Thursday, May 29, 2003

Chicago bound

It will likely be quiet around here for a bit because I'm off to Chicago for the Digital Genres Conference and a day or so of sightseeing, and I've learned that I'm not very good at blogging while travelling ...

I've never been to Chicago and am quite excited about getting to see some of the architectural landmarks, and finally visiting the Art Institute and Field Museum. I also never miss wandering through city cemeteries and, of course, I must visit the Haymarket Monument.

But mostly I'm looking forward to meeting old and new friends at the conference. See you soon!

At the cost of Canadian taxpayers?!

Today's Globe and Mail reports on a new movie - filmed in Canada and eligible for financial aid from Canadian taxpayers - that portrays a post 9/11 President Bush as hero. I object! (Thanks Nikki!)

When I have more time ...

I'd like to more closely read Tom Coates' recent post on discussion and citation in the blogosphere.

And actually, what I'd really like to do is buy him a pint and talk to him about how we could take this sort of thinking further into the qualitative realm and apply some performative method and critical theory. I also think that ethnomethodology and conversation analysis (or even actor network theory) could be successfully adapted to give us some unique insights into blogging as a social practice ...

File under comics

The Atomic Revolution Comic Book © 1957 M. Philip Copp

Wow. Neat-o drawings of fission, weird takes on history, and the proliferation of capsules of civilization are just some of the highlights of this comic book. And the first and last pages are amazing.

[via dublog]

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Citizen Designer

Via John Emerson's excellent Social Design Notes, "There are many things I’m looking for in a book on design responsibility. Some historical perspective, some global perspective, a sense of urgency, a rigorous analysis of the relationships between design and society and the world we live in. Sadly Citizen Designer: Perspectives on Design Responsibility is none of these things ... Yet even when the essays fail, they often raise important questions."

The entire review is well worth reading, and it brings to mind a recent discussion at Marginwalker.

Canada to decriminalise pot

Despite American warnings, and home-grown conservative opposition, later this morning Canada will introduce legislation to decriminalise marijuana possession - something that has been in the works on-and-off since the controversial (and much wider-reaching) LeDain Commission Report in 1972. The debate over decriminalisation/legalisation has been long and interesting.

Canadian Justice Minister Martin Cauchon said yesterday he "has no plans to back down from the legislation, which he says is necessary to prevent hundreds of thousands of Canadians from clogging up the courts and obtaining criminal records for smoking small amounts of marijuana. 'We expect a good policy for Canadians," he said. "We'll send a message in terms of the question of law enforcement ... and stress that use of marijuana is illegal and harmful to society." The federal government plans to spend up to $240-million to convince Canadians that pot smoking is harmful and remind people that decriminalisation is not the same as legalisation.

The skinny:

"The act would make possession of less than 15 grams of marijuana (the equivalent of about 20 joints) a non-criminal offence punishable by a fine of $150 for adults. Minors, however, would be charged only $100, although police would notify their parents of the offence. If the offender possesses between 15 and 30 grams, the police officer would decide whether to issue a ticket or lay a criminal charge. Possession of more than 30 grams would be a criminal offence.

Police could levy a higher fine if there are "aggravating factors," sources say. For example, driving a car while possessing or smoking marijuana could increase the fine to $400. However, the act would still not be criminal, although police could charge the person with driving while impaired, if there was sufficient evidence. Similarly, although it would not be a crime, for example, to smoke pot on the steps of Parliament or in a playground, police could increase the fine depending on the perceived inappropriateness of the act.

Customs officers would have considerable latitude when confronted with someone bringing small amounts of marijuana into Canada. They could simply seize the pot or refuse entry. In cases of trafficking, they could extradite the offender. If the offender crosses the border from the United States, Canada Customs will notify U.S. officials.

While decriminalizing simple possession, the legislation envisions much tougher penalties for those who grow marijuana commercially. There will be four new categories of offences for cultivation. The larger the operation, the greater the penalty, although information about that aspect of the legislation was not available."

More later ...

(Update) Well, the law still needs to be passed but I will give my first thoughts. I am *not* in favour of decriminalisation; I support the legalisation of marijuana. I'd prefer it were grown here, regulated for quality, and taxed like alcohol and cigarettes. I'd prefer to eliminate the demand for third-world suppliers, and I'd prefer to cripple, rather than support, violent drug cartels. I'd prefer less government and cultural hypocrisy on the matter. And I'd prefer we spend our money on better things than the "War on Drugs". If we decriminalise pot, none of this will happen. And so that's my two cents worth - think of me what you will.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

On games, space and scale

I just finished reading Chaim Gingold's Masters Thesis: Miniature Gardens & Magic Crayons: Games, Spaces, & Worlds (pdf), on the "structure, construction, and aesthetics of game worlds, branching possible worlds, point of view in games, and the design of Comic Book Dollhouse ... a toy for making interactive storyworlds."

He writes:

Space is particularly relevant to digital games. Digital games are highly spatial, and the worlds digital games construct are often particularized in the same way as literary worlds. Game worlds articulate particularized environments, agents, and activities ... “World” sits at the nexus of multiple practices and discourses. Worlds can contain rules, games, spaces, characters, time, action, stories, or any number of other things. “World” subsumes categories such as space, story, and game. Defining world broadly is not useful for constructing a function which tells us whether something is a world or not. It does, however, provide a place to stand for leveraging tools from across disciplines, and thinking about the spatial, procedural, representational, and participatory qualities of digital media artifacts as worlds. By conceptualizing an artifact as a world, we can explore it as a space, story, or game, depending on its emphasis.

Of particular interest is Chapter II - Aesthetics of Miniature Worlds - in which Gingold takes a closer look at space and scale:

A garden has an inner life of its own; it is a world in flux which grows and changes. A garden’s internal behaviors, and how we understand those rules, help us to wrap our heads and hands around the garden. The intricate spaces and living systems of a garden surprise, delight, and invite participation. Gardens, like games, are compact, self-sustained worlds we can immerse ourselves in. Japanese gardens often contain a multiplicity of environments and places, such as mountains, oceans, or forests that we can look at, walk around, or interact with. Gardens are a way to think about the aesthetic, cognitive, and representational aspects of game space. A miniature garden, like a snow globe, model train set, or fish tank, is complete; nothing is missing, and nothing can be taken away. Clear boundaries (spatial and non-spatial), overviews, and a consistent level of abstraction work hand in hand to make the miniature world believable, complete, and tractable for both the author and player. Miniatureness makes a garden intelligible in the mind of a player, and emotionally safe in his heart. Miniature scale, clear boundaries, and inner life help players to wrap their heads, hands, and hearts around a world.

[Via grandtextauto]

File-sharing and other copyright stuff

With over 230 million downloads, Kazaa is now the most popular free software on the Net, a distinction previously held by ICQ instant messaging. (Interesting implications for the "social software movement", no?)

All of which compelled me to spend hours reading Lawrence Lessig's and Aaron Swartz's weblogs and EPIC's DRM page this weekend. Tons of good stuff.

Update 27/05/03: Brian Alexander reports from the Berkeley DRM Conference, The State of Digital Rights Management

Sunday, May 25, 2003

Perfect for the girl geeks you love

cuspy /kuhs'pee/ adj.

1. (of a program) Well-written. 2. Functionally excellent. A program that performs well and interfaces well to users is cuspy. 3. Said of an attractive women, especially one regarded as available. Implies a certain curvaceousness.

[source: Hacker Jargon File]

I so want this printed on a tshirt! Are you with me Molly? Even though neither of us is available, I think we still qualify as cuspy in the sense of being functionally excellent and all ;)

Saturday, May 24, 2003

On design

A successful work of art is not one which resolves contradictions in a spurious harmony, but one which expresses the idea of harmony negatively by embodying the contradictions, pure and uncompromised, in its innermost structure. Theodor Adorno

Friday, May 23, 2003

Current reading

Yeah, I'm lazy when it comes to blogging these days, but here's what I am currently enjoying:

Battle Cries and Lullabies: Women in War from Prehistory to the Present by Linda Grant De Pauw
Machu Picchu: A Civil Engineering Marvel by Kenneth R. Wright and Alfredo Valencia Zegarra
The Sovereignty of Art: Aesthetic Negativity in Adorno and Derrida by Christoph Menke
Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle

Thursday, May 22, 2003

Continuing investigations into ubicomp and intelligent spaces

Still working on my paper on technologically augmented city spaces and I've been reading up on Project ki/o.

"Project ki/o is an experiment in human-computer interaction aimed at capturing everyday life at the AI Lab and pumping it throughout the laboratory. It provides an access point for the lab's digital resources, and unites disjoint physical spaces of the lab by providing a number of live audiovisual awareness links to public laboratory spaces." For more detail, you can take a look at Max Van Kleek's thesis, Intelligent Environments for Informal Public Spaces: the Ki/o Kiosk Platform (pdf).

Ki/o is part of the Agent-based Intelligent Reactive Environments group working on intelligent spaces within MIT Project Oxygen in Pervasive Human-Centered Computing. Good stuff.

Fast reads

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Into the Blogosphere CFP

Into the Blogosphere: Rhetoric, Community, and Culture of Weblogs
(Ed. by the University of Minnesota Blog Collective)

The editors invite submissions for a new online edited collection exploring discursive, visual, and other communicative features of weblogs. We are interested in submissions that analyze and critique situated cases and examples drawn from weblogs and the weblog community. Although we are open to a wide range of scholarly approaches, our primary interest is in essays that comment upon specific features of the weblog and that treat the weblog as always a part of a larger community network.

Abstracts are due June 30th and need to be mailed to

I will be submitting a dressed-up version of the paper on blogs and auto-ethnography I will be presenting at the AoIR Conference in the fall.

Melbourne DAC

The 5th International Digital Arts and Culture Conference blog has been tracking presentations. In the blog, Torill Mortensen has some good posts and Deena Larsen has been taking lots of notes, but they take some time and effort to wade through. Still - note to Stewart - it looks like there might be some interesting points about the differences between games and play, or fun.

The best of Reloaded

Yeah. I'm a geek and saw The Matrix Reloaded this weekend. But I didn't like it much. The love scenes and rave sequence in Zion just about made me heave. But cheers to the appearance of Cornel West (thanks for the link Jean!). I also liked the Agents Smith, and even though I can't stand Keanu Reeves, I thought Neo's man-of-the-cloth outfit was, ahem, really sexy. But maybe this was the best part: Trinity's hack has some cred (screenshots here).

Some hours later: In a post dealing mostly with Eric Schlosser, author of the kick-ass book Fast Food Nation and his latest Reefer Madness, Wil Wheaton (yes Daphne, I do read his blog!) writes that he also hated it and links to others who thought it sucked.

I know someone has to do it but ...

Via AKMA (who recently saw one of their billboards) Aftermath Inc. - Specialists in Accident and Tragedy Cleanup. I won't spare you the tacky flash intro, and note that these guys also sell tshirts and raffle handguns. Just the folks you'd want to help you through a tragedy ...

Hacking the subway

Back from a wonderful long weekend and keeping an eye on the Submoves Movement:

... basically all about taking the carefully engineered subway structures and having some fun with them. the space inside subway cars seems to be carefully designed to make people want to look at ads, in order to avoid looking at themselves. many have tried to address this issue with "hug your neighbor" aesthetics, - in our opinion - to little or no avail. so fuck trying to fix our dishumanity, fuck ads, and at least move those muscles or make someone feel uncomfortable. there are little restrains to what a move can be. basically, a move has to make use of the space inside the subway car in a manner it wasn't intended to be used. take this phrase as you may, be creative, take a picture and upload it.

The Web site is not fully operational at the moment, but apparently New Yorkers will be able to name their moves and upload their pictures, and the public will be able to vote on a move's skill and style. Currently the submoves team is "really small" but anyone in NYC can participate or you can let them know if you're doing it somewhere else. The "moves" are a combination of performance art and Garfinkel's breaching experiments - or what Negativland called culture-jamming and what folks at MIT called hacks. Excellent.

Saturday, May 17, 2003

Smarter fabrics

It seems we can do much better than clothes that double as video screens - and right now.

Via the awesome Karen Marcelo, current guestblogger at boingboing:

"Here are a few examples of interesting developments in textiles:

Infineon has a smart carpet that is really a self-organizing network of chips woven into fabric where each 'tile' is a sensor/processor networked via conductive threads. These could be used as motion or fire detectors as they monitor temperature, pressure, vibration, and motion. [I seem to recall blogging about the magic carpet, but can't find the post.]

Luminescent fiber from Luminex. [Anne swoons... this is soooo beautiful.]

Elektex which is a 1mm thick fabric that can sense on 3 axes (x,y,z) and can send back positioning (x,y from stroking the fabric), and pressure (z) data. [Does this mean it can have different textures?]

And Electric Plaid from International Fashion Machines which makes a programmable, color changing textile." [Here's my colour-changing clothes... but damn, I'm not too fond of plaids.]

Friday, May 16, 2003


The photos of Mary Ellen Mark (via wood s lot)

Flexible output devices

Don't know how I missed this, but it's pretty cool. Scientists fabricate pliable electronic display. And be still my beating heart, "similar technology could even make clothes that double as video screens."

Imagine being able to show movies on your tshirt ... If you were invited to a party this weekend, what would you wear? I'd be the one showing Faster Pussycat ;)

New materials watch

New Scientist reports: "The hairs on a gecko's feet - called setae - are the key to its remarkable grip on just about any surface, rough or smooth, wet or dry. The tips of the setae are so sticky that geckos can hang from a ceiling with their entire weight suspended from a single toe. Now an engineer called Metin Sitti at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh ... has created some polymer-based setae. They are not yet strong enough to hold an adult human on a ceiling, but they are slowly getting there. Right now, Sitti says, they can stick things weighing a few kilograms to a ceiling, but the synthetic gecko hairs are still being improved." (I posted on earlier research in this area some time ago.)

Hmm. Biomimicry. And for some of the best in materials research, see the Nature Materials Journal.

Turtles and tortoises

Turtles are my absolute favourite creatures on the planet, not least because they were around before the dinosaurs and are still with us. To me, they represent the very best of evolutionary adaptation and, well, I think they're really beautiful. My box turtles were stunning, if demanding, pets. Now BBC reports that "the survival of two-thirds of the world's tortoises and freshwater turtles is under threat." It makes me so sad to think that creatures with more than 100 million years of history on our planet can be wiped out by unsound bipeds of recent origin. Sometimes humans suck.

Thursday, May 15, 2003


nomeansno - small parts isolated and destroyed NOMEANSNO were arguably the best hardcore band to come out of Canada, and certainly among the very cool in North America.

I think I managed to see them six or eight times in the late 80s/early 90s and even when they sucked, they rocked tight and hard.

If you buy only two of their albums (they're cheap, dammit!), pick up Small Parts Isolated and Destroyed and especially Wrong, now available only in limited quantities from Alternative Tentacles. And even though 0+2=1 isn't usually considered among their best, and it's now out-of-print, it's one of my faves.

Moblogging Conference Call for Papers

First International Moblogging Conference

Saturday, 5 July 2003 | 10.00 - 18.00
Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan

We are pleased to invite you to the First International Moblogging Conference. The 1IMC is the world's first event dedicated to the theory and experience of mobile Web publishing, with sessions focused on both technical and social aspects of this exploding practice.

Can't make it to Tokyo? Simultaneous online participation is unlimited!

Boys get fun toys

The only time I suffer from penis envy is when it comes to pissing. Not only is it a matter of convenience and flexibility, but also fun. If you're a girl, you know that it isn't impossible to write your name in pee in the snow, but it can be very messy! And now, again, the boys get to have more fun pissing than girls do:

Dan Maynes-Aminzade and Hayes Solos Raffle from MIT Media Lab offer up the awesome You're In Control/Urine Control. But at least girls got to play with the demo ... (via research.suppose)

Slam this!

Thanks to Robin at Ambiguous for giving me a kickin' way to start the day! You too can listen to the poems of Roger Bonair Agard - the first poem alone makes the visit worthwhile, and then there's more - and also T'ai Freedom Ford - listen here and here.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003


I've been awake since 5:30. It's dreary outside, overcast and raining. My Mum commented on Sunday's post, and it made me cry. (I haven't seen her since last May.) But now I'm working on my paper, drinking strong coffee with evaporated milk, and listening to Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville.

Cities but not psychogeographies

Aarrgg. I'm having a bit of a problem working with ideas around digitally annotated cities without slipping into Situationist psychogeography. Not that there's anything wrong with that, because it inspires all sorts of really really cool things, but it is not the precise focus I want to take for this paper, dammit!

I want to focus more on the virtual, the mundane, the practice of everyday life ... and without ignoring time and memory, or even sound.

Deconstructing computer space

I've been working on a paper and re-reading Lev Manovich's excellent book, The Language of New Media, and specifically the chapter on navigable space, in which he writes:

"Computer-generated worlds are actually much more haptic and aggregate than optic and systematic. The most commonly used computer-graphics technique of creating 3-D worlds is polygonal modeling. The virtual world created with this technique is a vacuum containing separate objects defined by rigid boundaries. What is missing from computer space is space in the sense of medium: the environment in which objects are embedded and the effect of these objects on each other. This is what Russian writers and artists call prostranstvennaya sreda. Pavel Florensky, a legendary Russian philosopher and art historian has described it in the following way in the early 1920s: 'The space-medium is objects mapped onto space... We have seen the inseparability of Things and space, and the impossibility of representing Things and space by themselves' ... It is important that the ontology of virtual space as defined by software itself is fundamentally aggregate, a set of objects without a unifying point of view. If art historians, literary and film scholars have traditionally analyzed the structure of cultural objects as reflecting larger cultural patterns ... in the case of new media we should look not only at the finished objects but first of all at the software tools, their organization and default settings. This is particularly important because in new media the relation between the production tools and the products is one of continuity; in fact, it is often hard to establish the boundary between them."

And so now I embark on a deconstruction of some descriptions of mobile and ubiquitous technologies being used to "augment" city spaces ... Stay tuned to this channel for updates.

Monday, May 12, 2003

Happy Mother's Day

Me and Mum in Malta, 1973 Happy Mother's Day to my Mum, my sisters Karen and Verna - themselves mothers of beautiful young boys - and to all mothers out there. You are cherished.

My Mum is amazing, and one of my greatest joys as an adult was realising that she is my best friend and I can tell her anything. And she can still make me feel better, no matter what's going on.

If I have done anything in life worth attention, I feel sure that I inherited the disposition from my mother. - Booker T. Washington

Thanks Mum for always believing in me. I love you.

Plus, I think it's great that you were the first person to post a comment on my site and I didn't even know you'd ever been online!

Sunday, May 11, 2003

Real Time Riga

Traces of Riga at 2 weeks You might remember how much I loved last year's Real Time Amsterdam, and the Waag Society is currently at it again in Latvia with Real Time Riga.

Every city inhabitant has an invisible map in his/her mind. This map determines each person’s transmigration trajectories in the city as well as influences their everyday choices of particular paths they take. [The] Real Time project, by analyzing habits, how citizens move around their cities, attempts to visualize these mental maps. Psycho-geographical city maps are drawn using PDA (Personal Digital Assistant), mobile GPRS connections, Internet and GPS (Global Positioning System) technologies.

My paper for the Digital Genres Conference is shaping up quite nicely, thank you. Michel de Certeau wrote, "The ordinary practitioners of the city live 'down below,' below the thresholds at which visibility begins. They walk - an elementary form of this experience of the city; they are walkers, Wandersmanner, whose bodies follow the thicks and thins of an urban 'text' they write without being able to read it ... " And so here's to making the invisible, visible.

Saturday, May 10, 2003

God is in The Matrix

Courtesy the Christian Science Monitor, The Gospel according to Neo. Apparently some folks are willing to see a little of Jesus in Neo, but others disagree:

"The Matrix" does not represent orthodox Christianity nearly as much as Gnostic Christianity. Gnosticism never developed a well-defined theology, but it depicts Jesus as a hero figure who saves mankind through "gnosis," or esoteric knowledge. In the Gnostic philosophy, the physical world is not part of God's creation, but a manifestation of a lower god - a nightmarish reality that imprisons mankind, say religious experts. Gnostics believed they could achieve salvation, not by overcoming evil and sin with God's grace, but by learning the "higher knowledge" about reality. Gnostic threads are present in many religious traditions, including Sufism and Buddhism. As woven by "The Matrix," these threads tie together current concerns with an ancient knot. "All of this stuff has been bouncing around in the human brain for centuries. When it comes into this hip new iteration in the cyberworld, it all sounds familiar," says Robert Thompson ... "The Matrix" uses Gnostic concepts to convey ... technology's domination over mankind.

[via nsop]

Friday, May 9, 2003

Social Prostheses

Tom Coates is an incredibly articulate and thoughtful writer - must be that background in philosophy ;) - and a couple of recent posts caught my eye. You see, Tom's been working on definitions of social software that draw on Doug Engelbart's work from the 60s on augmenting human intellect, and he's put forth the idea that social software may be understood in terms of social prostheses. But before we get too excited, he raises an important issue:

the very principle that we balance out inbuilt human limitations with protheses and band aids ... is potentially wrapped up in a much larger and scarier and less morally or politically obvious debate that [sic] we tend to acknowledge

Potentially? Definitely!

In the grand deconstructionist tradition, I am interested precisely in the "larger and scarier" and "less morally and politically obvious" implications of current definitions of social computing. Explicitly advocating a functional systems approach to understanding technology and people, Engelbart’s ‘conceptual framework’ was based on the interconnectedness of users, input and output devices. Engelbart's computing machine would serve the architect as a clerk would, but with the augmented capability of being able to process and display information in multiple ways more quickly, thereby allowing the architect to create and modify models more efficiently. Hmm. Where to start?

The most obvious implication of this sort of thinking is that it assumes that efficiency is always superior to, well, inefficiency. People are understood to be inefficient creatures, and that is assumed to be a flaw. It assumes we should *prefer* to be efficient - a notion very much historically and politically located within Western traditions of capitalist production and industrialisation. By implication, people would be better - that is, produce more - if only we were more like machines. OK. Not quite, but close enough ;)

Aack! I have to run now, but I'm sure this will continue to bounce around my head for the rest of the day and I'll pick it up again later ...

The story of Molly Craig

Last night I saw Rabbit-Proof Fence - the true story of three young "half-caste" Aborigine girls - Molly, her sister Daisy and their cousin Gracie - taken from their mothers and placed in state-run "assimilation" facilities in 1931 Western Australia. The girls escaped and walked nine weeks, and 1500 miles, through the desert - or as the web site puts it, "longer than many of the legendary walks of our explorer heroes" - and along the rabbit-proof fence to get home.

Robert Manne writes on the "half-caste" child removal policies in the first half of the 20th century:

"From the late nineteenth-century to the late 1960s – even the dates are somewhat uncertain so little do we know – Australian governments, as a practice and as a policy, removed part-Aboriginal children from their mothers, parents, families and communities, often by force ... In the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century educated opinion in Australia seems, generally, to have been of the view that the full-blood tribal Aborigine represented a dying race, doomed in the fullness of time to extinction. It would be quite wrong, of course, to think that this belief about impending Aboriginal extinction was not, in general, held with regret, as a kind of settled scientific fact. Lesser cultures, it was believed, could not survive contact with higher civilisations ... The Perth Sunday Times in 1927 put it thus: "Central Australia's half-caste problem ... must be tackled boldly and immediately. The greatest danger, experts agree, is that three races will develop in Australia: white, black and the pathetic sinister third race which is neither."

"The most important solution of the policymakers and legislators to the problem of the "half-caste" was, however, child removal. In all states and territories, in one way or another, legislation was passed in the early years of the twentieth-century which gave Aboriginal protectors guardianship rights over Aborigines up to the age of sixteen or twenty-one. In all states and territories, policemen or other agents of the state, began to locate and transfer babies and children of mixed descent, from their mothers or families or communities into institutions ... If these children were separated permanently from family; if they were taught to despise their Aboriginal inheritance; if they were even brought up without the knowledge of that inheritance; if they were sent to work as domestic servants or station hands in the hope that they would eventually merge into European society and marry out; if they were sent to foster homes where knowledge of their Aboriginality was denied: all this was done, in my view, not as a social welfare measure, but as an attempt to break the cultural connection between the children of mixed descent and their Aboriginal families and cultures, to drag the children out of the world of the native settlements and camps and prepare them for a place in the lower strata of European society. Because the policymakers and agents of state viewed these children and the worlds from which they had come through racist spectacles – seeing nothing but racial degeneration and social squalor – they genuinely believed in taking the children from their family and culture, they were acting in the long-term best interest of the children, whatever temporary grief or pain they caused."

These sort of Aboriginal policies - common also in Canada - were supported by anthropologists informed by Social Darwinism and, later, by the eugenics movement. The idea was that "inferior" genes could be eradicated from the gene pool, so that "civilisation" might prevail. This was attempted through practices of forced sterilisation on the medical end, and community separation on the cultural end. It was all very ugly, and every time I think about it I feel physically ill. The Australian Aborigines refer to these decades as the Stolen Generations. Indeed.

The movie ends with the return of the girls to their mother, but, sadly, Molly's story does not end there.

Thursday, May 8, 2003

Play is different from a game

I love conversations with Stewart Butterfield - he *gets* social computing and his love of *play* seriously resonates with me and my research. Check out Thinking Outside the MUD, a Mindjack interview with Stewart about The Game Neverending. Stewart shared some of his comments with me earlier, and I particularly liked these bits:

Ludicorp's mission comes from something a little more encompassing that games: play is a much larger and more fundamental concept. We play all the time, even when there is nothing like a formal game going on - think of great conversations and all the verbal play,of "goofing around," of flirting, of musicians jamming: these are all moments where the creativity is flowing, you feel completely alive, and you are able to fully express yourself at the peak of your ability without even trying. It is the new possibilities for these kinds of states that we are trying to create. The secret is, even though it's called Game Neverending, it's not really a game at all. It's a social space designed to facilitate and enable play. The game-elements are there to provide both the constraints and the building blocks of interaction - since the thing you'll notice about the kind of play I'm talking about above is that it is the kind of thing that goes on between people.

Wednesday, May 7, 2003

The Intruder

The most fun I've ever had playing a Jorge Luis Borges story!

The Intruder by Natalie Bookchin. "A story in 8 games. Shoot, score, catch, hit a ball or kill an alien! All in the name of love."

Hmm. According to the artist, it's "like a game but ... in fact a critical commentary on computer games and patriarchy."

I think I might have missed that while I was enjoying myself. Guess I'll have to play the story again ...

Not addicted to Friendster

When I received three invitations the same day, of course I had to check out Friendster. But unlike some, I am not addicted.

First, I should say that it is wonderful to see pictures of everyone. I love that. And it's even interesting to see who knows who. But you know what started to turn me off? Reading other people's tallies of their friends - as in, "Wow! I just logged in to Friendster and I now have 23 (or 48, or 69) friends!" That reeks of a competition to collect people - even though it does raise the interesting matter of quantity over quality.

The best message I got was from someone I have never met who found me through a mutual friend, and this person wrote "I thought you were a random friendster friend but it turns out he knows you!" Hmm - random Friendster friends versus "real" friends ... Nice distinction! Don't get me wrong - I don't think you need to have actually met someone to consider them a "friend" (that would rule out all sorts of people I only know online, but nonetheless value tremendously) but Friendster does not seem to express or capture quality of relationship very well. Sure, testimonials are helpful, but not when I have the ability to publish only the ones I like ...

Oh, I don't know. I just fail to see what's so exciting or useful about it. But then again, maybe it's just not for me. What do you think?

Same day UPDATE : Adam Greenfield takes a look at LinkedIn - a similar site geared towards professionals. Speaking of this type of application in general, Adam writes "I firmly believe that one of these sites, duly modified, or a scratch-built successor or successors, will catalyze huge changes in the way we socialize, connect, associate and construct our lives. Huge. This is completely uncontroversial to me." Huge? How so? And for whom? I'm guessing a person would have to already spend a great deal of time socialising online before this is so, and it is only the vast minority of people who do so ...

UPDATE 9/5/03 : OK. Now Adam is getting closer to what I was talking about when he writes, "Something tells me these services won't reach their maximum potential until they can incorporate our less salutary feelings about association: the latent but powerful distinctions we make, the dislikes and fears we, however subtly, import into our presentation of self." Yes! Friendster et al. flatten and homogenise. However, I wouldn't say that these models prevent compartmentalising as much as they begin with a model of interaction that cannot accomodate categories that overflow or leak - like the implied sense that all friends are equal - and that will always be inadequate ...

Tuesday, May 6, 2003

Girls and machines

Super sweet! Karen Marcelo - representing SRL, my all-time fave robotics freaks - is the new guestblogger at boingboing : "She's the kind of woman who shows up to a 2AM junkyard machine war toting rocket fuel and Chanel no. 5 in the same purse. She's equal shots glam and raw power. Pure punk rock. Poetry in code."

An anthropologist in Peru

Most people who read this site know only that I study technology. But my original training involved the anthropology and archaeology of the Andes. Several seasons of fieldwork in Peru profoundly changed my understandings of the world, and recently I have been attempting to document some of my experiences.

While doing ethnographic fieldwork in the Cuzco region in the summer of 1997, I had the opportunity to participate in a traditional Quechua Wilancha - a native festival of renewal and purification - conducted at the University of Cuzco.

The Wilancha is a celebration in honour of Pachamama - Mother Earth. The celebration is marked with the sacrifice of alpacas and the offering of blood.

I've put some of my photos online here - but please note that some capture the actual sacrifices and are quite graphic.

Monday, May 5, 2003

Urformen der Kunst

Karl Blossfeldt, Urformen der Kunst, 1928 Simply stunning. "Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1932) was a German instructor of sculpture who used his remarkable photographs of plant studies to educate his students about design in nature ... His photographs were taken using either a vertical or horizontal perspective and could be magnified up to twenty-seven times their actual size, revealing extraordinary details within the natural structure of the plants. In the process he created some of the most innovative photographic work of his time; the simple yet expressive forms captured on film affirmed his boundless artistic and intellectual ability. In 1928 Blossfeldt published his masterwork, Urformen der Kunst (Archetypes of Art). These rarely seen subtly toned black and white photogravure images are now recognized as vital contributions to the history of photography and they remain as intriguing today as they are beautiful." (via boingboing)

Industrial Landscapes

Edward Burtynsky, Ferrous Bushling, Hamilton, Ontario 1997 Recently exhibited at the National Gallery, the photography of Edward Burtynsky : "Nature transformed through industry is a predominate theme in my work. I set course to intersect with a contemporary view of the great ages of man; from stone, to minerals, oil, transportation, silicon, and so on. To make these ideas visible I search for subjects that are rich in detail and scale yet open in their meaning. Recycling yards, mine tailings, quarries and refineries are all places that are outside of our normal experience, yet we partake of their output on a daily basis."

His professional site showcases some of his work, and I was particularly taken by his photos of "urban mines" of metal recycling and tires, and of "breaking ground" through railcuts, quarries and nickel tailings. Beautiful, even though they all made me kind of sad.

Saturday, May 3, 2003

Skinning Our Tools

The Banff Centre is in one of the most beautiful locations you could ever hope to see, and since I really enjoyed the Banff New Media Institute summit I attended last year, I'm thinking of going to Skinning Our Tools: Designing for Context and Culture, October 2-5, 2003

"Computer game players trade and steal skins from allies and enemies to shift identity, to signify conquest and character. Can we change the skins that our technologies wear? What tools need to be generic, or more to the point, what components of tools can be generic, what elements adaptive and sensitive to the context of use? What does localization really mean or require? What tools should be built from the bottom up, within a specific context? How can that be supported? In particular, authoring tools, for the most part built in North America and Europe, introduce implicit biases into the creative process, enabling some forms of content and not others. Aesthetics of perspective (China), and circularity (many Aboriginal cultures) can be difficult to achieve with current technologies. Aboriginal artists have helped to create language-specific tools and interfaces that incorporate cultural values."

The Inhabited Grid

NYC's New Museum exhibit: Living Inside the Grid

"The inhabited grid has become an irreducible sign of the world we live in. From our morning commutes-whether in a car moving along a highway, a high-speed train on a magnetic rail, or a walk through city streets-all the way to the last check of our e-mails at night, we operate in an overlapping network of grids. In both obvious and hidden ways, these grids order our movements, work, thoughts, leisure time, and even our dreams ... Living Inside the Grid responds to two recent developments. First, the rapid rise of a globally linked society has presented a challenge to contemporary artists to describe or depict the experience of living in a world where the ubiquitous visible grid of urban design, railroads and highways has been reinforced or even surpassed by the invisible grid of telecommunications. Second, a change in the work of a number of younger artists who live and work far apart from one another became apparent several years ago. By the early 1990s there was a significant diminishing of the distinction between geometric and figurative art reflecting a hybrid approach to two previously distant traditions."

[via Smart Mobs]

Friday, May 2, 2003

Smart buildings

Tango in Malmö (PopSci) "TANGO is a green-and-wired 27-unit complex that decontaminates its own soil, recycles its water into a rebuilt marsh ecology, generates power from renewable sources, uses roof space to put oxygen back into the environment and, through sensors and broadband Web access, allows owners to re-motely monitor and control everything from energy use to electronic key access. How "Sven" Uses the Tango Tech: Wake up, check the portal: Sven can tap into Tango's Frontyard portal on his wireless Internet tablet, access the rooftop weather-cam, check the forecast, then book a guest room in the complex after reading an overnight e-mail from friends who plan a visit. E-accessibility: At the office, Sven realizes he forgot to program the security system to let in a repairman. Using Frontyard, he authorizes access between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. When he confirms that guests are coming later, he writes a welcome message for the digital display outside his unit. Security systems: Sven can see who's at the front door via videocam and allow or deny access remotely. The Frontyard system also allows him to program lighting: for example, on/off when he's away, and everything on when a fire or burglar alarm sounds. Remote ventilation control: Rain stops, sun is out, and as he returns from a business trip to Copenhagen via the Øresund suspension bridge and tunnel, Sven uses his mobile phone to let some fresh air into the apartment."

Happy May Day

Beltane - or May Day - was the fire festival of the Celtic god Belenus, celebrating the beginning of the bright half of the year. As such, Beltane was a fertility festival, and if I remember correctly, couples would spend Beltane Eve making love in the fields, purified by the fires, and rising in the morning to dance around the May Pole. Older married couples removed their wedding rings for the celebrations, and young men and women could enter into a trial marriage that would last a year and a day. Hmmm. Perhaps a return to "traditional values" wouldn't be so bad after all ...

May Day is now more widely celebrated as International Labour Day. Around here that means:

Toronto's MAYWORKS 2003: A Festival of Working People and the Arts

Montreal's Festival of Anarchy May 1-18, 2003 - including the Fourth Annual Anarchist Bookfair

and the Emma Goldman Papers University of Alberta Exhibit May 2-5, 2003

Thursday, May 1, 2003

Domesticity and design inspiration

The other day I was reading an article in the print version of Bitch magazine about recent trends in advertising domestic and cleaning products to a new generation of feminists. Wrapped up in 50s & 60s hipster imagery, the domestic goddess has returned to pop culture. And I thought to myself (rather smugly, I might add) that no amount of pin-up decorated aprons or pot-holders would get me to spend any more time in the kitchen. But every girl has her weakness ...

Via NSOP - near the end of 2001, Electrolux introduced the Trilobite, the first automatic vacuum :

The shape and the name have been borrowed from the trilobite, a prehistoric animal that cleaned the bottoms of the oceans 250-560 million years ago,” says Christian Klingspor, head of design at Electrolux Group. “The trilobite can often be seen as a fossil in walls, stairs and floors made of stone. Apart from giving it a sleek and timeless look, the shape ensures that the vacuum cleaner doesn’t get stuck anywhere.

Trilobites were amazing creatures (although probably not as poetically as Electrolux would have us believe) and I am such a trilobite geek that I got one tattooed on my hip, and am particularly attached to a pair of trilobite fossil earrings that I wear. Add to this a long-time love affair with robotics, and the Trilobite vacuum becomes about the coolest domestic cleaning product I have ever seen!

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