Saturday, August 31, 2002

3 Justices Call for Reviewing Death Sentences for Juveniles

sweet mother of god, it's getting worse...

wine geeks

i pride myself on knowing and enjoying a good bottle of wine, but i've never really enjoyed drinking with wine connoisseurs because they tend to take the fun out of it (and i really hate listening to those swishing sounds and sharp inhales). and so, despite finding this discovery rather interesting, i loathe to think of the ensuing lectures - er, conversations - that would arise over a glass...

on a related note, i am a beer drinker. as in, i really like good beer. but beer connoisseurs are no different from their wine counterparts: for example, they do not find jokes about old milwaukee beer to be funny. my off-handed comment that old mil is special because it tastes exactly the same - bad - whether it is warm or cold, was met with icy stares... and while the only reasonable response at that moment would have been to order one, i prefer cream ales ;)

but there is a lesson to be learned from all of this: i'm sure there are people who would testify to my ability to suck the fun out of a conversation when it enters my realms of "expertise"...

back update

thanks to everyone who has sent notes wishing me (and my back) well. i am indeed recuperating nicely - it'll take way more than this to bring me down! plus, my impending trip to sweden has given me plenty of incentive to work hard in physio ;)

anyone interested in media and culture will enjoy my friend john's site - and pointing you in his direction saves me from having to repeat all the things i found interesting over the past few days ;)

plus, his site is snazzier than mine and you can post comments.

Friday, August 30, 2002

super hero soldiers

it's so depressing when other people are on top of things related to your phd research before you are ;) but then again, it's just exciting to see new directions emerge...

mit's institute for soldier nanotechnologies - those wacky academic and military researchers of intelligent fibres - has been accused of filtching their image of the soldier of the future from a radix comic book character. shame on them ;)

and so - yet again - we come to the convolution of science and mythology. this is the kind of story that gets my phd supervisor all excited about consumer culture, but i tend towards less marxist (?) interpretations. by that i mean i am interested in the connections between mythical heroes and possible futures - these are virtual spaces.

many new technologies draw on imagery from past technologies and events - just think of the myth of the cyberspace frontier. we seem to need to contextualise our scientific and technological advances within earlier accomplishments in order to make them meaningful, which has the effect of simultaneously positioning something as both innovative and ancient. and we all know that sci-fi tells us as much about our past and present, as our future. mit's "soldier of the future" can be seen to exist in a virtual space - emerging between the past and the future, tradition and innovation, myth and reality.

but i'll have to think on this one some more ;)

Thursday, August 29, 2002

ia stuff

boxes and arrows has posted a first excerpt from the new edition of the polar bear book. and i was really pleased to read erin malone's article "the tool makes the (wo)man" - which reminds all of us to use our own imaginations and experiences rather than searching for the perfect tool to do it for us... but mostly i appreciated the notion that we should spend more time teaching people how to use tools well, rather than focussing exclusively on improving the tools themselves.

thwarting hactivism

a new report from rand explains that "There was a lot of very loose talk about how the Internet was going to bring down all the authoritarian regimes. However, the Chinese government has proven surprisingly nimble over the past five or six years in surpassing the technological challenges the dissidents have presented them."

wired news reports that "Most Chinese Internet users are young, well-educated men in eastern cities like Beijing and Shanghai. Only 2 percent are rural peasants, although peasants make up the bulk of China's population of 1.2 billion... Some, particularly Chinese expatriates, use unsolicited e-mail to recipients in China. While such spam is considered a nuisance in the United States, in China an e-mail to hundreds of thousands of recipients gives readers plausible deniability if they are harassed by government officials. Using the Web has become more difficult thanks to government measures. Chinese Internet surfers used to use "proxy sites" to visit banned websites, though the government, which has complete control over Internet access in China, is quick to block off those proxies within hours of their use."

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

good news

i'm pleased to say that my paper "Going Anywhere, Being Everywhere: metaphors of mobility for ubiquitous computing" has been accepted for this workshop at ubicomp 2002 (special thanks to alan dix and colleagues) so i'm off to sweden at the end of september ;)

also on the horizon - just got news that my bestest friend julie is returning early from south africa. sorry to hear that things didn't go as planned, but if i could, i would do a little happy dance in anticipation ;)

the betwixt-and-between

been reading the work of sue broadhurst, professor at brunel, on digital performance and liminality - including the human body tracking project. very interesting stuff.

also came across an interesting article by Josephine Machon, where she argues for (syn)aesthetic performances - "(Syn)aesthetics provides a discourse that defines simultaneously the impulse and processes of production and the subsequent appreciation strategies which incorporate reception and interpretation. It presents a discourse for ‘polysemantic’, non-genre specific performance embracing intertextual practice and celebrating the interface between, and flux within, linguistic, corporeal and technological praxis." and in (syn)aesthetic experience "there must be an element of disturbance, of disquiet and (re)cognition."

given my firm belief that communication is much more about performance than representation, these notions offer fertile ground for exploring interfaces, and specifically the liminal spaces created between the virtual and the actual.

"better than spiderman"

nifty biologists have identified van der Waals forces as the means by which geckos (wonderful creatures, mean-ass pets) stick to surfaces so effectively. apparently, this realisation may "one day may help a small robot walk surfaces in space."


i gave my first conference presentation (in my second year of university) on the ancient peruvian practice of trepanation - drilling or scraping a hole in the skull to relieve pressure from trauma or any number of undesirable mental conditions. the peruvians were extremely good at it, as evidenced by substantial bone regrowth after the operation, and before death.

a recent find on the bank of the thames shows evidence of successful trepanation circa 1750 b.c. "The skull shows that there were people in Britain at the time with significant anatomical and surgical skills, ones not bettered in Europe until Classical Greek and Roman times more than a thousand years later."


Saturday, August 24, 2002

guess who's back?!

i'm back - albeit a little early - from a stunning trip to nova scotia :-)

although there were many highlights, my favourite parts involved the whales. i've long considered turtles and tortoises to be the best examples of evolutionary perfection, but i had no idea how magnificent whales are! i've seen orcas and belugas in aquariums, but it does not compare to seeing enormous humpback or even smaller minke whales breach the mercury-like north atlantic at dusk. at one point we were surrounded by a pod of pilot whales - known as potheads in Newfoundland ;) and close enough to touch... it was all i could do not to cry with sheer joy ;)

i really wanted to go out in a zodiac, but apparently outboard motors put out sound at the same frequency as several whales, which both confuses them and attracts them to the boats, increasing the risk of serious injury by propeller. and i wasn't going to be responsible for injuring animals that are already threatened in the wild.

the rest of the trip included checking out the history of coal mining in cape breton - originally begun in the 1700s in order to support the great fortress at louisbourg. i've been down in coal mines before, but never ones under the ocean! but as one might expect, mining towns are terribly depressing and full of stories of almost unbearable loss...

at so it was that i ended up in hospital in glace bay, nova scotia after injuring my back. despite being paralysed down the entire left side of my body (which is awfully scary), emergency room doctors in mining communities consider such injuries to be rather minor considering the types of catastrophes they deal with...

needless to say, this put an end to our vacation and we returned to ottawa, where i have spent the past few days on my back - which is not as fun as it sounds! on the upside, the love of my life took excellent care of me and set me up with the second season of the simpsons on dvd. frankly, i was grateful for an excuse to watch every episode - once with commentary and once without ;)

i am slowly on the mend and beginning physio to regain my mobility - but sitting at the computer is rather uncomfortable so i'll sign off for now... but since i am all gimped up, i'd love to get some mail ;)

oh yeah - two more things: despite living in the land of lobster, people in cape breton love fried chicken and although their highway junction signage leaves much to be desired, they are overly diligent in marking road cautions - we saw many signs marking the presence of visually or hearing impaired persons, as well as dozens of signs warning you that you are travelling the wrong way - on divided highways!

Saturday, August 10, 2002

see you in two weeks!

i'm off tomorrow at the crack of dawn, and by the end of the day i expect to be sitting on the porch of my cabin on the sea, eating bbq lobster and drinking cold beer ;)

this means that yours truly will be spending her 30th birthday on a sailboat off the coast of cape breton island, watching the whales and seals. we're spending two full weeks on the island, alternating between some back-country camping and seaside cabins.

the mountains and the ocean have always been my favourite environments, and neither can be found where i currently live. so i chose to take my vacation on an island where the highlands meet the sea ;) plus, i'm told that people come from far and wide to see our country - it bugs me that i have lived all over the world and have not seen canada...

but mostly, i'm looking forward to no computers, cell phones or cities. i even promised myself not to bring anything related to work or research... all i want to do is go swimming, explore the tidal pools, and sit quietly. and with any sort of luck, i will wake up in my tent on the edge of a cliff to the sound of whales singing...

i'll tell you all about it when i get back ;) in the meantime, i highly recommend the movie margaret's museum - a brilliant story about the human cost of coal mining in 1940s cape breton.

Friday, August 9, 2002

Art.Ficial Emotion

check out this brazilian exhibition on digital art: emocao art.ficial: "a celebration of digital art that bans works focusing on anything related to computers and technology."


yesterday i came home from work and crawled into bed with my computer and watched lord of the rings twice. that's right. twice. the first time made me cry. the second time reminded me how important it is that you get back up again, no matter how badly you get your ass kicked. and perhaps more sweetly, i was reminded of the value of friendship.

if believing that these stories are among the great myths of my culture makes me a geek, then so be it.

i, for one, can't wait for the next movie - my favourite of the three books ;)

Thursday, August 8, 2002

robo sapiens

just finished reading robo sapiens: evolution of a new species. what i assumed was just a pretty coffee table book with a kick-ass title turned out to be damn interesting! if you want to know how we're doing in the world of robotics, this is a great place to start. i was particularly taken by the content on humanoid robots.

alexander calder

those who know me are well acquainted with my obsession with calder's art. for those of you who don't know his work, i highly recommend the sfmoma online calder exhibit as an intro.

after all, did you know that one man is credited with having invented the mobile? for some reason, i assumed that we always had mobiles - sort of like cat's cradle.

Wednesday, August 7, 2002

the virtues of promiscuity?

thanks to adam for passing on this article from alternet on the "advantages" of sluttiness.

my students are always curious about issues of sexuality, and despite teaching first-year sociology now instead of anthropology, i often use cross-cultural examples to demonstrate the relativity of their convictions. students are always stunned by the realisation that monogamy and free-choice marriage are the least frequent cultural responses on the planet. and inevitably, every year, students come to talk to me about being gay or cheating on their girlfriend/boyfriend. last year, one student said that she chose to talk to me because she felt that i was the only one who would not pass moral judgement on her. i hold these moments close to my heart and am thankful for being a teacher. but every year i have to read at least three dozen very emotional papers dealing with sexism, homosexuality, prostitution or pornography. and i've come to believe that much of the harsh judgement emerges from the confusion and anger that comes when 19 year olds are introduced to ideas and practices that directly conflict with what they have been told makes a "good" woman or man.

my first thought while skimming the article was to file it away for class discussion in the fall. but in reading it through, i loathe to think of where that discussion might lead. given the journalistic tendency to oversimplify, i wasn't surprised by this opening statement: "Anthropologists say female promiscuity binds communities closer together and improves the gene pool." okay. show me the source. and so: "This book is the first to explore the concept of partible paternity, the aboriginal South American belief that a child can have more than one biological father--in other words, that all men who have sex with a woman during her pregnancy contribute to the formation of her baby and may assume social responsibilities for the child after its birth." (might be worth a read...) but as you might imagine, anthropologists do not agree on how to make sense of these practices.

you are probably familiar with the "man the hunter" myth pushed by anthropology for many years. part of that model may involve polygamy and male-domination as evolutionary mechanisms that ensure the survival of the tribe. more often than not, the model positions women as chattel (in the sense of moveable property), concerned only with securing a mate that could economically and socially provide for her and her offspring. the article puts it nicely: "Fathers provide meat for the family, and in exchange, moms offer fidelity and the guarantee of paternity. While men -- who produce millions of sperm -- are inveterate philanderers, gals, stuck with relatively few eggs that require a significant investment, tend to be choosy and coy. Men therefore are biologically prone to spreading their seed far and wide, while women focus on finding the perfect pop... [but] some [anthropologists] say today's emphasis on female monogamy may have more to do with socio-economic trends than evolutionary instincts." no shit! and it's true that the examples cited in the article do much to challenge this sort of evolutionary perspective, which has been criticised for its tendency to justify and perpetuate social inequality.

but here's the problem: to explain these practices in terms of "promiscuity" is incorrect. in order to be promiscuous, one must live in a place where monogamy is the accepted norm (and probably, accept it to some extent oneself). with the exception of those cultures recently impacted by trade and missionaries, monogamy was clearly not the standard at hand. in other words, you couldn't be a 'slut' in those cultures until we came along. i've long believed that by studying the "other," anthropologists have learned much more about "us" than "them." and this article is a continuation of that phenomenon. for example, we get this sad interpretation and closing statement: "Modern relationships are not all that different. High infidelity, remarriage and divorce rates may have less to do with modernity than with our collective sexual past... If the anthropologists are right, monogamy may well be counter-evolutionary or an adaptation to modern life. Or perhaps the nuclear family has always been more of an ideal than a reality."

I laughed out loud. Did we really need to be reminded that the nuclear family is a myth? That other people through space and time have done it differently? i would have much preferred a little reflexivity on the part of the author... and maybe some clarity on whether these were, in actuality, non-evolutionary arguments ;)

truth is, i'm afraid that she wanted this information to "sexually empower" women. but before we all go cheering on the ethical slut, let's remember that polyandry (or polygamy) isn't practiced with the same intents or effects in cultures that advocate monogamy. plus, i suspect we're the only ones obsessing about these questions in the first place - why else would so many of our explanations come down to who gets to fuck who?

Tuesday, August 6, 2002

what does it mean to be an academic sell-out?

dave green explains why he's not impressed with kevin warwick, or Professor Cyborg: "Whether he's proclaiming himself 'the world's first cyborg', or touting his university department of photogenic robot animals, he shows an almost intuitive grasp of an even less well-understood discipline: what makes a good headline."

i'll be the first to say that our planet's resident "cyborgs" - kevin warwick and steve mann - rub me the wrong way with their shameless self-promotion, but in a world where academics are too often allowed to stay sequestered in the ivory tower, can we really blame them for wanting more people to witness their work?

"selling out" in the academic world isn't very different from when fringe bands go commercial - it's the accusation that a small group of loyal fans have been somehow forsaken in an attempt to gain greater recognition. when an academic sells out, the insinuation is that they are no longer "true scholars." (just ask some canadian profs how they feel about david suzuki...) but while i may indeed agree that sonic youth were better before they went mainstream, i can't be such a hard-ass regarding academia.

as an academic i am often dismayed that i am not held publically accountable for my work. after all, canadian citizens are (indirectly) funding my research and i believe they have every right to know what i am doing. i consider my "duty" as a scholar to adequately demonstrate the value of my work, and not just to other academics. but academics are only required to publish in peer-reviewed journals - publications that less than 5% of the population read. i can publish papers online, and even release the copyright on them, but this is considered academic suicide. after all, if i have no intellectual property, i have nothing.

well, i take issue with this way of thinking. first of all, the whole intellectual property thing seems weird to me. i may be required to make an "original contribution to knowledge" but i can hardly do that without building on what others have already done. and in turn, i would like someone to build on my work. the problem comes down to agreeing on who is "qualified" to serve as the "someone" who can do this. as academics, we are taught that we only need to answer to other academics. this strikes me as an absurdly elitist position. as long as academics perpetuate the notion of "the other" as non-academic, i'd be inclined to say that we should shut our mouths regarding matters of inclusion and exclusion.

Minimalist Web Project

"Welcome to the Minimalist Web project. This is a collection of good-looking websites that are built with minimalism in mind, the idea of beauty through 'less is more'."

heads up craig, the consulting web site is listed, as is purselipsquarejaw ;)

for julie

here's wishing you a wonderful stay in south africa, even though i already miss you terribly ;)

on the up side, i now have sufficient motivation to set up some video streaming or chat capabilities...

hold on darlin' cuz i'll be comin' at ya through the ether ;)

Saturday, August 3, 2002

my latest ebay interests

ever since i bought the most gorgeous 1962 barbie on ebay, i can't help but keep an eye out for weird and wonderful things. of course, that may have something to do with not being able to afford what i want at sotheby's...

i've lost three times trying to score a 1960s dating game board game, so i'm giving it another go.

but it bums me out when folks won't ship outside the states - how else am i supposed to get my 1940s viewmaster?

but i may put a bot on this viewmaster projector, along with these social engineering and czech nudie pics reels. plus, i'm in for this sweet dress and this one...

nobody wants GM corn

the washington post reports that zimbabwe has refused large shipments of genetically modifed corn, despite the fact that her people are on the brink of starvation. "Scientists and economists say the troubled African nation has good reason to reject the engineered kernels. If some of the corn seeds are sown instead of eaten, the resulting plants will produce gene-altered pollen that will blow about and contaminate surrounding fields. That could render much of the corn grown in Zimbabwe -- a nation that in most years is a major exporter -- unshippable to nations in Europe and elsewhere that restrict imports of bioengineered food, because of environmental and health concerns."

defcon begins

defcon x started this morning in las vegas. you can read more about it here or check out the slashdot commentary.

how come i'm not there hanging out with the spooks and script kiddies? my friend john was too lame to go with me ;)

can someone please tell me what hacker groupies are like?

on a related note, check out the results of this hacker survey.

gibson's books

A massive collection of science fiction and pulp magazines spanning the last century has been donated to the University of Calgary. Upwards of 35,000 volumes dating back to the 19th century were donated by the family of William Gibson, who spent decades amassing the collection which eventually took over much of his Calgary home.

This should make for some fun research!

Friday, August 2, 2002

i wanna go!!!

since i can't make it to the ubicomp conference, i choose a trip to amsterdam in november for doors of perception 7 :

"Our conference this year is on the theme flow... a multi-modal concept. In trying to make it productive for designing processes we investigate how in design we can make flow as undercurrent (as flow of material goods) into flow as overtone, in which something is created (or withheld) that makes visible what was not visible before."

plus, this theme seems much better suited to my research...

the whirling dervishes of matter

scientists working at Brookhaven National Laboratory may have discovered a new form of matter. theoretical physics has always been my favourite science, mostly because their work so beautifully demonstrates the social construction of scientific knowledge. for more on that, i highly recommend latour's book, pandora's hope: essays on the Reality of Science Studies and knorr-cetina's ethnographic take on high energy physicists and molecular biologists, epistemic cultures: how the sciences make knowledge. and to be fair, hacking's the social construction of what.

for linda

i know it's still two months away, but i'm gearing up for our trip to new york and if you don't start coming up with places you want to see and things you want to do, then you will be at my mercy!

the bronx zoo is probably the best zoo i have ever seen, and i know you'd be interested in the new congo gorilla forest. you'll love that the animals don't live in cages (a few are left standing empty to remind you.) we also have to go to the new york aquarium, because you can actually touch horseshoe crabs (those crazy creatures most related to trilobites) and little stingrays. they also have a bunch of turtles and a room powered by electric eels. (thank god you're as much a geek as i am!)

it took me three months of staying in new york to finally see all the museums i wanted, so we will have to pick and choose ;) but i'll take you to where i lived in spanish harlem and we'll get some really good dominican food and check out the graffitti. (don't worry, i still have gringa latina status.)

and for sure i'll take you to all the places in the east village where marc (that gorgeous graphic designer from barcelona i lived with) and i spent our free time. it takes less than ten minutes down there to realise that canadian censorship laws suck ass - how dare our government hide all that amazing literature from us!

can you tell i'm looking forward to it?! stay healthy my friend - we're going to need our strength!

Thursday, August 1, 2002

US Peer to Peer Piracy Prevention Act

the proposed act would enable copyright holders to carry out "blocking, diverting or otherwise impairing" of networks believed to be involved in digital piracy. as john so aptly puts it: "now they will be able to hack you."

after this weekend's DDoS attack, RIAA responds flippantly, "It seems like it provided a temporary distraction from illegally downloading music for someone. Don't they have anything better to do?" if RIAA could legally get away with the same, i suspect they wouldn't have "anything better to do"...

even if the act passes (yikes!), tracking down individuals and establishing guilt may prove easier said than done.

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