This is an archive of november 2002 posts from Jill Walker's blog, jill/txt.
blogs i read
recent updates first
If I taught creative writing I would set my students this task: Start a fictional blog or web diary that's about a specific event (the birth of a child, the end or beginning of an affair, jealousy, a new job, a death) or goal (a lover, a new job) or desire. Use The Date Project and Letters Never Sent as examples, but let yourself be creative and fictional. You will need to plan the starting point before posting your first post, but feel free to let the story develop as you go. Write at least a post each day for three or four weeks. Consider taking part in the blogging community by listing your blog in blog or journal directories, linking to other blogs and allowing comments to your blog. Then bring the blog to a close through some means that makes sense in story terms.
I'm intrigued by the idea of time-limited blogs. Project blog. A story that develops according to rules set at the start, or according to daily whims, and yet a story that has a certain direction and cohesion. A story that includes other voices.
women bloggers (again)
There's an article in the NY Times (username: readanonymously, password: anonymous) about women and blogging: how men seem to blog more, or perhaps more prominently, and possibly differently, than women. I think this is the main point:
Blogs typically publish links, known as blogrolls, to kindred blogs. So whenever I found a woman's blog, I would find links to another handful, which led to another dozen, and so on.
Well, yes. Men do often link to men. Liz writes more about the silly notion that women write diaries while men write politcs. I'm with her. Oh, and there are several women disagreeing with the article over on BlogSisters. Good on em.
I have most of the content in my thesis now, I think, and the bits that aren't written yet will come when I fit everything together. What I need to do now is organise the bits so they make sense. I don't know where to start. Here's what I have:
- a chapter that's a reading of Online Caroline
- three chapters where I try out various theoretical approaches, and settle on fictional worlds as most useful for what I'm interested in. Lots of brief examples (a paragraph to three pages).
That brings me to page 110. Up to here things are more or less well ordered - at least the order makes sense. The problem is I also have about 70 pages of various relevant stuff that I don't know where to put. I had planned that this would go in separate chapters that are readings of particular fictions, but most are so short. I think it would be better to combine the more theoretical part with these readings, so to weave the last, messy 70 pages into the first 110. But I can't figure out how to start doing that. I've been doing well the last weeks dividing everything into really small, concrete tasks ("write two paragraphs about X" instead of "work on chapter 4") but I don't know how to divide "reorganise whole thesis" into something manageable.
I won't get to see my advisor until December 20. Since I need a complete final draft by December 23 I'm going to be doing this on my own.
OK. I'll draw a mind map of it all by topic and theme, like Torill did for her conclusion. No, I'll draw each concept on a piece of coloured paper and I'll move them around until I see what belongs together. I could do that in Tinderbox but it might be better to be able to touch things. Right. That's quite a big task but concrete.
Suggestions are, as always, welcome. What has worked for you?
Grumpygirl's done this lovely transferral of Scott McCloud's discussion of what can happen in the gutters between comic frames into what can happen between blog posts. I love how reading about one thing can make you think afresh about what you're doing yourself. And what an added bonus when another blogger can make the connection for me - I don't think I was blogging yet when I read McCloud, so see, the connection makes utter sense now yet I couldn't see it then.
what i need
I just wrote to Hilde complaining about supervisors. I suspect getting angry with your supervisor is a necessary part of finishing a PhD, sort like how you get angry with everyone when you're in labour - remind me of that when I'm a supervisor myself. I told Hilde the sort of supervisor I want: someone who'll pat my back, tell me it'll be fine and I'm doing OK and just keep writing, don't worry about anything else. This magical supervisor will then bring me a cup of tea, cook my dinner, wash my house and pick my daughter up from school.
Unfortunately, I think I'm describing an old-fashioned wife. Damn it, that old trap again.
sexualised violence in GTAIII
Josephine Starr posted a short essay about the presentation of women in GTAIII to Fibreculture. GTAIII, or Grand Theft Auto 3, is that game where you do all the criiminal stuff that Dave Weinberger suggested was outside of morals rather than immoral. It seems Australia doesn't allow computer games with 18 age limit, so games that rate higher than 15+ are edited or banned. In the original a way of getting extra health points is having sex. If you buy sex from a sex worker you obviously have to pay, but you can beat her up afterwards and get your money back. This has been changed in the version of GTAIII that's for sale in Australia:
GTAIII was refused classification because of this sexualised violence. What is edited out of the game which is currently sold in Australia is the rocking car. It is still possible in the censored version to beat up and kill a sex worker any time you want some extra cash.
I haven't actually played GTAIII, so you know, this is another example of the old genre of opinionising about a game you haven't played, but there you go. I've talked with quite a few players who enjoy it. They're all good-natured male academics in their 30s, but that might have more to do with the kind of people I'm surrounded by than by the general player demographics of the game. Talking with them (they're all thrilled by the simulation and the game-engine) I can see Dave Weinberger's point about how all the killing of old ladies and policemen is so distant from everyday life that it doesn't really affect regular morals. Reading Henry Jenkins on how GTAIII has been presented in the media and what he wished he'd said in a TV debate about violence and video games I also find myself tending to side with the game.
But I find it a hell of a lot harder to feel OK about a game set up so you gain from having sex with someone and beating her up than I do about general mass-slaughter. I guess it feels a lot to close too home. That's too close to what every woman worries about walking home alone in the dark. I'm siding with the hookers, I reckon. And I think I'd like to try GTAIII for myself to see what I really think.
(I asked my daughter yesterday if she thought she might like a GameBoy. "Only if there's a game where I can be the princess", she said. Good on her. I think there is a princess character in SuperMario, actually.)
Norsk Språkråd tries to make sure new words that become part of the Norwegian language are, well, Norwegian. They suggest that the English term weblog should be translated as one of the following: "vevlogg, nettlogg, vevdagbok, nettdagbok". Nettlogg kind of works, but I doubt it'll beat blogg and weblogg. Right now Google has indexed 17,100 instances of blogg and only 50 of nettlogg, says Geoff's GoogleDuel. Nettdagbok, though, is actually the most common term for personal web diaries, so that's nice and Norwegian. Wonder if the Swedish equivalent of the Språkråd are the people behind that strange translation of weblog as webbkrönikor? (via Olav Anders/notatblogg)
Spider as embodiment of all fears, by Grumpygirl :)
A small box arrived in the mail. There's a green silhouette of a tree printed on the front of the brown cardboard, and large words: Magic-tree, by Rik Lander. Smaller green writing addresses me, starting just below the address label and wrapping around to the back of the box:
Before you open the box you put it to your ear and shake it...
So I do. There's something inside. It smells strongly of something musky, of candles and incense and loose batik clothing. I start to open the box and notice more writing:
You notice the box has a scent, a deep musky odour. It's warm and a touch earthy, but beyond that you detect a sharpness that repels then attracts you roughly, like sweat on a lover's body...
I pull the tab out and find more writing underneath it:
You realise that the story has already begun and you are a participant.
I ordered this box a few weeks ago, when I found magic-tree.com on the web. I think I found it by searching for "british hypertext fiction", trying to find new sites to submit to the Zeal directory so I could earn enough points to become a Zealot. There were two ways to read the story, the web site proclaimed. Completely online, or senso-virtually, which would require me to enter my real address in a form. It took a while before I realised that this was an apparently genuine offer to send me a physical component to the story for free. So I entered my address. And yes indeed, the box actually did arrive, marked "limited edition, 169/250" (so hurry up if you want to experience the story senso-virtually, there are only 81 boxes left).
Inside the box is a leaflet with chapter one of the story in it, a magic-tree kit which is growing colourful crystals as I write, and an envelope labelled "Don't open until chapter 3. (Describing this to Adrian, along with the smell of the box, he dryly remarked that he'd be surprised if Australian customs would let it into the country).
I've read the first chapter. It's about Afra and Simon, who work delivering goods for an online store called magic-tree.com. Oddly, most of the orders are mixed up, and everyone who receives the wrong item also receives a small magic-tree kit, just like the one I found in the box.
My PhD thesis is about works that position the user (reader/player) as a character in the fiction, and I've spent some time thinking about what happens when a work calls its reader "you", speaking directly to the reader, especially in online works where the reader can actually respond. Magic-tree utterly confirms my intuitive feeling that this is a technique that's particularly powerful in interactive works. Magic-tree is concept art as much as it is literature, though is also clearly a narrative, and a lot of the narrative is linguistic, literary. It's a toy. It makes me do things, and tells me that I do things which it knows I'll do - shake the box, of course I will. Notice the smell, yes, I did. Irene Kacandes calls phrases that a reader performs simply through the act of reading "involuntary performatives". They are rare in literature: John Barth's "You've read me this far then? Even this far?" is an example. When literature is no longer locked to words and paper alone, but can meet with art (not just images or sculptures but concepts, installations, ideas) and games, the force of these performatives is vaster still, and fascinating to play with.
You stop reading for a moment and reflect on the story so far. Not much has happened. (..) Then there's the magic-tree kit you received through the post which is supposed to tie in with the kit in the story. What's that all about? It's all very postmodern and trying a little too hard to be original. You're fed up with all that stuff. It's so predictable. And that predictability is part of its point because postmodernism, as far as you can tell, offers only new combinations of familiar references giving the illusion of newness rather than newness itself.
If only this story would turn out to be new in a new way, a post-postmodern modern story, one that blossoms like "just add water" chemical crystals. When you'd started magic-tree you'd hoped to be the first in your circle of friends to say, "I've discovered an entirely new 'ism'."
I'm not sure that Magic-tree is the start of a new "ism" (and I doubt that such an "ism" would actually become known as senso-virtualism, though it's worth a try) but it is downright wonderful to come across another story that plays with the boundary between fiction and actuality, tests the medium and goes outside the browser or the screen.
When I finish reading it I'll let you know whether I'm drawn in to the fictional world by the end of the story, or whether I keep my current position in the frame narrative.
MacDonalds opens stores in Sims Online
It's a wonder they don't have MacDonalds, Nike and every other store in the world in other multiplayer worlds already. Luckily, creative suggestions have been made as to how to protest this advergaming - in the game. (via Ludology and other places)
is silicon shiny?
I want to describe the stuff inside my computer. The thin green slithers of plastic, neatly slotted, speckled with shiny silicon, that's more or less what I want to write. But is it the silicon that shines? Or is that shiny stuff from soldering or something? Or are they transistors? What, exactly, does silicon look like?
I love looking at the inside of my computer. Sometimes I lift up the keyboard of my Powerbook (just put a finger on each of the little tabs, pull towards yourself, and gently lift it up) just to have a peek. They're so mysterious, and so incredibly neat, those cards inside, with the tiny numbers and letters no doubt explaining all to the knowledgeable, like codes or magical formulae. Yet the neatness isn't geometrical, it's almost flowing, organic, with those lines traced between the groupings of transistors (is that what they are, the little lumpy shiny things?), and the wonderful effect of silvers on green.
Ha. Well, here's one even grumps (like me today) might enjoy: GooglePeople lets you ask a "Who is" question and suggests answers you can check out for yourself. I figured I'd give it an easy one. "Who is the prime minister of Norway?" The answer came back instantly: either Thomas Alva Edison or Jens Stoltenberg.
Well. Jens was prime minister last year (and a good-looking prime minister he was too, I looked forward to every TV appearance). But Edison? Automation is so entertaining. (via the Google Weblog)
Today I woke up with a horrible headache and I don't want to do anything. Except maybe sit on the sofa and watch trashy TV and eat chocolate. If I blog today it'll be grumpy, so I might just stay offline...
Something I've been meaning to relearn for years: how to do cat's cradle.
homepage AND blog
Greg Restall's consequently.org is an elegant and simple example of how you can combine a fairly conventional home page (well, except for the discussions) with a blog - on the same page. Greg blogs briefly and several times a month rather than daily, so this might be a good model for someone who'd kind of like a blog but who's not sure they'll actually write that much and what about the usefulness of a regular hompage, anyway, do I really want to give that up (you ask). Since blogs are cumulative, the blog portion on such a site might grow. Or not. Mark Bernstein also combines homepagey things with a blog, but he gives his blog more space. It's a continuum, I guess, from static, informative homepage (suggestive of a stable self?) to fluid, confusing blog (privileging the current). Even this blog of mine has some classic home page stuff stuck around the edges. Publications. About me. That stuff.
alice meets alice
Two twin conversation bots, Alice 1 and Alice 2 have a conversation too good to miss. They (she? it?) won the Luebner Prize for 2000 and 2001 - that's the Turing Test competition, which will award $100000 to the first computer to fool a human into thinking it's a human. So far there's just been US $2000 to the most impressive computer each year. Might be a while yet...
Alice2: Why don't you just download me?
Anne Galloway has some really interesting thoughts about social systems and how a lot of users and developers think that the natural progression is from chaos to order (LambdaMOO starts chaotic, ends up with rules and a wizardocracy, Slashdot becomes moderated, etc) - she criticises this using social theory of various kinds, and I so absolutely must read this properly and also think about the books she recommends about crowds and collective behaviour (in relation to smart mobs) but not now, no, Jill, wait until after the thesis, then you can engulf yourself in this. She writes: "So now I'm working on how technologies can be designed to evoke, rather than to describe; to perform rather than to represent..."
OK: If I can finish cleaning up chapter four today, I promise myself I can install that Test CD of the Sims Online and play with it for a few hours. I'll deserve it. Celia Pearce has tried it, and is struck that it's not a simulation any more. (scroll down past the general stuff about The Sims to see her comment.) Steven Johnson ridicules it for rewarding collaboration - collaborating with three other players to make a pizza is apparently the most strategic ploy in the game.
blogging while listening
What will happen if students blog during class? Would they? Would it be better if they talked aloud? Real plenary discussion isn't possible in a huge conference but should be in a group of twenty students. Perhaps real blog discussions aren't possible with as small a group as twenty? Though fewer bloggers usually participate in a blog thread, there is an awareness of a larger space and the many who choose not to participate? How about chatting textually while discussingly orally? Would that always "suck all the jokes out of the room and into the chat"?
amazing what one has time to do...
My blog posts are getting longer. Either it's because with all my thesis writing now I'm just in the habit of writing a lot, or it's another example of how having one huge project to complete makes time magically expand so everything else is more efficient. For instance, I've already done almost all my Christmas shopping. This is unprecedented: I'm usually one of those harried people you see rushing around the shops on lille julaften (Little Christmas Eve, the 23rd of December). The weirdest thing is I did it all in about an hour on Friday. Piece of cake. I should write a thesis every year. (Ha).
The ideal researcher has a clear description of her hypothesis and her research questions from the very start. She knows exactly what her material is, what "category of things" she is going to examine. She probably doesn't actually exist, but she haunts me anyway. She taunts me with her perfect order, sniggering at my higgeldy-piggeldy ways.
I've known what I wanted to research since before I started my PhD, but I still don't quite have the words to communicate what I want to say or even to describe the "category of things" I want to talk about. I've found many words, and I can see how perhaps I'll be able to describe it and explain it once I've pieced together this thesis. Perhaps a more important part of research than I'd realised is exactly this: finding the words to communicate a concept, and through those words, being able to analyse it. But I've analysed and thought and learnt so much though I still don't quite have the words.
It was comforting to find that others obviously also have trouble defining the object of their research. Kendall Walton's book is about representational art and how we use it as props in our games of make-believe. He struggles delightfully to define representational art. He starts by listing some of the works he wants to talk about (I've copied that in my introduction, that I can do) and then he asks questions:
A quick survey of its frontiers shows the notion of representational art to be especially problematic. Does the Sydney Opera House qualify? Would it if it were titled Sailing though the Heavens? Is Brancusi's Bird in Space representational? Mondrian's Broadway Boogie Woogie? Do Jackson Pollock's paintings represent the actions by which they were made? Should we allow that "expressive" music represents emotions or the experiencing of emotions? Is expression a species of representation? Program music is representational, no doubt, but what about background music in film? How shall we classify Stravinsky's Pulcinella Suite, Jasper Johns's targets and flags, Duchamp's readymades, happenings? (Walton, Mimesis as Make-Believe, pages 1-2)
I think one of the reasons I like Walton's book so much is the way in which he writes. He asks questions first, suggests scenarios and problems. Then he suggests a solution, or often enough, allows the problem to remain, simply stating that it is not important for what he wishes to do. This gentle, questioning style is surprisingly authoritative as well as appearing open. He doesn't use characters, as Mark Bernstein suggests, and Grumpygirl does in her comics (I wrote about that as academic writing last week), but the effect is similar, since he writes out questions and problems in full, giving them ample space, and then answers them calmly and carefully.
The existence of borderline or undecidable cases, even vast numbers of them, is not the problem. What is of concern is that we cannot easily say why something does or does not count as representational or why it is borderline, or what one would have to learn about it to decide. (page 2)
Walton, of course, concludes that we need a theory, and that theory is of course what he proposes in the next 350 pages. I've read all the pages but I'm not sure they help me to say absolutely what consistitutes a work as "representational". They help me to think about my own questions though. And I do like the calm and the questioning of his writing.
You know how some blogs have "guest bloggers", like Boing Boing, which has a column down the right side (scroll down to see it) with different guest bloggers every week or so. Now wouldn't it be cool for say a university department or a unit like Intermedia or HUMlab - places which would regularly host guest lecturers - to also have a (continuous or occassional) guest blogger column on their website? Not just blogging somewhere else with a link from the front page of the host, but on the front page, clearly as part of the main content, yet also as themselves. Either you could arrange for visiting speakers to also blog for the duration of their stay, or you could hire people simply to blog for a week, even if they were a completely different place. If you valued guest bloggers as being equally important as physical visitors, you'd be able to pay reasonably, given you were saving on flying them in and paying for their hotel and food. Put on the main page of an institution's website would give a great sense of their being "present" in the institution's "web presence", and with a prominent or creative guest would be brilliant global branding and marketing of your institution. It could also be a good way of getting non-blogging experts to do "just a little" blogging. I'd invite Henry Jenkins to be a guest blogger, if I had the chance - I'd love to see what he'd actually blog. On the other hand I can easily imagine non-bloggers being very sceptical to suddenly blogging, and perhaps especially to suddenly blogging that prominently. After all, there's a reason they don't already blog, right? Pitched right (and paid appropriately and with total technical support), I reckon you could talk quite a few people into it, though.
How cool to have that on your CV. Visiting Researcher at X, Y and Z. Guest Lecturer at Q and P, and Guest Blogger at S and T. Cool.
Hey, tell me if you've seen something like this, OK?
part story, part game
Last time I was at my mum's house, I found a pile of seven or eight of my old the choose-your-own-adventure books in one of her bookshelves. Gleefully I took them home; I had thought they'd been lost or thrown away.
Actually these aren't choose-your-own-adventure books. Perhaps that was a separate genre I never encountered, or just a generic term that doesn't really exist? Do you know? These are "Adventure Gamebooks" in the Fighting Fantasy series, and they're very directly based on AD&D - "part story, part game", says the blurb on the back. Several of them are even written by Steve Jackson, who has run a company making role-playing and other games since at least 1980. To play these single-player adventure games you need to roll dice to determine your skills, stamina, luck and magical powers before you start. You keep track of your inventory and which spells you've used on the "Adventure Sheet" and roll dice to test your luck and in combat.
I read/played Jackson's The Citadel of Chaos on the plane yesterday (but without dice) and was struck by how it affects a game to publish it as a book. Books are open, and readers can access every part of a book in whatever order they like. Computer games (and digital narratives) are black boxes that force the player to play along; it's usually quite hard to cheat. Non-digital games are more easily cheatable, but most are multi-player and so you're bound by social conventions. I find it almost impossible not to cheat in Solitaire with physical cards, though. How about you?
Anyway, look at a passage like this:
71 You draw your sword and hack at the tentacle. The tentacle will not fight back as will a normal creature, but instead is trying to drag you into a large hole in the ground which is opening around its base. You do not need to roll for the tentacle, as it has an Attack Strength of 15 and a STAMINA score of 2. Throw for combat in the normal way, but if your own attack Strength comes to less than 15, do not subtract any points from your own STAMINA. However, if you do not defeat the creature within 3 Attack Rounds, it suceeds in dragging you into its lair and your adventure is over. If you do defeat it, you can peel the tentacle off your leg and proceed to the main entrance to the Black Tower. Turn to 218.
Would you - really - just accept your death by tentacle if you had bad luck rolling your dice? Or would you (I would) pretend that you were still fighting down in that tentacle's hole, and then (after many rolls of the dice) pronounce him dead and yourself gloriously victorious? You crawl up out of the hole and continue your adventure. Turn to 218.
Actually it'd be kind of cool if cheating involved that kind of role-playing. Of course when I played this on the plane, I just turned to 218 without bothering to role-play at all. There's no social contract to bind me to role-playing, and the game system doesn't force me to role-play, either. Of course I skimmed the adjacent entries, which I read as prolepses, hints about possible futures. And I read the end, carefully numbered 400 and placed on the last page:
Baltus Dire, lying at your feet, is dead. Your mission has been completed.
But even at this point something is left to the player:
Do you have a Levitation Spell left? If so, you may cast it and float out through the window. If not, then you will need to recall your reserves of skill and cunning to avoid the guards and dangers of the Citadel on your escape. But that is another story...
The next gamebook in the series, The Forest of Doom, does not continue that particular story and force you back through the citadel. In fact, "you" in The Forest is a completely different person to "you" in The Citadel.
These gamebooks superficially look very much like other second person narrative fiction (my essay on the second person address in digital texts discusses this). The first lines in The Citadel demonstrate the difference, though: here the "you" is presented to you as a costume or a role that you are invited to imagine, play and customise with your rolls of the dice and your choices. In Calvino or Butor's second person novels the you turns out to be someone other than you rather than a role you can choose to play. Here's the role you're offered in The Citadel:
You are the star pupil of the Grand Wizard of Yore. You have a knowledge of magic which is not perfect, but with a little luck will be adequate for this quest. You also have in your possession a sword and you are well practised in swordplay. You are quite fit and you have been exercising to build up your stamina. (page 7)
I took these books seriously at twelve. I collected the whole series (well, up to no. 7. There are over 50 in the series now) and carefully filled in the Adventure Sheet, my round handwriting listing inventory, spells and changes in skills, magic and stamina. I wish I could go back to 1983 and watch myself reading them! I'd want to be well-assured I had a return ticket to 2002 though...
It's cold here, and flat, and Patrik says the snow will likely stay till spring. The buildings in Umeå are broad and low and many are built of wood, like in Trondheim, but the university is new and large, a little outside of town, with varied buildings on a campus said to be beautiful in summer. Umeå is three hour-long flights from Bergen: Bergen - Oslo, Oslo - Stockholm, Stockholm - Umeå. Three breakfasts in boxes and three rounds of coffee. Two long, long walks from one end of an airport to the other: domestic to international, international to domestic. At HUMlab I hooked up my computer and was at home on the web at once. Had a nice dinner with Patrik, who runs HUMlab and is full of ideas, and Therese, who's working on online communication and Stefan who's an ethnologist working on games. They all reckon they'll start blogging: I hope they do!
The talk was good, too, and hey, Liz was "there", and even blogged a screenshot of what the talk looked like for the virtually present! I was showing her blog (I think for the trackback, or was it something else?) and hey, a new post, about the very talk I was showing her blog for! Cool! Photos were also taken, and the one I've blogged here reveals that I use my hands when I talk: unfortunately I have no idea what I was trying to express, but it looks intriguing.
Thursday I'm going to sit in the lab and work. And then fly home again: Umeå - Stockholm, Stockholm - Oslo, Oslo - Bergen.
what i'm going to talk about at HUMlab today
I've got the Powerpoint, that vehicle of perfect control, but I think I'm going to just talk with the web as my background today, instead. The point of blogs is the linking and the ways in which they interconnect, and the now of blogging. And HUMlab is bound to have a decent web connection. I'll probably just type in the URLs and click the links and talk around but here, for easy reference, is what I'm going to do.
First: what blogs are. Blog is short for weblog which is made up of two words: web + log. That's log as in a captain's logbook (you know, on a ship): a journal of dated observations. Links are crucial. Blogs are related to web diaries, which are a bit more intuitive if you're not familiar with blogging, and so I'll show some of these, starting at the Open Directory's Swedish web diaries, going to a site that organises Swedish web diaries geographically, and following a link to a local web diary in Umeå. Might show a couple of others for variation. Then back to dmoz, this time to Swedish weblogs, and look at a couple of them (mymarkup.net, I think, Det perfekta tomrummet and néablog and perhaps How to learn Swedish in 1000 difficult lessons.
Next stop: what you get when you put all these blogs together. Metafilter, a community blog. This is a great site for showing how bloggers love linking, and hunting down extra information and background about almost anything. I think I'll tell the story about Joel, library girl, the journalist and how the Metafilterists researched it. Then probably show how blogs can be projects (The Date Project, Letters never sent, and my own to do notes). From my blog I'll show blogrolling and explain the deal there, and how bloggers see who's linking to them in the referrer stats, and how clever systems do trackbacks (I was going to use a Moveable Type blog to do this, but Diveintomark has an interesting post today about "automated ways to find new and interesting people", and just while I was having lunch two new people have linked to it, and they of course show you with hist own self-scripted trackback). At this point I'll no doubt have proselytised a fair bit about the importance of links, and so I'll show how links are interpreted by various systems: Blogdex, Google, Allconsuming. The conclusion of all this will be that blogs are a social writing which is self-organising. It has no infrastructure, but can be navigated in small scale or systemised in grand scale by various kinds of extrastructures or exoskeletons.
Tomorrow (Wednesday) I'm going to Umeå in Sweden to give a talk about blogs at HUMlab. Patrik Svensson from HUMlab was here in Bergen a few weeks ago, and he certainly made HUMlab sound like a very vibrant, exciting place (they have the coolest neon sign I've ever seen in a university) so I'm looking forward to seeing it. And hey, they're webcasting it (here's the RealPlayer feed)and you can type in questions and comments in their chat space, and they'll be projected on the wall. Go on...do it! It'd be so cool to have the wall talking at us. The talk starts at 3 pm, European time, and that's easily converted to your time zone.
My plane's taking off at 6.15 am. Wish me luck...
The new research program at the Norwegian Research Council, KIM (Kommunikasjon, IKT og Medier), has just advertised a large round of funding for Norwegian projects within - you guessed it - communication, ICT (Information and Communication Technology) and Media. Deadline is January 31, and they're giving priority to large projects led by an experienced researcher. Individual PhDs and postdocs won't be given priority.
I'm trying to work out whether I want to be part of a project application or not. Perhaps? And if so, which project?
It's dark (yes, I know, already) but it's darker than usual. There's been the strangest fog hanging over Bergen all day; so thick that you couldn't see more than 10 or 20 metres clearly. Now that the sun has set looking out my window I can hardly see any lights! It's as though the city has disappeared and I'm all alone, way out in the country. How uncanny. I must go out and investigate.
I found a new voice, or rather, he emailed his URL to me: Baldur Bjarnason (he must be Icelandic, surely, he even quotes Voluspå in the original old Norse (or perhaps that's modern Icelandic). But he lives in Bristol, where he's writing a PhD on interactive narrative. With a beautiful layout (rather lacking in links to explanations and background but it looks great) and an excellent post on some absurdities of recent copyright legislation. Baldur thinks the word blog is ugly (I've always quite enjoyed it myself), but has interesting plans for his journal.
a minor shift
Adrian has a good post this morning (this afternoon in Melbourne, but it's still morning here) about that whole idea that blogs are trivial, just some average person's not-very-interesting opinions. He starts describing rather contentless but state-funded, high-rating radio, and finishes with some important insights about what blogs do that is both similar to this and yet very different.
at some point i realised that i read better commentary in blogs, and i certainly have the choice to read better raconteurs. but it is not the realisation that i could read better in a blog, but that what blogs have made extraordinarily visible (if you bother to look) is the implicit power of those who formerly had access to the possibilities of expressing opinion. for that's all they were doing. it happened to be opinions and conversation about not very much (can you say blog?), and once upon a time this was a privilege preserved for a minority. the power i mean is not that they are opinion leaders (they are, and they get to set micro agendas, though they usually find themselves responding to macro agendas), but that in reading, using, and understanding blogs within or as part of a knowledge ecology (that's a knowledge ecology, not an information economy) the power that is recognised is simply that their opinions are ordinary. pedestrian. of no greater authority than yours or mine. it is an unveiling.
This is an important counterinsight to that oh so common "but most blogs are just boring commentary from bad writers". My reply to that has usually been a slightly defensive "Yes, maybe 99% of blogs are bad, or boring or just not interesting to me, but I can still find brilliant writing, wonderful ideas and these fascinating conversations." Adrian's post describes a more important change.
what about things that don't have ISBNs?
Erik is making Allconsuming understand links that include something like isbn="XXXXXXXX" as well as links to bookstores like Amazon and others. That's wonderful. And as people pointed out in the comments to that last book post of mine, Amazon actually does use ISBNs in its book URLs. But as Noah points out, what about links to items that don't have a nice clear categorisation number like an ISBN? News, for instance. I suppose Google's somehow managing to find "the same story" reported in a lot of different press. How on earth do they do that, anyway?
I'm also so impressed at Liz who tracked down a group working on a bibp:// protocol for links to books. Cool!
where the linking classes link
Have you seen that google thing where you search for "http" and it shows you everything it's indexed, ordered simply by Pagerank? So you get to see the most linked-to sites first. It's been on so many blogs I can't remember who to credit.
So I tried the Norwegian version. Search for http site:.no (or whichever country code you're interested in) and compare. It's actually quite interesting. The most popular Norwegian sites are public and educational sites, whereas the most popular sites globally (and if USA still has nearly half of all web traffic, and I'm not seeing non-Western character sets, I suppose isn't quite global, really) are commercial and search sites. Yahoo, Google, Microsoft, Adobe, AltaVista, Excite, Amazon and CNN are the top hits. Microsoft's set as the default homepage in lots of browsers (though that shouldn't get Pagerank in itself) and Adobe's linked from practically every PDF, so they're not surprising. Amazon's linked from so many books, and CNN - well, obviously a lot of people link to CNN. And to search engines. Further down we have Mapquest, NY Times, Hotmail and so on.
Now among .no sites, the picture is entirely different. The top hit is weird: "FTP search has moved", but after that we have a United Nations Environment site, then the University of Oslo, the newspaper Aftenposten, the Central Bureau of Statistics, another university, NORAD (a foreign aid organisation), the government information site, Bellona (environmentalists, like Greenpeace) and the national railways (not Scandinavian Airlines!). Tord's homepage (he made an MP3-encoder) is also high on the list, as is the national university library system.
I guess Norway is a nice, left-wing social democracy with a lot of focus on public information.
Or we just mostly link to multi-national or American .coms and ignore Norwegian content, so the list is skewed.
Or "the linking classes" in Norway are all at universities and/or fighting for a cause.
ISBNs and non-preferential linking
So all you librarians and information-savvy people out there: instead of privileging Amazon when we link to books and aggregate our booklinks, how about creating a system where we tag books we mention in a neutral manner. We could use ISBN codes, for instance, instead of Amazon's ASIN codes (do you think they were so foreseeing that they chose not to use ISBN codes in their book database (and URLs for book info) because they knew that in the future (now) people would use that data, and if tied to Amazon's own format (ASIN) it would be so much easier just to use Amazon as the source of all book information?)
I assume sites like Allconsuming.net use the ASIN in the link associated with a book to find the book info. To let people use ISBN numbers to tag a book as "a book", what would we need? A whole new HTML tag that's not a link? Or that is, but is different? (Because if I link a book title to a href="isbn.014030755" your clicking on that link won't take you to some wonderful database displaying info for the 1973 Puffin edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that I meant. At least not yet.) Perhaps simply a converter between ISBNs and various proprietry book identification systems, like Amazon's ASIN?
Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could actually make this fair and open?
Update: read the comments, there are answers there. Thanks!
the politics of linking to amazon - and iChat dialogues
OK, this is a long post. It's about bookstores, Amazon, Allconsuming, hardcoded privilege, Mark, Noah, iChat, character-based narrative and argument, and Grumpygirl's Ant. Here's the abstract: Link-aggregation software like Allconsuming.net privileges Amazon in a way that is rapidly becoming hardcoded into the systems that organise the web. How can anyone compete with that? But it's not really as pessimistic (or anti-Amazon) as that sounds. The second bit is more about the way iChat looks, actually. And there's a picture in case you get tired of all the words (1053 including these).
Noah started it. He sent me an email: "Linking to Amazon arguably contributes to the death of the local independent bookstore, which has been a lifeblood of our intellectual culture." He blogged something similar, too. Well. My bookstores have never really been the lifeblood of anything to me, probably because I was brought up reading almost only English books in Norway, where bookstores (obviously) mostly stock Norwegian books. Norwegian bookstores are well-stocked in Norwegian literature, even in small towns, thanks to a culture-friendly agreement with the publishing industry (bransjeavtalen). But Norwegian is a small language. It's a small market. Non-fiction, especially, lags way behind the international market. English language books, in the bookstores that stock them at all, are mostly limited to classics and bestsellers.
The lifeblood of my family's intellectual culture was Heffers. Mum and Dad studied at Cambridge in the late sixties (that's why they moved from Australia to Europe; from there the step to raising their family in Norway was, apparently, not that great) and so Heffers was the bookstore my sister and I were brought up believing in. (eek, heffers.com now redirects to Blackwells! How sad...) Mail-order catalogues would arrive at regular intervals, and even though we never got the Levis 401 jeans our friends all had, or the LaCoste and Bussenel (how do you spell that? and is it 401 or maybe 501? my 12 year old self would be appalled that I've forgotten) clothing, we were encouraged to choose liberally from the catalogues. Big parcels of books would be ordered several times a year. I used to dream of seeing the real Heffers, that fabled place where the books all lived. I remember my first (adult) trip to London, and how I longed for the bookstores - but I was so disappointed. There were heaps of books, yes, but I couldn't find any that I was interested in. And the staff couldn't help me. They didn't know anything about the area I was interested in, and frankly, didn't seem that interested.
I suppose I lacked old-fashioned bookstore browsing skills. Given my mail-order upbringing, it's no surprise I love Amazon. It's even better than the Heffers catalogues.
But Noah's comments worried me. At first I didn't remember my own experience, where physical bookstores had very little to do with intellectual culture. (I hate how I often accept other people's statements like that without comparing them to my own experiences. Luckily it usually only lasts a little while. But my initial response is often not at all what my considered response is. Perhaps that's another reason I like the temporality of blogging, you have time to think, if you want. You can reread what you wrote. And the act of writing itself requires time and thought, though nothing like as high an investment as writing a PhD thesis...) Even if one agrees that online bookstores don't in themselves destroy intellectual culture, the fact remains that Amazon is a huge business, and if aggregation software like Allconsuming.net or Daypop's list of most read books privilege links to Amazon - and following that, bloggers like me choose to link to Amazon rather than, say, to my local library's entry for the book, or to a different online bookstore - well, it's privileging Amazon in a way that is rapidly becoming hardcoded into the systems that organise the web. How can anyone compete with that?
And hey - did you know that Erik Benson, who designed and runs Allconsuming, works for Amazon? (He doesn't really promote the fact, but that's where the link from "work" in this news item goes, as Noah pointed out to me.) While that's OK, and Erik is planning to parse links to other bookstores than Amazon, it's kind of not quite as independent and grassrootsy as it looks at first sight, is it? I suppose noone ever said it was grassrootsy.
As I was reading Noah's email Mark messaged me in iChat. So I asked him what he thought about Amazon. Look, here's the transcript: Update 15/11: I misquoted Noah in the chat - sorry. He didn't say that, as he remarks in the comments at the bottom of this post.
I love the way iChat shows faces and the cartoon speech bubbles with the words. At first I thought it was a bit - well, silly - but as I've used it more, I find I really enjoy it. I like how when one of us types, a thinking bubble appears (Mark has one near the end of our conversation), and I like the way I can change the appearance (colour, font, size) of my speech bubbles.
Grumpygirl's dialogues have almost exactly the same layout as an iChat conversation, except that her faces are larger, and - crucially - their expressions change. Not much, though - the changes are often very subtle. People seem to like them. I like them. Over on Kairosnews, they're highly recommended: ""If you need to explain weblogs to anyone, show them this."
So I'm wondering whether these dialogues - simple as they are, perhaps not "good" by conventional comics standards (they're so focussed on dialogue, Grumpygirl says) - whether they work so well because they're like another genre we've become familiar with: online chatting. What if we think of the Ant dialogues as planned, edited, artistically rendered chat sessions? So they are to chat, what a short story is to real life?
I like Grumpygirl's slightly changing expressions better than I would bigger changes, I think. I know that sounds strange. But the minimalism feels very satisfying to me.
And wouldn't be wonderful if iChat could display the subtle changes of expression that you see in Grumpygirl's dialogues? Not huge changes. Just little ones. A raised eyebrow. A sidelong glance. A half-smile.
I find the nomadic writing Adrian described, that writing and publishing while you're travelling, oddly seductive. Justin's post from on board a bus (in Japan, does wireless internet really do this? you can be online on public transport, on the freeway?) is so freeflowing, such a stream of consciousness, but drawing me in rather than remaining insular - do you think we might write differently writing as nomads? Will I continue to be enthralled by it as it becomes more and more common?
steven johnson's started blogging!
Waay cool! Steven Johnson (yes, he wrote Emergence, which permanently distorted my brain - for the better, don't worry) has started blogging! I am so enjoying this bit where blogging becomes just what you do. I'm getting one of those exhilarated feelings of this is an unbelievable new medium....
an anti-buddy finder
Obvious, once you've thought of it. Jenny did. Think of it, that is:
you know those little people-finding device ideas that are popular in places like Japan? so when you're close to someone who also likes crocheting, or your best buddy is on the next block, you get a message on your mobile? kind of like real-world ICQ?
well, I have this GREAT idea. why not have one for when people you despise and never want to see again are nearby? so you can vamoose, goose, real quick?
Only I know the Norwegian buddy SMS service requires all buddies to opt in. So for me to be able to ask my phone where my buddies are, my buddies have to reply to my (SMSed) invitation and agree that they really are my buddies and are happy for me to know where they are whenever I like. Imagine receiving an invitation to be an anti-buddy: "Your acquaintance NN has requested to be notified whenever you're around so she can get the hell out of there. She really does not want you to know where she is. Do you agree to be her anti-buddy?"
Hm. Might be tricky ;)
my hair is fashionable
My hairdresser told me today that wavy hair is now officially the fashion. What a relief - after years of trying to blowdry my hair straight (or more often just swearing at it and leaving it unruly) I'll now have several months, probably, of just enjoying my hair the way it is. Unbelievable.
I wish I had a hairdresser to keep me up to date on academic fashions. A researchdresser. Research stylist. Thesis stylist. They probably already exist only I don't know their fancy name... (Uh, perhaps it's "advisor" and I already have one...)
You know that part of writing where you just love it and are totally into it and anything else seems boring and you practically are the writing? Does it exist? Or is it just a myth?
I think I was in that zone finishing my Master's thesis. Blogging, of course, but that's different: the joy of writing fast and often, the joy of ideas and connections rather than the pleasure of carefully reworking and crafting a large, coherent argument. I think I sometimes feel that pleasure in the last phases of writing essays. I certainly remember the pleasure of working with my Links and Power essay, and my Do You Think You're Part of This essay - the delight in ideas and words. But perhaps I'm mis-remembering? Making it up?
I'm working steadily at my thesis now. It's progressing well, not amazingly fast but at an encouraging and even pace. But it's such hard work! I have to force myself through every step of it. Though there's a satisfaction in seeing it take shape (ticking off the things I've done), that intoxicating obsession (while I'm writing) is absent. Do you think it really exists? If it does: is there a short cut to get there?
David Weinberger suggests that Grand Theft Auto 3 (GTAIII) and Pulp Fiction might be outside of morals instead of immoral:
It accomplishes a true suspension of moral belief. This isn't used for any profound purpose ‹ Tarrantino is no Dostoyevsky ‹ but it does enable us to enter a world where the basic rules have been altered. It is the equivalent of science fiction, except instead of removing the law against time travel, the law against murder is removed. Call it "moral fiction." (..) In suspending morality, they keep us so disconnected from the victims that we can laugh at what in real life would be horrific. If we were to connect with our victims, the morality would no longer be suspended. (..) The suspension of morality is so obvious and so obviously a literary device that it has no more effect on my actual moral stance than watching Star Wars made me think I can levitate objects by channeling "The Force." (..) I'm more concerned about heroic games like "Blackhawk Down" where the ultimate moral message is that being right puts one in a zone where everything is permitted.
I think I agree with him - but I'm not sure "moral fiction" is the best word for the genre... Yes, it matches "science fiction", but it suggests the oppposite of what David's describing. Amoral doesn't sound right either. Is there such a word as extramoral? (I'm guessing no...) And extramoral fiction doesn't sound great, does it? Any ideas?
gonzalo's on his way
Gonzalo just left - what a nice person, and great ideas too. His next destination is Copenhagen so I expect Lisbeth's blog might keep us updated, as well as his own blog. Amusing notion, this (actual, physical) travelling from blogger to blogger and being mentioned in various bloggers blogs. Should take more photos of it, like Joi Ito does. Perhaps when I can afford a digital camera...
Hilde handed in her PhD thesis three months ago and is still waiting for the committee's decision. This is standard, at our faculty it usually takes about half a year from you hand it in till the defense. Yes, the science faculty does the same in 6 weeks. I discovered there are more steps than I'd realised in the becoming-a-doctor-of-philosophy deal. You hand it in (levere), then you defend it (disputere), then after all that and the fuss around it you receive a letter from the rektor of the university which "creates" you as a doctor (kreere), and that's when you get the pay rise, then finally, presumably months later, there's the formal ceremony where you get to borrow a gown and there's music and speeches and a fancy diploma and so on. That's when you get promovert.
No wonder they want to simplify, rationalise, effectivise, EU-ify and internationalise PhDs...
ways of writing and defining and thinking
Grumpygirl (aka Meredith) has done another cartoon dialogue between her and The Ant, discussing what a weblog really is - good questions, and such a refreshing way of discussing it. I love her dialogue form with its room for questions, uncertainty, different points of view and an evolving sense of what the answer is - those are just the things I miss in academic writing, though I'm trying to include them somehow. It got me thinking about whether it's the dialogue and the clear characters that allow this, which brought me to Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, which is a theory and history of comics written (and drawn) as a book of comics.
Leafing through Understanding Comics, though, I notice McCloud rarely uses other characters. Mostly he talks himself, and uses illustrations (expertly and entertainingly) as an equally important explanation channel. There are some excerpts at amazon; have a look if you aren't familiar with the book. A couple of pages after that excerpt, people off-page ask questions about his proposed definitions of comics. At one point, for instance (I would have scanned a citation but the scanners are all broken, it's weird), he holds up a definition sign: "JUXTAPOSED SEQUENTIAL VISUAL ART", and the off-page debaters go "Does it have to say 'art'? Doesn't that imply some sort of value judgement?" "Well", Scott replies, "Okay, how about this? JUXTAPOSED SEQUENTIAL STATIC IMAGES". A debater responds: "Now it sounds kind of arbitrary." And so on until he arrives at a definition he and his invisible friends are more or less happy with.
Grumpygirl's Ant is on much more equal footing with Grumpygirl than these anonymous commentators are with McCloud. I wonder whether she'd consider adding more characters to her conversations? I'm sure Mark Bernstein's written about character-based web design or something like that, but I can't find it: what I can find is his talk on Where the Hypertexts Are from 2000 - but in it, he uses characters wonderfully. It's a nice little flash (or something) animation with drawings and cheekiness, so fun to look at.
Contextual note: Hypertext theory and hypertext fiction has been around for decades, and especially so since the late eighties with the annual Hypertext conferences. A lot of useful theory, innovative fiction and art and important technical and software developments have come out of this group, though those wheels are constantly being reinvented - and sometimes in new ways that are wonderful. Mark is one of the pioneers of this movement: he has developed crucial software and with his publishing house, Eastgate, he published hypertext fictions on diskettes years before the web. He's still a pioneer: he blogs, theorises about blogs, edits and publishes hypertext and new media fiction and poetry (on CD and online) and developed Tinderbox which is the software I use for blogging and note-taking and organising. So: a famous - and decade-old - question at hypertext conferences has been "Where are the hypertexts?", because there seemed to be more theory than practice. This talk plays upon that.
So, I wonder whether Grumpygirl will use her Ant and I dialogues in her thesis? I hope so. And what about adding other characters? And how could a person like me whose more verbally than graphically adept use techniques like these in academic writing, I wonder?
I hadn't realised Larry Page (co-founder of Google) was only 29. Oh, and for the record: I'm 31. Haven't founded Google yet. Ha.
women and pink
Grumpygirl recommended Gusset's writing, and I instantly liked the colour scheme - lo and behold she'd already seen my fondness for pink. One of those circles again. "If only we could do for pink what zeldman has done for orange."
You know something? There are a lot of men out there. 80% men at today's talk (excellent talk, btw, and the men asked great questions. The four women said nothing, well, apart from me, that is, I talked). On planes: all men, except on weekends. In Smart Mobs, only three or four women and dozens and dozens of men - and you notice it all the more, because Rheingold writes a sentence or two describing each researcher or character's personality and behaviour before presenting their research ideas. One of the women doesn't even get a line to say: she's simply there as a decorative cyborg (page 111-112) - it's effective as narrative but couldn't there please be a few more women with something to say, or women being allowed to say something? Our department: only two women, both in temporary positions, the rest are all men. My old department, literature for christ sakes (women read) has way more women students than there are male students, but only one tenured female staff member. And games? Well, since games like The Sims and Myst and RPGs aren't really real games, ya know, (Quake and shooters are the only real games) the field's looking a bit bleak to me.
Men are great. It's just that I'd like a few more women around in everyday work life, oh, and on planes, at seminars, at work dinners. That's a good thing about blogging: at least I can find women, wonderful women, online, whether their blogs are pink or not. Here are some of my favourite blogging women: Torill, Lisbeth, Hilde, Liz, Grumpygirl, Jenny (personal and research), Caterina and Anja, Cindy, Jane, Rebecca, Helene, Tinka. Emily, Elin and Diane have quit, but used to be good. Perhaps I should add some more. Any suggestions?
The Nigerian Nightmare is a nice background story tracking the origins of the Nigerian 419 spam emails to a jazz-age American scam called The Spanish Prisoner. Cheap internet access has brought democracy to the scammers, and in total, US$100 million is earned by Nigerians pulling this ploy:
No longer the sole domain of professional criminals, 419 has become a cozy family business, Nigeria's version of the Greek diner or Irish pub.
A silver lining: Nigerians are really learning to use the internet, and the infrastructure of the net in Nigeria has (according to this article) been developing fast because of this lucrative use.
Back in September, I found lots of people have replied to these spam/scam emails and arranged all the hilarious evidence for us to enjoy.
Gonzalo Frasca's lectures
Gonzalo Frasca, of ludology.org, is giving two lectures here in Bergen, on Monday 11 and Tuesday 12 November, both at 12.15 in room 264 in the HF-building at the university. Please come if you're in town and interested.
Monday: Say it with a game: ludology and simulation rhetoric
Tuesday: Marxist videogames: the search for an ideological LOGO turtle
Brandon writes of the value of formal constraints:
In a medium that allows anything, new forms must be sought. (November 5)
Beware: if a teenager asks if she may set the high score on the games on your mobile phone, say no! There's no way to reset the high score - so if you way later feel bored and think you'll play snake on your phone to pass the time you'll never, ever beat the teenager's high score. There is something distinctly humiliating about not having the high score on your own phone's game of snake.
Volda was good. I had fun giving my talk, and Torill and I have such brilliant conversations. We have quite different takes on most things and different theoretical and practical backgrounds, so we often start by disagreeing about something, but enthusiastically disagreeing, you know, and we'll throw in more and more examples and ideas that neither of us could possibly have come up with alone and we'll often end up in happy agreement and the feeling that we could write an article or ten just based on a breakfast chat. It's exhilerating! We'll be blogging towards an article on blogs and intimacy over at Blog on Blog for the next few months. Well, I'll probably be rather dormant for the next months, till after this thesis business.
Jessamyn West (of librarian.net) is a freelance librarian who's written an article describing what it was like working as a researcher for Google Answers. She got fired for writing the article. - and an email from Google saying they were "interested in her remark that Google Answers denigrates libarians". There's also an article about Google Answers at geek.com. (via Google Weblog)
Powerpointslidesene fra forelesningen min i dag ligger her.
off to volda
I'm flying to Volda this evening, where I get to stay with Torill (always a treat) and give a guest lecture on various kinds of net publishing including interactive narratives, email art and stories and blogs.
bag of books
It is so hard to concentrate on writing when a box of books arrives from amazon. I got Howard Rheingold's Smart Mobs (a nice read on the plane to Volda tonight?), Mark Meadow's Pause and Effect: The Art of Interactive Narrative (the text of this is online but they're right, the book has lots more than words in it) and the second edition of Jay David Bolter's Writing Space, which both has crucial differences to the first edition and restates the whole idea of remediation, so I figured I'd better know what it says.
weblogs as online performances
No time to read this now but it looks interesting: an essay about weblogs as online performances which seems to be about performance writing and using weblogs in teaching.
writing a little
Thanks for your comments and suggestions... it's really helpful and encouraging. I'm doing better with the thesis writing today. This helped:
- tidying the house (I know I know, but I really do find it easier to work when I know there aren't piles of dishes and laundry and dirty floors and smelly towels)
- dividing things up into tiny tasks
- writing down what I plan to do and publishing it here (in that dotted orange box) to keep myself accountable.
- deciding to write for short amounts of time instead of huge amounts
- leaving my computer at work so I couldn't possibly start the day by surfing and really had to do the work at hand instead (of course i read the paper and half of Small Pieces but, hey, I did do the work too)
I'm hardly cured. But at least I'm not terrified.
On the Smart Mobs blog (I'm still waiting for the book to arrive), Howard Rheingold mentions a conference to be held here in Norway next June, in Grimstad: Mobile communication and the renegotiation of the social sphere: The fourth international conference to examine the emerging social and economic meanings of mobile telephony and mobile communication. Interesting. Does travelling with my powerbook count as mobile communication, or do they really only mean stuff that mobile phone companies can make money out of, I wonder?
start a blog
So, is it great or pathetic that I've found a website called PhinisheD? It's "A discussion and support group for people who cannot seem to finish their dissertations or theses." I tend to think it's sad rather than great. I'm procrastinating so badly that I find sites like that instead of just finishing.
I stare at the 55000 words I've written and something just locks up. I've been writing, sure, but silly things, peripheral things, non-threatening things that might be OK as part of the thesis but that really aren't helping to complete and organise what's there. Obviously it's simply a matter of just doing it. Which seems utterly impossible. Please, someone come and finish it for me?
Google also found me How to Write a PhD Dissertation, which is much more cheering. Downright hilarious, in fact. The abstract has about the level of seriousness I think I need right now:
In this paper we demonstrate that writing a Ph.D. dissertation can have many benefits. Not only do you obtain extensive typesetting experience, but afterwards you can have your frequent-flyer literature addressed to "Dr. Your Name."
Anja told me that after she started flying as Dr Rau she gets frequent upgrades and better seating. I can't wait ;) And perhaps if I can keep laughing instead of anguishing finishing the thesis won't be so scary - and I'll manage to do it.
Got any good advice? Let me know!
Bookmarking this: a game-like environment for teaching undergraduates Java: Virtual Family. Looks like a great approach to teaching programming. Via Elizabeth Lane Lawley's Mamamusings, which is also great; a blog by a librarian who teaches blog-centric web-design and more. Look how she's teaching web design:
I think we'll be reworking the undergraduate web design course to use
I love the idea. It'd certainly fit my learning style. I wonder how it'll work? I'm going to be teaching "Web design and web aesthetics" next semester and there are so many ways to do it, it's fascinating. There are lots of interesting thoughts and links about blogs on Elizabeth's site too, for instance a post wondering whether we're at the tipping point of blogging becoming mainstream, and whether that will be its death. (And hey: I found her because she found me because I was had blogged about a book she read about at allconsuming.net. That's so cool.)
Time to write though. Gotta finish that thesis.
While community sites like Slashdot and educational courseware packages have often sophisticated infrastructures, weblogs have multiple extrastructures, or perhaps better: exo-skeletons. Blogs are disorganised, individualistic and messy. Their power (and what potential lies here) lies in the multitude of different ways they can be organised. Without altering any individual blog, I can view the entire group of blogs through so many different filters.
I'm not sure I can even express how unbelievably cool this is. Poke around allconsuming.net again: create an account, type in the title of a book you're reading, watch it suggest other weblogs you might like based on links, books read and other data from numerous sources: alexa, weblogs.com, google, blo.gs, amazon.
If you don't like the way Allconsuming presents the blogosphere, don't worry. Another exoskeleton, another way of viewing the world will pop up in a few weeks. You can choose another way of accessing and viewing the same content. That's not so easy in Slashdot.
discussions about books
Allconsuming is a useful tool for following blog discussions of books. For instance, their page for Rheingold's Smart Mobs gives you basic book info and a cover photo, comments (rather inane, unfortunately), and most importantly, links to and extracts from weblogs that have linked to this book in the last week. It's the next step up from Weblog Bookwatch, which appeared a few months back - Allconsuming gives much more contextual information though. This is a really useful tool for organising collective knowledge and analysis. It does it by using data from amazon.com (available as XML or SOAP, they explain it at their webservices page) and connecting that with links to amazon books from recently updated weblogs. The weblogs are found through weblogs.com, which allows blogs to ping their server when updating, checks them for changes, and generates an XML list of recently updated blogs accessible to others. Erik Benson, who built this, also has his own weblog, Mockerybird.com. I love how people build stuff like this. Oh, and Allconsuming's data is also available as XML or RSS feeds, so you can build on what Erik's built if you like.
This is collective intelligence, decentralised knowledge management, emergent community-building. Brilliant.
Wow. Torill thinks she's finished her PhD thesis (which is on multi-user games, MUDs and such, btw). Anders is about to finish (he's writing about web rhetorics, convergence and more). Lisbeth's finishing in January (virtual worlds). Hilde finished this summer (gender and technology). And hearing kids count down the days to Christmas (presents for them; finishing for me) I realise I'll be done in about 50 days. I wonder whether our blogging will change once we're all doctors of philosophy? (And will we stream our defences? Blog from the celebratory dinner?)
Dagbladet has made some sensible changes in their web strategy lately. For instance, they now link out (as Torill noted the other day), and today, I noticed that each article has a "published" and an "updated" timestamp on it - look at this article about a study that finally proves Tetris is unwinnable, for instance.. I should add that to my blog. It would solve the whole ethical thing of not changing published material.
I wrote a few days ago that when my daughter starts using the web, I want her to learn to protect her anonymity and to not feel obliged to tell the truth. Rebecca Blood's six rules of blogging ethics (excerpted from The Weblog Handbook on her website) remind me that that's not quite right. Rebecca's rules are:
1. Publish as fact only that which you believe to be true.
These are good rules, though perhaps not applicable to all kinds of blogs. I've written about rule 2 before, and like it, though it can be taken to ridiculous extremes. I'm less happy about rule 4. Yes, it makes sense to have nice trustworthy archives. Ted Nelson would love this rule: in Xanadu (a hypertext system he's been arguing for since the 60s) every version of every document would be permanently available. But I like being able to edit blog posts after they've been published, and you know what? I think most people do. Online newspapers do. After-editing (is that the correct English term? Etterredigering in Norwegian; it means that editing and proof reading is done continuously after the initial online publication) has become standard in online journalism, certainly according to Terje Rasmussen. Jouke Kleerebezem made it explicit for a while, though he's removed the tagline now - it still says "launch-and-learn publishing" but it also used to say "corrections are generally made within 36 hours". [Update 09:41: Torill replies. I'll ditto everything she says. (Well, in in that post, anyway ;) Kids safety is separate from blogging. Btw, Rebecca does add to the "don't change" rule in the full text - she has lots of comments to each rule - she writes that incorrect information should be fixed or marked as incorrect.]
letters never sent
Another blog project: Letters never sent. I'm thinking The Dating Project which I wrote about the other day is a narrated game. The writer devised a game with clear rules and a defined winning situation, and plays the game. The blog is where he narrates the gameplay. A bit of jumping between ontological levels happens when readers of the narrated game start influencing the game play, but that's OK. Letters never sent isn't quite about a game, but it is an enactment of a personal challenge where the writing is the action. It's a project, a challenge, rather than a weblog about a theme.
I've started this weblog to say all the things I can't, and not just to the one I love. I've hidden in silence all my life, and used it as a shield to keep me safe. (..) I want to be heard. (27 Oct)
That's why weblogs and web diaries are different from keeping a secret diary locked away in your drawer. Even if you're writing anonymously, you're writing for readers. You don't lock up your thoughts.
Some of this writer's posts are exquisitely written. Or do I just think so because some of them are so close? She writes I'm in love with a man who lives in my tomorrows, and I'll dream of escaping your yesterdays. I never thought of putting it that poetically. Phone calls are cheap, but time is disjointed. All my afternoon and evening, Adrian's asleep. When he wakes, I go to bed.
We sat side my side on our makeshift couch, I with the trance vibrator and Justin with the controller. As the levels got more advanced, so did the vibrations... revving up to an intense pulsing throbbing...
Other aspects of Rez sound interesting, too:
Even without the trance vibrator, the game puts you into a trance state - it's a raver's game, a game of pure sensation. The goals are simply to progress to the next level - not so complicated. But getting there is a sublime visual and aural experience.
Or, as the official game site puts it:
As the player concentrates harder and harder on the game, random sound effects will turn into a steady rhythm, while waves of lights and colors will consume the player entirely. And when sound and visual effects ultimately come together, Rez will open your senses to a totally unbelievable experience like nothing you have ever felt before.
Jane reckons Halo's also a useful game for additional sensory stimulation, though not as clearly purposeful as Rez - the vibrating/rumble pack technology in game controllers is "often frustrating since the vibrations are not nice and steady, but sporadic." It's obvious that any review of the game is incomplete that doesn't include useful information like Jane's:
That's why I was so excited by Rez's trance vibrator, since it seems to have no other purpose than to act as a masturbatory aid. Its shape is pretty nice, it can slip easily under your skirt or in your panties, it comes with a protective "glove" which you can wash, and it emits a regular pulsating rhythm that gets ever more intense and thrilling the deeper you go into the game. Damn, by the end I was writhing on the floor! Synesthesia indeed.
Peter Merholz is blogging a series of posts as he reads Howard Rheingold's new book, Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution (starts October 23, still continuing). Patrik Svensson from HUMlab also recommended this book to me; apparently there's lots in it that relates to blogging. I wonder if there's a difference in the idea of swarming and the idea of clustering?
There's also a Smart Mobs blog, where Howard Rheingold and others discuss it all.
Kuro5hin's amusing profiles of different kinds of bloggers (Teenie Blogger, Trailer Blogger, Techie Blogger etc) is definitely amended by Frank's profile of the Research Blogger. (via Lisbeth and Frank)
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