This is an archive of january 2003 posts from Jill Walker's blog, jill/txt.
blogs i read
recent updates first
or press escape
Dad can mind my daughter tomorrow night, so I'll get to go and see Edit Kaldor's performance "Or Press Escape" at Teatergarasjen. I'm very curious about it: it's a silent performance where Kaldor sits down with a computer and a dataprojector, turns her back to the audience and types emails, surfs the web and creates a story through her writing and reading. I wonder whether it works for the audience? Bergens Tidende's reviewer was intrigued though a little mystified, while a site called City of Women calls it "mesmerising and intelligent", new media in its purest form. I would have thought new media in its purest form was just plain using it yourself rather than watching someone else, but OK. It'll be interesting.
cracked the code of interactivity
Researchers at the Institute for New Media Studies and New Directions for News have finally done what so many have tried: cracked the code of interactivity. Interactivity, arguably the most ambiguous of terms used in describing digital content, consists of five distinct elements, according to researchers Nora Paul of the INMS and Christina Fiebich, of NDN.
Aren't they lucky! Just imagine, so many have tried and failed, but these two cracked it. They really did!
How embarrassing it must be to have such an arrogant marketing department.... Or perhaps the problem isn't the marketing people. The introduction to their site, The Elements of Digital Storytelling, states that "Exploration of this poorly charted territory is needed as there are now more questions than answers." What luck that we have intrepid explorers, willing to provide the definite maps.
Oh, and in case you're wondering: the elements of interactivity are: media, acton, relationship, context and communication. And don't you dare disagree!
(I must have a thing about arrogance, huh? Oh well.)
(And for an idea of how many other people have "cracked the interactivity code", look at Lisbeth Klastrup's brief list of definitions of the term (rtf) and of course look at Espen Aarseth's Cybertext for an often-cited taxonomy of what others call interactive texts.)
I'm not sure what kind of a blog evilwoman.org is going to be, but I'll be keeping my eyes open.
How to install MoveableType
I think I've encountered every possible problem in installing MoveableType now, though I admit I hadn't thought of warning against the problem two students struck today: "I can't remember what username I gave myself". Oh no. And there were three new students too - I think we're up to 28 now - and of course they didn't do their installing last week with the other students. So I've written a simplified guide to installing MoveableType that's specifically for our server here at Humanistic Informatics. Hopefully it'll solve some problems...
royal webrings and other amusements
One of the groups in my web design and web aesthetics course today chose to analyse kongehuset.no, the official web site of the royal family. A good analysis (I liked the point that the colours are like national romantic paintings and postcards), as were the others (Francois blogged it, btw, I love that they're blogging!), but what cracked me up was the royal web ring they found - we'd been talking about how some sites provide links out and others strive to keep all links to themselves, and someone commented that the Royal Family seem rather insular, linkily speaking of course. Someone else suggested that they should have had a Royal Webring - and lo and behold, someone else found the links page! I find this hilarious.
Of course the most prominent link on the site is to Digimaker, the firm that designed the site...
bibliographic information for games
Torill recommends MobyGames for bibliographical information on video games, while muttering that she'd love something even better. It's just what I needed - except I'm still not how to reference the blighters. Should one cite the lead programmer of Tomb Raider, (Paul Douglas according to MobyGames), or is that like saying that Vertigo was the work of its lead editor rather than Hitchcock?
So, I had three weeks away from my thesis, my supervisor has read all of it, and in the last week we've spent several very fruitful hours discussing it. Things become much clearer with a little distance and being able to discuss the work as a whole, and I think I've found the focus point that will make the thesis good rather than just a jumble of partly good stuff.
My thesis is about a motif that is very common in current digital art and literature: that of control. So many interactive works deal with this in various ways. Who has control? Who is in charge here? The user or the machine? The motif is thematic and it is also structural in that the nature of interaction for each work tends to emphasise control and power.
The thesis will discuss a range of works that emphasise this motif. I'll do some more work on writing up more solid analyses, and I already have piles of examples. I'll drop the examples that aren't really about control, and add more examples from art exhibitions I've seen. Instead of trying to straddle interactive narratives and games, I'll concentrate on the narratives and on art works. I'll use the games as counter examples (most games aim for transparency in the interaction rather than highlighting how little control the player really has, although there are certainly exceptions). I've also got chapters that explore various ways in which this relationship of control works, which are fine but need to be polished according to this new master plan.
I'd like to argue that the persistence of the motif constitutes an emergent theory, or not a theory, but that it's part of us humans working through how we deal with a society where a lot or even most of our interactions are not with other humans but with machines. The motif of control appears in art works that demonstrate no particular awareness of each other, and yet it seems to me (and yes, I am looking for this so I find it) that it is incredibly common. Taken together I think that this testing of a problem is at least as strong as a theoretical school or something like that, and I think that it's a fascinating example of how we as a species deal with novelty.
I'm a bit scared of arguing that though, because it sounds so - um, not arrogant but well, cocky. Self-important. Or maybe it's just that I'm sure some people will disagree and so I'm scared of that. And it's not like it's something I could conclusively prove or anything. But perhaps conclusions are allowed to be kind of speculative - and perhaps there's nothing wrong with being a bit cocky now and then? The thought of it makes me so anxious though.
My friend and colleague Hilde Corneliussen is defending her PhD thesis on February 21! YAY!
why humans blog
Grumpygirl has let her ant have it's own sidebar: Ant Farm. The ant is also doing an MA on "why humans blog and if there could be any use for blogging in the ant community." All (well, some) is revealed in a new comic ;)
surprised by the sun
I cast a glance out the window and stopped, amazed at what I saw: a pale blue sky and slants of sunlight making the brick church glow deep red. I haven't seen sunlight since I left Melbourne last Friday. There the sun is hot and confident and the sky is a rich blue rarely seen this far north. Here the same sun is timid and fragile, accustomed to hiding behind protective clouds and rain. Take the sun for granted and it will be frightened away.
Torodd in the office next to mine has a large sheet of bright light against his wall. It's a daylight lamp, he says. He turns it off after sunrise and on again when the sun dwindles at three in the afternoon. Perhaps he's one of the many who can't take the dark and need light treatment to escape clinical depressions each winter. Work indoors from 8 to 4 in southern Norway and from November till March you'll only feel the sun on your skin on weekends. In Bergen you'll probably feel rain or sleet, not sun, and the sky will be grey, not blue. There are weathercams so you can see for yourself - Adrian's interface to Bergen webcams is the simplest and the most useful.
Today is a treasure. And I'm longing for spring.
Yesterday was the first class in HUIN105, "Web design and web aesthetics". There were twice as many students as expected, with very diverse backgrounds ranging from art history to computer science - it's going to be great getting to know the group better. I've set up a class blog for brief summaries of what we did each lecture and so on - very basic for now, I'll jazz up the design as the students do theirs. When tutoring I kept a simple record of each class in a notebook and it was invaluable both for later that semester and for next semester's teaching of the same course, so I figure if I blog it it'll be useful for me as well as for the students. On Thursday we're all going to try and install MoveableType, which I suspect will be the hardest thing we do all semester. Luckily Christian, who's a teaching assistent for the course, will be helping.
They'll be noisily renovating the library on the ground floor of my building from February till July this year, and an email has gone out to everyone requesting that no exams or other activities that would be disturbed by noise should be done in the building in this period.
Right. Teaching and researching are out until July then.
the pleasures of jetlag
I love that phase of jetlag where you wake up at six am, wide awake and ready to meet the day.
boring sims online?
I love the idea of a non-competitive, social game. However, Sims Online isn't it. There are only two activities in the game, making money (or developing skills to assist same), and socializing. The problem is that there is no in-game reward for socializing, so no one chooses to do it.
What a pity. I did want to try Sims Online, having loved the Sims, but I didn't have time to try out the playtest CD I bought back in November, and I sure don't have time now. (via Gamegirladvance)
There's a 15 million dollar ad campaign going on in Australia right now to make everyone feel "vigilant but not alarmed". And proud of Australian democracy, tolerance and peacefulness. That's because the government wants a war on Irak, presumably. The TV ads are amazing ("ring this number if you see anything suspicious") but the oath that will be handed out (on laminated card) to a million Victorians for Australia Day is even better. Jenny kindly blogged it with a hahahahahaha and a link to the image that was printed in The Age.
Now in Norway in a way we're much more nationalistic than this. Flags must be taken down by sunset and never touch the ground or you're in trouble. Our national day is a huge festival of national costumes and flags with children marching in long, long parades waving banners for their schools and ribbons and birch twigs with tiny new leaves (it's in spring) and to outsiders it probably looks very patriotic. I suppose it is. Australia Day, on the other hand, is kind of a non-event. There are kind of parades of war veterans and I think there are fireworks. Most people just seem to stay home. Perhaps it's the lack of traditional demonstrative patriotism that makes this attempt to create a patriotism seem so silly. And oh, it's just so transparent.
People are so not going to recite a silly oath like this.
and jon's redesigned
Jon Hoem has redesigned his blog, JonblOGG, and is teaching a similar course to me this semester (HFMV202, about as weird a name as my course which is HUIN105), and is writing his thesis on web storytelling, so you know, another one to keep visiting. Jon writes in Norwegian too, like Eirik. Good on them.
Excellent: Eirik Newth's started blogging! I first met him when he gave a dazzling talk to librarians about ebooks in April 2000 - I was there to talk about other kinds of electronic literature, and I think it was the first time I gave a talk like that, actually. They'd asked my supervisor, Espen Aarseth, but I think he didn't have time so he suggested me. I remember telling Espen that I thought I should say no and concentrate on my thesis instead (read: I was terrified of doing it) but he characteristically enough raised an eyebrow, and quietly said he thought it would be good for me to get some experience with that sort of thing. So I did it and discovered that I love giving talks: it's brilliant getting to enthuse about my passions to interested people! And that's where my article about "Is it literature?" (in Norwegian: Men er det litteratur?) came from too. (Espen has been brilliant at gently pushing me to do things I didn't think I could do. Like submit a paper to Hypertext (which ended up winning the newcomers award!) or even going to conferences for that matter.)
Anyway, Eirik talked about ebooks with no notes and plenty of enthusiasm (I had copious notes and powerpoint crutches. And enthusiasm.) and since then I've realised that he's one of the most knowledgeable, vocal and daring voices on culture and technology in the country. He's an astronomer by trade, I think, or rather, by education, and he's written several books about astronomy for kids and for interested adults. He also knows lots about the web and its politics and technology.
In a way, Eiriks been blogging for a while already, with his regular opinion columns for Kulturnett, but it's less than a year since one of those pieces was deeply critical of blogs, so I guess he's changed his mind. I'm really pleased that such a clear voice is blogging - and in Norwegian too, that's good.
I'm back in Bergen and actively blogging again, after a few weeks relaxing in Melbourne with my partner, Adrian. I start teaching on Tuesday, and I'm also going to try to completely finish my PhD thesis within the next month. Hopefully Espen (my supervisor) will agree that this is physically possible...
should students set up their own blogs?
On Tuesday I start teaching HUIN105, "Web design and web aesthetics". Blogging will be a central part of the course, partly inspired by Liz Lawley's teaching with blogging. We'll set up a weblog each on Tuesday, and each student's weblog will be a site for thinking and writing, for playing with code and design and for discovering how to connect and communicate on the web.
I've wanted to use MoveableType because it has comments and trackback links built into it, and I think those features are wonderful for seeing connections and how the web self-organises. I imagine a student new to the web discovering that her links are visible to the people she links to, or even better, she sees trackbacks to a post she's written and realises that not only are people reading what she writes, they're writing back, making connections.
But MoveableType isn't that easy to install, I have to say. I installed it on my laptop, which is running OS X, which has unix underneath it. Admittedly most of my problems were to do with setting up the web server part of my system and not specifically to do with MoveableType (thank goodness Adrian knows OS X much better than I and gave me lots of help) but just the MoveableType stuff's not that simple for a newbie: you have to edit a config file, find correct directories, upload stuff in the right directories, create new directories, give read/write permissions to various directories and so on.
Pedagogically it would clearly be best if the students installed it all themselves. That way it'll be theirs, and they'll know that they can install it again if they want. But I'm not sure that's really going to work with students with no background in computers. I can run one version of the software and give each of the students a user and the right to create new blogs. Then each student can create her or his own blog, only needing to type in some directories and URLs and set permissions to certain of their home directories. That would work fine, but doesn't it kind of disempower them? It makes me the administrator and boss of their blogs, and one of the points of blogs is that they're distributed, ahierarchical and can be created by anyone. A third alternative is that students could just use Blogger, which they could easily set up by themselves. But Blogger doesn't do the comments and trackbacks, and I really, really want them. Aarrrgh!
Adrian reckons it's vital they install it themselves. I agree with that principle, but I'm not sure I believe in it strongly enough to ditch the trackbacks...
I'll try installing MT on the department server on Monday. Perhaps I'll find a way to make it simpler when I'm more familiar with the task myself.
back in europe
I must be back in Northern Europe: the woman who comes to take my empty coffee cup doesn't look at me or acknowledge my presence in any way, though I smile at her and say "thank you". I've finally gained entrance to a Business Class lounge, you see, thanks to my frequent transcontinental flights between Melbourne and Bergen. It's a little disappointing, as are most forbidden things once attained. Yes, there are limitless drinks on tap, and it is calmer than the rest of the airport, and the view of the planes is much better, but it's so sterile. Everything's vacuum-packed and self-service, of course. Probably just as well given the service KLM usually provides, such as the woman staffing the transfer desk downstairs, yelling to the confused old gentleman waiting in the first class line: "Go AWAY! I'm CLOSING!", deaf to his uncertain "But I don't know where to go?" (KLM have good connections from Bergen and cheap flights and they let me into their lounges. But they serve POWDER instead of milk with coffee in economy class, and when you ask for water on a 13 hour flight they say they'll be bringing some round in a couple of hours. Luckily they codeshare with Malaysian Airlines, who provide water, liquid milk as well as the all-important personal videos, nintendo games and in each seat in economy.)
The advantage of self-service and not acknowledging other people's presence is of course that one doesn't have to interact with people. It saves a lot of energy, you know.
electronic art in norway
During the last few months Nordic Media Culture Research has been compiling informasjon about the status of electronic/digital/net art in the Nordic region. Janne Stang Dahl (of the network PNEK) and Per Platou (of the artists' group Motherboard) have written a report on the history and status of electronic art in Norway (that links to the Norwegian version but it's also available in English) which might serve as a good starting place for someone interested in trends, names and ideas.
It's interesting how electronic art, though most agree it is a hybrid of many artforms (like visual art, literature, cinema, installation art, concept art, music, sound art, performance art) is almost always presented as coming from one genre. This report privileges video art from the 60s onwards. I, having a literary background and not knowing a lot about video art, see instead the lines of experimental literature which lead (among other places) into hypertext and electronic literature which converges with other arts in the late nineties. There are other prehistories: Lev Manovich takes cinema as sole ancestory of electronic art in his book, for instance.
I suppose this is natural since artforms have mostly been kept separate until now, and each commentator is expert in only one. Perhaps in a decade or two the new histories of electronic art will manage to present a more multiple heritage.
[Written on the plane, I need to add a link to the report which I assume is online somewhere, though I got it in an email.]
It's old news by several days, but it's important, so I'll blog it anyway: remember Jon Johansen, the Norwegian lad who was sued for developing and using software that allows you to play DVDs on any computer and to copy them? He was sued by the movie industry, but he won the case. Norwegian courts determined that if you've legally bought a DVD you have the right to play it on any equiptment you like and to make a copy for your personal use, even if the producers have attempted to copy-protect it. Although the code Jon and his mates made can be used for illegal copying and piracy, this is not a crime in itself. As one of the judges said, "almost anything can be used for criminal purposes". Kulturnett has a good story about the case and several useful links onwards, in Norwegian.
Camping with Adrian and his kids at the Cathedral Ranges (a two hour drive out of Melbourne) there was a koala asleep up the tree beside our tent, a kangaroo with a joey in its pouch calmly grazed while we watched, a black wallaby took a shy look at us, kookaburras and various other birds hung around constantly and noisily, rabbits scampered across the dirt roads, skinks were frequently sighted on rocks, lyrebirds imitated every other bird imaginable and the sound of a camera shutter and we saw a bowerbird's bower. Bowerbirds collect blue things and decorate their bowers with them. The bower was a U-shaped nest-like construction with bottle caps and other small items of the richest royal blue carefully strewn around it.
Animal Planet couldn't have done a better job. Mind you, it sure helped having Adrian spotting all the wildlife. He has a talent for finding animals, and he knows their names and habits, it's briliant. I probably would have walked right past most of it, left to myself. I wouldn't have noticed the koala sleeping twenty metres above us. [update 19/1: Adrian blogged our trip too, I notice]
I was even (mostly) a pretty good stepmother, I reckon. At any rate I was a happy one, mostly, and that's a good sign, I think. I could write a whole blog about stepmothering, I could. But it would have to be under pseudonym...
After coming home and having a shower I met up with Jenny, Meredith (aka Grumpygirl) and her partner Matt, which was great: we nattered on about blogging and had an excellent evening. More about that, I suspect, as I digest our conversations.
It's going to be 37 today here in Melbourne. And apparently it was minus 15 in Bergen the other day. Yesterday I tagged along with Adrian and Antoanetta to a working dinner preparing the Digital Arts and Culture (DAC) conference in May. I'm already looking forward to the lunches and cocktails and dinners, the menus are mouthwatering. Afterwards we walked through Chinatown in the warm, welcoming dark, past the conference hotel, which is perfectly located and even designed according to Feng Shui principles. Antoanetta and Adrian are doing a brilliant job: there'll be a launch at groovy new Federation Square and the artists' exhibition will be at the beautiful State Library. All these are within a few minutes walk of each other, with maybe ten or twelve minutes between the place the presentations will be (Story Hall at RMIT, another brilliantly designed space) and Fed Square; they're the furthest apart. There's even a day reserved for social networking, mid-conference, where we'll visit koalas, the bush and a winery and get to talk about research and ideas outside of auditoriums and those scary question times. Oh, and among the zillions of great looking presentations there are two or three on blogs :)
I rather like the idea of publishing Samuel Pepy's famous diary from the 1660s as a blog, day by day, allowing annotations from readers. They started on January 1 and so are up to day 5. American time, I suppose. (via Grumpygirl)
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