This is an archive of december 2002 posts from Jill Walker's blog, jill/txt.
blogs i read
recent updates first
Steven Johnson on blogging:
I've actually been about twice as productive as normal since I started maintaining the blog. The more I keep at it, the more it seems to me like a kind of intellectual version of going to the gym: having to post responses and ideas on a semi-regular basis, and having those ideas sharpened or shot down by such smart people, flexes the thinking/writing muscles in a great way. (stevenberlinjohnson.com 26 December)
I like the quiet middle bit of Christmas Day. After the frenzy of presents and before dinner (my family's always celebrated Christmas the Australian way though we've lived in Norway since the seventies). This year mum has ADSL which I just had to try, and so while the rest of the family's watching a video or off on their own or having a nap, I'm surfing.
My brother-in-law and mother have prepared a wonderful turkey dinner. My little nephew is gorgeously talking and laughing, and my daughter is daring and beautiful and in two days I'll get to see my partner, too. Life's pretty good. (Even if the thesis isn't gloriously finished).
Adrian Miles, Mark Hancock and Will Luers's vogs experiment with video and the form of blogs, exploring how desktop video can be different to television (see the vog manifesto). Their vogs are posted serially, like posts in a blog. They are personal, often quickly made and often use interactivity. Jeffrey Jarvis has just started a different kind of weblog video experiment, which he calls vlogs (I don't think he knows Adrian's vlog). Actually it's more about television than video: he wants to reinvent television news so it's as easily produced and published as weblogs are. With mobile phones increasingly providing video cameras and allowing mobile blogging I expect we'll see more of this.
TV news is really just a weblog with pictures that move and talk: TV news links to the same video everyone else has (news being a commodity today) with a talking head tying it all together. Well, bloggers have heads. Bloggers can talk (at least the ones I've met can). Ergo, bloggers can make TV. (Buzzmachine, 20 December 2002)
Editing a thesis is very, very slow work. My final draft that I wanted to finish by Christmas is not at all as final as I had hoped it would be. I've been trying to edit through the whole of it in sequence, but I'm only up to chapter one. How am I going to get to the end today? Tomorrow was supposed to be my day for packing, cleaning my house, and then sinking into the pleasant family time of Christmas. My brother-in-law is making bacalao for dinner tomorrow, mmm. I am definitely not working tomorrow afternoon. I wonder how fast I can edit and still, well, edit?
Home now, anyway. I'm starving.
Intermedia here in Bergen are running a project using blogs in education and research, and they have a blog for the project (as one should) called Collogatories.
This weekend my six year old daughter taught me the dance for that Ketchup Song. You know, aserejé, he, hey, or whatever. This is an entirely new phase of parenting: my child is keeping me up to date. A web hunt revealed that the song is number one in Norway right now (so that's why it's stuck on my mind) though in Spain it was a hit way back in May, and apparently hasn't left the European continent yet.
We found the video, too. My daughter got bored after the first couple of viewings, but I replayed it obsessively until I mastered the dance. Quite an efficient workout, actually. Have a go.
BlogTalk is a European weblog conference to be held in Vienna May 23-25, 2003. The conference chair is Thomas Burg, who's the leader of the Center for New Media at Danube-University Krems, and they have funding to help with travel expenses for at least some participants, according to the CFP. Both bloggers and "people from all professional fields" are invited. The first day of the conference is going to be about "experiences with the application and use of blogs in a professional or private environment", the second about technical aspects. I'd probably try to go, but it collides with Digital Arts and Culture in Melbourne, which is May 19-23. There are some very interesting looking blog papers there, too, as it happens - the weblog research field is definitely growing. (via Sébastian)
Robert Corr (whose blog was hacked and he lost all his posts, yuck) sent me email politely querying whether I might be a witch. You see, he's been blocked from viewing my site. Yes, this site. The reason?
Norton Internet Security has blocked access to this restricted site.
Blocked categories: Occult/New Age
Thankfully, Robert has reported it as a miscategorisation. I wish I could work out what triggered the robot to think it occult.
I'm teaching a course called "webdesign og webestetikk" (HUIN105) next semester. The schedule's just finalised and it's starting to feel rather real! I've never taught a whole course before - just a lecture here, a lecture there, and once or twice, all of three lectures in a row. Actually I did a year of tutoring, too, which was fun. I enjoy teaching, so I'm looking forward to this.
The course is supposed to be for humanities students who want to learn how to set up a website - so there's some basic technical competancies they'll need, and there's all the information architecture and usability and so on - and we're also going to analyse websites and think about how to communicate online and how websites work rhetorically and culturally and aesthetically. As well as developing group projects, we'll be blogging. Here's the official course description and here's the reading list.
Perhaps this blog will be a "new uni teacher" blog next semester. Once that pesky PhD thesis is out of the way.
some rights reserved
Yesterday Creative Commons released their licences - so now, instead of copyrighting your work or using a copyleft licence developed for software rather than writing or art, you can choose one of their licences. I'm not sure whether I'll go with the Attribution licence, where I agree that people can do what they want with my writing as long as they attribute it to me, or Noncommercial, so it can be reprinted but not for money. Perhaps both. The symbols are nice too. And oh, when you take a licence, Creative Commons generates metadata so the licence terms you've chosen are machine readable. That means that you'll be able to search for images that are licenced in a particular way, for instance. They have links to a lot of texts, images, videos and audios that are already licenced with them (so you can use them, according to certain terms) but won't be keeping a comprehensive database of commons-licenced content - they just want to provide the metadata and the licences.
Unfortunately I'm not sure I can licence most of my work - it's mostly been published other places. Hm.
Torill has an amazing ode to her thesis as the lover she must give up, in a civilised manner, before the affair becomes nasty. "But it kept returning to sex, to words licking the g-spots of our brains, to ideas fertilising receptive minds, to images penetrating texts violently rather than emerging in tranquility." Oooh.
comments in blogs
I used to hate the idea of having comments in my blog. When Des sarcastically wrote "Look ma, no comment system" and muttered something about academic blogs and ivory towers I went totally defensive (we emailed and made up, don't worry) - but it only took a few weeks before I decided I actually wanted comments. Now I wouldn't be without them.
It's kind of like letting people scribble in the margins of what you write. You can rub it out if you don't like it (though I've never deleted a comment, I like knowing that I could if someone wrote something totally horrible) but mostly, it's rather nice. It's social. It's open.
I know I used to think quite a lot of bits in my thesis were actually rather good. Thing is, I can't find them. I read through it and it just seems awful. Pathetic. All of it. Can you get to where you do more harm than good to a thing because you just don't like it anymore?
This week I'm going to just read through the whole thing and edit it as I go. That's about the best I can do I think.
Thank goodness I have a nice Christmas to look forward to. My sister's coming, and her husband and their 2 1/2 year old, and I'm so looking forward to all the family stuff. And hey, early on the morning after Boxing Day I fly off to Melbourne for nearly three weeks with my sweetheart. I'm not going to be working on my thesis there, I promise.
After that I suspect I'll be able to finish editing my thesis in a more generous spirit.
a cure for the dissatisfied
If you're feeling ugly and have forgotten that the perfect faces on television and in magazines are exceptions rather than the norm they're presented as: Choose a common first name (I tried Jill of course) and do an image search for it. Seeing all those smiling, glowing faces that would never make it in Hollywood or on the front page of a magazine or even in your local paper is so cheering.
That's one of the reasons I like going to gym or the public swimming pool. The changing rooms are filled with normal women: fat, thin, skinny, lumpy, tall, short; all the wonderful variations that are non-existent in the media where everyone wants to have Lara Croft's impossible body. Sometimes I need a reality check like this. I'm always a little surprised to notice that I find almost all these bodies beautiful.
The new issue of Game Studies is guest edited by Jonathan Dovey and contains papers originally presented at the Game Cultures conference at Bristol last July. There are some interesting papers in here: titles like "Computer Games Have Words, Too- Dialogue Conventions in Final Fantasy VII" and "Lara Croft: Feminist Icon or Cyberbimbo? On the Limits of Textual Analysis." and "Creative Player Actions in FPS Online Video Games - Playing Counter-Strike" whet my imagination.
I've had that feeling for days, you know, the feeling of being constantly wound up, ready, unable to relax? It doesn't help me work well, and it makes it hard to enjoy the rest of life. Sometimes it gives, just a little. Tonight I'm not going to work. I'll even try to not feel guilty about it. Tonight I'm going to do nothing.
the questioning ant reports home
Grumpygirl's blogging cartoon series continues, and I'm hooked. In the most recent episode, The Questioning Ant goes home and reports on his progress to his fellow ants.
Using characters like this is a fascinating technique for academic thinking and writing. It does much more than analogy ("bloggers are like ants"): it allows you to think as an ant (as we think an ant might think). It lets you see our own activity from outside, from a strange position, it's a Brechtian Verfremdungseffekt, or perhaps more like the ostranenje (is that the right word?) described by the Russian Formalists (was it a story by Tolstoy they used as an example, a story narrated by a horse who sees humans, well, differently? I don't have my books here) It lends some of that distance that traditional scientific method demands you have to your object of study, but it's a very different kind of distance.
My favourite book of game theory (as in playing games not economic games) is Bernard Suits'sThe Grasshopper, and I just realised it does something similar to what Grumpygirl's doing. It builds on the old tale of the grasshopper who played all summer while the ants worked hard to gather food for winter. When winter came, the grasshopper asked the ants for food, but they refused it to him, and so he died. The moral is obvious: don't play too much. In Suits's book, the Grasshopper is a guru and two rebel ants are his disciples. Winter is coming and the Grasshopper will die, but though the ants offer him some of the food they had gathered, the Grasshopper refuses it, insisting that play is enough. The book consists of dialogues between the Grasshopper and the Ants, rather like Platonic dialogues actually, where the Grasshopper is definitely the master. Though I don't think the characters are quite so clear in the ancient dialogues. The main theoretical contribution of the book is to define what a game is, and the definition is suggested, considered, redefined and honed through the continual questions and suggestions and disagreements between this master and the Ants.
There are glorious illustrations too. And lots of examples and strange situations and "would that be a game?" - and finally, the Grasshopper dies. But not before he has defined the nature of a game. I should go reread that book, it's gorgeous.<
Suits published his dialogues as a finished piece. A paradox of sorts, publishing dialogues in a perfected, impenetrable form. Grumpygirl is publishing as she thinks, and so the usefulness of her staged dialogues as a way of thinking is much more visible. And other people can join in the conversation as it happens. Wow.
novel and romance
I spent the day at a seminar on the novel - d'you know English is the only European language that separates the novel from the older tradition of the romance? Other languages call it all roman or romanzi. So what we generally call "a novel", meaning book-length prose narratives after the 18th century or so, would more precisely be called "the bourgeois novel" or something. If you define novel as "a book-length narrative usually in prose" suddenly it has a 2000 year old tradition around the Meditteranean and a 1000 year tradition in Asia. The ancient Greeks had novels, but they didn't have a name for the genre, whereas they had words for comedy and tragedy. So we see connections between ancient comedy and modern comedy but often not between ancient book-length prose narratives, medieval romances and modern novels. Names have power.
Franco Moretti gave an thought-provoking presentation that was based on quantitative research. At first I was deeply sceptical, thinking of whatsit, the anti-reader, in If on a Winter's Night a Traveller who is such a horrible character and loves analysing literature quantitatively - but Moretti did amazing things with his data and graphs. He had graphs of publication of novels in various countries (Britain, France, Nigeria, Japan, Denmark) in various periods and showed how they all follow cycles and patterns. And how new genres appear at regular intervals, not spread out but in clusters of four or five at a time, fairly regularly every 30-40 years. How the gender shift from more authors being female to more authors being male in the 18th century is researched as a single event, which misrepresents it as a once-only phenomenon: however, if you look at the genders of published novelists across 200 years, you see that the dominance of male or female authors shifts back and forwards fairly regularly. It oscillates, and is loosely tied to the kinds of genres favoured in various periods: nautical novels or domestic comedies, for instance. "These oscillations allow an optimal use of the resources available to the system", Moretti said (as I remember) - he didn't talk about literary history as a self-organising system, but his ideas about looking at cycles, models and patterns rather than always thinking of each event or novel or genre as unique and separate are really powerful.
chatting as ad
So hunting around for stuff on Internet addiction I somehow got one of those casino pop-up ads (here's the link to the ad if you really want to look at it). Only this one looked kind of different. I was about to close the window when I saw it was a chatroom.
Caroline> So anyway, that's my story today
Oh. Hm. What was her story today, I wondered. Was it interesting? I prod at the chat window with my mouse cursor to see if it's alive. Perhaps I can type into that box and ask her about her story. But what's this! Once I click on the window, someone else types something:
Sharon7up> wow! Looks like you could use a little fun
I click again, but this is where the illusion falls apart: all the next lines come tumbling out at once:
Caroline> But I can't go out now - I'm waiting for the cable technician
Interestingly it ends - or rather, stops - in media res (can you end in media res or only begin in media res?)
Caroline> Sounds really great :) maybe I will join you. You know, that reminds me...
Today I'm editing the introduction (it needs big changes) and I got to the bit where I work out what to call the users or readers or viewers or interactors or participators or whatevers. You know, the humans. Us guys. Brenda Laurel hates the word "user", and refuses to use it:
...that demeaning little word, "user". This term implies an unbalanced power relationship - the experts make things; everybody else is just a user. (Laurel, Utopian Entrepreneur, 2001, page 49)
Espen pointed out to me that perhaps that is exactly the point. And yes, indeed, I've argued that part of the pleasure of being a user is precisely submitting to the machine. Why are we drivers of cars but users of drugs and computers? Computers are often presented as a substance that is easily abused. The media and some researchers happily talk about internet addiction, or about gamers who become unable to extract themselves from the game though they lose their jobs, their families, their lives. EverQuest, for instance, is the digital version of crack. Did you watch Red Dwarf and the Better Than Life episode? Plug in VR that was very explicitly set up to look just like a drug addiction. And what about television? I've heard of television slaves (or is that only in Norwegian, TV-slave), but I don't think I've heard of a television addict or user. Why not?
hoaxes, fiction and art
Today I've been writing about the Kaycee Nicole hoax. Useful sources include: The Kaycee Nicole FAQ, the Metafilter discussions (1 and 2) and the story as told by Randall van der Woning, who hosted the weblogs. Unfortunately the Way Back Machine has blocked their archives of Kaycee's journals, presumably because the "hoaxer" or van der Woning asked them to. I'm writing about the question of fictionality and trickery keep arising in other bits of my thesis. Many readers of Online Caroline, for instance, thought that she was real and were furious when they discovered she wasn't - though I thought it was pretty obvious she was fictional. I'm writing about how we use representational works as props in games of make-believe, and the theory I'm using only talks about works that are meant as fiction. Yet we probably use, say, weblogs much in the same way.
Without being an expert, I know there's a long tradition of this kind of "is it fictional or is it real" in performance art, net art and theatre, and so I posted a question to e-kunst asking for help in finding examples. Already I have received some wonderful leads. Maja Løvland is part of a hidden theatre (skjult teater) group here in Bergen and recommends Anne-Britt Grans article on hidden theatre in Samtiden 4:2001 (Norwegian and print only). Synne Skjulstad reminds me of the male psychologist who pretended to be a handicapped woman, described in Turkle's Life on the Screen, and she also suggests looking at the artist Joey Skagg's work, and at the performance theorist Richard Schechner's writing. Jørgen Larsson has some links to sites that use disinformation as net art and also points me to Mouchette. Ragnhild Tronstad reminds me of Boal's "invisible theater" (Maja Løvland also mentioned Boal) - he's written a lot of books, though, I'll have to figure out where he wrote about this - and also suggests Vibeke Tandberg's Brud as an example of visual art pretending to be "real", and has noticed a wikipedia entry on false documents in art and literature.
The line between fiction, hoax, scam and art is very porous. I find that fascinating.
I'll rewrite this post to include a little more on the various leads I found as I check them out. So beware: this is an edit-as-you-go post! Blink and it might have changed! Oh, and if you have any suggestions, please leave a comment!
At nikewomen.com I can "find myself" as one of six stereotypes and watch accompanying flash animations for each, but I can't find a catalogue that just plains lists what shoes they sell. An ad campaign taken a bit too far. I suppose I shouldn't be buying Nike gear anyway, huh? [Update: Actually, NikeWatch's F.A.Q. suggests that instead of boycotting Nike, we should write to them and ask for better wages for workers, and they admit that they're not picking on Nike because Nike's worse than others, but simply because they don't have the resources to pick on everyone and Nike has higher profits than most. And there isn't any other brand of sneakers that is any better than Nike when it comes to wages and allowing independent monitoring of factories.]
would you like to be david still?
You have the opportunity to be David Still.
If you'd like to try being David, go to davidstill.org. At the site, you can send email from him (write it yourself or choose from a number of prewritten messages) or reply to emails that previous recipients of emails from David have sent him, or you can look at your (David's) photos and memories.
I like the idea of a free identity, offered to the public at large. Kevin Foust's play.ground was, like David Still, set up around an email account that was open to all, but it was different. Kevin's piece was a "ready-made", a hotmail account that he gave people the password too. Part of the interest of that piece was that some users locked the account, some made changes, some sent emails to mailing lists, and so on.
David Still offers a prefabricated identity. A house, a home, a face, a childhood - or at least photos of them. The prewritten emails are like some of the spams I get (perhaps those spams are art, just as I've expected), and though I think I'd scare my friends if I sent some of these mails to them, just reading the messages and thinking of their being sent is wonderful (choose the "messages" link in the bottom navigation bar to see them). The F.A.A.Q., brilliantly, is a list of questions which don't offer answers, rather, they ask you to answer them. After all, you're David Still. You have the answers.
Why the site is there? Perhaps it's a tribute to a loved one?
You inspired this site - it's just as much yours as mine. You know sometimes, when I'm thinking of new photos or text I can use, it's almost as though you were in my head - you feel that close! If I can't physically be near you, this is the next best thing. You can see what I see, read my thoughts, even use my name - you can more or less be me. I want to feel there's no distance between us - I want you to climb inside my head, I want you to see me. Feel me. Be me. (from the preset message titled "See me. Be me.")
Or perhaps it's just a hobby?
When I just moved here, I was quite excited. New opportunities. New people. But I quickly got caught up in the old rut. Work, work and more work. But I love being in communications. I love meeting people. So I decided to make my work my hobby and designed a site for myself - about me - but something you can use as well. I suppose I'm a sort of real life screen hero. You can 'borrow' my identity - send people emails pretending to be me.
You know, it's getting kind of weird. Maybe I've become an artist - or am I the work of art? (from the preset message titled "Playing the hero?")
I'm wondering whether to write about it in my thesis. I suppose I find this kind of work because I am looking for it, fictions where the reader is both addressed as "you" and invited to step inside the role of "you" - but it does seem to me to be a particularly common and perhaps successful technique in digital fiction and art. The tension of wondering whether there really is a David Still or not is part of what makes this project so fascinating. Like fiction, the idea and presentation of David Still invites us to imagine him. And to imagine ourselves as him. I love that. (Danny Setiawan mentioned this site to me in an email: thanks!)
project blog: cooking every recipe in the book
big brother meets minority report
There's a good article in Salon today that addresses the Total Information Awareness (I can't believe it actually has a website) that the American government wants to use to track everything its own citizens and the rest of the world does.
One point the journalist (Farhad Manjoo) makes is that computer scientists love the idea. And that makes me realise that the Orwellian system actually wants to do exactly what I love in all the blog connection systems (Blogdex, Allconsuming, etc) and in data mining and recommendation systems, like Amazon. They see patterns in data. If you do X perhaps you are also considering doing Y. If you've done X and Z you're 95% likely to do Y. Only the point of Total Information is of course that it is total. They want all information on everyone. And they are the army and the FBI and so on and they can basically do what they like to you. Blogdex can tell people who my link buddies are but can't put me in jail, or deny me a visa. I think I would hate there being one system that showed connections between blogs. What I love about all these systems is that each is incomplete, and each shows a different point of view of the networks and connections. Imagine, though, a Total Informtion Awareness system that tracks everything you write, click or do on the net.
Another creepy thing: a problem with combining American databases (your bank records, your driving licence, your supermarket shopping) is that there's no common identifier for an individual. In Norway there is. We have person numbers. My bank, my current and previous employers, the tax authorities, the immigration authorities, and I think even my gym know my person number, along with many others agencies. Actually the airlines probably don't. In Norway we also have strict privacy legislation, and it is very, very difficult to get permission to combine databases.
I hope we can keep it.
You need a Salon membership to read past the first page of the article, but you can get a free day pass by clicking through four pages of Mercedes ads. You can click fast.
tropisms.org is a videolog that consists of "crudities": pieces of raw experience, regularly uploaded from South-America.
The author's in the Netherlands now, but is still uploading little videos, from cybercafes, it seems, images, moving, edited, often with text tracks. Rather a nice combination of text blog and "play video" buttons. You need a high bandwidth connection to view it, though.
tropisms.org is a test-case for the hard- and software that, after a 'debugging' period of 6 months, will be used by students of the St.Joost.
[update: Adrian comments tropisms and other video blogs, with interesting ideas about what would or could be bloggish about video]
John Howard's blog. Supposedly. It's even got his Christmas list for Santa. Howard's the prime minister of Australia (I doubt anyone but the Australians know that - or maybe they do, GooglePeople knows), the one who has detention camps for refugees and who tried to send the Tampa anywhere but Australia and who enthusiastically fights terrorism and does anything else Bush suggests. Any other politicians' blogs out there? (via Adrian) [update 5/12: I gathered some links to fictional weblogs last May.]
There was a tiny notice in yesterday's paper saying that the Americans want access to European airlines' passenger lists. In Norway, that information is confidential, and noone has access to it. I couldn't find anything more concrete about the issue, except that even the Norwegian police can't access the passenger information directly, they have to have a warrant to access the databases and their search has to relate directly to a criminal investigation. The police would like greater access, but the justice department is sceptical. Passenger lists not only say who's flying where, but also what diet they've ordered (vegetarian, muslim, kosher?) and passenger addresses and other information. And I have to say, just the idea of a foreign government assuming they can have total access to passenger lists that are protected by privacy legislation here...
Today the editorial of my local paper is shocked at this. But I still can't find other information about it.
This morning I turned the alarm off and went back to sleep at seven, annoyed that I'd set the alarm on a Sunday morning. At 7.30 my daughter padded in on bare feet, and asked me what time it was. Too early, I muttered, wondering whether I should suggest an hour of Sunday morning television. Can I open the advent calendar now? she asked. That's when I realised. It was Monday.
I'd have been quite happy for it to have really been Sunday, you know.
new book reviews
There are new book reviews up at the Resource Center for Cyberculture Studies. I love how there are usually a couple of reviews of each books, and the author often has a response, too.
I'm Jill Walker, and this is my weblog: my notes as I live, research and teach. I work at the University of Bergen in Norway, and this semester I'll be teaching Web design and web aesthetics. I'm still finishing my PhD thesis, which is about interactive narratives where the reader is positioned as a character in the fictional world.
How I Was Played by Online Caroline. In First Person: New Media as Story, Performance and Game, edited by Pat Harrigan and Noah Wardrip-Fruin. Forthcoming from MIT Press in 2003.
Makten forrykkes på nettet. Kronikk i Bergens Tidende om blogging, nettdagbøker og makt. 22. september 2002.
Epostpoesi og epostfortellinger. Kunstnett, juni 2002.
Links and Power: The Political Economy of Linking on the Web. Short paper presented at Hypertext 2002. In Proceedings of Hypertext 2002, Baltimore: ACM Press. 78-79. PDF.
Blogging Thoughts: Personal Publication as an Online Research Tool. With Torill Mortensen. In Researching ICTs in Context, ed. Andrew Morrison, InterMedia Report, 3/2002, Oslo 2002. Buy the book at gnist.no.
Reisebrev fra NIC2001, publisert i Kunstnett Norges nettkunstmagasin. November 2001.
Do you think you're part of this? Digital texts and the second person address
Men er det litteratur?
Men hvorfor virker ikke musen?
How to learn MOO programming Annotated links for non-programmers, 1999.
Jeg taster, derfor er jeg
Piecing together and tearing apart: reading afternoon, a story.
Hypertextual Criticism. Comparative Readings of Three Web Hypertexts about Literature and Film