdam Stadt Museum is actually cool, but hard to move around in because it's a bit cluttered. I kept tripping against objects or accidentally going through the wall. Weird steam pipes hang off the bottom--what's the deal with that?
  • you can make money filling out surveys on money tree island, but it's a real pain--far longer than five minutes. Better to dance for money in a club...
  • surprising number of Dutch dance clubs...but I really have to visit the Rotterdam Gabber club. ;-)
  • quite a few locations where one and a partner can sit (or recline) and go through the motions of cuddling. I can't quite see the attraction and I'm reminded of the T-shirts sold on the "First Life" website--"I fornicate with my actual genitals." If the object of my desire were so far away, I'd rather save my money (or find a way to get some) and visit for real, instead of wasting time in SL.
So far there are some interesting things to look at and it might be fun to explore with friends, but a real city would be more fun any day...

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Originally uploaded by cuuixsilver
Ok, here's a recent picture. Now if I could duplicate my jacket in SL... I got it this summer when visiting the Netherlands, and it quickly became a favorite.

If SL had some place like Target, but so far all I can find are clothes that cost hundreds of Linden Dollars (LD) and look like they are for clubbing. I just need a T-shirt and jeans, really.

Second Life...

Originally uploaded by cuuixsilver
So I've just joined and tried it out and I must say, Second Life is a weird place. I wanted my avatar to actually look as much like myself as I could manage, but getting even close took forever. It was a pain, yet I couldn't make myself give up on it--which was creepy.

This is the current result and I'll post a recent picture of me for comparison. One thing; I could not find really short prim or flexi hair for women (hair you buy and that looks more real, and moves when you do.) Eventually I just got some men's hair, but I still couldn't find any that was really as short as I wanted.

Now I plan to spend more time exploring the cultural and educational scenes, but I don't have much time to spend on it, because term starts in two weeks.

"True North is in the Eyes of the Beholder"

Today I spent about 7 hours reading "writing proficiency (something) tests" --I always forget what the S stands for because everyone just says "WPST" all the time. Anyway, it's exhausting to read and score (holistic scoring on a 6 point scale, 2 readers for each test) so many. I think I read about 60-70, about 8 hand-written pages each. They were actually better this year then last fall, which is when I last participated in the reading.

Anyway, after a while we all just get kind of punchy because we're drinking coffee and reading and reading, and stumbling across phrases like the one I share in this title. This was an actual title of an essay exam. Just think about it for awhile. And we had our perennial debate over what exactly we care more about; correct usage or clear arguments. I think this time I was more convincing about the importance of argument.

So I hope the trend continues, that students seem to be more ready by the time they take the test. One interesting note--students were writing about generational differences and without fail identified experiences with technology as on of the main differences between their own experience and their parents' or grandparents'. I was impressed at their awareness.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Tick Tick Tick

Every now and then I enter some kind of mental phase when my brain feels overclocked. My thoughts speed up and run in parallel processes. Right now I am thinking about three different grant proposals; my undergrad and grad classes which start in two weeks; the orientation for new TAs next week; the 10 emails to which I'm awaiting replies; those I have to send out tomorrow; the Empire conference I'm co-chairing; a bi-lateral agreement with Piet Zwart; four calls for papers I might answer; my review of the ELO electronic text; my latest article for Sequential Tart; the skype calls I'm trying to arrange...

Does this count as a dynamic heterarchy? Intermediation?

Sometimes this might make me feel overstressed but sometimes it feels like my brain is whirring along, sustained by it's own speed, in perpetual motion. It's not perpetual of course, and the one problem is that it's hard to sleep in this state. I have trouble dropping off until late and as soon as the sun is barely up my eyes fly open again. Just can't stop thinking. And I don't really want to except I'm getting rather tired...

Anyway, now, as if all this weren't enough, I'm thinking about scholarly subjectivity, engagement, and Kenneth Burke.

The Point of Tags

I'm not going to launch a discussion of folksonomy and collective intelligence; look at this webcast from MiT5 for more on all that web 2.0 stuff. (not that I don't take and interest). But, a few people have written about tagging in more concrete and useful ways (for me). One is Ulises Mejias who has written about tag literacy and says (brace for big blockquote):

Tags are very efficient ways of allocating attention in the face of informational overabundance. It takes very little time to bookmark and tag a resource. Because users are the first ones to benefit from classifying the resources that interest them, there is a very high motivation to tag. Thus, what people are doing in reviewing tags is capitalizing on attention allocated by others, specially on aggregated attention (what happens when large groups of people allocate attention to the same tag or resource, as seen in the 'Most Popular' tag or resource feeds in a DCS).

In short, Google yields search results that represent attention allocated by computers, while DCSs yield search results that represent attention allocated by humans. The former method (computer attention) is cheap, and hence ideal for indexing large amounts of information quickly; the latter method (human attention) is not so cheap, and not so quick, but it can yield more socially valuable information because it means a human being has made the association between a resource and a particular tag. Hence, this method is ideal for qualitative indexing. Furthermore, this method can be made cheaper and quicker by distributing the process across large communities and tying it to the individual interest of the user, which is exactly what a DCS does.

Mirko Schäfer takes this builds on this idea in a discussion of "micro-learning" in his article RTFM! Teach-yourself Culture in Open-Source Software Projects. (scroll down to section 6). He elaborates on how tagging can, in addition to making information easier to navigate, also offers users/contributors a framework for thinking about their own contributions.

Maintaining the database would entail correcting and improving the stored information by adding or changing tags. Instead of constantly expanding the given documentation material into countless directions, this approach forces the reader/writer to thoroughly re-think the context of the material, shaping it according to its possible connections.

So I feel somewhat obliged to tag, not just for my own convenience, but to help others. But, while I agree with Trebor Scholz (and others) that people have lots of motives for this kind of effort, and admit that I do as well, I still contend that an important possible (and for me actual) motive has been largely overlooked; care for family. There are people, some close friends, some not so close, that I (for whatever reason) think of as family in the sense that I care about their well-being and want them to be happy and successful. If I think they are benefiting from something I do, like tagging, then I will damn well take the trouble. --And I do know that few of these people are checking because they joined my network on, so there it is.

Now I can't even remember why I felt I needed to go into this. Tick Tick Tick.

The Rhetoric of Tagging in Blogs

I've spent about an hour this morning editing the tags on my entries, and I'm not nearly finished! I feel a bit foolish because I've read many blogs and yet when I started this one I forgot about tagging the entries for about a month, so now I'm slowly going back and adding tags. But in doing that I've realized that choosing tags that are really useful actually takes some though, otherwise I end up with a ridiculous number of tags that each have just a couple of entries, which defeats a lot of the purpose.

Of course I could be like Neil Gaiman who has made tagging into another creative practice that serves not so much to organize individual entries into broader categories as to make them even more distinct from each other, but since this is a research blog (mostly) I think I would drive myself crazy, and maybe my readers as well (if there are any!).

But now that I am trying to tag entries when I write them, I realize that sometimes it's not easy to identify what the most dominant categories will really be, so it may have worked out better that I went a month before starting. Looking back at the summer's entries, I can actually see the major themes and pick those as tags, which should also make it clearer to passersby what I'm writing about here. And I think this works differently in blogs than at sites like'll write about that kind of tagging later.

This is a really pragmatic approach and it's in tension with another impulse (of mine, at least) to use tags that will intrigue readers and make me look more interesting. So for example, instead of just tagging posts about particular people as "friends" or "scholars" or something like that, it's tempting to say "academic rock stars" which is silly, but sounds fun, or "people I wish acknowledged my presence" which makes me sound completely neurotic, but still my be more interesting. Over on the nettime list our discussion of ex/including the personal from/in academic writing has made me think in a more organized way about how much I constantly and keenly feel this tension. It seems at least some others feel it too, but it's hard to talk about even when we sort of give ourselves permission as we have in this particular thread, because I can't help but feel that my normal levels of enthusiasm and whimsy, which I usually filter out of my academic work, are going to cost me the respect of serious I really sound neurotic!

Anyway, I think that by and large it's worth the risk. The pleasure of scholarly work is so much greater when combined with friendship, for example and/or ethical conviction is so much greater than simple intellectual interest, that the chance of increasing my chances of having more of it far outweighs any anxiety.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Link Thingy

I'm experimenting with having a daily post of my new links; we'll see how that goes; it's in beta right now... Ok, apparently it didn't work... maybe I'll just do the link roll for now.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Book Project?

Last spring I decided to start researching how institutions that study, produce, and/or teach new/digital/cyber/hyper/whatever media organize themselves. At first I just wanted to see what other places were doing so that as we worked on our new center we would have some sense of possibilities and pitfalls. Pretty quickly I realized that certain choices made by these organizations seemed to really change their character, audiences, etc. Looking for research, I also saw that there wasn't too much, and most was sort of fragmentary--only about one institution or span of time, one locale, one project, etc. And I started to get really interested in how the philosophy of the institution seemed to shape it's decisions about who to work with, what the goals were, what counted as success; at the same time funding sources had a powerful effect on these as well, and often created tension.

At first I planned to survey institutions all over as the opportunity arose, but in the US they are so spread out and work in such different contexts that it seemed hard to figure out a coherent approach that would allow comparisons. At the same time, I already was going to the Netherlands for about two weeks during June-July 2007, so I thought I'd interview people there,at first just with the idea of identifying best practices. --There are numerous very well-known institutions in the NL and I figured it would be helpful to hear how they did things.

Those interviews were revelatory because besides being informative about individual institutions, they provided numerous unique perspectives on the cultural scene in the NL. And I suddenly realized that there was so much to say about how knowledge was being created and dispersed, and I was so interested; I should write a book. But I couldn't figure out how the structure should work or how to include everything, without spending 10 years on it--and I really only want to spend 3-5! Just recently it occurred to me that rather than trying to go all over the US, Europe, Asia, etc. I should start by just looking at the Netherlands because the countries small size yet high concentration of these institutions make them great for comparison. There all kinds of institutions that differ from each other in many ways, but they are all dealing with the same national-level funding scheme, and many of them work together on projects. So certain variables would be reduced or eliminated.

I also just started reading some things about Dispositifs and I think it could be a key notion in my study. Different theorists use it quite differently so I need to get a firmer grip on who has said what, and when, before figuring out how I think it can be applied in my study. One good starting point is some notes Frank Kessler has online at his website. Thanks to Mirko for the connection to Kessler and dispositif.

Now I just have figure out how to say all of this in a really compelling way so I can get a grant or fellowship to go to the Netherlands a bunch more times.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Finally I found some amazing digital art

So I was saying last week (or maybe two weeks ago) that I hadn't really found any art that really moved me emotionally, but lo an behold, this week it falls into my lap. Or rather, inbox. Out of the blue I got a message from Joseph Nechvatal about a new Viral Symphony he has posted over at UbuWeb. We hadn't met, but we're both on Nettime-L and I guess he thought I might like it, which I did. But, since of course I then had to google Jospeph (because I am one of those who will virtually stalk someone via their online appearances if I find them interesting) I found his website and blog, both of which have links to some of his digital paintings.

I have to say I just love these. The paintings are really disturbing (in a good way) and also just cool as they are consumed by the virii, and I really connected to the music because in some way it really works with the blazing heat and profusion of growth we get in this part of the central valley during the summer. When you combine irrigation with constant sun, you get not only amazingly fruitful farms and orchards, but also weeds, molds, ants...all kinds of living things that seem poised to take over.

In addition to how much I enjoy the way these works express some sort of fecundity, also, reading some of Joseph's own texts and some texts about his work, I finally feel like I have a grip (however slippery) on some theoretical concepts I've been struggling with, so that was an unexpected pleasure.

Joseph has also been nice enough to answer my questions via email and pointed me to this video that shows the consumption of a digital painting:

And, if you like that, you can see more at his YouTube page.

--so cool to meet an artist who will answer emails even when they contain questions that are probably really basic.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Traditional award categories

Traditional award categories
Originally uploaded by cuuixsilver
One challenge to developing programs or projects in digital media is determining whether there are any prospective students, or any interest from local communities. This really struck me when I went to the county fair. Though CSU Stanislaus is an "urban campus" and the population of Turlock is about 70,000 (and growing rapidly) still, local identity seems to still really be based on agriculture, as is obvious in this picture.

Of course this element will be highlighted at the fair, but what really got my attention is the way it's highlighted in spite of, for example, the 4H club having programs in science and engineering, communications, and metal-work. There wee no exhibits of that work, just the agricultural group's petting zoo of farm animals.

I think there's a lot of nostalgia shaping local identity, and a real reluctance to connect with the "other" California of Silicon Valley and the high tech industry. Lately several residents who have been here a long time have commented to me on how closed a city this is. I'm starting to wonder if ICT's much vaunted ability to connect people has been completely misunderstood. When I think of the regions I know that are very connected online, they are also very connected with public transit, while those that are not well-connected online also don't have much public transit.

Has anyone ever studied a possible connection? Something else to track down...

Sunday, August 5, 2007

A Different Kind of Remediation

I've been thinking about a statement I heard while at conferences this summer; I think I probably blogged the talk, but I'm too lazy to check right now. Anyway, the claim was that appropriate response to a good work in new media was "how clever." I'm not sure now that I think about it whether that was supposed to be what the audience expects, or what the creator aims for, but in any case it was set in contrast to traditional art that aims for "how beautiful." And certainly I can think of art that aims for beauty. But does this mean new media art should forget about all of those categories? I'm thinking about the sublime right now; I think it would be amazing if someone created something in new/digital media that struck me as sublime. But so often it does seem to only be about cleverness. Even when it claims to be political, it's usually addressing politics in a clever parodic way. I can't think if I've ever seen software art, or media art that was just using computers instead of brushes, that really moved me emotionally.

While visiting Rotterdam I went to the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum and saw a lot of art, from Medieval to contemporary. It was cool to see the Tower of Babel, for example. But one painting really struck me; a Madonna and Child--the type where Mary is cradling her dead son. This is the first time I've been confronted with one of these since having my own children, and it stopped me dead. I stood there tearing up not because of any Christian meaning, but because I was thinking of how agonizing it would be for a mother (or I suppose any parent) to experience such a thing--or worse, to lose you child without having the chance to be with her or him at the end. In fact, even now, it's upsetting me to even type this in. Can software art or or any other new media art ever create this kind of response? --not grief per se, but something this powerful?

If not, it may never get that far beyond a small academic or expert audience, because many people, in the face of their everyday tragedies and triumphs will simply find it irrelevant.

I'm now thinking of this whole experience--hearing the comment, weeks later seeing the painting, almost a month later having this thought--in terms of the emerging complexity Hayles defined. At the moment, the recursive paths my own thoughts took are very clear to me, as are the unpredictable interactions between different intellectual inputs.

But I also am struck again by how really central experiences aren't addressed in a lot of the research. --For example, lots of people are writing about virtual communities and social networks, but most people seem to be studying rather groups/networks that are focused on rather shallow things (myself included, to some degree). What about online communities of people who have lost a child? Or who have aging parents for whom they must care? Or who escaped from a camp in whatever war-torn country (plenty to choose from right now)? Or have I just missed it somehow? Is it just not well-publicised? Not tagged as a Technorati fave? Not

In fact, this didn't bother me a week ago, and maybe it won't bother me next week either. Maybe this post is just the record of my overthinking. Or the news that my friend's wife went to the hospital because she thought the baby had stopped moving.

Traditionally, art, music, poetry, etc have (among other things) helped people deal with the aspects of life that are difficult (sublime, maybe?). What is or software art or whatever, for? I mean, really? (and I just know at least one friend who may be rolling his eyes at this question, and he is free to comment!) Oh well, it's late and I'll end this post before it gets even more rambly.

Friday, August 3, 2007

I am a "third back-up"

No, I'm not talking about computers. A friend's wife is expecting a baby and they already have a little girl who is about 18 months old, so when the baby comes, I am 3rd in line to watch the little girl. --of the three of us on the list, my own kids are youngest, so I guess that makes me least eligible, or something like that. My own require the most attention, this actually means, which I hope is a function of age. Anyway, my friend is quite anxious because if his wife needs a C-section, she won't be able to lift either baby for about 10 days, my friend works full-time, and their families are far away. He asked "what will we do?" And I said, "you call me, and M, and S, and T, (other friends) and you ask for help, of course." Parents know that you have to help other parents because you have to be able to trust others will help you, and it's the right thing anyway.

--I'm also thinking about how no one ever flames parents for asking newbie questions, which we all have done, in spite of reading all the manuals and guides obsessively. The first thing parents learn is that infants are full of buggy software, installing new apps never goes as planned, predicting up or down-time is impossible, and the documentation never seems to cover your exact problem, the error messages are well nigh unintelligible (voice recognition training takes forever). Even input and output are pretty unreliable.

Really, after kids, computers are an f-ing cakewalk.

I bring all this up because it occurred to me that in all the discussion of how communities work, and why some people will help others with computer stuff for free, or put effort into communities for free, this is one model I've never heard mentioned. That is, I think just about anyone who has had children understands that sometimes you have to just ask for help without knowing if you'll ever be able to repay it, and sometimes you offer help without worrying about being repaid. Both cases require swallowing your pride, I'd say. Maybe that's why it's not discussed, because people are so firm in believing that net culture is all about reputation. (I assume it's not lack of experience, because net/computer/whatever scholars can't all be childless!) And people think the web is all about impatience; but regardless of anything else, parenting requires incredible patience for years on end, with consistently insufficient sleep.

Also, thinking about intellectual property, our children represent perhaps the only group to whom most of us will give money, time, energy, and maybe most important, ideas, without the least concern about who gets the credit. Maybe this last sounds silly, but it's rather novel for an academic who lives and prospers on the strength of her ideas (or doesn't).

Well, I think the failure to consider parenting as a useful behavioral model might represent a blindspot in the research. Not sure yet; now that I've thought of the possibility, I have to watch and see if it seems to be borne out. (so to speak. *g*)

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Cultural groups and academics take over social networking sites

OK, not really, but has a Facebook account now, MySpace has a group called "multimedia electronic literature and art: the subversive and avant-garde" and a number of the edgier arts and academic groups have MySpaces, such as Worm, in R'dam, and the C'Lick Me festival has a MySpace. And of course many people are on Linkdn--me, Henry Jenkins, several folks from De Waag Society. Of course some people have the "excuse" that they are researching social networking sites, so they have to register, but I do find it creepily addictive, or would if it were my only way of connecting to people.

Yes, the debate has run for years and years about whether socializing online isolates you or the reverse, and I'm not going to get into it here (which means I'm going to get into it some, but not a lot). I think that most of the time, the extent to which people socialize online reflects the the extent to which they socialize generally, with some specific exceptions, such as GLBT people who have no local community, or members of an ethnic diaspora, or something like that. (and in fact, a Pew study on internet use finds this as well). Ok, I have to find the link to that study...meanwhile, according to the latest Pew quiz, I am an "omnivore" when it comes to ICT. That means that along with 8% of Americans (who unlike me are in their 20s!) I use ICT "voraciously" for all kinds of things, including socializing.

And I do fit the pattern they report; I am usually very sociable in person as well--as any of my colleagues will attest having wasted enjoyed chatting with me at length while I (at least) am escaping some actual work. On the other hand, I'm not so fond of mobile devices, or rather, of what some people assume my having them means--that I will always be available. But some people even assume that about email. --Just say "no" to instant responses.

Anyway, what I've noticed is that when I have many avenues available for socializing, I don't care so much about doing it a lot on line--face to face is always nicer, when possible. During those times I just email or chat with people I just can't see because they are too far off--and even then we send pictures back and for or maybe skype also.

But, when I get so busy that I can't actually meet up with people, or when everyone is away, or whatever, then I find I am far more focused on email and other online contact, and even get quite agitated if I try contacting a bunch of people and no one answers. And then of course I feel like an idiot, because what am I, 12? Do I seriously think someone is shunning me? No, so why worry? Which leads to the next question; after how many days is it reasonable to worry that a) someone is ignoring you on purpose, or b) he or she has met with some misfortune? And is it different between friends as compared to professional connections? --Of course these questions are hardly unique to the ICT age; "waiting for a call" is a widely recognized scenario; Neil Gaiman recently published a really funny poem about it, and it could just as easily be about waiting for email, or IM, or text-messaging.

So I was originally talking about academics and social networking, and my point is, that while some might say they just do it for research, I think most of us end up rather enamoured of the whole business. It's rather flattering to see that some people link to my page--it affirms that my sifting through the sea of information is yielding at list some value. And knowing that people are linking to that actually makes me feel a certain sense of responsibility; I know how disappointed I've been when I find that a really useful site is no longer being updated. Maybe it's not creepy (maybe that's only me ;-) but it's certainly interesting. Or maybe that's also only me...

And does this mean teens all over the US (at least) are going to become all saavy about critical theory and computers too? You are now entering the twilight zone...

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The joys of a conference co-chair

So after months of not hearing so much from anyone else involved with our biannual conference, my co-chair, Betsy Eudey, and I have taken the bit in our collective teeth and chosen "Empire: Migrations, Diasporas, and Networks." Now we just have to line up speakers and finalize the dates... Hopefully I can get the website up and the call out next week.

And, I'm having two meeting. with our new dean, Carolyn Stefanco, today about all the projects we are trying to get started--the new MA, the new minor, the faculty workshops, my own research...and there are all the grant proposals! And the conference...We had one meeting, and that just wasn't enough time this morning, so we are meeting this afternoon as well! She's really interested in the idea of collaborating with Piet Zwart (yay!) and in international education generally. In fact, she will be away herself on a Fulbright scholarship during the fall term. I need to get her advice on applying for one of a year or two.