Thursday, October 31, 2002

Tell me what you want to say and I'll give you the stats to prove it

From Wired: "Nearly a century ago, Franz Boas, the man known as the founder of modern anthropology, launched a study of cranial measurements of 13,000 people and concluded that skull shapes are determined more by environment than by race. It was a powerfully influential finding, because at the time, skull size and shape were thought to be connected to intelligence. Now, though, a new analysis suggests the distinguished anthropologist got it wrong: Race or, more properly, ethnicity is a bigger determinant than environment."

Whether Boas deliberately distorted his findings is not clear. But researchers think he may have had preconceived ideas about what the data should show. But Jantz and Penn State graduate student Corey Sparks used a computer to re-crunch Boas' numbers. They reported that the data actually show that race had more influence than environment on skull dimensions. "Unfortunately, research design was deficient, and his findings were never critiqued in a systematic way until recently," Jantz and Sparks said in their paper. "We're not sure if it was wishful thinking on his part before he even started the whole thing, or whether he saw these very small differences and said that was enough to prove his point."

But American Anthropologist, the journal of the American Anthropological Association, which Boas helped found in 1902, plans to publish another study in March in which researchers led by Clarence C. Gravlee of the University of Michigan conclude, "Boas got it right."

Imagining Interaction: The Art of David Rokeby

Although the Horizon Zero site is, IMHO, an interface nightmare - Issue 3, in which they take a look at the role of the artist/inventor, has some good content.

Canadian David Rokeby is a visual artist, composer, writer, and designer of software and hardware. His most well-known work is probably Very Nervous System - which is still pretty cool after all these years - and you can learn about his more recent work at the Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science and Technology.

Mmmm.... pretty and smart

Plumb Design's updated their classic Visual Thesaurus. (via mefi)

Thinking in other languages

I used to be as fluent in Spanish as I am in English, but since I rarely get the opportunity to speak anymore, my vocabulary is starting to fail me. But I still think about things, and dream, in Spanish. I was just going over some stuff I wrote yesterday - for work and correspondence - and in much of it there is a language problem.

What I notice most is that if I am dealing with raw emotion or ephemeral ideas, my thoughts come first in Spanish and I translate them into English as I write - but this creates some rather sloppy and inarticulate copy. A small example: the Spanish espero means both to wait and to hope (the conflation of temporality and longing is missing in English) and I translated the word as "wait" when I should have written "hope". But if my goal is to intellectualise - to write academically - then I think in English and write accordingly. Although, when I have been reading in French or Spanish, I suspect my writing in English is less articulate.

I find it curious that if I am overwhelmed by emotion, I stumble over words in English. I just don't find the language to be as true to what I am feeling. But if I need to, or am able to, distance myself from my gut reaction, then I think and write in English.

Anyone else ever experience this?

Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Skater sell-out

From the Village Voice, "The Boom Boom HuckJam is a choreographed action-sports spectacle featuring the top athletes from vert skating, BMX stunt, and freestyle motocross. The BMX and skateboard athletes flow through rehearsed runs on a massive ramp set, while the motocross athletes launch through the air, pulling tricks. Meanwhile, one of several big-name punk bands, depending at which venue the 22-city coast-to-coast tour is stopping, thrashes out a live set to all the action. The sets are at least as complex as those for a Madonna show. What was once a rebel activity is now flush with corporate sponsors plying the crowd with such 21st-century snacks for the whole family as pudding in a tube."

"Tony Hawk has been skating professionally for 20 years, through the sport's constant boom and bust cycles, and he's been the top vert skater for about two-thirds of that time. Today, he is a multimillionaire with his own video-game franchise, plus skateboard and production companies. His annual income has been estimated at $10 million. He is also the father of three boys, and he lives in a large house in a gated community in Carlsbad, California. And finally, he lacks a badass attitude and any visible tattoos. All of which contribute to make Hawk an icon to skateboard fans and, more importantly, to their wallet-wielding parents. Most skaters grasp the vibe about Hawk. Says 15-year-old Luis Orozco, who attended the San Jose show, "Younger kids are coming to this event because Tony Hawk is a good father figure. He's not a punky skater that parents hate."

You know you're suffering from nostalgia when stories like this make you sad ;)

I'm terribly distracted this morning...

but that led me to a site that you'll love, Linda - The Periodic Table of Comic Books. (via xblog)

And damn that Jason Kottke ;) I can't get the following Eminem lyrics out of my head!!

lose yourself in the music, the moment, you own it
you better never let it go
you only get one shot
do not miss your chance to blow
cuz this opportunity comes once in a life-time, yo

Woulda, shoulda, coulda...

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

The Engines of Our Ingenuity

The University of Houston's College of Engineering presents this series about the machines that make our civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity created them. Thanks Dad!

Bits & Pieces

Thanks to everyone who pointed out this latest commercial application of intelligent fibres - it's so nice to have people looking out for your interests! One of the best things about studying emerging technologies is watching their development in real-time. I keep an archive of all the smart fabrics that make it to market - ranging from 'performance gear' for extreme environmental conditions, to anti-bacterial and odour-reducing textiles, to impossible-to-stain pants.

And I'm particularly interested in less utilitarian fashions - more akin to wearable computers - like dresses that can change colour and shape, or clothes that can communicate with each other... My list in this area is still pretty short, so if you hear of anything interesting, please let me know! (Fashion whores are most likely to come across stuff like this - usually a sidebar in women's fashion mags.)

Since this site serves, in part, as my research record, I constantly add new links and update old posts with new information. I've also been experimenting with the Personal Brain to organise my bibliography and all the bits and pieces I write as they occur to me - it's quite flexible as an archival tool, but I can't yet speak to how effective it will be in the long run ;)

On another topic, I've been fielding enough questions-of-a-more-personal-bent lately to have added a small About PLSJ section to the site. I have mixed feelings about such things, but you'll find out how the site got its name, a few things about me, and more complete contact information. Cheers!

Monday, October 28, 2002

How come we don't teach this stuff to kids?

A recent Kottke post has got me thinking about Eminem. My first reaction to all the negative attention he has received over the years is that he must be picking at some scab we want left alone - and that can't be all bad ;)

Not my preferred style of music, I opt to go straight to the lyrics and read. And with the exception of some disquieting subject-matter, they are simply stunning. Oh yeah, I'm one of those folks who thinks this guy has brilliant writing and rhyming skills.

But what I really want to know is who decides that literary "classics" are a better way to teach kids about language, society and history? I'm all for exposing people to our intellectual and creative history, but not at the expense of diversity, contemporary cultural awareness and appreciation.

Teaching first year students makes me think a lot about what we're teaching in high school. Most of these kids arrive in my class unprepared to think and write critically, or to actively engage the world around them. My prep work always involves finding current examples to illustrate the points at hand, and give them something to hold on to. University is sufficiently disorienting to most of them that the least I feel I should do is make it relevant to navigating their current space. And Eminem has helped me - and them - many times.

Sunday, October 27, 2002

Smaller, damn it!

(NY Times link) IBM scientists have built and operated a computer circuit in which individual molecules of carbon monoxide move like toppling dominoes across a flat copper surface. One circuit is so small that 190 billion could fit on a standard pencil-top eraser.

"IBM said the new 'molecule cascade' technique enabled it to make logic elements 260,000 times smaller than those used in silicon-based semiconductor chips. They are also smaller than the circuits that IBM has made in the laboratory out of carbon nanotubes, which are extremely strong because of the nature of the carbon bond, and which IBM considers to be a possible alternative to silicon. The molecule cascade circuits were made by creating a pattern of carbon monoxide molecules on a copper surface. IBM moved one molecule to start a one-directional cascade of molecules, similar to the way dominoes interact. The circuits do not reset themselves."

"IBM is still years from translating the nanotechnology and quantum computing work it has done in research labs into a setting where such transistors could be manufactured and then used in products like cell phones and personal computers. 'The exciting thing is not so much that we're not there yet. The exciting thing is where we've come from,' said IBM fellow Don Eigler."

I didn't plan on doing any thesis writing this morning, but current listening dictated otherwise

Now playing, Buffalo Daughter: I, an album panned by critics but apparently not without some inspirational merit, and Spoozys: Astral Astronauts, which makes me giggle as I work.

More coffee please.

Saturday, October 26, 2002

When things are not quite right

I was recently pointed towards the Uncanny Valley - which represents the point at which a person observing the creature or object in question sees something that is nearly human, but just enough off-kilter to seem eerie or disquieting.

Brings to mind a book I recently read. The Uncanny: Experiments in Cyborg Culture, "The title takes its name from an essay by Sigmund Freud which deals with the sensation of 'uncanniness' as being strange and familiar at the same time." (with contributions from William Gibson, Donna Haraway, and Toshiya Ueno.)

And for D&G fans, the beauty of machines lies in the breaking down. The aesthetics of digital corruption.

Back to work

and none too soon to save my sanity!

It's been awhile since I've had the luxury of doing nothing but research, and the past few weeks have been a peculiar combination of joy and rage. Recently I've felt rather lonely, but only now realise that was an effect of place. The past week in particular presented a bunch of obstacles and frustrations - and when that happens I tend to increase my efforts. I could whine about academic hierarchies and the challenges to women in male-dominated professions, but prefer to try to do something about it. Justifying one's existence is no small task, and while I'm convinced that I am fighting the good fight - I'm not always successful, and the road can indeed be a lonely one.

So I'm grateful to resume work on a site I'm developing - creating storyboards is providing a much needed break from general academic weirdness ;)

Friday, October 25, 2002

This makes twice recently that I can't go somewhere I'd really like to - because these folks are really doing sociable computing

New Doors of Perception info:

Open Doors is a three-hour presentation of project presentations that focus on new uses of pervasive computing.

Jussi Angesleva (MediaLab Europe) Wireless communication using the whole body
Lizbeth Goodman (Smart Lab) Flutterfly: flow theory and visualisation
Rein Jansma (Zwarts & Jansma) Interactive car parks
Jeroen Kee and Esther Polak (Waag) Amsterdam realtime
Michael Kieslinger (Interaction Design Institute Ivrea) Fluid Time
Shona Kitchen / Ben Hooker (Royal College of Art) Hybrid spaces
Lavrans Lovlie (Interaction Design Institute Ivrea) Tomorrow's services
Gary McDarby (MediaLab Europe) Mindgames
Willem Minderhout (Atos Origin) New Arcania: more room for rivers
Josephine Pletts / Usman Haque (Royal College of Art) Hardspace and Softspace
Casey Reas (Interaction Design Institute Ivrea) Living Surfaces
Pedro Sepulveda (Royal College of Art) Digital Shelters
Femke Wolting and Bruno Felix (Submarine) Crisis, a multi-player game
Victor Vina (Interaction Design Institute Ivrea) Box: design your own Network
J-C Zoels & A Cervini (Interaction Design Institute Ivrea) Mobile Embodiments


Appliancestudio / BBC / Be9 / BTexact / Canon / Cap Gemini Ernst & Young / Danfoss / Diesel Marketing / Eden Design / Endemol / Ericsson / Festo / Heineken / Hewlett Packard / IBM / Icatt / Ideo / KPN / Lego / LiveWork / Ludicorp / Meru / Microsoft / Motorola / Nokia / Orange / Philips / Ra.nj / Sapient / Submarine / Sony / Tarantell / TBWA / Telecom Italia / Tinlab / TNO / UN Studio.

Research labs and institutes:
Design Council UK / FutureLab Sweden / Glasgow Lighthouse / Interaction Design Institute Ivrea / Interactive Institute Sweden / MAK Frankfurt / MediaLab / MediaLabEurope / SmartLab / Ultralab / Waag.

Amsterdam Art Center / Bartlett / Carnegie Mellon / Central Saint Martins / Columbia / Copenhagen / Cranfield / Delft / Eindhoven / Erasmus / Helsinki UIAH / Lapland / Leiden / London School of Economics / Malmo / Madrid / Michigan / Milan / Musashino / Nijenrode / NYU / Oslo / Princeton / Royal College of Art / Simon Fraser / Sorbonne / Srishti Bangalore / Toronto / Trinity College Dublin / Utrecht HKU / Vassar / Westminster / Yale.

Sociable computing, Pt. 2

A little clarification about my basic position:

Systems thinking cannot adequately account for sociality or sociability, so I don't think that notions of social systems are adequate design inspiration for sociable computing.

And yes, there are sociologists and anthropologists who would disagree - so write me if you want to know why I think this way and how I think we can do better.

Sociable computing

Given my interests in sociology, anthropology and technology, I've been following some recent discussions on social networks and sociable computing.

The weird part is seeing an almost complete lack of input from social scientists outside the field of psychology (and related disciplines that focus on cognition) or folks in the humanities and arts. In many cases, designers and engineers are working with sociological concepts that have been revised or entirely abandoned within our disciplines over the past few decades - an all too common effect of working with another discipline's knowledge without having contact with its practitioners and innovators (something that plagues all academics). Also disheartening is the apparent lack of awareness of how much social and cultural theory has evolved in response to, in tandem with, or in anticipation of, new technological developments and their place in social and cultural life. Furthermore, in definitions of the social and sociability deployed by technology developers, the focus still remains on notions of social psychology and philosophy of mind, which are often tangential (albeit informative) to the work of sociologists and anthropologists.

So what's my point? Traditional academic and industry divisions and competitions are impairing our ability to design good products.

Some of the work being done by Microsoft's Social Computing Group is promising, and I am especially fond of the Comic Chat, where "your online conversations are the beginning of an interactive comic strip that unfolds in real time. Comic style balloons display your conversation, and gestures generated by conversation semantics give your character a variety of emotions and movements." But the emphasis still remains on emotion and gesture (interesting psychological categories of inquiry) to the exclusion of social concepts of agency, or what we (are able to) do with the world. For example, no one seems to be working with (and please correct me if I'm wrong) notions of non-human or artefact agency - the ability of things to act in the world, and the subsequent reciprocal construction of people and objects. In other words, most developers are still looking to how we think and learn, rather than how we do and be.

This may seem like a trivial point, or just a semantic argument, but I would argue that the implications are quite profound as they will inevitably impact what we are able to do and who we are able to be - as individuals and collectives. No small consequence is the difficulty in locating accountability - for what we build, how we build it, and how it can be used. And again, this is a bigger issue than the usability of an interface (even when designed around ethnographic principles), or the cultural ecology of new technologies. There are matters of power and control at stake, as well as more "essential" notions of what constitutes humanity and social interaction.

There you have it. Rant over.

Thursday, October 24, 2002

Ta Moko

I love solid-black tattoos. Bold lines, solid fills. Like Maori tattoos. For the Maori, ta moko is a rich cultural practice and heritage. Originally carved into the skin (more akin to scarification), ta moko was, and is, much more than a simple tattoo - it's sacred. And they don't particularly like other people inking their history and mythology:

"Pakeha (whites) are distinctly known for not asking, [and] for assuming that how they see the world is [how] others do so also...[They] bastardize our spirituality and culture and claim it as theirs...Non-Maori wearing it as a form of body art are generally considered wannabees, fakes and frauds that show not only a disrespect for our culture, but lie about their own. (How can you respect your own family when you wear the family signature of strangers?) Even if non-Maori do it in a 'respectful' fashion (according to what their non-Maori values dictate is respectful), this is still rude. There is not, in other words, any sense of it being 'okay' for non-Maori to wear Maori Ta Moko."

Harsh. But fair enough. Admiration doesn't require imitation or submission. I'll keep my opinions on the "Modern Primitive" movement to myself for the time being, but as I look at my tattoos and think about the next one, my primary concern is coming up with a solid-black design that can be at home on my skin.

Geeks of many bents

Fairly interesting discussions around postmodernism and computers on Slashdot and Metafilter.

Suffice to say I'm all for inter-disciplinary research.

Blind Faith and the March of Science

Steve Wolfram speaks at PopTech:

"Any system whose behavior doesn't look obviously simple to us is as simple as any computational system," said Wolfram, explaining the principle of computational equivalence. "All processes can be viewed as computations."

"His book is really a bible of computational view," said Jordan Pollock, professor of computer science and complex systems at Brandeis University, who also spoke at this year's PopTech. "Over the last 50 years we've come to view lots of things in the world -- the mind, the immune system -- from the point of view of computer science."

And even those who admitted not fully understanding Wolfram's theory left the session in awe. "I thought it was exactly like fireworks," said Harvey Ardman, program director for PopTech. "It was brilliant, it was fascinating and it was incomprehensible."

Forgive my skepticism, but if everything is so simple, shouldn't people have left understanding what the hell he was talking about? While I can appreciate the principle of Occam's Razor, let's just step back a moment and think about the implications of "reality" being reduced to a set of computational algorithms...

Smart fabrics for the combat soldier

Via Wired News: "Researchers at the University of Southern California and Virginia Tech have developed a fabric woven with conductive wires and a cluster of seven button-size microphones that can be used to detect the sound of remote objects, like approaching vehicles."

"Textile folks and computer scientists have to learn to speak a common language, and that's only begun to happen. They approach problems from very different viewpoints."

"Microphones, radio transmitters, sensors to measure pulse rate and body temperature, GPS -- you can have all of that incorporated into fabric," said Anuj Dhawan, a Ph.D. student in fiber and polymer science and electrical engineering at North Carolina State. The average soldier, then, "doesn't have to carry electronic equipment and his mobility can be increased." Eventually, e-fabric could be programmed to lift up a corner of the material by itself and take a photo, or roll up and move on its own."

Hmm... I might get that magic carpet after all.


Via Adam (and the v-2 time-zone advantage): "An unusually powerful electronic attack briefly crippled nine of the 13 computer servers that manage global Internet traffic this week. One official described the attack Monday as the most sophisticated and large-scale assault against these crucial computers in the history of the Internet. The origin of the attack was not known."

CNet takes a less alarmist position: "About 4,000 denial-of-service attacks hit the Internet in the average week, according to data collected by the Cooperative Association for Internet Data Analysis. Many of those are aimed at domain name servers."

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

A Day in the Life

Grad school is a notoriously lonely place. The demands can be so insane that lovers and friends often fail to understand why we keep going.

Truth be told, I don't recall ever making the decision; academic life chose me. And I suspect this is true for a great many of us. But this doesn't seem to come without a price - relationships fail ("Honey, I don't understand why we can't just have a normal life together...") and friends disappear ("Research isn't real work. In my job...") Sometimes it can feel as though you are being punished for something over which you have no real control, and we struggle to explain our motivation in terms that don't strike others as selfish. I hardly choose to be lonely - it's just so difficult sometimes to find people that want to share this space with me.

On the other hand, relationships with fellow grad students and other academics can be extremely satisfying. Not only can you talk about your research without fear of boring them half to death, they actually want to hear about it. And so I was thrilled this afternoon to meet David, a new PhD student in our department. He's studying public attitudes to gun control in the wake of recent gun violence and terrorism. He was explaining how difficult it is to get people - even other academics - to think of gun culture as something other than a bunch of raving lunatics. It seems that while we are quick to acknowledge heterogeneity in many sub-cultures, when it comes to politically volatile activities, we still resort to notions of homogeneity, "us" and "other."

My father is a gunsmith, and I was raised in a house with firearms. I can intelligently discuss the extraordinary mechanics of revolvers, and competently shoot a 9mm. Sure, I've met plenty of people who probably shouldn't own a gun, but I've met more people whose quality of life would genuinely decline if they could not own a firearm. And what this boils down to is that I understand that there is no such thing as gun culture - its members, practices and attitudes are as diverse as the guns they own.

And so for an hour, a stranger and I came together and truly listened to each other - which consequently, if only temporarily, eased each other's sense of loneliness.

On philosophy and cultural theory

Christopher Robinson & Joseph Duemer do a great job reading Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations. I'm a big fan of Wittgenstein's later works and am currently trying to work through those, some Merleau-Ponty and de Certeau.

Lessons in creativity (and ownership)

And again from the Times, The Inquiring Minds Behind 200 Years of Inventions.

Speculating on the state of innovation over the next century, several inventors said the future lay in giving children the tools to think creatively:

"Inventing is an art," Dr. West said, "Our tools are not brushes, canvases and paints. Our tools are mathematics and physics, and we have to teach children how to use them. And that points to the role of strong mentors to encourage and guide them. For the United States to succeed at invention in the competitive world, it must encourage the ingenuity of minority groups and women." Dr. West, who is African-American, noted that the conclave of 37 inventors was overwhelmingly white and male, with only two women present."

Patsy O. Sherman spoke of the need to "prepare" curious minds. "The prepared mind notices when something doesn't go as expected, and curiosity is piqued by observation," she said. "You can encourage and teach young people to observe, to ask questions when unexpected things happen," Mrs. Sherman said. "You can teach yourself not to ignore the unanticipated."

and the motivation to invent:

"We are always just at the beginning of invention and innovation," Mr. Russell said. Aside from supporting research, the government's greatest role in assuring continuing innovation is promoting a strong, modern patent office. "Unless we can protect intellectual property, we will not have invention."

Virtual proximity and the craving for surveillance

NY Times article Using Technology to Add New Dimensions to the Nightly Call Home outlines how members of the professional class stay in touch with loved ones while away on business.

"Technology gives me the ability to have life be seamless," said Ms. Aspinall. She was away on a business trip, and the boys faxed the grades to her hotel and then called her to discuss them. "It was an important milestone, sharing your end-of-the-year report card. It's just a feeling of belonging, a feeling of being together, whether you are or not."

"Mr. Kabbash, who travels about half of each month, tried videotaping himself reading bedtime stories, but found the routine cold and sterile. Now he faxes and sends his stories by e-mail to his 10-year-old and 6-year-old, along with digital photos of the stories' exotic settings. Then he reads the tales over the phone at night. "It's bridged the gap extraordinarily well."

"Donny Wancho, manager of the business center at the Four Seasons Pierre Hotel in New York, installed three types of instant messaging on computers at the center last spring at the request of travelers wanting to connect with home. "They ask if they've had their breakfast, if their work is done from the night before, and ask them to do chores," said Mr. Wancho, adding that during the holidays, children fax wish lists to parents."

Writer's block...

Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Guilty as charged

This afternoon I was reprimanded by my Chinese doctor, who looked me up and down when I walked in and said "You've spent too much time lately in front of the computer drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes." And then after examining my tongue, said that I haven't been eating and sleeping regularly or diligently taking my herbs. Damn her super spidey-sense!

And so I promised to go home, make some Pad Thai, drink my tea, take a bath and go to sleep...

Feminine cleanliness

Dirty Linen, an exhibition exploring women's uneasy and at times obsessive relationship with cleanliness, opens September 28 at the Women's Library in East London, running until December 21, 2002. (via plep)

And the awesome Museum of Menstruation has tons of stuff on "feminine hygiene," including old Lysol douche ads that promised marital bliss through vaginal disinfection. Ouch!

Rules for a Complex Quantum World

Michael Nielsen unravels an entangled world at Scientific American.

Monday, October 21, 2002

Perfect music for a dreary Sunday spent writing...

The Emma Goldman Papers

A couple of birthdays ago, a dear friend gave me a copy of Goldman's 1910, Anarchism and Other Essays and it is brilliant in much the same way as Hakim Bey's work. It disrupts and disturbs. Plus, the woman herself was fascinating:

(via plep) The Emma Goldman Papers:
"Emma Goldman (1869-1940) stands as a major figure in the history of American radicalism and feminism. An influential and well-known anarchist of her day, Goldman was an early advocate of free speech, birth control, women's equality and independence, union organization, and the eight-hour work day. Her criticism of mandatory conscription of young men into the military during World War I led to a two-year imprisonment, followed by her deportation in 1919. For the rest of her life until her death in 1940, she continued to participate in the social and political movements of her age, from the Russian Revolution to the Spanish Civil War."

Although I admire her on many levels, I am most taken by her ability to be in the world.

Despite providing a superb reference of her life and work, the site's excerpts from Anarchism and Other Essays do not include her feminist writings, which were so far ahead of the time, and well worth reading.

Sunday, October 20, 2002

Faster Pussycat, Faster!!

The Breast of Russ Meyer

And be still my beating heart, a stunning collection of old pin-ups, magazines and paperbacks for sale on e-bay.

A fine resource

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has some damn fine information, but I'm a little puzzled and disappointed that the ravings of my favourite French intellectuals are missing.

Playing with Umberto Eco

In a New York Times article, Eco discusses the love letters in his latest book, the making of history and truth, memory and the Internet:

"It is a real epistolary exchange of love letters that was discovered recently." Mr. Eco then took these genuine letters and made his fictional hero, Baudolino, their author. "That was my idea," he said, "to invent enormous lies that produce something true."

"If you want to become a man of letters and perhaps write some Histories one day, you must also lie and invent tales, otherwise your History would become monotonous," Otto, Baudolino's learned tutor, says to him at the beginning of the novel. "But you must act with restraint."

"The problem with the Internet is that it gives you everything, reliable material and crazy material," he said. `'So the problem becomes, how do you discriminate? The function of memory is not only to preserve, but also to throw away. If you remembered everything from your entire life, you would be sick."

Saturday, October 19, 2002

Meet the Pugs

Can't get enough of the Pugs and their only album available outside of Japan, Bite the Red Knee.


A Cultural Ecology of Nanotechnology

Short essay by Bonnie Nardi. (via blackbeltjones)

The March of Time

via tranquileye: This photo essay is beautiful.

Reflexivity and transparency

The anthropological turn to reflexivity drew attention to the writing of culture, or the contexts in which knowledge is produced. But qualitative methodology and academic publishing conventions still provide insufficient means to render this transparent. A classic example is the differences between Malinowski's famous (published) ethnographies on the Trobriand Islanders and his (until recently unpublished) field notes or diaries. In his personal writings, we find evidence of his biases and desires, including those of the ethnocentric variety that draw attention to relationships of power between subjects and objects in anthropological inquiry. Now, the question is if these views are relevant to his interpretation of the Trobrianders, or more generally, if it is relevant that a researcher holds particular opinions of, or commits particular actions in, the world (be they offensive or not). My immediate response is that of course it is relevant, but the challenge remains to explain how so.

If we read an ethnography - or any account - that presents a world and way of life as it really is, we are not given the opportunity to evaluate the contexts in which these conclusions emerged. Maybe we could start publishing field notes with all formal ethnographies, but that would surely undermine the researcher's claim to authority on a subject. We tend to want to keep our discomforts and uncertainties to ourselves - otherwise anybody could be an anthropologist.

One of my classmates once referred to blogs as "reified confessions," or a type of exhibitionism. But I tend to use my blog, and this site in general, as a way of keeping field-notes. I highly doubt that anyone reading my papers is interested in my taste in music or socio-political views, but maybe they should be ;) After all, my research - the production of "official" knowledge - takes place in these broader contexts. A small, but potentially interesting example, stems from my father's position that it is my privilege to have the time and means to ask, and attempt to answer, so many questions. The vast majority of people have no such luxury. But do I really exist in such a separate space? As much as I think they'd hate being reduced to such, my close friends have always been my ties to the "real world." Left to my own devices, I would pretty much exist in what I call head-space, or the place of mind. And a little self-awareness tells me that is not entirely good; I don't want to be a brain-in-a-vat. Long story short, I think this has something to do with my concerns over locating the body in the data.

So here is the record for myself, and anyone else who wants to know how I work through ideas - and how, or even if, I am able to carry them through to my embodied existence in the world. In part, this is a question of experiential or phenomenological knowledge: am I describing something abstract or tangible, and what difference does that make?

Seamfulness - or, "Where did that joint go?"

I was recently pointed towards the fascinating work of Matthew Chalmers and a concept for ubiquitous computing he is working with. The disappearing or invisible computer has so far been identified with seamlessness - a notion largely equated with physical and material reality, but somewhat poorly adaptable to articulating human interaction with computers. Weiser and Seely-Brown called for a focus on calm computing, or a way of interaction that centres on peripheral engagement. The basic idea is that we may not be explicitly attuned to matters on the periphery of consciousness, but they nonetheless profoundly shape our everyday interactions with the world. As such, computers may be more "effective" if they are able to work in the background.

I believe the main problem with seamlessness - or the relative inability to distinguish computers in the world - is the subsequent difficulty in locating agency and accountability. So I was thrilled to learn that Chalmers proposes the notion of seamfulness, an intelligent and informed attempt to expose users to the points and spaces of interaction with the machine. He is interested in "relating contemporary semiology/philosophy to computational representation... drawing on work in linguistics, architecture, neurophysiology and philosophy, trying to understand the similarities and differences between the different fields that deal with the human use and interpretation of information." Cool. And his Equator project focusses on "going beyond the traditional and naive way of treating digital and physical media as separate 'worlds'. Human activity continually interweaves them and makes them interdependent, and so Equator intends to treat them as two halves of the same world. Equator works on the borderline between the two." Still cool.

So here are my questions: First, are interwoven and interdependent fields understood to be (actual) self-contained parts of the same world? Then, what kind(s) of space might constitute(s) the borderline between fields? And perhaps most importantly, what sort of movement occurs between fields? In other words, what and who are constructed in our representations of these spaces of interaction?

I would suggest that there are no such "things" as closed fields - and I am interested not in how these fields interact with each other, but rather in how these fields and interactions emerge as such. I guess this means that, ultimately, I am concerned with the limitations of representation and how we may therefore account for emergence.

Many of you are familiar with the popular scientific press on networks and emergence (such as books by Steven Johnson or Albert-László Barabási), or if you want something more hardcore academic, Greg Smith's recent paper, Notes on Interaction. Within this larger body of work is the notion that "real time systems cannot be modelled as algorithms for 2 reasons: the TM [Turing Machine] formalism is independent of time and it is required that an algorithm eventually halt whereas a real time system need not. [And accordingly] both concurrent and object oriented systems are not formalisable as algorithms."

Smith continues to explain that "Applied to design, this means that emergence occurs when an agent perceives or explains some property in a working design that it would not have been not capable of computing given it's current knowledge and bounded rationality.... Supervenient properties are those which can be explained in a reductionist manner, and emergent properties are those which cannot." According to Wegner, "interactive systems are grounded in an external reality both more demanding and richer in behavior than the rule-based world of noninteractive algorithms," which Smith continues, "makes explicit the notion of interaction: the agent perturbs its environment and then looks to see its impact before deciding on another action... Interactive agents can make nonenumerable distinctions about their environments. It is this ability to make determinations not predictable before environmental interactions have occurred that enables emergence."

Okay, I know that's a lot to absorb, so let's put it back in social terms. If society is a bounded entity, then the performance of the social or sociality (and of virtual spaces) is unbounded, emergent and unpredictable. So how can we represent - and design for - that sort of space and interaction? Social and cultural theorists, architects, designers and artists have been asking these questions for a long time, and my first reaction is to move towards what is called "non-space," defined through notions of mobility and movement. In this sense, it is not the place that is of interest as much as what moves through the space. Airport lobbies, motels, nomads, vagabonds, ships and cars can all be seen to embody the simultaneous movement of people, objects and ideas. Their very hybridity and instability make them difficult to represent through static models and maps, which at best represent partial truths. This leads me to question how we can even know these movements - and I worry that there is no "external reality" to which we may look for answers, and that the computational notions described earlier rely on our ability to recognise and understand intention or motivation in (linear/real) time and space.

Now here's the killer for those of you with the patience to have followed these half-baked ideas of mine: for the fully-baked version we will all have to wait for me to finish my dissertation. And since that's still a long way off, I only hope you'll hang around for the ride.

Friday, October 18, 2002

The joys of teaching

I spent two hours in my office at the University this afternoon answering questions from students, only to get home and find another 32 super urgent messages in my Inbox...

I really love what I do, but I admit that it tests my patience when students expect me to do their research for them. Or when I have to explain why it isn't okay to beat up their little brother in public to observe how people react to abuse. Plus, I want to scream when they tell me that in an academic research library they couldn't find anything on gender socialisation. Not to mention that it doesn't seem to occur to them to ask a librarian.

All I want to do tonight is eat the coconut rice and dumplings that are steaming, and enjoy being alone in the house...

Oh those wacky Buddhist monks

For some reason I just thought of something from my vacation in August: in northern Cape Breton Island, one of the most isolated places I have ever been in the industrialised world, there is a Buddhist monastery. The captain of the whale-watching boat we were on was also a fisherman, and ten years ago the monks bought a good chunk of his crab catch (cheaper than lobster). And the monks set out in a boat to release them back into the ocean, but unlike lobsters, fresh crabs do not need to be kept in water. After a complex hour-long ritual, the Buddhists dropped all of the crabs in the water, only to watch them float belly-up. Understandably devastated, each year since has involved the purchase and release of the lobster catch - creatures guaranteed to still be alive when the time came. Also - according to the locals, young monks venture out from the monastery every so often to enjoy a good hamburger - and to be fair, the locals visit the monastery just as often to partake of the lentils. Fascinating little village.

Cheaper video games

FairPlay: Campaign for Cheaper Prostitutes. "There isn't a single reason that hookers couldn't be sold at £20, or even less." Yeah, and I can just imagine how annoying it is to have to pay that 13-year-old crack whore $5 for a hand job! She's got some nerve charging that!

And this is supposed to be funny? Apparently I've given gamers too much credit over the years.

(via nosenseofplace)

Weird Laws

(via metafilter) Dumb Laws gives you exactly that: American and international laws that the editors think are stupid. Of course, I check out the list for Canada, and am amazed to see they find our Canadian content broadcasting laws dumb. Now I admit that Canada has some pretty strange, and more than a little restrictive, broadcast rules - but just try to imagine what it is like living next door to the world's largest producer of entertainment media and how that impacts our cultural heritage. Since we tend not to repeal laws, and simply let them fall out of use, or mutate through precedent, they could have turned to our many obsolete or absurd rules instead.

Thursday, October 17, 2002

Small pleasures and sadnesses

My boyfriend just left for a ten day trip to do museum stuff in the Great White North. Now who's going to remind me that, contrary to my opinion, coffee and cigarettes do not constitute a breakfast of champions, or that the bedroom is a better place to sleep than my office? On the upside, I get to leave my clothes on the floor and listen to Japanese and Chinese punk rock as loud as I want ;) But now I'm just debating whether or not to go back to sleep...

Feedback requested please

Being so comfortable laying it on the line at academic conferences, it surprises me that I am so nervous about entering a new arena!

I couldn't sleep last night, and ended up doing a bunch of writing, including a draft of my proposal for the IA Summit 2003. I know it's not due until December, but I would like to put my ideas out there now so that I don't make an ass of myself later ;)

Now, I've never been to one of these conferences and have no real idea of what to expect. But I think that I have worked in isolation from the larger community for far too long, and it's time for some feedback. I've been working on what I think is a really interesting project, and would very much appreciate some input on whether anyone else thinks it would be of interest or use to other information architects.

I have no real ego invested in this, so please feel free to take a kick at the can ;) You can find the case study proposal here and please feel free to send the link to anyone you think might be interested. Thanks!

Should have gone to the UK for my doctorate

Much annoyed yesterday to learn that I am a half-course short for my degree requirements (you'd think someone would have noticed this earlier!). You'd also think five courses were enough - and so for about the millionth time, I wish I had gone to the UK where I wouldn't have to do coursework and could just focus on my own research. It's just so damn hard to get funding to go overseas, and all this despite being born British...

Determined to make the best of this, I have requested permission to develop one of two proposed courses for a new program at Carleton:

Design and Presentation of Information: "Inquiry into the social construction and social impact of information as manifested in its presentation and representation. Issues of verbal, graphic and virtual representation."

Knowledge Spaces: "The cross-cultural transfer and global-local translations of knowledge and information in various media, art forms and organisational systems. Examples will include catastrophes, social exclusion and the mismanagement of knowledge and information."

Great potential here...

Dangerous times

Canadian Kim Rossmo has been called in to help the Americans with the wacked-out sniper terrorising the DC area.

He has developed a method called "geographic profiling, and it attempts to discern the "where" of serial killers in the way psychological profiling seeks the "who." Dr. Rossmo uses a computer to generate three-dimensional coloured maps, like topographical maps. But the peaks on his maps, shown in red, indicate something else: probability. Dr. Rossmo came up with the technique when he was a PhD candidate at Simon Fraser University 10 years go. His advisers, criminology professors Paul and Patricia Brantingham, had developed an algorithm to predict where a criminal would commit crimes based on where he or she lived, following what psychologists refer to as the least-effort principle. Inverting that model, Dr. Rossmo found he could zero in on 5 per cent or less of the "hunting area" covered by crime sites and superimpose a street map on it."

"In 1998, when sex-trade workers had been disappearing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, Dr. Rossmo, then a detective inspector with the department, suggested to his superiors that the community be warned of a serial killer and singled out a pig farm in Port Coquitlam and one of the farm's owners, Robert Pickton, as suspicious. His warnings were ignored and the resulting friction within the department earned the 20-year veteran a demotion, pulling the plug on the fledgling geographic profiling unit. In February, Vancouver police searched that same pig farm and have charged Mr. Pickton with the murder of 15 of the missing women."

The moral of the story

Via elegant hack:
Google's claim that it offers "a news service compiled solely by computer algorithms without human intervention" is misleading, at best. What about the programmers who wrote the algorithms? What about the designers and architects who structured and organized the templates? What about the thousands of reporters and editors who wrote and selected the articles?"

I get concerned when technologies are seen to be separate from us, passive and value-free. Christina astutely points out that computer algorithms hardly function without human intervention, and I would add that as long as we continue to believe that they do, we will not be able to locate any sort of accountability. Find the bodies in the data!

Propaganda for the people

Center for the Study of Political Graphics offers up an archive of 35,000 historical and contemporary guerrilla-style graphics of dissent. Very cool. (via dublog)

The Globe and Mail takes on RIAA

10 rules of e-business failure, a list inspired by the recording industry's imaginative approach.

Be sanctimonious: Claim to be more concerned about the artists than about your profits. You are selfless; your only interest is paying the musicians, without whom you would be nothing. Pray that nobody remembers countless rockers who signed away their souls on recording contracts and were dumped the moment their sales started slipping.

Kill it: Hollywood failed to make the VCR illegal, but you're going to succeed with peer-to-peer technology. Spend millions on lawyers to sue Napster and Scour into oblivion. Sure, paying lawyers has suddenly become more important than paying your artists, but so what? Hedge your bets by setting up your own Web site, offering songs that aren't selling well in stores. When your e-business proves to be less than a thundering success, blame it on the pirates — meaning all your customers.

Make government your accomplice: Demand exemptions from criminal prosecution by the U.S. government for your hacking and denial-of-service attacks. You're doing this for a Higher Cause, after all, which is paying royalties to your artists (remember them?). Drag Verizon Communications, an Internet provider, into court demanding it surrender the name of one of its subscribers allegedly sharing 600 music files, so your expensive lawyers can crush this kid's little skull. Then get the Canadian government to impose a levy on all recordable media sold here, whether it's used for burning pirated music or archiving corporate data or storing pictures of the kids. Make mortal enemies of Apple and Sony because the levy adds something like 20 per cent to the retail price of their portable jukeboxes, pricing them out of the market. Collect more than $30-million without disbursing a single cent to your artists — after all, you're Fighting the Good Fight, and you're going to have to tighten the artists' belts for them if you hope to win.

Girls in the comic world

Sequential Tart is for you, Linda. (via boingboing)

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Latest additions to my research bibliography

Eugene Thacker on State Biophilosophy and the Fukuyama-Stock debate.

Eric Monteiro on the Purity and danger of information infrastructure.

Nitin Sawhney and Chris Dodge on physical and ambient interfaces that form representations of evolving processes rather than temporal descriptions of data.

Ever wanna buy something just because you think it is perfect?

What's in a name?

Being ineligible for scientific research funding, I didn't notice that NSERC (the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada) recently changed the name of their main funding program from "Research Grants" to "Discovery Grants."

"Response to the new name, which we first proposed last year, has been extremely positive," said NSERC President Tom Brzustowski. "Discovery is the object of basic research, which is what this program supports, and the use of that term in the name makes that very clear." "By branding this program more carefully, we can better explain these awards to the public and their political representatives, as well as take advantage of new communications opportunities," said Communications Director Tim Nau.


How I'm going to spend my afternoon

Reading Baltasar and Blimunda by Jose Saramago - a twisted little love story set in Lisbon during the Inquisition and the plague. Oh joy!

And I have office hours at the University... it's depressing that so far none of my students have expressed any interest in doing their research projects on the sociology of science & tech. It seems that despite my better efforts, they are still stuck in the sociological time warp that is race, class and gender.

Update: As I mentioned my surprise that no one has chosen to do an observational study of a bar, I was stunned to learn that many of my students are under-age! While I still suspect lots of these kids lack sufficient imagination, some of them were born in the early 80s (which is hardly their fault) and I feel old! But maybe I'm just disappointed because being under-age never kept me out of the bar, and of course I should not counsel my students to break the law ;)

A body on its 30th trip around the sun

I apologise for sounding like a Chinese medicine evangelist, but I am continually amazed at how it all works. Plus, my doctor is so cool that she came in on Sunday so that I wouldn't have to make it through the long weekend without treatment. And now again, just back from acupuncture and the pain is down to a dull ache in my hips and ass. If I could only get over the excessive weakness and tiredness I feel, everything would be great (Chinese herbal medicine seems to work slower than acupuncture). I swear my body hasn't been as strong since I suffered a brutal case of cholera around my 26th birthday...

I think I just appreciate the Chinese tradition of treating a whole person, and today we talked about ways of calming my mind so that my energy isn't constantly being diverted. My active mind has always been a great strength, but as long as I can remember, my mind never rests and I exhaust myself mentally and emotionally. Western medicine offers up no end of sedatives, but they make me stupid and take away my mojo - and that is way uncool ;) I fell in love with free jazz because it was the closest thing to my mind that I had ever heard, and I find it consoling... So long as she doesn't get my mind sounding like folk music, I'm happy.


Let's see how quickly the Blogger folks can fix the publishing problem I'm having on last night's post ;) In the meantime, the link works fine, and the author's name is Stoneham.

Inca burial at Machu Picchu

Peruvian archeologists have discovered the first full Inca burial site at Machu Picchu since the famous mountaintop citadel was discovered 90 years ago. "When the citadel of Machu Picchu was discovered in 1911, 172 tombs with human remains were found, but over the years only bones have been found. It's only now that a complete burial site has been uncovered. The find is significant because of the funeral objects, such as stone and clay pots and five metal objects accompanying the remains of bones of a person, probably a woman."

I've been to Machu Picchu several times and it is, quite simply, one of the most amazing places on earth. Never discovered by the Spaniards because they rode their horses along the valley bottoms and the Inca built their roads high on the mountains, the site has been subject to no end of unsolved mysteries-type documentaries (and to thousands of visits by tourists seeking mystical enlightenment). We used to joke that when archaeologists don't know what something might have been, they say it is ceremonial. But the consumate Andean scholar, John Rowe, found colonial documents that claim the site was the royal estate of Wayna Capac. After succumbing to smallpox just before the Spanish invasion of Peru - contagion travels faster than people - the emperor left two sons. By the time the Spaniards arrived, the empire was in civil war as each son staked claim to the throne. Pre-existing political divisions no doubt aided the Spanish, as less than 200 men managed to bring down an empire of millions. But then again, if you'd never seen horses and hairy men, European armour and weaponry, or attack dogs - all backed by the fervour of the Inquisition - it would probably throw you for a loop.

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Noteworthy reading from today's stack

, A.M. 2002. Computational physics: a perspective. Philosophical Transactions: Mathematical, Physical & Engineering Sciences 360(1795):1107-1121. Abstract.

Things to do #23

IA Summit 2003: Information Architecture "Making Connections" call for participation. See you in Portland in March ;)

Quite possibly the worst rock ballad of all time

1973's Lady, by Styx. (I dare you to listen to it and not piss yourself laughing!) But just think of all the young men who got lucky because of it - thank God I was only a baby ;)

The life of a grad student allows one to enjoy Mondays, and I watched two great movies today: Almost Famous (which thankfully did not feature the above song) and The Ice Storm.

Can you say "procrastination"?

Monday, October 14, 2002

Carbon vs. Silicon

Beauty on a dark and rainy day

I've been reading the 300 Tang Poems (the Tang Period of Chinese History was 618-907) and was moved by A Song of Unending Sorrow by Bai Juyi. It tells the story of an Emperor who craves "beauty that might shake an empire" and finds it in a new wife.

And the Emperor, from that time forth, forsook his early hearings
And lavished all his time on her with feasts and revelry,
His mistress of the spring, his despot of the night.
There were other ladies in his court, three thousand of rare beauty,
But his favours to three thousand were concentered in one body.

When she dies, he is completely devastated. I want to know if he was consoled by her message from the afterlife:

"Our souls belong together...
On the seventh day of the Seventh-month, in the Palace of Long Life,
We told each other secretly in the quiet midnight world
That we wished to fly in heaven, two birds with the wings of one,
And to grow together on the earth, two branches of one tree."
Earth endures, heaven endures; some time both shall end,
While this unending sorrow goes on and on for ever.

I'm a big fan of tragic love stories - and especially tragicomedies like Cyrano de Bergerac, Love in the Time of Cholera and Oscar and Lucinda. It's the intensity of emotion (of love, pleasure and suffering) and the absurdity and wit that appeal to me. If I have any describable sense of romantic love, that would be it ;)

Sunday, October 13, 2002

Of recent note

An interview with Peter Merholz and Nathan Shedroff on User-Centered Design.

Wired News' first makeover in two years to comply with Web standards recommended by the World Wide Web Consortium.

Saturday, October 12, 2002

T-shirt of the day

"Twice Doesn't Make You Gay"

Publish or Perish, dammit!

I got a note from my PhD supervisor reminding me that I am supposed to be working on something for publication, so things will be a bit quiet around here for awhile ;)

Two papers currently in the works: Mobility and the Shape of Mercury: Notes on Calder and Hacking Everyday Life.

Friday, October 11, 2002

I stand corrected

When I worked as an archaeologist it annoyed me when people asked me about dinosaurs, so I can understand the frustration that comes when people lack appropriate knowledge of what you do/did. Adam was quick to point out that it is PSYOP, without an "s" - although I was most taken by a tshirt he mentioned: "because physical wounds heal." Wow, if that doesn't sum it up, I don't know what does!

But of greater interest to me was another of Adam's posts - on the film Southern Comfort. I really enjoyed it myself, and would concur that it is valuable to explore notions that cause discomfort. Gender and sexuality issues are especially touchy in our culture, and I begin the teaching unit with three (not-so-simple) questions: "What is a man?" "What is a woman?" and "Why do we have to choose?"

Sometimes we watch Boys Don't Cry and work through some of the exercises in the awesome little text, My Gender Workbook. And if we have time, I tell my students about a presentation I once saw by a hermaphrodite - she was exploring mass media representations of hermaphrodism (so often of the freak show variety) and went into great detail on the medicalisation of "ambiguous gender," and her own experience of being designated "female." I remember her dismay that Western feminists often assume that a woman without a clitoris cannot fully experience her own sexuality - she was quick to point out that "woman" does not equal "clitoris" and that questions of female circumcision are more complicated than that.

Thursday, October 10, 2002

More on the cultures of computing conjures Ted Nelson.

btw Adam, I thought of you when I read this article on forked-tongue warriors :-) You gotta love officially sanctioned social engineering and meme warfare: psy-ops good, hackers bad ;)

I really should pay more attention

Imagine my dismay this morning when I realised that one of my favourite hacker culture resources - - is no longer online. They stopped publishing their lists of global web defacements in May 2001, but the archives were still available a few months ago. I always enjoyed the catalog of hacker exploits, but my favourite content was their comprehensive collection of individual statements on hacker ethics. Those were gold to anyone interested in the cultural aspects of hacking.

I am depressed to see that this slipped by me, and have to conclude that this is yet another occasion when work has interfered with my ability to keep up on my research. I hate when that happens! I'm just thankful I had the foresight to print all of the ethics stuff while it was still available...

Incidentally, this came to my attention when I checked my site logs and noticed that my research on hacker culture gets more visits than any other part of the site beyond the blog. So I checked to see when I last updated it - end of January!! - and thought I'd do some work on it this morning, starting with a link check.

The content and amount of traffic might account for why the U.S. military (the National Internet Protocol Router Network, also known as the NIPRNET, an unclassified, but listed sensitive DoD WAN) regularly spiders the site, but then again a fair amount of my research involves things in which they have a hand. It also seems to be a favourite of folks in Eastern Europe - I wonder how many 14-year-olds do a search for "hack" or "warez" and find this instead?! I suspect they'd be disappointed, but still people come back.

Tuesday, October 8, 2002

Mary Jane and powerful neighbours

"Prime Minister Jean Chrétien seems prepared to risk the ire of the United States and decriminalise the use of marijuana. John Walters, the Bush administration's drug tsar, has publicly stated that if Canada decriminalises marijuana it could face serious disruptions to border trade, which is crucial to the Canadian economy. Other US politicians have warned of dire consequences if Canada becomes the pot patch of the north. But momentum is clearly building. Last month a Canadian senate committee made headlines, recommending that anyone over the age of 16 be able to smoke marijuana freely. If it is ever implemented, the recommendation would mean joints would be legally available to teenagers long before a pint of beer. The report, which filled four volumes, was extensively researched. It also urged amnesty for the 600,000 Canadians convicted of possessing marijuana. The senate committee argued that the recreational use of pot is no more harmful that smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol, both legal vices that provide healthy annual tax revenues. There is no reason marijuana shouldn't be legal and sold at the local store, the committee said."

The shape of the Internet

"Until 1999, the standard way of modelling the Internet was to use randomly generated graphs, in which routers were represented by points and the links between them by lines. But it turns out that such random graphs are a poor approximation because they miss two important features. The first is that links in the net are “preferentially attached”: a router that has many links to it is likely to attract still more links; one that does not, will not. The second is that the Internet has more clusters of connected points than random graphs do. These two properties give the Internet a topology that is scale-free — in other words, small bits of it, when suitably magnified, resemble the whole... That observation may have implications beyond the virtual world. Research has shown that the network of human sexual partners seems to be scale-free, too." (from The Economist)

An Atlas of Cyberspaces offers a lovely survey of some of our modelling efforts to date.

And arguably, the greatest contribution of Actor Network Theory is that there is nothing beyond the network. Not the hubs, but the network space itself. But ANT's propensity to maintain a sense of order and stability - through the network - is arguably its primary weakness. A little D&G and the literature on flow suggests that spatiality is less amenable to modelling than at first appears. Things move in weird ways, and small heterogeneous bits do not necessarily make homogenous wholes.

Bots and Hackers

"The next wave of robots may resemble Transformers. Unlike domestic Rosie bots, self-reconfiguring robots have to morph into different shapes to best fit the terrain, environment and task. Self-reconfigurable robots can change their external shape without human assistance. Such a robot could self-organize as a snake shape to slither through a narrow tunnel, reconfigure as a multi-legged walker to trudge across rough terrain (such as a lunar surface), and then change shape again to climb stairs and enter a building."

"It took four years, 331,000 participants and a difficult legal case, but the relentless efforts of and its supporters have finally broken a 64-bit encryption key developed by RSA Data Securities. When set up shop in 1997 to test various forms of encryption by essentially breaking through them, organizers figured it could take 100 years to uncover the RC5-64 sequence due to limited computer power and the fact that so many people would have to participate in the effort. There was so much data to analyze for the project that when the key was eventually found in mid-September, McNett and his crew of participants around the world initially overlooked the winning entry. It read: "The unknown message is: Some things are better left unread." The man who discovered the secret message used a 450-MHz Pentium II to find the solution. A resident of Tokyo, Japan, he has asked to remain anonymous."

Monday, October 7, 2002

Sundays are good

A beautiful lazy day listening to fantastic music :-)

Clawhammer's wacked out cover of Devo's entire Are We Not Men? album,
My favourite Bongwater album: The Power of Pussy,
Sonic Youth's Death Valley '69 EP (with the lovely Lydia Lunch),
Nomeansno's brilliantly heavy album Wrong,
The wonderfully unsettling Eskimo by The Residents,

and a most favourite since I saw them last Spring: Medeski, Martin and Wood's The Dropper.

Sunday, October 6, 2002

Doors of Perception 7: Flow

Let me know if you make it to this conference on the design challenge of pervasive computing, 14-16 November, in Amsterdam. Some damn interesting folks will be in attendence.

From their mailing list: Urban Drift, a collaborative platform for contemporary urban strategies / a network initiating and supporting urban interventions / a hybrid urban praxis, opening up and communicating architecture to a wider audience / urban survival strategies / time-based architecture, temporary and ephemeral / urban transformation and the reanimation of lost, forgotten, hidden city spaces / drift-inspired by random movement / neon-inspired / trans-cultural collaboration / the city as a medium / scavenging, remapping, resampling the city in light, sound and text / urban nomadism / 24 hours nightwalking / the reinvention of spaces / intervention / urban curating / working with the city's second skin / fluid identities which are never fixed, communicating a mobile, fluid urbanity / reading the city as text / psychogeographies the space of relationships / the creation of urban situations / stalking peripheral urban spaces / process-driven urban design / garage settlements / urban voids / urban animators / to know is to insert something into what is real and hence to distort reality / container cities / born in berlin - city in a state of flux / but modular, viral, transportable and translatable elsewhere / drift via text / smart materials, mobile telephone technologies and new hybrid cultures in urban design / soundscapes / reanimating the real / multiple identites...

(Sorry, but I do love lists.)

International Museum of Collage, Assemblage and Construction

A department of the Ontological Museum (Museo Ontologico) in Mexico, the IMCAC is dedicated to the collection, study and exhibition of collage, assemblage, construction, montage, photo-montage, digital collage, and other constructive arts. (via dublog)

I love academics

"The 2002 Ig Nobel Prize Winners: The winners have all done things that first make you laugh, then make you think."

My faves include Theo Gray of Wolfram Research, in Champaign, Illinois, for gathering many elements of the periodic table, and assembling them into the form of a four-legged periodic table table and Chris McManus of University College London, for his excruciatingly balanced report, "Scrotal Asymmetry in Man and in Ancient Sculpture."

(via the Fortean Times)

Chimu sacrifice

The ancient sacrificed remains of 200 fishermen have been excavated from a beach in Peru. Archaeologists believe they were kneeling, tied and blindfolded, facing the waves, then stabbed through the heart... Of the 200 bodies, 107 were found intact. Many are arched backward, as if in their death throes. "It's impressive to think that, even though 600 years have gone by, the pain and anguish these people went through when they died can be seen in the cadavers and even the outlines they left in the sand," Walde told Reuters. Near to the bodies, Walde's team found jugs filled with grains and drinks, a fishing net and other everyday items.

I really loved my mortuary archaeology class with Andrzej Weber, who landed a huge grant last year to work on a Neolithic burial site near Lake Baikal, Siberia. He taught me to be very careful about how mortuary remains are interpreted. And yeah, I still read Archaeology every month.

Saturday, October 5, 2002

Strange but interesting

The U.S. military is exploring ways to use drugs such as Valium to calm people without killing them during riots or other crowd control situations where lethal weapons are inappropriate. Some critics say the effort violates international treaties and federal laws against chemical weapons, an allegation the military denies.

The Homeless Guy blog.

(via boingboing)

A little Good Morning music

Friday, October 4, 2002

The Runaways - Cherry Bomb

Circa 1979. And yeah, her shirt says "Will Think."

I Love My Job

Nothing makes me feel like I do in the classroom - for hours after teaching I am enraptured and delighted with the world. Today's seminar was about last week's observation of cultural behaviour. These kids went out in groups to observe, but not interact directly with, their fellow university humans. Some went to the pub, others to the quad open space, the foodcourt, and the bus stop. Astute observers, they noticed what people wore and how they acted towards each other. But I was fascinated to see that they most often interpreted what they saw in terms of the other's psychological state or motivation. Like this: "Single people at the bus stop fidget a lot because they're embarrassed that they don't have cars, and wish they didn't have to be there." So, I have to pull them away from mental constructs and try to get them to focus on sociological categories of inquiry - like public transportation, sub-cultures, consumption, or designated waiting spaces. Things that we do, not things that we think. The best thing about sociology is that it is easy to convince 18-19 year olds that they are "naturals" of the discipline - they are already fascinated by all the people they see around them - so then your only task is to make them good at it. But most of all I love that they teach me new ways of being in the world. Next week we're working on formulating their research project questions. Yeah, I am such a geek!

A little more on classification

"The ALL Species Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to the complete inventory of all species of life on Earth within the next 25 years - a human generation. To describe and classify all of the surviving species of the world deserves to be one of the great scientific goals of the new century." (I thought I might have read about this at V-2, but could have been somewhere else.)

One of my favourite examples of the implications of classification is the different taxonomic categories to which bats have historically been assigned by zoologists. Once grouped with birds due to the external (visible) characteristic of having wings, bats were later re-categorised as mammals according to their internal (invisible) characteristics. Now, did the bat change or did our understanding of the bat change? Was our earlier interpretation wrong, and is our current interpretation correct? Does the bat have an essence that we finally understand, or has the bat always, and only, been what we have said it is?

If the question of whether a bat is a bird or a mammal seems trivial, then let us consider another example of the consequences of biological classification. Goudsblom describes the domestication of fire as a behaviour used to distinguish between different biological species, and perhaps more interestingly, between stages of human evolution, as the ability to make fire was considered to be a sign of civilisation. Accordingly, it was this assertion of progress - the domestication of fire - that, in part, allowed taxonomists to distinguish between animal and human. So, in this sense, the biological category was socially constructed, according to prevailing norms of interpretation, rather than merely (and purely) being a biological entity in the world.

Notions of inclusion and exclusion from systems of classification are central to our understanding of anomalies in scientific work, as an anomaly is something out of place, that which does not belong. For example, while doing archaeological fieldwork, I was instructed to identify “isolated artefacts,” or that archaeological evidence located outside of the site boundaries we had established according to artefact density patterns. I was also instructed to exclude these data from any analysis or interpretation of the archaeological site, as they were “anomalous,” or “statistically irrelevant.” While this may seem to be a matter of practicality in terms of limiting the variables for analysis, it was highly arbitrary and could become quite problematic if one were attempting to relate one site to another. Such an approach treats archaeological sites as delineated and contained spaces, mutually exclusive in much the same way that society and economy have traditionally been separate but inter-dependent; to investigate “isolated artefacts” required an approach sometimes referred to as “non-site” archaeology. For those reasons, what constituted archaeological evidence, and thus, what constituted an archaeological site, were socially constructed according to (agreed upon) definitions of inside and outside, relevant and irrelevant.

Cloth and Clay and the Consequences of Classification

The Virtual Museum of Canada has sponsored the excellent online exhibit Cloth and Clay: Communicating Culture. First, I admit that I am mostly impressed because of the subject matter: Pre-Columbian textiles and ceramics. And they used top-notch research on the Inka, which makes me really happy. If you want to see where I grew up and did my MA fieldwork, check out the Andean Highlands section.

I also find the Let the Objects Speak section quite interesting from a museological perspective: "Select any object to learn who made it, what it is, and where and when it was created. You can also read what the objects themselves have to their own words." This indicates a paradigm shift in the representation of cultural artefacts, but I could really do without the first-person narrative: "I used to have a great deal more blue thread woven into me, but for some reason, the dyes or mordants used to colour my blue threads caused more degradation than those used to make other colours. However, now that a picture of me can be scanned into a computer, it is possible to restore much of my colour and brilliance to a level consistent with my best preserved sections." I know that it is meant to make history more personable and meaningful, for which I congratulate the curators, but I'm not sure it succeeds at communicating a reflexive position by museum collectors and interpreters.

I worked a couple of contracts for the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) a few years ago, and I always remember one particular exhibit they created. They brought a dozen or so Native Latin American artisans, poets, shamans etc. to view their collection and select objects for exhibition. Next to the displayed objects were those people's rationales for choosing particular artefacts. I was most fascinated by those people who selected objects from different cultural heritages, and who claimed they chose a particular sculpture because they thought it was beautiful, yet wondered as to its cultural significance. While I'm not sure it was ever the curator's intention, the exhibit threw light on the museum collection process and struggle for contextualisation. Take this case: the Smithsonian collected 6500 pieces of Zuni pottery between 1880-1885, which destabilised the pottery making traditions as design sources were removed from the pueblos. When you see the massive exhibit of these pots, that fact is absent - and yet I would argue it is quite relevant to the interpretation of those objects. To give the NMAI credit, they are now mandated by federal law to repatriate artefacts as requested by Native tribes. (My second contract involved the repatriation of human remains to Peru for reburial - last I heard, the Smithsonian had over 100,000 Native American skeletons in their closets.)

Back to Cloth and Clay - unfortunately, I was struck by a few IA-related problems and was reminded of the consequences of classification. First, the navigation within sections can be confusing and inflexible at times, and I would have liked to see a means to navigate across exhibit sections: i.e. if I wanted to see everything they had on Andean cultures, I would have to enter and exit three separate sections. The exhibit follows a largely natural history type of classification, based on artefact typology and discrete culture areas, and the navigation enforces this engagement with the objects. Effectively, this prevents a user from making connections between technologies and cultures not intended by the curators, and I have always considered that an unfortunate effect of most museums. Virtual spaces offer the possibility to walk through the walls that traditionally separate exhibits, or to take short-cuts to more interesting sections. So while the title of the exhibit rolls off the tongue quite nicely, it still remains Cloth and Clay: The Museum Communicating Culture.


I wrote Peter Bagge of HATE comics fame, and he wrote back with the wit I expected ;) Thanks for taking the time.

Music giveaway

"The British recording industry today launches its latest attempt to stem the flood of consumers who are abandoning the legitimate CD market and turning to pirate internet services to download music for free. Rocked by plummeting global sales and the growing realisation that previous anti-piracy efforts have proved woefully inadequate, labels and distributors will try to tempt back customers with an initiative dubbed the "biggest ever official giveaway of digital music". For £5, users will be able to listen to 500 tracks online, download 50 tracks on to their hard disk or burn five tracks on to a CD." (from The Guardian)

Apparently, S Club 7, David Bowie and Britney Spears were the "top pirated artists of last year." Yikes!

More on Mitnick

"Things are certainly looking up for the man who was once the media's evil hacker poster boy. Mitnick even has the government's seal of approval now -- the Federal Communications Commission has just officially declared him a reformed man and has decided to allow Mitnick to keep his radio license. The commission's report cited Mitnick's new book, The Art of Deception: Controlling the Human Element of Security, as a contributing factor in their decision. Both business and book are designed to help others defend against exactly the sorts of social-engineering scams that put Mitnick behind bars for 4.5 years on charges of computer fraud. Mitnick said that hacking people is "equally as easy" as hacking computers. But he believes that far too much attention is paid to pure cyberthreats, leaving the door wide open for social-engineering attacks." (from Wired)

Social engineering - the most important piece of hardware is your wetware. You have to have a damn quick mind - has always been my favourite aspect of hacker culture, so I can't wait to read this!


Simputer stands for "simple, inexpensive, multilingual computer." It was designed to meet the needs of rural villagers in countries such as India, Malaysia, Nigeria and Indonesia. Many of these potential users are illiterate and have never even seen a computer before. Loaded with some elementary software, the Simputer will sell for about $250 (or $300 for a model with a color screen). That's a sizable chunk of the yearly per capita income in many developing nations. But the Simputer's proponents argue that a single device could enable an entire village to access the Internet, perform transactions, keep track of agricultural prices and educate its children. Says Shreyas Patel, a consultant to Encore who has been setting up pilot tests of the Simputer in East Africa: " This will bring computing power to isolated communities. It can have an enormous impact. But how will illiterate people be able to use the Simputer if they can't read the directions on the screen? There are two answers. One is the simplicity of the device's interface: because each display page shows only a few possible commands, even illiterate users should be able to learn by trial and error the purpose of the icons and buttons on each page. The second answer is software that can turn text into speech. The Simputer holds a database of phonemes-- basic linguistic sounds-- and from these it can generate an audio representation of any word as long as it is spelled phonetically and in characters from the Roman alphabet. (from Scientific American)

Forgive my scepticism, but I'd be amazed if this took off. Presumably some market researchers thought this was a good idea, but I can't help but wonder if the cultural infrastructure actually exists. While I can see interests in global markets being very real, the thought of people in remote Andean communities using the Internet to teach their children seems far less likely. This reminds me of some of the development work I saw growing up - Westerners just assumed that the locals would want to live like we do. Projects were completed, and never used again.

Thursday, October 3, 2002


"The U.S. Army Soldier and Biological Chemical Command has operational missions throughout the United States and a Soldier Systems Center as well as Chemical Biological Center. SBCCOM is dedicated to develop, acquire and sustain soldier, soldier support and biological and chemical defense technology, systems and services to ensure the decisive edge and maximum protection for the United States."

All sorts of interesting stuff here! and I'm sorry to have missed the International Interactive Textiles for the Warrior Conference.

btw - SBCCOM works with Nexia Biotech on what I like to think of as the spider-goat project - one of my PhD case studies.

More Chinese medicine

Daily visits to Dr. Li are helping me slowly but surely heal. The pain has relocated to my hips and I spend 45 minutes every day with 12 needles in my ass and then 15 minutes with 8 little glass cups sucking on me! And then add to that some vile-tasting eleven herb concoction tea I have to drink three times a day. What amazes me the most is how long she spends looking at my tongue and feeling my pulse, and how all of her advice contradicts what the doctors and physiotherapists have said. All I can say is that in one week she has helped me feel better than they did in a month. If the intense ache and weakness would go away, I'd be a happy camper ;)

I'm off to work now, and as you might imagine, the last thing I want to do is sit...

The Game Neverending

"The Game Neverending is a web-based massively multiplayer online game of social, political and economic interactions." (via mememachine)

Looks interesting, but what really got my attention was their inspiration:

"There are at least two kinds of games. One could be called finite, the other infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play." (James P. Carse, Finite and Infinite Games)

"For many years the conviction has grown upon me that civilization arises and unfolds in and as play." (Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens)

Yes! and if we throw in Caillois and Sutton-Smith, we'll be good to go!

Hacker paraphenilia

I've often wondered what hacker groupies are like, but maybe they're no different than rockstar groupies:

Now on ebay - "This is the Toshiba Satellite T1960CS, 486 laptop computer seized by the FBI on February 15, 1995, in Raleigh, NC, during the arrest of the world's most celebrated computer hacker, Kevin Mitnick. The laptop is working and has been loaded with a fresh version of Windows 95. A shrink-wrapped version of Windows 95 on floppy, is included with the laptop. The laptop is a 486DX with a color LCD, detachable trackball mouse, AT&T 14.4 PCMCIA modem card, power adapter and documentation in FBI evidence bags. The laptop has been signed on the bottom by Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Computer, and says, "You've got the whole world in your hands. --Woz (Free Kevin!). It is also signed by Mitnick himself. The system was shown on the September 27, 2002 episode of The Screen Savers on TechTV, where the signatures on the bottom were authenticated in a special show hosted by Wozniak and Mitnick. A tape of the show will also be included. This is one of the two laptops allegedly used to hack into networks of major corporations and Tsutomu Shimomura. A letter of authenticity shall be provided with the unit." (via boingboing)

Can't wait to see if it sells for more than Kurt Cobain crap!

Wednesday, October 2, 2002

Thinking about this creativity thing

I've spent the past few days working non-stop on my scholarship/fellowship applications. Very tasking. But it may account for the amount my mind has been wandering into the fringes: the ability to be interested in ideas that are not yet fully formed.

And what do you smell like?

For years I smelled like Anne plus Coco Chanel. More recently I have smelled like Anne plus Issey Miyake's Le Feu d'Issey. Apologies to those with allergies, but I really like the way we smell together.


My God, I now spend so much time online that I had almost forgotten those many years of being sustained by paper zines and other cool things that arrive in the post. Anyone remember FactSheet Five during Mike Gunderloy's time? Or High Weirdness by Mail, by Rev. Ivan Stang of Church of the SubGenius fame? Man, I got some great shit from that book!

Check out Invisible City's zine reviews, and RE/Search's Zines! Vol. 1 & 2.

Fringes of the mind

"In the cognitive science of consciousness, there is a lot of interest in what people call the 'fringe of the mind', an idea started by William James, the father of psychology, who in 1890 wrote about the 'reinstatement of the vague' - the ability to be interested in ideas that are not yet fully formed. Creative people have a more intimate relationship with the fringes of their mind, and consequently are able to catch the gleam of an idea as it flashes across the corner of their consciousness." (from the Guardian.)

I dunno, but it seems like I spend an inordinate amount of time in the fringes of my mind...

Back to my regular interests

After receiving more mail yesterday - including letters from people I haven't heard from in years - than any other day this month, I've decided I don't particularly want to engage people on this level. However, it may be worth mentioning that I also received notes from people who shared my position, and, most heartening, an intelligent and insightful message from someone who was able to contextualise the issue in ways I can appreciate ;)

Anyway... on the radar today:

The Mac OS That Can't Be Tweaked. "For years, one of the big attractions of the Mac was the ability to customize the operating system. Users could completely overhaul the machine's interface, sometimes to the point where it was entirely idiosyncratic. But all that has changed with OS X."

Controlling Robots with the Mind. "People with nerve or limb injuries may one day be able to command wheelchairs, prosthetics and even paralyzed arms and legs by "thinking them through" the motions." (via nosenseofplace)

The Lulu Tech Circus.

Tuesday, October 1, 2002

Update on last post

Wow - I've got six emails in the last hour from guys berating me for my narrow-mindedness! (And let me assure you that it is entirely depressing to be judged on that post alone.) I wish I could say I felt otherwise, but I don't. I guess I'm just one of those people who yearns to crawl inside another human being, to explore every nook and cranny, and to love them. I want to experience complete immersion with one person at a time - I find that takes enough energy. And because it doesn't seem possible to do that with someone bent on a threesome, we'll have to agree to disagree.

It's a rainy day and I know my limits

As if you really wanted to know this, but I was just thinking that threesomes don't appeal to me in the least. Don't get me wrong - I have my fair share of kinks, but this just seems like a lot of friction, and I'd rather be alone. You can call me a prude, but I'm all for making genuine connections. But then again, I'm a cynic, and maybe it's just that threesomes usually comprise two girls and a guy - which seems to me to be a mass-produced male fantasy...

News from Ubicomp

Because I've been depressed lately about not making it to Sweden, I keep checking for updates from Adam ;) And now I am most impressed by his attempt to re-code a tuple space (see earlier post) as communal or collective memory.

(via "I was immediately put in mind of the beautiful NY Songlines, which is one New Yorker's psychogeographical trace through the city he so obviously loves. I started to wonder what the Songlines would be like if they were populated by the comments of hundreds or thousands of users, what New York would look and feel like if all those tags were available to you in real time as you strolled the streets of the city. It's a simple, almost a trivial, instantiation of ubicomp, and yet it would enrich the experience of citying tremendously - almost painfully, as if the entire weight of the community's gathered experience was pressing down on you. That, of course, is to put a rather negative spin on a state of being I actually think would be quite rewarding, but I think it's worth adding it alongside of the concerns about direction and timing and privacy that the designers of location-based systems already wrestle with."

I enjoy Adam's thinking, in part, because of his attraction to human psychology - a position removed from, but related to, my interests in the social.

Support Breast Cancer Awareness

Sunday October 6 is the CIBC Run for the Cure with proceeds going to breast cancer research. Please try to lend your support in any way you can.

I have to admit I never gave this much thought, but last year one of my oldest and dearest friends was diagnosed with breast cancer and it scared the shit out of me. Linda has always been my hero - she is the strongest and most independent woman I know - and now she is a survivor too. And not a day goes by that I am not grateful that she is still a part of my life :-)

On the up-side, after she participates in the Run, she's crossing the country to visit for a week. I'm so excited!

In the news

Academia becomes target for new security laws. "Foreign students have helped propel the research for which US universities are famous. New security concerns could limit their ability to contribute." Figures...

Lab shrunk to a chip. "Circuits that shunt liquids rather than electrical currents could soon screen chemicals. The ultimate complexity and application of this technology is "limited only by one's imagination", they say." Well, we'll see...

Neuroscience unlocks secrets of Zen garden. "500-year-old rock pattern suggests a tree to our subconscious." So much for the rhizome?! (via dublog)

Not news, but interesting nonetheless, Lt. Col. David Grossman's Killology Research Group. I've read his book On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, and it was quite thoughtful. But I really wish these folks would stop saying that there is a direct causal relationship between media violence and real-world violence. At best it seems to be a correlative relationship, and that should not provide justification for censorship.

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