To let weblogs.com know you've updated your blog, create a bookmark to this URL:
http://newhome.weblogs.com/pingSiteForm?name=your blog's name&url=your URL
To see what it's like, try and ping it saying jill/txt's updated. To make it really easy to remember to do it, put the bookmark in the toolbar of your browser. Weblogs.com lists the most recently updated blogs, but only checks for updates if it's been pinged. Some blogging systems ping weblogs.com automatically. Blogger UnPro doesn't. Systems like Blogrolling.com use data from weblogs.com to generate nice lists like the one I have in the lower left column of my favourite blogs, ordered according to recent updates.
narrative and theoretical backgrounds
I'm reading articles and stuff for the seminar I'm going to tomorrow: Ludology vs. Narratology? A critical investigation of the essential aesthetic properties of digital media. The reading list for the seminar is an excellent collection of essays and books that deal with the question of narrative (or not narrative) in games and digital fictions. This has been a contentious issue in recent years, as a group of games theorists known as the ludologists argue that games should be understood and theorised on their own terms and not using theories of narrative. Several are online, some in sneaky places like Henry Jenkin's article Game Design as Narrative Architecture that will be published in First Person next year, and is already available on his website.
Reading the various articles (by Aarseth, Juul, Ryan, Eskelinen, Frasca, Jenkins) it seems to me the question is as much "how shall we define narrative" as "are games (etc) narrative". Ryan and Jenkins present broader, or perhaps just differenet, definitions of narrative than the ludologists. Jenkins speaks from the Anglo-American tradition of cultural studies. He writes about transmedial narrative structures, so as he sees it, Star Wars lego, games playing cards, posters, theme parks, websites, fan fiction, fan art, stickers, dinner plates, monopoly, t-shirts, dolls, etc, all form part of a narrative universe with the films. Ryan has worked on literary narrative theory for more than two decades, and is an important figure in the literary use of possible worlds theory. No one in my literature department appears to have heard of this theoretical direction, though having started to read about it I think it's very relevant to digital media. Ryan's current work often doesn't explicitly mention possible worlds theory, but for her, narrativity has more to do with the construction of a narrative/fictional/possible world than with formal structures. Frasca is deeply concerned with ethics, politics, and wants games taken seriously as a medium that has the potential to influence and change society. He was one of the coiners of the term ludology, and has some excellent thoughts and articles over at ludology.org. Aarseth, Juul and Eskelinen are mainly interested in the formal and structural qualities of games. Their understanding of narrative is based on continental European narratology, which is formal and structural: a narrative is the telling of events ordered in time with causal connections (there are several defintions, most includes these elements). Such a clearly and narrowly defined notion of narrative doesn't work with games and digital texts, though there have been many attempts (and mostly by Scandinavians) to adjust it *.
I think it's not coincidental that it's the Nordic theorists who are most interested in the structure of games and digital texts. I assume my own experiences studying comparative literature are not atypicical for Scandinavia and Northern Europe: stringent French and German theory was privileged and a lot of time was given to what is basically structuralism (though we were, of course, told that it had been surpassed by poststructuralism, which we were also taught), and Anglo-American schools like New Historicism and Cultural Studies were vague rumours. Feminist, psychoanalytic and marxist literary criticism was also on the curriculum, to be fair, and of course we learnt about the older schools of criticism too. (I studied comparative literature at various times, about four years in total between 1991 and 1998, and I loved it: I tried four other university subjects and comp. lit. was by far the best. They actually assumed we could think. It was wonderful.)
* Anna Gunder has written "Berättelsens spel: berättarteknik och ergodicitet i Michael Joyce's afternoon, a story" in the Swedish journal Human IT, no 3, 1999. Gunnar Liestøl tries to adapt Genette to hypertext fiction (in Landow: Hyper/Text/Theory) and I've tried to and still sometimes try to see how Genette and other narratology can work with hypertext.
notes on the bias on the web article
Got my hands on Mowshowitz and Kawaguchi's article on Bias on the Web, that I mentioned earlier this week. It tests search engines against each other, searching for the same terms across several search engines and checking the top hits from each engine against each other. The table they show for which brands of refrigerator turn up when you search for "home refrigerators" on various engines really drives home how partial the information any search engine throws back at you is. None of the search engines tested presented the most common American brands of refrigerator in the top 50 hits. (And writing that I see another problem with the assumption that a search engine should pick up American brands. Most of the listed brands of fridge are quite unknown to me over here in Europe. If you want to buy a new fridge perhaps checking out a review site like epinions.com, or a catalog like the ODP would be a better bet?) They go on to try searching for a topic, and a controversial topic: euthanasia. Some tricky mathematics produces vectors and cosines and quotients for each search engine, basically proving that none of the search engines provides a full or "objective" sample of information. The solution? Lots of different search engines.
Mowshowitz and Kawaguchi's final point is important, and I don't think it has been fully recognised yet:
Elimination of competition in the search engine business is just as problematic for a democratic society as consolidation in the news media. (60)
My list of other blogs I read is now administered by blogrolling.com, who kindly checks to see which blogs are most recently updated and orders them thereafter. Haven't entered all the blogs I frequent yet, and none of the ones I have entered have updated in the last hour, so I can't see whether it works yet. Most frustrating. Update: Well, what a waste. Blogrolling's nifty sort-your-sidebar-blogs-by-update-time only works with blogs that ping weblogs.com when updated. Which most of my friends' blogs don't do since they're published in Blogger UnPro or Tinderbox. I'm both impressed by the clever things picking up other clever pings and pongs and annoyed that I can't join in. Well, not without some work. Ha.
a new grandfather
Until today I hadn't seen him since I was seven, visiting in Paris. We went to a café. He had two dogs and they were allowed to lie under the table while we ate cake and icecream. Yesterday he moved from Kansas to Norway. He looks like the black and white photos, only older, and he's a real, live grandfather, who tells stories about the war and about when he got his PhD (what a strange thought) and who hugged me firmly when we met. My other grandparents, the ones I knew growing up, all died years ago. Sometimes I remember the softness of my mother's mother's hand stroking the smooth linen tablecloth. Sometimes I find notes pencilled in books I've inherited from my father's mother that make me realise I would have liked to know her better. Now I have a second chance. To get to know a grandparent as a friend. As an adult.
(ssshh. i'm writing. yes, the thesis. yes, i'm quite enjoying it. no, it's not the bit i'd planned to be writing. it'll be ok.)
what we take for granted...
Seven things regular, non-technical users of the web just do not get. Like what on earth to do when a website spawns a new browser window and the "back" button doesn't work any more. (via fragment.nl)
Seb: "I see blogrolling lists as explicitly defining webs of trust".
Seen Google News? Look, it's done completely by computers with no human intervention, and that makes it completely free of ideology and bias! Isn't that wonderful!
Google News is highly unusual in that it offers a news service compiled solely by computer algorithms without human intervention. Google employs no editors, managing editors, or executive editors. While the sources of the news vary in perspective and editorial approach, their selection for inclusion is done without regard to political viewpoint or ideology. [about google news]
What luck that we've found a way to be totally objective.
cards for stuck academics
Anders suggests two cards for the pack we obviously have to make for PhD students and other stuck academics, you know, like Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt's "Oblique Strategies" pack of cards for artists. Here are some printers might do it. We'll need oh, 50 or 100 ideas? Did you know you can get Oblique Strategies for Palms or Newtons or simulated in Flash or even Hypercard? (download) And the new 2002 edition only costs £30? Dmoz impresses me again by its lovely little collection of links. So a cheaper solution would be to create an online version. Would be more suited to our digital and new media proclivities, too.
Who's up for the database work? A collaborative version, like Acute Strategies, might work.
Or should we do this after finishing those PhD theses...?
blogging on your front door
The girls who live across the hall from me are conducting this amazing performative dialogue on their front door. It started when L.V. moved in a few weeks ago. She drew an exquisite name sign to go beneath the "welcome in" sign. A few days later, a poster appeared on the door with photos of the two glued on it - in bikinis. Last week the notes started turning up, sweet at first: "remember the kitty litter!", then progressively grumpier, through "it's YOUR turn!" to yesterday's "I can't stand it any more, you HAVE TO tidy up, the place looks like a PIG STY!", taped on the actual door handle where it couldn't be ignored. Chatting with the girls, who are lovely and about 18 or 19, it seems that one is at school all day and the other swims all evening, so they rarely see each other. That explains the notes. But why outside their front door?
This morning there was an essay out there. A full page of profuse apologies for messiness, with sincere promises to become a better flatmate. And in conclusion: "I call upon the residents of [our address] to witness these promises."
If these two have web diaries they're not under their real names. But their door-writing must come out of the same drive to treat personal observations, reflections and experiences as a performance which involves others than the people directly participating. There's an assumption of, and invitation to, lurkers - the notes are there despite (or because of?) the girls' knowledge that their neighbours - and their neighbours' guests - read them. (It's the sort of thing I imagine being common in those colourful student dorms you see on TV, though it certainly never happened in the student housing I lived in).
Frank sent me a hilarious transcript of emails sent between one of those Nigerian scammers and a spamee who decided to play along. Playing along with a scam like this is almost as good as playing something like Online Caroline. Look, they even send out photos of the money! And there's a link to a "real newspaper site" which supposedly validates the truth of the email, just as Online Caroline links to "real" sites. I think the Nigerian site is real, but it's the same mechanism. Following links and searches, I find that Tim Blair has received a meta-Nigerian scam spam (which acknowledges the scam yet still scams), and several other presentations of fun people have had with Nigerian scammers. Buddy Weiserman.com is the best I've found, complete with photos, messages and even sound files of the voice messages the poor con man left when "Buddy" failed to turn up. The Kizombe Correspondence is sans photos but features witty letters by humorist Elizabeth Hanes. And at The Spam Letters you'll find 180 replies to many different kinds of spam.
UPDATE 25/9: Look, a newspaper story about a secretary and a bank who got scammed by this ploy.
Brandon describes essays written like computer programs.
australian in norway
A solid portion of Adrian's blog posts these days are notes on cultural differences discovered by an Australian in Norway. Some of them are quite surprising to me. I take so much for granted. I hope he collects them on a page of their own.
bias on the web
Jamie sent me a reference to an article on search engines and bias and commercialisation that looks very interesting - it's in the ACM digital library but I can't get the full text, must check at my library. It's by Abbe Mowshowitz and Akira Kawaguchi. A popular version of the research is given at searchenginewatch. (The link to the "free pdf" doesn't work for me, even after registering)
My kronikk was in the Sunday paper, titled Makten forrykkes på nettet. It's not actually a kronikk, but a kåseri or a fortelling, which was nearly its downfall, but it was published in a last-minute redecision. My daughter's headmaster told me this morning that he'd seen it, but also pointed out he didn't bother reading past the headline. A parent had seen it too, but found it "complicated". Well, at least I got my photo in the paper, huh? And what could be more important than that. (How do you do a sarcastic smiley, anyway?)
The ninth-graders yesterday were great, much more fun than an adult audience. Yes, it was obvious when they were bored (that stuff about the self-organising web is really boring), but it was just as obvious when they were interested, and they were interested quite a lot of the time. One of the lads up the front was a blogger himself, which is cool (no, I don't know his URL). And about a quarter of these kids already knew what a blog was. None of the 20-something-year-old design students I talked to half a year ago knew. I liked that they knew.
Dozens of people have been sending those clueless "unsubscribe" messages to a mailing list I'm on. After a few "FOR THE LOVE OF GOD: READ THE INSTRUCTIONS!" posts, a fascinating discussion has started about the metanarrative of unsubscribing. This is, after all, the narrative society's list.
Obviously, the unsubscribers are trying to make a public statement - in effect, they're signing a petition against the list, or against some (or perhaps just one) of its subscribers. If they simply unsubscribed privately, we wouldn't hear their protests. Plus, their unsubscribing might actually take effect, in which case they would no longer be around to see the ripple effects of their petition.
One of the earliest of these unsubscribes did contain the text
I want out of this place
Unfortunately the listserv appears to have no web archives and the interesting discussion has now drifted into other waters. An intriguing idea, though. Narrative questions: what is the narrative here? repetition, conspiracy, intention, context? were also probed.
statistics on using the net for learning
Seb comments a recent report on how college students use the net to gather information and to study. "While formal distance learning has not replaced the classroom, informal learning often takes place online."
Today I get to explain blogs to ninth-graders in 15 minutes, and tomorrow I get a go at grownups. Wonder what it'll be like?
There's a "researcher's portrait" of me at the research days website.
Men link to men, many women mostly link to men. I've noticed this - in some clusters. My sidebar of similar-minded blogs counts ten men and ten women, to my relief, and a few non-determinates and communities. One could slant this issues in several ways.
How strange, I think I miss the tagboard! Do you?
it's fear, not stress
Could be we're not stressed, we're scared, only we think being "stressed" or "anxious" about something sounds more mature than being terrified. Anders sent me an article which makes this point rather convincingly, oddly enough in Men's Health, which Anders assures me is less daggy in print than on the web (thanks for the link, Anders). Hege Eriksen, a Bergen researcher on "burn-out" (utbrenthet) similarly says that burn-out does not exist. (Actually she says it's an unhelpful term, which may be right, but I'm not too impressed with her preferred term: "subjective health problems". Subjective in that context, as we all know, means hypochrondric and doesn't convey much respect for the reality of the pain.) Stress was invented, or diagnosed, in 1936. From 1880 till round about then we had neurasthenia, which was basically the same as burn-out only even more elitist. And even in the 18th century people were complaining about the furious pace of modern life being impossible for humans to endure. (Probably Plato said so too, you know.)
Yesterday was horrid. I cried in the toilets, in Frank's office, in Margareth's office and I nearly cried in Carsten, Adrian and Dag's offices too. Espen and Hilde weren't there or I probably would have cried or nearly cried in their offices too. By lunch time I was able to laugh with Thomas. Thank you everyone. And yes, a good cry did help.
I'm so proud of myself, though: I wanted to run away and hide, get a doctor to say I was sick and wimp out of all my obligations. Instead I faced my demons and told people how pressured and scared and stuck I felt and amazingly, a few hours later, I felt so much safer. (I did wimp out of one obligation but honestly, at any rate.)
You know the scariest symptom though? I hated blogs. I felt as though blogs were incredibly boring and just pointless and who on earth would want to think about how they might be useful or interesting or novel or how they connect and what that might mean.
I feel better today. Don't poke me too hard though or I might fall apart again. I guess that's OK. As Adrian said, "we can always glue you back together again".
Oh, why I felt awful? I'm utterly terrified of finishing my PhD. I'm supposed to have the same opinion for 200 pages! And I'm supposed to defend that opinion staunchly! See, I love blogs (I must be better) because the process and the movement of thoughts shows and is (for me) even encouraged by the format.
I'm trying to remember that
a) I will have 30 years as an academic or professional whatever I want to be after this. My PhD thesis is a drop in the ocean in this time frame and will not determine my entire life.
b) Søren Kjørup said that "Your thesis only has to be 150 pages long and it doesn't even have to be very good." And even though the lit. professors scowled at that, he's probably right.
c) There are more important things in life.
d) I will survive. I even have a manual on How To Survive A PhD.
I'm a weird mix of confidence (of course I can do it) and utter terror.
I scrambled the order of all my September blog posts in a "clever" move in Tinderbox. Now they're all labelled as having been punished on the 17th and having been lax on backups and already uploaded the scrambled versions to the server I can't figure out when I really wrote them.
Timestamps aren't always trustworthy...
[Oops! I wrote punished rather than published, as Jenny notes in comments and Adrian points out in his blog.. No, I'm not going to start interpreting that slip!]
why researchers blog
Seb has a couple of recent posts on why researchers blog - because it's a form of networking and thereby building recognition and authority (only without the travel) and because researchers are information-users and analysts and have a culture of sharing. He even suggests (or I read into his words) that interdisciplinary researchers might blog more than monodisciplinarists. That would hold for most of the research blogs I've seen.
gender equality among IT students
Scrambling to write an abstract to submit for the 2003 Digital Arts and Culture conference. Deadline's today (on a Sunday!) and of course I only started writing the abstract this morning. I've got the words I need (500) but just want to make it sound more convincing. I really want to get to that conference :)
ludology vs narratology
Lisbeth and the others at the ITU (in Copenhagen) are running a course on Ludology vs. Narratology? A critical investigation of the essential aesthetic properties of digital media in the beginning of October, and Marie-Laure Ryan's teaching it. I had decided not to travel or do anything but write this semester but, oh, I might have to do this. I'm currently struggling to use theories that Ryan is probably the person in the world to know most about - possible worlds things in combination with digital media. And Copenhagen's not a bad place.
stress, strain, demands and reluctance
I'm writing a kronikk, a kind of opinion piece, for the local paper. It's part of the university's publicity work around the Forskningsdagene and it seems my blog research is media-friendly material. I'm so reluctant to write this kronikk, though I find the subject material interesting and usually quite enjoy writing short, light pieces that might let my favourite memes replicate among the general public.
In an Alexander Technique lesson last week (it's brilliant) my teacher asked me what it felt like to not tense my arms. I had no idea of the answer (my answer) till he asked; when he asked, I knew: "There are no demands, ingen krav, no expectations". I feel demands made on me constantly, everywhere. Probably I'm the main demander.
The problem isn't the stress inflicted on a bridge by cars bearing down upon it every day, my book on Alexander Technique says. The problem, if there is a problem, lies the way in which the bridge strains. Stress is a stimulus, strain is a response. Strain is not a necessary response. The idea goes against all my assumptions and prejudices. Surely, if you feel there are too many external demands on you, you should reduce the demands? Maybe not. Perhaps instead of straining at demands I can relax into them, as you hear karate teachers in films say about pain.
I'm a beginner at Alexander Technique. I'm becoming aware of how I strain and how uncomfortable I am with most of the ways I sit and move and work. I've not figured out how to let go of my straining yet.
fictitious or simulated?
Ah. I've been thinking about how simulation (as Gonzalo uses it, for instance, to talk about games, and possibly as an opposite or alternative to narration) fits in with fiction and fictional worlds. Torill asks today:
Is a game such as Anarchy Online a fictitious environment: one depended on fiction and the acceptance of this fiction, or is it a simulated: one dependent on "as if", acting on known rules but in a controlled environment?
Torill seems to define simulation as a representation which is generated from rules that are actual, that is, rules that are true in the world we live in and call real. She defines fiction is a representation of a world that is not actual. If I've misunderstood her I'm sure she'll correct me :)
I think I'd define simulation as something that can be used in fictions or in representations that we think of as being non-fictional, for instance of temperatures and soil quality on Mars based on hard (sort of) data. It's a technique, just like painting or narration or depiction. I'm currently fascinated by Kendall Walton's proposal that all representations are props that we use in games of make-believe. He reckons that when we appreciate representations (art, literature, etc) we're actually playing a game, sometimes social, sometimes just by ourselves, in which we imagine a make-believe world, and we imagine ourselves in relation to it. If I see a painting of a boat, I won't just imagine that there is a fictional world in which it is true that there is a boat; in my game of make-believe I'll imagine "I'm seeing a boat." In Walton's words, it is fictional in my game-world that I'm seeing a boat. (He uses "it is fictional" as some other writers use "it is true in this fictional world"). If I play a game in the woods pretending that tree stumps are bears, the stumps are props in my game of make-believe. Representations work the same way. Fiction, Walton proposes, is imagination + rules, and the rules are either agreed upon by the participants in the game, or by yourself if you're daydreaming, or set by conventions, by the nature of the prop you're using and so on.
But let's return to simulations. Anarchy Online is clearly fictional as Walton defines fictional. Anarchy Online the work (in the old-fashioned sense of the object made by artists, programmers, designers, developers: the code, the images, the rules, the maps etc) is even more obviously a prop in a game of make-believe than a picture or a novel or a film or a doll. You might say that's rather unilluminating since Anarchy Online is a game full stop. Let me get back to the simulation thing, though. You see, Walton says that pictures (or depictions, which is a wider category) are always props in games of make-believe, while writing need not be. With the exception of that bit in the last paragraph where I described myself seeing a painting of a boat, this blog entry is non-narrative and non-representational. You'd have trouble using it as a prop in a game of make-believe (though you could certainly use the whole blog as one, imagining the world that Jill lives in and so on, if you were so inclined) (That parenthesis was a representation, btw). Unlike this blog, pictures, says Walton, always make you imagine a world. Even non-figurative ones. Yup. Even "true" photos, documentaries on television, a photo of your daughter. I think simulations are the same. Even if the simulation of Mars is a representation of actual facts, seeing or experiencing it causes me to imagine; I use it as a prop in a game of make-believe.
I regularly want to find statistics about web usage and so on, and regularly struggle to find good sources. The ODP's list of internet statistics will help.
I've rented (well, taken) this text from Adrian, who took it from de Certeau:
this mutation makes the text habitable, like a rented apartment. it transforms another person's property into a space borrowed for a moment by a transient. renters make comparable changes in an apartment they furnish with their acts and memories; as do speakers, in the language into which they insert both their own "turns of phrase," etc., their own history . . .
Certeau, Michel de. The Practice of Everyday Life. Trans. Steven Rendall. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988. xx-xxi.
Adrian has a lengthier excerpt and more thoughts over in his space. I'm not so much living in the text I borrow, quote and link to as decorating with it, shaping my home or my self with borrowed feathers, ah, so perhaps I do live in it, live in merged phrases and structures and ideas from many places so sampled and grown together that I think they are my own.
Annette Markham's teaching a course this autumn about online identity, and brilliantly, the students remain anonymous to each other for the first few weeks. Un-identifiable email addresses and a rule against using the dept computer lab for synchronous chat sessions lets the students experience rather than just read and think about online identity and communication. They'll be blogging too (only it's called research journalling, which it is, of course) and oh, reading about it makes me want to be a brilliant teacher designing fascinating and unforgettable courses ;)
A military blog, written by members of the 172nd whatever-you-call-it, who are currently in Afganistan. Seems they blog mostly to let their families know how they're doing, but once found they've got heaps of readers. Logging this for future reference, 'nother example of unusual ways blogs are used.
[Oh, and the genre discussion? Strictly speaking 172med.org is a web diary or journal more than a weblog; there are no links or references to other web sites and few if any general commentaries. All the posts are stories about "what happened to me/us today". These distinctions matter some places, in the ODP for instance, where sites have to be categorised, there's a discussion going on (password needed, sign up to be an editor if you're that curious and you'll get one) calling for stricter lines between weblogs and web diaries. The Swedes refused to link to the blog category I edit because it wasn't a pure weblog category; there are web diaries in there too. There's also a movement from ghettoising weblogs in Computers/../On_the_Web/Weblogs to organising them according to theme: sites should be categorised by content rather than form. Genres are tricky and murky and it's way too easy to make their definitions an end in itself rather than a tool for understanding.]
norwegian email novel
It had a grusome review in Bergens Tidende today, but still, it's apparently Norway's first email novel: Beate Nossum and Lene Wikander's F.A.B., from Aschehoug. It's an old-fashioned, print, published book mostly consisting of "unedited" emails between the two women who are the protagonists. Though the publisher calls it a satire of urban femininity, the reviewer calls it embarrassing, boring and probable winner of the Worst Book of the Year award. The extract available online does suggest that the novel is going for the fun-superficial sort of line. Rather like Nan McCarthy's Chat.
working, trusting, doing
I'm working at home this week. Somehow I'm calmer at home, less panicked about Finishing and less prone to spending hours surfing to find out things that are no doubt useful and relevant to something but not really to my thesis. Bless my dial-up net connection, the slowness and the cost keep me focussed. Though I do love the undulating uncertainty of wandering without a goal.
Today I'm trying to start a new chapter where I cleverly relate fictional worlds theory and the idea that all representations are actually props in games of make-believe to the way we engage with digital literature and games. I'm worried that my certainty that it's a great perspective is just another example of me getting carried away with the latest ideas I've come across. I do that. It leads to heights of inspiration and some good work and creative ideas but it's a really hard style of thinking to reconcile with trying to, well, reconcile the last two and a half years into one thesis. I hate that I don't trust my own ideas. Not right now anyway.
A good moment: I found a review I wrote months ago for the American Book Review which I remember thinking was really bad. I was ashamed of it. I barely read it when the paper version arrived in the mail, but I recall being upset that it was even grammatically screwed and being cross that the editors hadn't read through it. Rereading it today I think it's pretty good: clearly focused, some nice turns of phrase, daring to have opinions and there are only minor linguistic flaws. I've no idea why I thought it was so bad. I put it online to cheer myself up a bit: a review of John Barber and Dene Grigar's anthology New Worlds, New Words.
Google's been banned in China (via Kairosnews), and is viewed with deep suspicion by a conspiracy theorist (via Fibreculture).
research blog list a wiki?
So should I make the research blogs list a Wiki, so people can adjust their own entries? (And when will I have time to do that?)