Hello. I'm Jill Walker, a researcher at humanistic informatics at the University of Bergen. This blog is bits of my thoughts about my research on electronic texts:
hypertext, net art,
games, stories.

Right now the blog is hovering between two languages, so some bits are in English and some are in Norwegian. I reckon you'll manage just fine.


ISSN: 1502-8003



collegues with blogs:

adrian miles
torill mortensen
lisbeth klastrup
mark bernstein
carsten jopp
hilde corneliussen
elin sjursen
laura trippi
gonzalo frasca
katherine parrish
aki jarvinen
lars konzack
frank schaap


norske blogger

and also:

vog: video blog
hypertext kitchen
synthetic zero
ceres development peekhole
ockham's razor
ruthie's double

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monday, november 19

Japan's foreign minister is having a hard time, I heard on the radio. She's being bullied by the lads. According to a Japanese woman they interviewed, other female politicians in Japan behave like "good girls", and the men don't like the foreign minister behaving like a leader. Those comments from D at the staff meeting this morning make it obvious that male European academics are just as barbaric.

posted 10:07 link

friday, november 9

You may have come across banner ads for Adnan's blog reading blogs hosted by blogspot. They're among the few banner ads I actually feel like clicking. He changes his front page graphics a lot too, and they're invariably poignant. Adnan's an American Arab and illustrates his feelings and opinions about the war so expressively.

posted 14:08 link

The current issue of Currents in Electronic Literacy Fall 2001 (No. 5) focuses on e-poetics, e-criticism and accessibility. Articles by hypertexty people like M. D. Coverly, Deena Larsen, Adrian Miles, John Slatin, etc.

posted 13:54 link

Wow, I'd like to live here too!

So, This Is Heaven: Norway Three-year maternity leaves, broad part-time opportunities and creative application of telecommuting help keep women in the work force. So do the generous benefits for both men and women of eight weeks' vacation, liberal sick leave and day care that is reliable and inexpensive.

Well, we don't quite have three years maternity leave or eight weeks holiday (10 months parental leave + 26 months extra unpaid leave and five weeks holiday isn't bad though). Much more important is the fact that legislation ensures that fathers take their share of that leave - if not, it disappears. I hate listening to non-Scandinavians, like these, discussing "mothers in the workforce" as though fathers don't exist. Norwegian fathers, and our society's expectations of them, are in my view the best thing about this country. I would not enjoy living in a place where it is assumed that kids are going to affect a mother's career more than a father's. Btw, how come I find this article in the LA Times and not in local press? I guess I'm not mediasaturated enough. Ha. Oh, and look!

State assistance to single mothers is so generous that there is no need for a father's income. Half the children here are now born out of wedlock.

Isn't that shocking? A Malaysian man I sat next to flying home once had heard of Norway. "Norway not good. Your prince marry single mother! Not good!"

On the up side, "sales of home spas have risen 20% in each of the past few years." That's so comforting :) Oh, and hey, where are my coffee and pastries? "At the office, there is a continuous supply of coffee and pastries, and workaholics are objects of pity among their peers."

posted 13:46 link

I wrote the last entry in Ceres, offline and relaxed. I write differently in Ceres than in Blogger, I think.

  • I often write longer posts in Ceres, perhaps because I'm not constrained by the small box Blogger provides. I can scroll and write long long posts in Blogger, but usually I don't - the size of the writing space seems to make me think in smaller chunks. In Ceres I can stretch the window to fill more of my screen, and I don't worry about the server crashing or time spent online or anything like that.
  • In Blogger I think and write towards a reader, whereas Ceres feels like a more private space. In Ceres, I'm quite likely to start a post I intend for my blog and then decide to keep it private, because it's too personal or because I'm not sure about it or because it's about something in my research that needs to sit and draw for a while, like a pot of tea, before it's ready. In Blogger I would probably just not write the private post, or I'd delete it - I think that in Ceres, these not-quite-ready posts, and the too-private ones, actually get written and kept for later, whereas using Blogger they never exist.
  • In Ceres I link much less. I don't like that. I love how Blogger encourages me to link to other sites. Partly that's because I'm obviously online when I use Blogger, but I don't link much in Ceres when I'm online-all-the-time at work either. It's an esthetical thing mostly, I think. Blogger shows me the "clean" version of my post with links looking the way they will on the website, whereas links in Ceres notes are really ugly. I hate having to look at the code for links all the time. Mind you, Ceres does a great job of internal links (between my own posts, for instance) but most of my links in my blog are external.

posted 11:33 link

Wam coffee, yellow flowers on the kitchen table, cold snow outside and a fresh newspaper spread out in front of me. I'm reading it leisurely, delighting in the morning calm and the empty house. A review of Agnès Varda's documentary:

Ikke et øyeblikk finnes det tvil om at Varda har brukt kamera som om det var en penn. Aldri kommer den en snikende fornemmelsen av at kamera har fungert som et slags forlenget øye for en ureflektert regissør. [There's not a moments doubt that Varda has used the camera as a pen. I never have that sneaking feeling that the camera is a kind of extended eye for an unreflected/unreflexive/uncritical director.]

The camera should be a pen, not an eye? A pen, to this reviewer, connotes a thoughtful, critical, self-reflexive approach to reality. Eyes, and perhaps visuality in general, is a naïve way of looking at the world. This is an ancient bias - remember the iconoclasts who hated images and banned them from churches, thinking they would distract us from true religion. It reminds me of the woman who came up to me after a talk I gave on electronic literature to tell me she didn't like literature on a screen because it robbed her of her imagination, just like film and television.

But why these metaphors? Pen, writing, thought vs. camera, eye, uncritical. Is the idea of writing as aware and deliberate the flip side of the idea that cameras and images speak the truth? Yet Varda's strength in this paragraph is that she collapses the opposition between writing and image: Varda's uses her camera like a pen. Perhaps it's the deliberateness of writing that is the main point here. Mind you, pens draw as well as write, don't they. So is it distance that's the point, then? Distance between hand and brain, the tool of the pen, and the distance in time between seeing and capturing?

Near the review of Varda's documentary there's an article about a Munch exhibition opening today: Munch and Woman. If you've seen many Munch paintings, you'll know that Munch had a weird relationship to women, at least in his paintings. The article quotes him thus

Jeg har altid sat min kunst foran alt, og jeg følte ofte kvinden som en hindring for mit arbeide. [I have always put my art before everything else, and I often felt woman as a hindrance to my work]

Interesting that Munch writes "woman" and not "women" or a specific woman. What is woman? Someone who shaves her legs and has a shower every morning, as Hilde discusses? Someone or something who hinders work?

On a morning like this, I agree with Munch. Woman hinders my work too. If, that is, woman is understood as that which constantly insists I worry about whether I'm a good enough mother, whether my floors are clean enough, whether the neighbours will be upset that I didn't mow my lawn to the correct winter length before snowfall, whether my hair looks daggy, whether I'm loved, whether people will still like me if I don't put on makeup one morning, whether I'll be taken more seriously if I wear a skirt or trousers or a suit and what kind of trousers. The list is endless and I'm sure you can add to it.

You know, women often complain about "men" (though rarely about "man"), but I've still not heard a woman complain that "I felt man as a hindrance to my work." Of course they are, but we never say it that way. We're more likely to complain, as I did, that being a woman (whatever that means) makes total devotion to work hard. The problem is really, of course, that if you insist on seeing the world like this, being human (loving, caring, parenting, having friends) is a hindrance to work. The best solution to this state of mind is often to sit down in an empty house, ignoring the mess and seeing only the fresh flowers and the milky coffee and the spread-out newspaper. Then go and blog it all out of your system. Works a treat.

posted 11:16 link

thursday, november 8

Dagbladet, one of Norway's biggest tabloids and probably the best net newspaper in the country, has started using lots of links in articles. Look at this article - Terrormistenkte risikerer tortur i USA - there are links here to older news stories giving background information, but there are also external links, to Amnesty's web site, and to articles in the New York Times and the Washington Post. This isn't quite amazoning the news yet but it's certainly bringing net newspapers closer to the way real people use the web. (Yes, by real people I mean bloggers) I know this isn't new on a world wide basis but I recently was lectured about how newspapers can't have external links because under Norwegian law the editor would then be responsible for all content at the external site and every site it linked to ad infinitum. Amazing idea, isn't it? I guess the lawyers changed their mind.

posted 14:08 link

tuesday, november 6

Metafilter discusses a site seemingly created by a furious jilted mistress with access to surveillance cameras and soem quicktime skills: icanstilltellyourwifebill.com. Gotta love the internet, one of the discussers had found that the people who registered the domain also had a casting call out for an "internet short film series" that fits this description. They obviously spent more money on paying the actress for "tasteful partial nudity" than on a server with decent bandwidth - it's slow. Kind of cool idea though, and certainly a wonderful premise for structuring a narrative! [Update: today (thursday) the site's almost dismantled: most links are gone. However, if you clicked all the way through the links and images the other day, apparently you got to a page stating that "The data you have just viewed was discovered when YarnBird purchased several computer servers from a bankrupt hosting company." You can buy it on DVD and the logo says YarnBird: interactive storytelling. Weirdly, the word yarnbird doesn't exist on the internet at all, according to google. Two casting calls that are cached but no longer on the web. There's a story in itself, there - this is like the levels of story and sleuthwork to find that story in the game made to advertise A.I.]

posted 15:46 link

Did I answer the quiz honestly or just cunningly? "You are a dedicated weblogger. You post frequently because you enjoy weblogging a lot, yet you still manage to have a social life. You're the best kind of weblogger. Way to go!"

posted 10:28 link

monday, november 5

While I kept dashing up to the "internet café" to blog my experiences at Nordic Interactive last week, Adrian was taking notes in Ceres. Home again with a network connection he's published them - I love this sharing of thoughts, and I love that tools such as Blogger and Ceres let me share my thoughts with others and read other people's experiences of events I couldn't be at, or saw from a different perspective. Tomorrow Lisbeth's going to a conference in Finland, and she told me she's hoping to blog from it. Cool! Adrian has also just publishednotes on the cyber.* seminar a week and a half ago.

posted 14:04 link

My computer's back! And working perfectly, and now I've put my my own preferences into the newly installed system, it's just the way I want it to be. Now I'm going to back up all my most precious things. And hunt down the person I think should be paying the bill...

posted 12:02 link

sunday, november 4

Home again. Yesterday was the "research seminar", which turned out not to be a research seminar at all but a handful of PhD students working on digital media along with a pile of journalists, video producers, undergraduate music students and other passers-by who thought this interactivity thing sounded really cool and would like to learn about it. I'd expected to hear about other researchers' projects and have some good discussions, but instead we were given undergraduate lectures on basic communication and literary theory, the origins of drama in ritual and on definitions of narration. There are times when it's great mixing people who've been in the field for a while with newcomers, but that was not how this was advertised. After three solid days of listening to people give lectures it was more than I could take and I left. Yesterday was not a great day, all in all. Though I did have a few good conversations with people, and I did find some wonderful chairs to read in in a secluded rest area at Copenhagen Airport. It's good to be home again.

posted 09:55 link

friday, november 2

Mark Bernstein challenges people who think about games. "tell me everything we learn about, say, sexuality" from games - hm... Not much. Not yet. Or not in the games I've played. I certainly haven't played every game there is, far from it - I'm not one of those generalising I know everything about games researchers. Torill and other MUD and multi-user gamers may have learnt a lot more? Perhaps commercial games are aimed at teenage audiences and therefore don´t want that sort of "adult" theme? Violence, of course, is fine. The Sims teaches a bit about sexuality. Weird stuff, mind you. Life rules - you need to download a special heart-shaped vibrating bed to actually make love, for instance.

I'm not sure that learning things from games is a criteria for importance though. I do like engaging with media/entertainment/whatever that makes me think about things. Some games probably do that. But learn? I'm not sure. Anyway, it's lunch time. See you!

posted 12:06 link

Torill's wishing she were here and thinking about interactive vs. participatory - I wish there wasn't a queue for the net "café" so I could read it properly. Torill, we wish you were here too!

posted 11:56 link

"No, no, you have to move more agressively. It thinks you're submitting to it. You have to move fast, and take as much space as possible. Try cracking the whip, that might do it." Bino & Cool's Masterclass, an exhibit at the art gallery here (which does have a good web site if you know where to click), turns our attempts to control our computers into role-playing rituals of dominance and submission. Cool crept up towards the screen, head bowed, and the screen image cracked a whip at him, ordering him to obey her. "He likes taking the submissive role", Bino explained. Cool himself was silent. Bino was glorious in her leather corset, high heels, long latticed finger gloves and the theatrical whip with its loud cracks. She strode confidently up to the machine and made the dom on the screen change into a crouching submissive slave, begging for her approval. It was hard work though. Even Bino had to struggle to keep dominating the machine she'd created. "That camera tracks the speed of your movements, and your height and where in the room you are", she explained. Of course I tried, wanting to be dominant as all the audience seemed to want, or at least to think they wanted - except Cool. The screen flickered between submitting and dominating personas - "It can't make up its mind whether you're a sub or a dom", Bino remarked.

Submitting to the machine, trying to dominate it. Both give us please, I think. Most computer entertainment is much more about the pleasure (and sometimes frustration) of submission. Taking one of those roles in a power game with our machines is a form of role-playing, mimicry that in itself can be pleasurable. Watching people play with Bino and Cool's role-playing machine I noticed that though almost everyone wanted to try and dominate the machine, hardly anyone could sustain that domination for more than instants in between being dominated. Perhaps that's descriptive of our relationship with computers in general?

Last night we went to a debate on "Computers and Narrative" at a pub. It was packed, standing room only. The speakers were an installation artist who uses some digital stuff in her work and a computer game designer. Neither of them really spoke about narrative - they just presented their stuff. Noone really spoke much about narrative at all, not in the hour of questions after the presentations either. At the end I asked them whether they saw themselves as storytellers or as something else - neither quite answered the question, but they certainly seemed to feel that storytelling was sort of part of it but not at all the most important part of their work. I wonder why narrative is being used as such a - ah, pervasive label? Why are a visual and installation artist and a game designer asked to talk about narrative? Why is a panel with dramaturgs and toy designers suddenly about stories? I do think narrative is important in our world - I love stories, and I think there are stories in a lot of digital entertainment, including some games. But pretending stories are the most important thing in "interactivity" occludes the field, I think. I guess stories are seen as stable, trustworthy and something that will make us feel safe with new technology. But you know, in pedagogy, playing and problem-solving are the current trends (I'm not primarily a pedagogue, so I base that assertion on conversations with friends who are teachers and pay attention to this stuff) - narrative doesn't seem to be the main thing there. So why is it here?

John Thackera's keynote this morning was good - he's an excellent speaker. He's a designer and the director of the fascinating Dutch conference series called Doors of Perception - he had good thoughts about values and questions to ask about technology design. Since then I've been wandering round the expo and the art gallery - the last parallell sessions didn't tickle my fancy, but I've played a relaxation game trying to send a ball across a table top to my opponent by relaxing as a band around my forehead scans my brainwaves. I only won when we reversed the game and tried to be the most stressed instead ;) More about the artwork tomorrow perhaps. I'm going to be a tourist in Copenhagen this afternoon. Tomorrow is Maureen Thomas's research seminar on Interactivity and Narrativity - I'm not sure what we're supposed to be doing, but it's a full day affair.

posted 11:48 link

thursday, november 1

Reinventing the story. Narratives for the 21st century. That was the title of the panel I moderated today. Strange being the moderator. I kept wanting to butt in but I decided that wasn't really my job - and there were more than enough audience questions and discussion on the panel as it was. It was a pretty good panel I think, in a packed auditorium - clearly a lot of people are interested in narrative and interactive media. Everyone on the panel was a maker, and they were all interested in stuff from older media - drama, mainly, though also cinema and oral story-telling - and seemed unaware of research on digital media. Ingolf Gabold, head of Danmark Radio's (the public broadcasting company in Denmark) TV division, said we need to put the whole Western drama into interactive media. (ugh!) Maureen Thomas, answering a question about the relevance of games, argued that new development in games won't happen in the games industry, because they have too much pressure on commercial success and not enough money (!) and that innovation will come from people "like us" doing research on interactive narrative. I was quite surprised at that - games are developing fast. And she said that a play, you know, in a theatre, is a game between the audience and the actors. That's making the word "game" do a bit too much work, in my opinion. All the panellists did have interesting experiences with practical work and certainly older forms of story-telling can be really useful to thinking about the kinds of stories that are told in digital media. Åsa Harvard had interesting thoughts about the ways kids use toys for story-telling, and Christian Fonnesbech considered using Stanislavski's theories of acting and motivating actors to act realistically to develop ways of motivating the audience to be actors themselves. He has interesting projects on the way, too. Stories are clearly one of the things many people enjoy in/on computers.

Mika Tuomola talked about something I've wondered about for a while - why do we use a rectangular screen on computers? And why is digitalised video on the net always presented in that same rectangular format? Mika pinpointed the start of the rectangle to the coming of the proscenium stage in the 17-1800s (I think), pointing out that that was when we started differentiating strictly between the fictional world of the play and the real world of the observers. Rectangles aren't necessary even in cinema, says Mika, after all the camera lense is round, and the first TVs were rounded too - it's easier to make a screen with round edges than a perfect square. Or it was when screens had electrons shooting around in them. Mika argued that the proscenium stage and the rectangular frame of cinema, theatre and almost everything we use on a computer is about separating the story and the audience, making stories non-interactive, in constrast to oral story-telling or commedia dell'arte theatre which had a much more inclusive relationship between the audience and the story-tellers or actors. I want to think about this some more - it might fit art too. Early art was mural or sculptural, wasn't it, not framed. Then there were medieval triptychs (not rectangular, often arched, but framed), and so perhaps framed paintings weren't common till the renaissance? About the same time as the proscenium stage. Perhaps the current fad for pervasive computing and interfaces other than mouse, keyboards and screens is a movement away from the rectangle and the screen between fiction and reality? Mmm.

posted 14:52 link

NIC 2001, day 2. Yesterday's second keynote was by Maureen Thomas, billed as a leading expert on interactive narrative. She gave a very entertaining talk, talking to nearly 50 minutes of video clips - she argued that cinematic editing and camerawork has moved from a 2D representation of the world with the audience as distanced viewers through using the screen as a window to a 3D world to pulling spectators into the 3D world using subjective camera angles, surround sound etc. Of course all this leads up to showing how 3D environments in computer games also use this kind of perspective but would do much better using more advanced cinematic techniques and better image quality. I don't agree with all her arguments - for instance, I think Ang Lee's camera angles and cutting in Crouching Tiger are probably much more inspired by Hong Kong cinema than by computer games. And if I understood her correctly, she thinks that cut scene narrative segments that interrupt gameplay are not only invented by recent games like Final Fantasy but are also a wonderful development. She didn't really speak much about what interactive narrative might be, but it seems she's more interested really in creating environments you'd enjoy experiencing rather than "interacting" in. Mind you, I may have misunderstood this. I spoke with her a bit at the reception last night (as always, the Danes put on a wonderful "light" buffet that was ample, filling and delicious and with good beer too. No wine of course.) and she's friendly and has definite opinions - a good combination, I think.

Maureen likes "interactivity". Refusing to use the word is like denying evolution and Darwin, she reckons. She differentiates between "participator" and Janet Murray's "interactor", she said, and explained to me that participator is a well-established term from visual and installation art - I didn't know that. Participatory art is art which needs the audience to push a button or turn up or something for the art to "happen" but the art isn't otherwise affected by the individuals who see/experience it. Participate in it, I suppose. Interactive art, on the other hand, is somehow changed by the interactor - and Maureen agrees that it's extremely rare. Her example of interactive art was a German piece (sorry, I don't remember the artist), a projection of a detail of a classic painting into a picture frame. It looks like a classic painting, but tracks your eye movements when you look at it, and dissolves as you look at it. So when you move your eyes across it, you create (?) a trail of dissolution. I'm not quite sure why that's interactive and not partipatory. Might have to ask her again.

This morning Norbert Streitz is speaking about disappearing computers and buildings "as interfaces to cooperation and information". He's provided me with more words for my collection of what my field(s) might be: ambient agora, ubiquitous interfaces, pervasive information spaces.

It was much easier getting to know a few people at the reception last night than at lunch. Maybe people are friendlier when they know there's an easy out - "I just need to get some more beer, see you!" The first guy I spoke with just walked up with a slightly manic look on his face and said "Hi, are you in virtual reality?" He's a web designer but wants to be in virtual reality so he can build a golf simulator that'll make him as good as Tiger Woods. I wonder if he found the virtual reality mentor he was searching for.

posted 10:18 link


Do you think you're part of this? Digital texts and the second person address
(or pdf) Cybertext Yearbook, Jyv?yla University. You can order the whole anthology from roisko@dodo.jyu.fi.

A Child's Game Confused
a hypertextual riff against (or with?) some netpoems. JoDI 1.7, 2000. Speilet lokalt.

Men er det litteratur?
en introduksjon til skjermtekster. Bob nr. 7-8, 2000.

Men hvorfor virker ikke musen?
en anmeldelse av nettkunsten på høstutstillingen. Kunstnett Norge,okt 2000.

Jeg taster, derfor er jeg
en kronikk om websåpeoperaer. Studvest, 18/1999.

Piecing together and tearing apart: reading afternoon, a story.
about Michael Joyce's classic hypertext fiction. Won Ted Nelsons Newcomer Award, Hypertext '99.

Tripp trapp tresko i cyberspace
en hypertekstuell anmeldelse av Juliet Ann Martins elektroniske diktsyklus xxxoooxxx. vinduet.no,1998.

Hypertextual Criticism. Comparative Readings of Three Web Hypertexts about Literature and Film
my MA thesis on non-fiction web hypertexts. Dept of Comparative Literature, University of Bergen, 1998.

Jernaldervev: lesefragmenter
en hypertekst om min lesning av Steinar Lødings papirroman Jernalderdrøm. 1998. (Dette er ikke en hypertekstuell versjon av romanen men en anmeldelse av den.)