Thursday, January 30, 2003

headmap is cool

I don't know why it's taken me so long to note how much I enjoy the work being done by headmap - but I really do!

I have to appreciate folks who draw on Hakim Bey *and* Fraser's Golden Bough, explore relationships between drugs and the built environment (although I'll take Burroughs and Ginsberg over Castaneda any day), and offer an unapologetically wacky (and I think brilliant) take on wearables. And I really like what's in the localis(z)ation section - there's so much to think about and work with...

Blog this

I'd be remiss if I didn't point out some very interesting discussion about my blogging rules post going on at AKMA. These folks are whip-smart and they don't entirely agree with me.

Mostly I'm just pleased to have been introduced to some amazing theologians. (I bet you never guessed that grad studies in theology were my back-up plans in case I wasn't accepted into Anthro/Soc programmes!) Meet Rev. Adam (Proprietor of AKMA, Professor and student of theology and technology, as well as postmodern criticism of the Bible) and Trevor Bechtel (visiting Professor of Theology and Ethics, also pursuing a PhD in Constructive Theology). I was also introduced to Steve's site onepotmeal - where he offers up thoughtful commentary on my post and much else. And ditto for Tom at IMproPRieTies.

Actually, before this list gets more out of hand, it's worth checking out the sites of all the bloggers who offered comments ;)

And one final thought on some of the comments over there: I worry a bit when people find my writing completely unintelligible. I especially worry when I choose language that is far less articulate (i.e. specialised) than would make me happy - simply in order to be understood enough to begin a conversation - and people still don't get it. I must be approaching this interdisciplinary communication thing all wrong...

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

I really dig the chicks from Sleater-Kinney and their music

They do a kick-ass cover of Boston's More Than A Feeling and every time I hear it, I wish they would do a cover of Styx's Mr. Roboto.

Towards a poetics of software

Paul Ford on software and soul. Very nice.


Smart Bandages - modifying the cellulose in cotton so that it can bind with, and remove, excess elastase interfering with the healing process. Hmm. That's gotta be good news for people who suffer from perpetually festering wounds.

"Chemical analysis of 6000-year-old pottery shards shows ancient Britons also had a taste for cow's milk and goat's cheese. Until now, the earliest proof of dairying was a picture of a Sumerian frieze in Baghdad Museum showing milking 4500 years ago." Hmm. We're still the only species that drinks another creature's milk. And now here we are.

"Three-dimensional tubes of living tissue have been printed using modified desktop printers filled with suspensions of cells instead of ink. The work is a first step towards printing complex tissues or even entire organs." Hmm. Printing organs? That's *so* sci-fi.

Gavin Menzies: "I don't see how any fair-minded person who reads the evidence can come to any other conclusion other than the Chinese did get to America before Europeans." The Chinese response: "Nonsense." Hmm. China wins 1-0.

Being in the Service

GI Party "began as a project that would allow servicemembers to publish entries to their own personal journals hosted on GiP so as to allow friends and family to keep up with the lives of those in the military. Civilians who might be considering a life of service could also come here to get a variety of perspectives on life in the military." [via nsop]

Having never understood why anyone would voluntarily join the military, this is actually kind of interesting ;)

UPDATE: Keith Morris asks fellow soldiers why they joined, and some really interesting comments have been posted.

Monday, January 27, 2003

An Extraordinary Mind

German-Canadian experimental physicist Ursula Franklin is one of the scholars I most admire - even if I do not always agree with her. I was first introduced to her work during my BA. She was a pioneer of archaeometry (materials analysis in archaeology) and has studied the metallurgical material culture (and technological processes) of many ancient cultures. And in my technology and culture class, we read her 1989 Massey Lecture, The Real World of Technology.

There's a stack of books I read in my undergrad that changed the way I think - and that was one of them. She never separates technology from people:

"I think what we are all discussing are political issues. They are political in the best sense of the word, in the original Greek sense of the word, in that they affect the community, the very citizens who have to work and live together. When all the technology is disposed of, when we have understood or put aside all the details, what is left are the issues of how people live together. These political issues have existed ever since people have lived together and were articulate about their relationships.

To me, it is important to understand that technology is practice, it is the way we do things around here. This definition takes machines and devices into account, as well as social structures, command, control, and infrastructures. It is helpful for me to remember that technology is practice. Technology, as a practice, means not only that new tools change, but also that we can change the practice. If we have the political will to do so, we can set certain tools aside, just as the world has set slavery and other tools aside. It is also the nature of modern technology that it is a system. One cannot change one thing without changing or affecting many others."

And today - instead of arguing details - I just want to let myself be inspired by her general concerns.

Sunday, January 26, 2003

New finds

nasty: academia at its brattiest. "The main theme of nasty's thirteenth issue is fear... our own fear, the fear that we at nasty produce this dirty little rag of ours to fight the fear that we will become hard, soulless academics, fighting for tenure, and forgetting our students along the way." [via irritant]

Saturday, January 25, 2003


Yesterday I picked up a copy of Alain Joxe's Empire of Disorder and I think I'll read it this weekend.

An excerpt of the book and an interview with Joxe were published in the Australian journal Borderlands. (And there's all sorts of other good stuff in the same issue.) As well, McKenzie Wark reviews the book.

Not binary, not singularity

Edward George writes that there won't be "a killer 'social software' app, that anything implemented will be be two things. Absolutely 'transparent', we won't notice we are using a social software application, and that it won't be a single application it will be a swarm of distributed 'social services' operating on the arsenal of ubiquitous machines around us. Each one not a piece of social software by itself but part of an emergent whole."

I'd be inclined to agree that "social" and ubiquitous computing will render single ("killer") apps obsolete - if only because sociality doesn't deal with singularity. But I'd also be inclined to say that social - for the people - software has failed if we don't know we're using it. Instead of enabling sociality, that's just a totalitarian imposition of pre-determined society. As for application swarms - yes, I can see that working nicely, but only if we don't seek to control their emergence by delineating a (stable) whole. I think it's important to move beyond binary, but moving towards singularity is not where I want to go...

Copyright and open access

Juanita B. passed on a link to Peter Suber's article Removing the Barriers to Research - an interesting look at the benefits of open access to academic research. I'm interested for two reasons: First, I've been designing a web site that helps disseminate current research and provide means for interacting with researchers - and it never ceases to amaze (and disappoint) me that some researchers are completely against this sort of thing (a position that makes my job really difficult sometimes). Maybe this article will help answer some of their concerns... And second, I am interested in ways to copyright my own research.

So here's his basic argument:

"Most copyright holders want to charge for access to their work (erect price barriers) and block access to those who haven't paid (erect permission barriers). But this is dictated by their economic interests, not by copyright law. They have the right to make price and permission barriers disappear if they wish. The secret of open access is to keep copyright in the hands of those who desire open access. There is no need to abolish, reform, or violate copyright law... If scientists and scholars transfer their copyright to a traditional publisher, then the publisher will typically not consent to open access. On the contrary, traditional publishers erect price and permission barriers precisely to prevent open access. However, if authors retain copyright, then they will consent to open access, at least for the research articles for which they expect no payment. If they write for impact and not for money, then they want the widest possible dissemination of their work, which requires that their work be online free of charge and free of the usage limitations imposed by most licensing terms."

In principle, this makes perfect sense to me - although I think he underestimates scholarly resistance and/or overestimates scholarly goodwill. When I was doing my PhD coursework, I was the *only* one in class who thought that open access was a good idea. My professors and fellow students repeatedly expressed concern that someone would "steal" their ideas - and subsequently get access to academic positions and funding that "rightfully" belonged to them. Certainly, as a grad student, I am constantly pushed to publish in peer-reviewed journals - and I think this is a reasonable requirement. What I don't think is reasonable is that, in doing so, I must transfer copyright and licensing privileges to the publisher.

The content on this site is most closely related to pre-print archives. None of the essay content has been peer-reviewed beyond successfully defending my position to my committee. But it's my work, and I feel I should be able to do with it as I see fit. Can someone "steal" my ideas? Sure. Do I care? Yes and no. I mean, I *want* people to take my ideas and do something with them. And all I ask in return is that they give me credit and don't make any money from it. I don't even have a problem with derivative works, and am quite pleased with the Creative Commons share-alike license - in which someone can make a derivative work but only if they use the same license I do. In effect, I am willing to share with you only if you are willing to share with others ;) I like this idea of reciprocity, and gifts never come without obligation.

So, if I did what I was taught to do - none of my research would be publically available. I'm the first person to admit there is nothing earth-shattering in my research (I'll never win the Nobel Prize for Deep Thought) but that doesn't mean there's nothing useful here. More importantly to me, it may be considered useful by people *outside* the academy who might otherwise never have access to my work. After all, how many non-academics read research journals? And this is where I tend to disagree with Suber's article: he says that publishers don't adopt open access as a political statement. In my case, that is most certainly part of it. (Independent publishing is always political.) My research is funded by public monies, and I believe I have an obligation to make my research available to the public (and not just other academics).

Phew. Rant over.

Friday, January 24, 2003

Blogging rules

My primary interest in maintaining this site is to keep track of my research and the things that inform it through time. And most days I am quite taken by the quantity and quality of research blogs out there. As well, my research and personal interests overlap with aspects of design, so I've also become quite attached to certain blogs that address those issues directly (and in ways I can appreciate).

But all of these blogs are located within a larger and longer tradition of blogging - a tradition that is being increasingly dissected both from with-in and from with-out. I won't rattle off a list of links that refer to these debates around the nature and purpose of blogging - suffice to say that issues like what is worth blogging and what isn't (not to mention how items should be blogged) are up for debate.

What immediately strikes me in these discussions is the struggle between culture and sub-culture(s). Let's just say that the infamous "A-List" of bloggers represents blogging culture, and the rest of bloggers constitute the sub-cultures. Now, some sub-cultures will want to ally themselves with the dominant culture - even if that doesn't result in their integration into the dominant culture, it will bring them closer and afford them the power of association. For other reasons, some blogging sub-cultures will try to distinguish themselves in opposition to, and distanced from, the dominant blog culture.

How does this play out? Simple answer: rule-making strategies. Conformity and resistance.

Dominant blogs propose the formal rules, and have the (relative) ability to exclude those that cannot, or do not, follow the rules. Subordinate blogs either conform to the rules (partial inclusion) or try to resist and rearticulate them (from a place of exclusion). In any case, these are struggles between homogeneity (one culture) and heterogeneity (multiple cultures).

After ten years of cyberculture studies we're finally beginning to look at the dystopian qualities of online "community." Few researchers maintain the early utopian visions of online equality - that virtual world which transcends the vulgarities of real life. It has become (somewhat painfully) obvious that the same inequalities that we struggle with in the everyday are equally present in cyberspace - they just take on context-specific qualities.

Thursday, January 23, 2003

Window shopping


Fabio Sergio's thoughtful essay Always-on-people.

North Korean propaganda posters.

IDEO's Social Mobiles. [via boingboing]

The Andes: photos of a personal journey through the region. [via plep]

Deconstructing “You’ve Got Blog”. [via mamamusings]

The China Project: photos of Chinese life 1932-1938 [via nsop]

Supafly - a location-based virtual soap opera where intrigues, gang conflicts, and romance are the tools of the trade for becoming a virtual celebrity.

Food for thought from Matt Webb: The mechanism of change isn't push, it isn't deciding on a solution and working towards it: it's pull, making all possible changes at once...

Wednesday, January 22, 2003


I gotta go out now and it's -37 degrees (that's -34 Fahrenheit). Apparently, freezing to death is relatively painless - you just get cold and fall asleep. Still, if you see me taking a nap in a snowdrift, please wake me up.


I got an email yesterday asking me how I felt about the prospect of war - given my sometimes explicit support of revolution. I was a little stunned that anyone would even ask, since I make a clear distinction between revolution and war (revolutions are about bottom-up ethics, where society changes the state - rather than about top-down morality, in which the state changes society). And I am way against this war. Every time I watch the news, I get a sick, sinking feeling in my stomach. At my most paranoid, I fear travelling in the US because I am convinced that something really bad will happen sooner or later and I'd prefer not to be there. Hell, right now I don't even really like living next door to the US, for fear the lunacy and impending violence will spill over the border! (Although I am able to distinguish between government and citizen, and am grateful to know many wonderful and sane Americans.)

But take this recent post from Allen Coombs (no source given):

Richard N. Haass, Director of U.S. Policy Planning Staff states that "the principal aim of American foreign policy is to integrate other countries and organizations into arrangements that will sustain a world consistent with U.S. interests and values, and thereby promote peace, prosperity, and justice as widely as possible."

A world consistent with U.S. interests and values? Yikes - that's just scary and wrong! Historically, empires have simply tried to keep the barbarians at their own gate (just think of the Great Wall of China) - but what happens when the US wants to gate the entire world? [UPDATE] The Fortress Continent expands.

Still, I have faith in the power of protest, and admiration for small efforts like the poster gallery [via socialdesignnotes]


Political action and emerging technologies

UPI asked anti-war activist Lorie Kellogg of Napanoch, N.Y., to keep a diary of last weekend's rally in Washington. [via smartmobs]

Ever since I read the first Usenet postings on Tiananmen Square and the fall of the Berlin wall, I've been thinking about how mobile technologies will change the face of political action. I suspect it will be harder to keep secrets, but that also has the potential to bog us down with mundane detail. Still, the access to multiple perspectives and the real-time advantage are amazing - even if we're still the "mobile few" rather than the "mobile many."

Vaguely related is the MIT Tech Review's 10 Emerging Technologies That Will Change the World and Nicholas Negroponte on what it will take to make them happen.

Human/non-human and what falls between?

A US court recently decided the X-Men are non-human creatures. "Marvel subsidiary Toy Biz Inc. pushed Judge Barzilay to declare its heroes nonhuman so it could win a lower duty rate on action figures imported from China in the mid-1990s. At the time, tariffs put higher duties on dolls than toys. According to the U.S. tariff code, human figures are dolls, while figures representing animals or "creatures," such as monsters and robots, are deemed toys."

"To Brian Wilkinson, editor of the online site X-Fan, Marvel's argument is appalling. The X-Men -- mere creatures? "This is almost unthinkable," he says. "Marvel's super heroes are supposed to be as human as you or I. They live in New York. They have families and go to work. And now they're no longer human?" Chuck Austen, current author of Marvel's "Uncanny X-Men" comic-book series, is also incredulous. He has worked hard for a year, he says, to emphasize the X-Men's humanity, to show "that they're just another strand in the evolutionary chain."

Man, I don't know which is more interesting - that some people want superheroes to be human or that human figures are considered dolls, whereas non-human figures are considered toys. And how weird is it that dolls should be subject to higher tariffs?

And let's not forget the virtual humans: A Declaration of the Rights of Avatars

More cool toys? Check out this fantastically detailed miniature reproduction of a 60s boy's bedroom. I could develop a fantastic crush on the man who lived in, and recreated, that room ;)

[all links via boingboing]

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Because a girl cannot live on philosophy alone

Yours truly will be making a presentation called Representing Many Voices: Challenges in Government Site Design at the IA Summit in Portland in March. I'm quite looking forward to this presentation, and I'll be in the audience making stupid faces at my friend Adam during his presentation.

I've also been persuaded to attend SXSW/Interactive the week prior - mostly because it looks like lots of fun and Austin is bound to be warmer than Ottawa. (And I'll probably make faces at Adam there too, as he participates in a panel on the role of the independent content provider.)

Hope to see you there - and just let me know if you need any of the support I offer my friends ;)

The Philosophical Divide

So, I've been reading a lot of post-structural theory lately. And it's making it a bit difficult or uncomfortable to actually be in the world. I'm unsettled, so-to-speak. But this has led me to (re)consider analytic philosophy - and why it's not a plausible alternative for me. And it has also reminded me that I disagree with certain assumptions in cognitive science and the philosophy of mind - which automatically puts me at odds with related approaches to emerging technologies.

Much has been made of the differences and divisions between analytic and continental philosophies, and I certainly got my fill of it while my partner was completing his thesis in the philosophy of social science. I used to think the problems were overstated - there is good and bad in both, and they share common origins that are often overlooked. But as I continue my own research, I sometimes find the need to pick a side in the debate. And so I fall on the Continental side (no surprise to anyone who has actually read the content on this site). Still, I will qualify that, and say that hardcore versions of both analytic and continental philosophies turn me off.

That doesn't mean I don't appreciate analytical philosophy. And I have even greater appreciation for post-analytic thought and philosophies that attempt to span the divide. I quite enjoy reading Nick Bostrom's stuff - but that might be because I think he's witty. (For example, you've gotta love someone who can posit meaning in "its revolutionary culturally-negotiated postmodern quantum-metaphysical radical ontologico-semantic self-conceited dialectic aquatic textuality.") And he keeps me honest. I also appreciate aspects of pragmatism, although American pragmatists like Richard Rorty don't appeal to me.

But when it comes to cognitive science and philosophy of mind - like the work of Paul Churchland - I couldn't disagree more. I want to say that sort of thinking weirds me out - a statement or position anathema to analytics. (After all, where's the logic in that?) I imagine Churchland responding to such a statement with "Anne - clearly there are some incorrect connections happening in your brain right now". And then he would tell me what the correct connections are, because - really - I'm coded for optimal performance. And in the end, both of our brains would simply be following the rules that nature set out for us, and our conversation would comprise electrical impulses and feedback loops.

I'm no anti-realist or hardcore idealist, but this cannot possibly be the extent of my/our existence. I have no problem with this being a part of "what it all means," but I don't agree with the distance and absolute certainty of some cognitive science and analytical philosophy. In the end, and despite the fear it arouses in me, I prefer the intimate and the uncertain.

Monday, January 20, 2003

Where to go now?

The information in the last post puts a crimp in my dissertation. I wanted to investigate how electronic clothes (re)configure notions of interface, but we're still too much in the realm of science fiction. Still, it's interesting how the predictions and promises around interactive textiles are changing as research progresses, or fails to progress. There's much that can be said about an emerging technology...

[Not something I want to pursue for my dissertation, but still in the margins of my mind, is the work being done in textile architectures. Take this research on knit fabrics, which can be manipulated to create shapes that cannot be reproduced by woven fabrics. So far, they've created fabrics that are adequate for small tent-like structures and they'll be building re-configurable modulated structures. Mobile dwellings have a really long history, but I don't imagine that the current sense of nomadism has this in mind. At best, I imagine military or research-camp applications. At worst, I imagine giant hive-like favelas in developing nations that governments collapse (and only maybe relocate) as they deem fit.]


Back to biomedical applications of intelligent fibres and notions around weaving the body into a wearable device? A sustained deconstruction and critique of Nexia's spider/goat fibres and the weaving of the spider/goat/human. Hybridity and its discontents. Secant Medical and weaving the human body. Internal/invisible interfaces. Art as critique.

Hmm. Yes.

E-textiles still not cloth

...While they discussed woven fabrics that can process environmental and biomedical data, researchers admitted that current e-textiles are too brittle to wear. "I'm sick of looking at e-textiles that are circuits, and not textiles," said Maggie Orth, CEO of International Fashion Machines, an MIT Media Lab startup that develops e-textiles for military and civilian use. The conductive fibers in wearable circuits must be able to bend and bunch just like any other article of clothing, Orth said. "Something that bends a little before it breaks isn't a textile," she said. Tugging at her sweater, she added, "This is a textile." Orth urged engineers to develop conductive materials, including organics, that can bend without breaking, and can also take the pounding of a sewing machine needle. Still another obstacle to e-textile development, said IFM's Orth, is the lack of flexible display technologies. IFM is talking to Nike about a sneaker that tells runners how fast they're moving. "We have the means," said Orth, "to collect and transmit the data, but not to display it."

"E-textiles may be more practical for industrial design than for wearing. According to researchers from DARPA, e-textiles would be as useless on today's battlefield as a suit of armor."

"DARPA researcher Elana Ethridge described how e-textiles might instead be used in a precision-guided battlefield parafoil that uses variable porosity and a pneumatic spoiler to adapt to shifting winds and temperatures. Ethridge also proposed putting sensors in walkways and buildings to detect the presence of biochemical agents and trigger the shutdown of contaminated areas. In earthquake zones, Ethridge added, embedded sensors could monitor the structural integrity of buildings and other structures."

"What we are not going to do is put a laptop in our jackets. We don't want to compete with CMOS," said Robert Graybill, Darpa program manager for the e-textiles initiative. Instead, the program will enable systems where "you can take your electronics and roll and crumple them up, then still expect them to work. That will open up a whole new domain of applications," he said.

Sunday, January 19, 2003

Last ten things I've read


Adam Greenfield on The Age of Social Machines. "There's something a bunch of us have been hovering around for a while but nobody's come right out and said it... And [then] it hit me, like a shot, that when you strip away the screen of mystification that we all deploy to a greater or lesser extent, every single thing I ask this machine to do on a regular basis is at root social."

Yup. Pretty much. This isn't banal, but it is mundane and easily taken for granted.

As a social researcher, I just assume that pretty much everything is "at root social." I'm even one of those researchers that thinks that objects (like computers) are social, although in different ways than people are social. And this is why I think that anthropological and sociological contributions to discussions of social computing and its design are important. Without corresponding and compatible understandings of what it means to be social or sociable, I'm pretty sure that new technologies will fail to meet our dreams and expectations.

So where can we start?

First, I don't get this notion that's often repeated of groups-of-at-least-three. It's unnecessary to be so limiting and reductive. As soon as we engage the world around us, we have entered into a social relationship. And social relationships are always already spatial, temporal and material.

I scanned some of my notes that outline the idea of the human/computer as social actor. The human/computer does not represent - it performs. As such, it is desirable to design for flow and emergence, to create ways in which sociability can be negotiated between human(s)/computer(s). Designing for sociability requires understanding and articulating social meanings and implications around scalability, adaptability and accountability. And I'm working on that.

Note: I think that these points become more or less relevant according to the degree that sociability is desired or required. Certainly, the design and evaluation of any type of human-computer interaction can, and does, benefit from the inclusion of social factors. But the design of social software, specifically, requires more precision understandings and applications of these ideas.

Call for Papers

CFP: BROADENING THE BAND. International and Interdisciplinary Conference of the Association of Internet Researchers in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, October 16-19.

This year's theme encourages wide participation from diverse disciplines, communities, and points of view. In a cultural sense, the theme calls attention to the need to examine access, inclusion and exclusion in online communities. What role do race, gender, class, ethnicity, language, sexual orientation, age, geography, and other factors play in the degree of online participation? What are the indicators of meaningful participation? In a technical sense, the theme points to the development of broadband, wireless and post-internet networks and applications that are currently coming on-stream including community, private, public as well as national research networks.

Deadline for submissions: March 1, 2003

I'll be submitting a paper on e-textiles and I'd like to organise a panel on something related to ubiquitous or wireless computing. If you have any ideas or want to participate - please contact me.

Saturday, January 18, 2003

On love and time

I've heard an unusual amount about love in recent days, and Fabio's post has persuaded me to (temporarily) avoid worrying about "projecting a controlled version of [my] own self to the outside world [and] always trying to somehow predict the ambushes that reality often sets up along our paths though life."

Love makes me anxious. I find the word "love" to be painfully limiting in its vagueness. And declarations of love are dangerous. As I told someone the other day, I am in love with love even though I feel betrayed by romance. Romantic love promises so much more than it can possibly deliver and takes too much. It can never be a sustaining or sustainable love because, I believe, it seeks to dwell outside of time.

Fabio describes the "little, indiscernible details that sometimes make all the difference. Small acts of love that are even more valuable because they are done knowing no one will even notice," as found in the pleasure of coding, "avoiding the most obvious and crude solutions and spending (precious) time looking for simpler, cleaner alternatives."

This reminds me of doing archaeology. Of the texture and smell of dirt and stone. The burn in my thighs from squatting for too many hours. The first touch and feel as an artefact comes out of the earth. (I suddenly fear I have never been so gentle and reverent caressing a lover.) The precision cleaning, recording and storing of an object. The biting smell of human bone. The complete submission to a different time, or maybe instead, to an infinite extension of time, all in an attempt to love people who will never know.

And so I wonder if Fabio's love of coding and my love of archaeology are like romantic love - trying to persist outside of time? How do these types and acts of love help to place us in real time? Help us actually survive the treachery of the everyday? Or face the "obvious and crude"?

Mythic Hybrid

Diane Ludin talks with Prema Murthy about her latest project for Turbulence.

"In retrospect, the concept of the mythic hybrid seems to lack a realistic consideration of the difficulties involved with hybridization and takes a very "optimistic" approach to contestation through creativity and the imagination."

Building continuums

My love and knowledge of architecture is generally reserved for the ancient variety, although I am often enough stunned by new buildings. And I was impressed by Rem Koolhaas' design for the new CCTV headquarters in Beijing.

"AT 750 FEET IT SEEMS comparatively puny, but its 5.5 million square feet of floor space (as much as one of the Twin Towers) snake into a squared-off loop that links the various functions of CCTV into a continuum. And its stunning silhouette, with amazing turns and cantilevers, makes it unlike anything on any urban skyline."

"It is not a traditional tower, but a continuous loop of horizontal and vertical sections that establish an urban site rather than point to the sky. The irregular grid on the building’s facades is an expression of the forces traveling throughout its structure."

Friday, January 17, 2003

Pretty Beetles

"Poul Beckmann presents stunning close-up studio photographs of one of the most varied and beautiful families of species on the planet, the Beetles." The Metallic Wood-Boring Beetles are my favourites - and this one is particularly freaky-looking. [via dublog]

When my little sister and I were growing up, we used to collect rhinoceros beetles (the males are the ones with big horns) from around the gas compressor engines - they would fly in at night and get stuck in the oil. I only have one that is still intact, but we still have necklaces of beetles like these, made by the native Amazonians. Cool.

On play

"The famed physicist and mathematician Richard Feynman used to say that his most creative activity was playing... He once confided as much to MIT professor Kenneth Haase, who is now acting director of MIT's Media Lab Europe in Dublin. "It's not that play shouldn't be fun, but at its best, play is in fact a lot more," said Haase. "Play is really the wellspring of activity."

"As a lab, we've always looked at playing as one of the most proficient means of learning and acquiring knowledge," said Negroponte. He also said a sense of play and the pursuit of meaningful chaos were key ways in which MIT Media Lab and Media Lab Europe differ from industrial labs, which have to answer directly to shareholders." [via Wired]

This adds to my suspicion that both Huizinga and Caillois were wrong when they said that the space of play is unproductive.

One for the hackers

Remember Jon Lech Johansen - the young Norwegian charged with hacking his own computer because he wanted to watch DVDs on his Linux machine? Well, on Tuesday he was acquitted.

Head Judge Irene Sogn said people cannot be convicted of breaking into their own property. Sogn said prosecutors failed to prove Johansen or others had used the program to access illegal pirate copies of films... The prosecution, which had called for a 90-day suspended jail sentence, confiscation of computer equipment and court costs, said it would decide in the next two weeks whether to appeal... Johansen said he would celebrate by watching DVDs using similar DVD-cracking software.

Taking Aim

Innovation in Dutch UI design:

In each of the urinals, there is a little printed blue fly. It looks a lot like a real fly, but it's definitely iconic - you're not supposed to believe it's a real fly. It's printed near the drain, and slightly to the left... Washrooms are much cleaner when these flies are there. Presumably because they encourage, in a very subtle way, good aim.

[via v-2]

Thursday, January 16, 2003

Emerging Technology

Steven Johnson's new monthly column at Discover Magazine began this week with a look at what might happen when GPS location systems and open hypertext markup collide.

Simply strolling down the sidewalk can become a hypertextual exploration, a journey into a new information space layered over the real one. Suddenly the surrounding air is full of information—some of it created for you by your closest friends, some of it created by total strangers. The streets are alive with data.

Maybe it's the vaguely creepy imagery in that last sentence, but I'm feeling information anxiety just thinking about this right now.

What to do with an anthropology degree

If only I'd known this when I still worried about how to defend my education in the face of hardcore engineering and science criticism: Meet Anthropologist Dr. Doug Vakoch.

"Dr. Douglas Vakoch is the Interstellar Message Group Leader at the SETI Institute, as well as the only social scientist employed by a SETI organization. Dr. Vakoch researches ways that different civilizations might create messages that could be transmitted across interstellar space, allowing communication between humans and extraterrestrials even without face-to-face contact. He is particularly interested in how we might compose reply messages that would begin to express what it's like to be human."

How cool is that?!

[via boingboing guestblogger Andrew Zolli]

Liminal spaces

From Matt Webb: Question. What do you call the bits between the equilibria in punctuated equilibrium?

My answer: liminal (from Latin limen threshold)

Liminal spaces are the spaces in between, thresholds or transitions from one state or space to another. Also boundaries, beginnings, becomings, and similar forms of cultural transition.

Victor Turner wrote extensively on liminal spaces, or what he called the betwixt-and-between. See also The Anthropology of Performance and The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure (which extends Van Gennep's classic work on Rites of Passage).

For an application to technology, see Sue Broadhurst's Interaction, Reaction and Performance: The human body tracking project.

And for the connections between liminal spaces and virtual spaces, see Rob Shield's The Virtual and Pierre Levy's Qu'est-ce que le virtuel?

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

On Maps and Cities

Dan Hill on maps and Adam Greenfield on why the map is not the territory - which reminds me of Baudrillard's simulacra and discussions on the map preceding and engendering the territory, as well as ideas around mapping and allegory, and "the tendency of maps not to mean what they say".

And via Fabio Sergio: Andrew Coward and Nikos Salingaros' An Information Architecture Approach to Understanding Cities. Some interesting points here, and I also recommend Companion to the City and City Reader for overviews of cultural and literary approaches to urban life.

PARC: Speakeasy

I finally got around to reading about PARC's Speakeasy project - and it's really cool. Not only does it raise interesting questions about interfaces, distance and proximity - it draws strongly on notions of emergence and flow. I'd love to spend some time with these folks and ask them what it means to go anywhere and be everywhere, and where we might locate resistance and accountability...

"Typically, communication among devices or services is structured into layers of protocols. Agreement on all layers is required before the devices and services are built. Developing and gaining acceptance of these agreements is a long, costly process that depends on broad industry consensus. Instead of working out all agreements in advance, Speakeasy specifies a few very general agreements in the form of domain-independent programmatic "meta interfaces". These meta interfaces use mobile code to allow new agreements to be put in place at run-time, enabling devices and services to dynamically extend the capabilities of their clients."

And of particular interest is the article Designing for Serendipity: Supporting End-User Configuration of Ubiquitous Computing Environments (pdf) - which focusses on recombinant computing, end-user discovery, configuration, interconnection, and control of devices. The paper also discusses their approach to interface design and usability testing.

So far so good

OK - there are now more than two dozen new essays on the site with more to follow. I'm pulling together notes and finishing off a few book reviews for the design section, but in the meantime feel free to browse the essays on social and cultural theory and mobile computing.

I don't wanna go outside but I have to

Current weather conditions in Ottawa. And yes, that says -31. I can feel my skin freezing already.

Tuesday, January 14, 2003


You may have noticed that this space changed shape. There's a bit more room to accomodate the new essays and categories - theory, mobile and design. I'm trying to bring bits and pieces of my writing together in different ways - this is supposed to help me do my dissertation - and most of the essays are now online.

I'm also beginning an experiment in copyright. I think that academics can get really weird about intellectual property as economic and cultural capital - and I've never really understood why it has to be an all-or-nothing scenario. So I chose this Creative Commons License - it embodies what I would like my work to do and I guess we'll just have to wait and see if or how this costs me economic and cultural capital. What do you think?

And - finally - (Blogger generated) RSS up-and-running. Syndicate away and let me know if you have any problems.

Hardcore Canadian Love

Our friends David and Jessica got married on Saturday and it was beautiful. The event took place outdoors in the Quebec countryside - the sun was shining, the sky was blue and it was -25 degrees. A procession of fifty or so hardy Canadians trudged uphill through the snow to witness the couple's ceremony. Everyone was supplied with bubble wands, and hundreds of bubbles froze in the icy air above us before falling gently to earth. Jessica and David took the first toboggan ride down the hill and guests spent the next few hours snowboarding and sliding down with them. When everyone was sufficiently frozen, we gathered around the fire to eat hot Soupe aux Pois Quebecois and drink hot apple cider. Everything was perfect.

The reception took place indoors that evening, and we laughed at the re-introductions needed after you've only seen someone in serious outdoor gear. There was lots of good food and drink, singing French Canadian folk songs and dancing to the klezmer band. There were stories about love and the value of negotiation, independence and cooperation - in French, Yiddish, English and Spanish.

It was the nicest wedding I've ever attended and I wish my friends the very best.

Saturday, January 11, 2003

Usability Testing

From the Human Oriented Technology Lab at Carleton University, Richard Dillon's Usability Testing: Myths, Misconceptions and Misuses.

Welcome to Antarctica

Via boingboing, what is quickly becoming my new favourite blog: Big Dead Place. Now, I've spent plenty of time doing research in small camps located in remote and extreme environments - but these folks take the prize! And they're damn funny.

"In a 1988 report, an NSF-appointed Antarctic Safety Panel wrote, "The Panel recommends that the National Science Foundation recognize and reflect in its management policies, directives and contracts, that its antarctic stations are not simply worksites, but communities of people with recreational, spiritual, cultural and other human needs." Sounds good on paper. At Antarctic stations, plays, music, and door decorations are all subject to management approval, and an envelope containing local satirical newsletters ("The Symmes Antarctic Intelligencer") was intercepted in the mail and confiscated at South Pole by Human Resources. Let's see how electronic media fares on the Frontier of Scientific Progress, shall we?"

The Stories and Interviews are simply brilliant and if you've ever wondered about the accuracy of John Carpenter's The Thing you should read Antarctica: The Thing and The Station.

Cheers to the hard-working and fun-loving folks in the Land of Ice!

Friday, January 10, 2003

Xbox Challenge On Again

A couple of days ago, Mike Curry and the NEO Project stated they were no longer participating in the challenge to crack the Xbox due to "legal reasons" - but today their web site says they have a new client and the challenge is back on.

Via CNet: "The Neo Project is a group of computing enthusiasts devoted to cracking security challenges using distributed computing techniques, in which heavy-duty computing tasks are divvied up among a number of PCs. The group's initial software release focused on a $10,000 challenge from computer security firm RSA Security to crack a 576-bit encryption code."

But the Xbox uses a 2048-bit encryption key - and that will be really hard to crack, even if it is theoretically possible to derive the private key from the public key. Via New Scientist: "Brian Gladman, an independent cryptography expert based in the UK, says the length of the key means there is an incredibly slim chance of finding it via brute force computing. According to RSA company, it would take a million Pentium 500MHz computers 100 billion years to run through all the possible solutions of a 1640-bit key. A 2048 bit key would be exponentially harder to crack. Andrew Huang, a computer consultant who carried out a detailed analysis of Xbox security while studying at MIT in June 2002, agrees that the odds of succeeding would be extremely small. "It's highly unlikely a 2048-bit RSA key will be guessed," he said. "I seem to remember factors greater than the age of the Universe, even taking into account Moore's law."

Go get 'em guys!

Thursday, January 9, 2003

On Design

I'm currently designing an online space for federally-funded researchers to engage other researchers, communicate their research results and interact with the people in the public and private sector who need to put this research to good use. The researchers are both content producers and users of the site, and the broader user base is very diverse, and to some extent, hard to know. Being a user advocate in this scenario requires representing many (changing) voices and negotiating the challenges that arise in attempting to do so. And to be honest, it's proving to be more difficult than I originally anticipated. All movements seem to involve two steps forward and one step back, albeit in a very rhizomatic sort of way.

Anyway, this project has given me lots to think about in terms of social computing and notions of interface. I have pages of notes that need to be turned into something coherent, but I'm at the point where I can say something about the differences between theorising and doing social computing. Most of all, I have come to better appreciate the need for a clear understanding of (contextual) social interaction and the value of emergent design practices.

More to follow...

Wednesday, January 8, 2003

How strange

While getting my hair cut on Saturday, and flipping through In Style magazine, I saw a picture of Ryan Haddon (daughter of early supermodel Dayle Haddon) and actor Christian Slater. (Ahh, Heathers...) A quick web search gave me context for the photo. In 1999, Ryan gave birth to their first child. They married in 2000, while Ryan was pregnant with their second child. Most recently, the couple have been feeding poor children in America.

Why am I interested in this? When we were 15, Ryan was my roommate in boarding school. All I remember of her now is a young woman deeply hurt by the recent death of her father and burdened by her own physical beauty. We didn't get along - and I hadn't thought about her since grade 11. She seems happier now.

Heavy Rotation

Queens of the Stone Age - Songs for the Deaf
The Strokes - Is This It?
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - B.M.R.C.
The Hives - Veni Vidi Vicious
Sonic Youth - Murray Street
The Vines - Highly Evolved

Archiving Experience Design

LOOP: AIGA Journal of Interaction Design Education - A Virtual Roundtable Discussion on preserving the history and evolution of experience design. (via Chad Thornton)

Virtual Light

William Gibson's new weblog: "In spite of (or perhaps because of) my reputation as a reclusive quasi-Pynchonian luddite shunning the net (or word-processors, depending on what you Google) I hope to be here on a more or less daily basis." (via boingboing)

Saturday, January 4, 2003

On social software

Matt Jones inches us closer to a definition of social software that goes beyond notions of collaboration:

"At the moment, it seems to me, the discussion of social software is massively technocentric, seat'n'screen-centric, expert-user-centric; possibly as an innocent result of those in it's vanguard. For a real great leap forward IMHO, we need to cross the streams of social software and smartmobs with adaptive design. Expand and map the discussion from: software-that's-better-cos-there's-people-there to places-that-are better-for-people-cos-there's-software-there."

Good points, and I certainly agree that Fabio Sergio's Connectedland article is fertile ground for exploration.

Now - please forgive my frustration (or is it arrogance?) but why are techies and designers trying to develop notions of social software without corresponding notions of the social? One of the easiest ways to get discussion to move beyond technocentrism is to ask questions of social researchers. And I'm not just talking about myself here.

Anthropologists and sociologists are able to contribute much more than user-studies if others are willing to ask and listen. Really.

UPDATE: Matt's post has received lots of comments, well worth a read. But can someone please tell me where the notion that sociality requires three or more (not just two) people comes from? And I'd like to see the computer/application itself included as one of the social agents/actors in these equations... (although I would suggest that mathematical equations are not the best place to start when wrapping one's head around sociality.)

Innovation in social computing

Via Danny O'Brien's Oblomovka: Lee Felsenstein and the Jhai Remote IT project. Very cool and in need of financial support.

A few good reminders for PhD students (and others)

Trust your own interest.
Read promiscuously with an open mind.
Have faith in the value of what you are doing.
Don't be afraid to get close to the thing you're trying to understand.

From Les Back's Dancing and Wrestling with Scholarship: Things to do and things to avoid in a PhD Career.

Brave New World

Over the holidays, reports of the first human clone brought discussions of cloning front and centre - it seems that the Raelian sect and the Clonaid company have been hard at work! But I'm siding with the scientists on this one. I find it hard to imagine that we've gotten this right when it took us over 250 tries to get a working sheep. Clone or not, this is bound to get discussion going and I wouldn't be surprised if there's a rush on legislative efforts.

Friday, January 3, 2003

Class on Class

Before the break, my students were looking at social inequality. They were asked to make lists of attributes for the lower, middle and upper classes - and to locate themselves in these categories and lists. At the beginning of our discussion, everyone wanted to be seen as middle-class and only at the end of the hour were people positioning themselves as either lower or upper class. I wondered what it was about (semi)public discussions of class that encouraged these reactions. Enter Andrew Sayer with What Are You Worth?: Why Class is an Embarrassing Subject.

Class is an embarrassing topic. 'What class are you?' or 'What class are they?' are not easy questions, particularly if those who are asked ponder the implications of their answers, or if the questioner is of a different class from the person being asked, and especially if there are others of different classes present who can hear the answer. They can be unsettling because they could be taken to imply further disturbing questions, such as: What are you worth? and Do you think you're worth more/less than others? Even if we want to say that class has nothing to do with worth, that only makes the existence of class inequalities more troubling. What is at stake is the disjunction between economic valuation and ethical valuation.

Sayer continues to explain that new undergrads in sociology will, eventually and unfortunately, be taught to objectify class and distance themselves from it, in order to "better" study it. He argues that this process hides contradictions and ambiguities in our understanding of class - as well as the ethical dimensions.

That may have been what unsettled my students in their initial reflexive moments of engagement - Next week I'll ask them what they think about this.

To Living Poetically

Happy New Year! My holiday was excellent - plenty of friends, food, drink, presents, relaxation and fun. The next four months are going to be particularly hectic for me, but I'm happy to be starting with the energy of a thousand suns.

Over the past couple of weeks, I've given a lot of thought to living poetically. The closest thing I have to a New Years' ritual is (re)reading By Any Means Necessary: Outlaw Manifestos & Ephemera 1965-1970. Even when I disagree with the politics, manifestos embody a beauty and strength, a committment to living intensely and with passion, that I very much appreciate. In the spirit of past manifestos, I want to live poetically in 2003. So I took a look at some historically powerful manifestos - representing a variety of political and aesthetic positions - in the hope of finding those perfect sentences that call the spirit. And to those proper manifestos, I add other poetics.

F.T. Marinetti - Manifesto of Futurism/The Joy of Mechanical Force - 1909
Internationale Situationniste - On the Poverty of Student Life - 1966
Fidel Castro - On 40th anniversary of Cuban revolution - 1999
Valerie Solanas - SCUM Manifesto - 1968
Black Panther Party - What We Want, What We Believe - 1966/1972
Martin Nicolaus - Fat Cat Sociology - 1968
Internationale Situationniste - Manifesto - 1960
Various - No More Miss America! - 1968
Che Guevara - Socialism and Man in Cuba - 1965
The Mentor - The Hacker's Manifesto - 1986
Valentine de Saint-Point - Futurist Manifesto of Lust - 1913
CIN - The loyal and honest struggle of the indigenous peoples of Mexico- 1997
Hakim Bey - The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism - 1985
Radicalesbians - The Woman Identified Woman - 1970
Mohawk Nation - Letter to Government of Canada - 1995
Guy Debord - Theory of the Dérive - 1956(?)
Martin Luther King, Jr. - Where Do We Go From Here? - 1967
Amor y Rabia - Indigenous Autonomy and Revolutionary Resistance - 1997
F.T. Marinetti - Destruction of Syntax/Imagination without Strings/Words-in-Freedom - 1913
Donna Haraway - A Cyborg Manifesto - 1991
Fidel Castro - The case of Cuba is the case of all underdeveloped countries - 1960
Raoul Vaneigem - Contributions to The Revolutionary Struggle - (60s?)
Robin Morgan - WITCH Manifesto - (60s?)

CC Copyright 2001-2009 by Anne Galloway. Some rights reserved. Powered by Blogger and hosted by Dreamhost.