Sunday, February 29, 2004

All mobile, all the time

In The Auto and The Mobile, Howard Rheingold asks an interesting question:

How can we think about long-term impacts [of mobile telephony]? ... I invite readers to join me in using what we now know about the long-term impact of the automobile as a lens for getting a long view of the mobile telephone's future social impacts ...

What social changes did the automobile make possible, accelerate, amplify? How does the mobile device - telephone or PDA - parallel those changes, or not?

Readers have commented on everything from changes in social status, including some excellent thoughts on the status of the individual and isolating (?) "bubbles," to the global flows of tantalum and the trouble with ubiquitous technology pushers, to the degree of human casualty accepted as part of the freedom associated with car culture.

In the last comment, Howard asks the question that drives all my research: where can we intervene to avoid potential ill effects and encourage wonderful possibilities? And suggests the same points I do: design and social use/practice.

What do you think?

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Songs sung by the computer

Oh God, I can't stop listening!

The beauty of hacking

Every Bit Is a Work of Art

Almost everyone can and should be a hacker, according to the curators of a new exhibition on the fine art of hacking at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, Spain.

Alongside the museum's collection of masterpieces by Picasso and Dali, Hackers: The Art of Abstraction explores the connections between hackers, artists and anyone engaged in any kind of creative work, an idea that the curators of the show say was inspired by McKenzie Wark's The Hacker Manifesto ...

"I have been always fascinated by the invisible world of hackers and the notion of hacking as a tool to understand the world's workings and to reconstruct it in a personal and creative way" ...

"I believe that hackers are the great intellectual adventurers of our time, but in mainstream culture hacking often has negative connotations," Sichel added. "With this show we hope to refute the negatives and make people aware that in an age of increased surveillance, hacking can be a vital countermeasure and a commendable act of self-defense."

Makes me smile and think of the fine work of the Critical Art Ensemble.

Update 1/03/04: Paul Graham on Hackers and Painters.

Friday, February 27, 2004

Making RFID more acceptable?

RFID blocker tags may soothe privacy fears

By mounting a denial of service attack on a RFID reader, the "blocker tag" removes the reader's ability to capture the unique code it would usually be able to probe.

Privacy concerns have so far stalled the widespread adoption of the tags and RSA believes the new blocker tag will make using RFID more acceptable ...

"The blocker simulates the presence of all possible tags," explains Ari Juels, the leader of the research project RSA. "The reader can't figure out which tags are there and eventually gives up."

But Ross Anderson, a computer scientist at Cambridge University in the UK, resents the onus being put on the consumer to dodge the technology: "I shouldn't have to buy anything extra. I want the tag removed in the store."

Thursday, February 26, 2004

iPods and everyday life

I mentioned Michael Bull's interesting research in this post on mobile sounding objects, and it seems he is now "interviewing iPod owners about how, when, where and why they use the iPod, and how it integrates into their everyday lives." In an interview with Wired, Bull explains:

[A] lot of people use it to go to work, for commuting. I found that they use the same music on a regular basis. They will often play the same half-dozen tunes for three months, and each part of the journey has its own tune.... It gives them control of the journey, the timing of the journey and the space they are moving through. It's a generalization, but the main use (of the iPod) is control. People like to be in control. They are controlling their space, their time and their interaction ... and they're having a good time. That can't be understated -- it gives them a lot of pleasure.

I hope I get the chance to tell him about the complete stranger who walked up to me and called me a fucking yuppie for having an iPod, but then gave me the chance to redeem myself by telling him what I was listening to...

Update 08/03/04: BBC article on Bull's research and regaining personal space through headphones.

Aether Architecture

Nya biologin - the Aether Design Group's fractal based knowledge base for genetic biology:

The Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet) created an ambitious project where the new achievements of bio-research are presented to the general public in a non scientific language. A vast number of flash animations were created to show the various cellular processes, etc. Our navigation system arranges this immense knowledge base into a playful and comprehendable structure and experience.

Wonderful. And don't miss the Induction House and Mediated Spaces project.

(via angermann2)

Problems on the network

Via rodcorp, "like a grim-but-poetic litany of systemic failure," comes Paul Mison's London Tube disruption RSS feed.

I love this! Is anyone else keeping track of network failures or glitches?


So links are back in. Simple links. No comments. No context. Links from nowhere.

I like links. I like saving links. I like looking through other people's links.

But links break.

And Bill Mitchell's statement I link, therefore I am creeps me right out.

I can't help but to think about how the great museums of Europe amassed their collections of cultural artefacts. Collecting. Preserving. Protecting. Such good intentions...

Now we often know more about imperial Europe than we do about the cultures they collected.

And some cultures only persist - only exist - as hoarded and decontextualised links.

Mere fragments of life.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Socio-technical shifts

Interesting set of differences between television and the Internet - probably best understood as tensions between ideals or potentials. (via Seb)

Nothing new

Procrastinating like mad. Thinking about weblogs as remix culture - a nice antidote to the usual newness fetish, where everything can be new again. But wait. List. is new. And interesting.

Pictures of everyday life

Andie writes to inform me that Flâneur magazine is up and running again - so I went to take a peek.

Rob Walker has a nice essay on what happens under the freeway in New Orleans, and Mindy Tucker presents The Lance Project, a selection of photos of strangers who resemble her friend Lance - allowing her to create a "composite portrait" of a friend who died before she ever got a photo of him. I love that idea :)


Because I am ignoring the list in every other form.

1. publication deadline 27 Feb
2. contract deliverable 1 Mar
3. publication deadline 12 Mar
4. proposal deadline 12 Mar
5. proposal deadline 12 Mar
6. contract deliverable 15 Mar

+ taxes


Steven Shaviro expresses ambivalence about the work of Bruno Latour.

My favourite description of Actor Network Theory is here.

Grey Tuesday

Today is Grey Tuesday. Support fair use.

Update 29/02/04: Negativland interviews U2's The Edge about sampling and the politics of music (via comments at Lessig's blog)

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

I wonder about these things all the time

Diego has an excellent post on the lack of an ethics conversation in computer science. It's long and worth the read.

Call for Papers: Technology and Citizen Engagement

Communication and Democracy: Technology and Citizen Engagement 2004
4 - 6 August, 2004
Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada
Abstracts due 1 April, 2004

[O]n one end of a continuum, claims have been made about the revolutionary and emancipatory potential of ICT. Promoters exhort the urgency of its adoption to realize citizen empowerment, institutional transformation and transparency, direct democracy, and the erasure of time and space to create an electronic global village.

At the other end of this continuum of debate, critics argue that the potential benefits of ICT are being outweighed by a growing digital impotence for citizens, who are increasingly bound by new forms of regulation, institutional electronic rigidities, market regulation, the extension of commercial practices deeper into social life, and technical design myopic of human needs...

The purpose of this colloquium is to reflect on the core issues of communications, democracy and citizen engagement and to push the margins of thinking and debate around entry points such as methodologies, social practices, theoretical frameworks, technical design, institutional relations and citizen needs. It will bring together up-and-coming researchers and established experts to exchange ideas about current research and theories - and rethink the ways forward. Presentations can be based on local, national or international research.

Hmm. I think this may be more important to me than Inside/Outside...

Sounds of the City

Interesting little Wired news article Radio Takes Music From the Street looks at The Next Big Thing in New York and Traffic Island Disks in London - radio programmes that make public what people are listening to privately.

I definitely like the idea of urban soundscapes, and shows like these create interesting third spaces between public and private...

Update: And then there are the found sounds of everyday life (via mefi):

The Audio Kitchen is reality radio. Presented without musical accompaniment or arty effects, the recordings featured on the program Kitchen expose the range and nuance of the human condition with honesty and respect. From the silly to the sublime, the pieces aired on the program offer the listener a fly-on-the-wall perspective of real people emoting, communicating, and occasionally showing off. And it's not just tapes. The thousands of recordings in the Audio Kitchen library are gleaned from cassettes, reels, records, wires, as well as mp3's and memory chips. You'll hear songs, speeches, arguments, conversations, phone messages, performances, letters, parties and secret diaries. And if you listen to the Audio Kitchen for a while you may feel that you're actually getting to know some of these strangers. And just maybe, you'll hear a recording you made, somewhere, some time, that eventually found its way into a public pile of junk.

Banff summits

If you've never been to one of the Banff New Media Institute summits, I highly recommend them. Not only do you stay in one of the most beautiful places in the world, but the people and ideas are truly inspiring.

Right after DIS 2004, I would like to head to Inside/Outside: Responsive Environments and Ubiquitous Presence - discussions about living architectures, responsive materials and designs, wireless media and the corresponding philosophies, research futures and consumer products.

And the Participate/Collaborate: Reciprocity, Design and Social Networks summit also sounds promising, as it looks at participatory design and social networks.

"Collaboration" is used to describe a large set of current experiences and forms of organization, from multi-player games, to community blogs, to high performance computing grids. Is collaboration a new term for simply working together, or can it mean something more ? the potential for new ideas, forms of social organization and even new discoveries? ... The summit will consider the ways that individuals and groups are included and engaged through collaborative and participatory structures.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Mars is what you make of it

Design and Everyday Life

The Drift Table

The Drift Table is a coffee table with a small viewport showing a slowly changing aerial view of the British landscape. Shifting items on the table changes its apparent height, direction and speed. The current 'location' of the table is shown on a small screen on the table's side, and an electronic compass aligns the photography with its actual surroundings. The Drift Table is designed to allow exploration and daydreaming, rather than to fulfil any particular task. People may use the table to explore the country, to travel to a friends house, to explore questions about geography, or to simply watch the world go by. It is intended to provide an opening in the home to other places and other landscapes.

The Drift Table will be installed in Jack Mottram's room on Friday, and we can follow its virtual travels for the next six weeks at the Drift Table Weblog.

Very nice.

No doubt inspired by elements of Dunne & Raby's Placebo Project, The Drift Table is one of EQUATOR's Weight Furniture devices, developed as part of the Domestic Experience project.

All of this makes me think of the place of things in everyday life, and Bill Gaver's Designing for Homo Ludens:

Scientific approaches to design need to be complemented by more subjective, idiosyncratic ones. It is difficult to conceive of a task analysis for goofing around, or to think of exploration as a problem to be solved, or to determine usability requirements for systems meant to spark new perceptions ... Designing for Homo Ludens means allowing room for people to appropriate technologies. Playing involves pursuing one’s inner narratives in safe situations, through perceptual projection or, ideally, action ... Designing for Homo Ludens requires a new focus that seeks intrigue and delight at all levels of design, from the aesthetics of form and interaction, to functionality, to conceptual implications at psychological, social and cultural levels. Not only should technologies reinforce pleasures that people know, but they should suggest new ones.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Reminded of The Forgetting Machine

I had lunch with my friend John today, and he reminded me that I am supposed to be working on my Forgetting Machine. But that means working on my C++ skills, and although I have decided my project will be soft, I cannot decide on its form and some of its functions...

So we talked about a few things that connect to my love of decaying and disrupted systems, broken machines, memory and forgetting. (I keep meaning to ask Matt Webb about the last bit here.)

And John was talking about his early Usenet experiences, or how the Usenet protocols, increasing online traffic and limited processor power and storage space contributed to a sense that Internet communications were temporary. News admins would typically retain messages for a set period of time, and when they expired, they would be erased or fall off the bottom. (Deja's archives only go back to 1995, and Google's archives from the early days are patchy at best.) BBSs were also purged regularly, and people tended not to save email messages until POP and dial-up accounts became common. Apparently, since so little was being actively and systematically saved, people didn't fret about their words coming back to haunt them. It was understood that the machines - if not the people - would largely forget what had been said and sent.

Now our machines seem to remember everything, although as we produce and accumulate more and more information - and strive towards context awareness - we are still limited by processing power and storage. Online communications are now generally understood as public and permanent: when we post something online, we assume that Google will find it, which means that others can too. IM logs are generated by default. I delete much of my email, although I know people who have never deleted one message and plenty who send and copy email so as to ensure a public record is created. Memory seems to be much more important than forgetting now, and we assume that computers will continue to collect information and the Internet and the Web will continue to grow. (Even when sites try to die, they persist as the undead or ghost sites.)

So I was reminded of my Forgetting Machine. And that I am trying to build something that reminds us that not all things can or should be remembered. A tricky task, for sure! Part of this involves the creative corruption of information - along the lines of bricolage or remixing - as well as the selective and wholesale deletion of information. (And this, in turn, reminds me that FilePile is a brilliant example of sociable software if only because it forgets things, and lets people selectively remember, or (re)create memories - an important part of collective interaction.)

Friday, February 20, 2004

What social computing can learn from anthropology

For a very long time anthropologists have been mapping social networks - they're called kinship charts and they represent the wide variety of family relations around the world.

According to Michael Fischer's work on Representing Anthropological Knowledge: Calculating Kinship, Analyzing and Understanding Cultural Codes:

Kinship is one of the more important, pervasive and complex systems of culture. All human groups have a kinship terminology, a set of terms used to refer to kin. Many parts of life in all societies are impacted by kinship, and in most societies kinship relations influence things like who one can and can not marry, who one must show respect to, who one can joke with, and who one can count on in a crisis.

These principles of interaction are not limited to kin, or family - and I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks that a more nuanced and qualitative understanding of how people are related to each other in a variety of contexts would greatly benefit current research and development in social computing applications.

Fischer goes on to explain that anthropologists have used computers since the 1960s to help make sense of kinship data, although

it is easier to present an idealised kinship chart than to deal with actual populations. Besides the more obvious problems of deviance from conventions, there are problems of different kin cluster sizes, sheer quantity of people, and deciding precisely what kinds of relationships to diagram. By diagramming actual people in actual relationships, we are introducing both mechanical and conceptual problems.

When it comes to defining the conceptual requirements for kinship modelling, the anthropologist must also be clear about her requirements. For example, a generic computer function would be establishing links between individuals in a population; a specialised function might be establishing gift giving and receiving conventions and taboos amongst a particular group of people. Most social and cultural interaction exhibits rather complex patterning that calls for more specialised computer functions; to simply draw out links between people will never be enough.

Since all people are social creatures, it is very easy to assume that we all understand social relationships - but without detailed conceptual requirements and specification models, many types and means of relationship will simply be inferred or taken for granted by the designers and programmers, and in the end, limit the software's capacity to represent and adapt to people's actual lived experiences.

Update: Matt Jones just pointed me to Simon Roberts' Linkship: Imagining a New Kinship of Networks presentation (slides here) from 2002. Maybe Will Davies or another of the fine folks at the i-society will read this post and explain why the idea still hasn't caught on? :)

Participatory design

As you may know, Urban Tapestries is one of my dissertation case studies, and they have a weblog where you can discuss issues of technology, public authoring and social knowledge.

As part of their continuing research after the public trials, they have just set up some interesting discussion topics like: Collaborative Cartography and Location Sensing, Citizenship and the Public Commons, Mobile & Pervasive; Spatial & Temporal, Sensory Stimulation, and Filtering Out The Noise.

I'll be commenting there for sure, and it would be great to hear what other people think!

Knitting is fabulous

I had a great time last night! Everyone there was wonderfully friendly and helpful, and I now have a small piece of knitting that is so tight you'd think I... well never mind :) I was assured it would loosen up as I get better at it.

Anyway, I was also kind of surprised to learn that several members also attend other local meetups - I had no idea these events were so popular. And it reminds me how much I appreciate online forums used to enhance everyday offline life. There was also a lovely moment when an elderly gentleman approached us and said the scene took him back 45 years - and how wonderful he thought it was to see young women knitting again!

But back to knitting :) I decided to learn how to knit because of Molly - who has been knitting something gorgeous each time I've been with her. It's also supposed to be relaxing, but I'm thinking that doesn't happen until you know what the hell you're doing! In the comments to yesterday's post, she recommended the Stitch 'N Bitch book by Deb Stoller (the original BUSTy girl with a PhD) - which I bought a couple of weeks ago in an attempt to teach myself how to knit. It has friendly instructions and all sorts of cool patterns. But one of the women last night had a great book that I just ordered: Weekend Knitting. As soon as I complete my first scarf (this month's project), I am moving on to a beautiful shawl.

I'm also looking forward to sharing patterns with Torill - does anyone else knit?

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Knitting with strangers (and one friend)

Can I just say I'm pretty excited about my first Knitting Meet-Up tonight?

Of course I'm excited about learning how to knit my own scarves and hats and mittens (and eventually earning the right to wear this tshirt ;)) - but I'm also interested in getting together with a bunch of strangers who found each other online based on one common interest.

I'm going with my friend Nikki, for her knitting expertise and, well, because I'm a scaredy-cat, for her moral support. Plus the meeting is in a pub, and we might want a few pints first :)

I'll report back later.

Sociable technologies

This may be the most bizarre explanation of the differences between online communities and social networks I have ever seen.

Perhaps more social software researchers might benefit from courses like this in social studies of science and technology, and like this in the anthropology of cybercultures?

(Lucy Suchman also teaches a class called The Sociality of Information Technologies, which is currently offline but has a brilliant reading list.)

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Context as practice, and technology for people

What We Talk About When We Talk About Context
Paul Dourish, 2004

By turning our attention from "context" (as a set of descriptive features of settings) to "practice" (forms of engagement with those settings), we assigned a central role to the meanings that people find in the world and the meanings of their actions there in terms of the consequences and interpretations of those actions for themselves and for others. The important point, however, is that we now see those meanings as essentially open-ended; we recognize that part of what people are doing when they adopt and adapt technologies, incorporating them into their own work, is creating and communicating new meanings though those technologies as their working practices evolve. The broad principle that these examples illustrate is that users, not designers, determine the meaning of the technologies that they use, through the ways in which they incorporate them into practice. Accordingly, the focus of the design is not simply "how can people get their work done," but "how can people create their own meanings and uses for the system in use"; and in turn, this suggests an open approach in which users are active participants in the emergence of ways of working ...

The approach outlined here also takes the mundane details of lived experience as the basis for understanding context, not as a stable description of the world, but as the outcome of embodied practice. The examination of the unquestioned, background assumptions and practices that support everyday activity is the essence of most phenomenological analyses of the role of technology in social settings. Ethnographic accounts of technology use are becoming more familiar to researchers in HCI and ubiquitous computing, who increasingly value the "rich descriptions" and detailed accounts of encounters between people and technology. However, in this paper, I have been concerned not simply with the empirical contributions of that style of research, but with its analytic contributions – its central concern with the fact that the orderly nature of everyday conduct is an achievement of social actors, rather than something imposed upon them.

I've tried to make similar points many times in the last few years. I trust Paul Dourish will be more successful at making them stick.

The moral of the story

It Happened in a Coconut Grove
A story of Chinese children resisting Japanese occupation.

John Black's Body: A Story in Pictures
A story against war, although possibly in favour of accounting.

The Spider and the Fly
A story about greedy spiders and the need for flies to be free.

An Uphill Tale
A story about how struggle is rewarded.

The Old Man's Mitten
I'm not sure what this story is about, but it has a beautifully absurd ending.

(via The Marxist Children's Literature Archive, via Plep)

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

You can and must understand computers NOW

Ted Nelson's 1974 Computer Lib book cover

Ted Nelson's 1974 book Computer Lib / Dream Machines.

CYBERCRUD: putting things over on people using computers. The trick is to make people think that a certain paradigm is inevitable, and they had better give in. Computer guys have this ploy down cold.

I've always liked Ted Nelson. The man has passion and vision - he's always been willing to fight the power, no matter how cracked people think he is :)

Update 19/02/04: For more on Ted Nelson, see this 1995 Wired article on the Xanadu project and Orality and Hypertext: An Interview with Ted Nelson.

Monday, February 16, 2004

In praise of difference

Is it just me, or do most weblogs look the same these days?

Thomas Angermann's other blog doesn't look like everyone else's - and it's got some really interesting content. Right on.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Happy Valentines Day

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Towards sociable software

Although I just used to find a knitting group in town, and Flickr sounds interesting, my heart and mind are with Glancing.

Friday, February 13, 2004


Matt Webb's presentation from Etech - Glancing: I'm OK, You're OK. Brilliant. More later.

Abstract Sex by Luciana Parisi - on machinic assemblages, modulations and the determinism of evolutionary complexity. Also brilliant. More later.

The Packet Gang by Jamie King - on creating 'structured processes' and the limits of openness in (social) networks. Interesting. But probably not more later.

Chris Heathcote's aerial photos remind me why I prefer to live in Canada rather than in Los Angeles.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Networks aren't necessarily communities

Kevin Barron, Systems Manager at UCSB's Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics (thank you Google!) posted this comment earlier today:

Anne, just to let you know I quoted you at Etech yesterday during a session w/ Joi, Howard et al. The quote which I read was an aside in this thread, and I'm hoping you will expand on:

"when focus shifted from 'online community' to 'social software,' associated methods and theories shifted too. The (quantitative) structural and systems approaches of social software leave little room for (qualitative) processual approaches to community or cultural interaction. But more on that some other time..."

My (pointed) question was not clearly phrased, but essentially I was asking the panel how we ensure that we are are building community rather than just playing with the cool new toys. So please expand on the above...

Thanks Kevin - good to be virtually present :) I don't know how much expansion you want (that's always a dangerous request of an academic ;)) but I'll try and, Curious George that I am, hope that you'll also share their response(s) to your question.

My position assumes several points: first, that we have in fact moved from trying to enable communities to trying to enable networks; second, that community is best understood in qualitative and processual terms; and third, that networks are most often described in quantitative and structural terms. You can, of course, take issue with any of these assumptions, but for my purposes they stand.

And really my point is very simple: just because a site can connect you to a lot of people doesn't mean that there is any value in those connections. (But neither does it mean there is no value.)

Social network analysis draws out structures and patterns, which is all well and good. But it doesn't tell us what those patterns mean to the people involved, nor does it adequately express how relationships are highly contextual (i.e. shifting) and how meaning is actively constructed. I find it interesting and important that social network analysis is favoured in disciplines like economics and psychology, but not in disciplines like anthropology and sociology - arguably the only disciplines dedicated exclusively to the study of people's social and cultural practices. There are several reasons for this, most related to paradigm shifts in social and cultural theory, away from structural explanation. (If you want to know more about this, just let me know.)

Social software - based on social network analysis - has an amazing ability to connect (collect?) people but connection and community are not the same thing.

The Oxford Dictionary defines a community as a group of people living together and having certain attitudes and interests in common. This is a qualitative measure of closeness: the values and ways of life of the group. On the other hand, a network comprises a group or system of interconnected people. This is a quantitative measure of closeness: the number of people and intersections (nodes).

When Howard Rheingold wrote The Virtual Community - waaay back in 1994 :) - he was interested in online social interactions - processes not structures - or how people came together and the value they placed on those online relationships and activities. He also suggested a more accurate title for his book:

People who use computers to communicate, form friendships that sometimes form the basis of communities, but you have to be careful to not mistake the tool for the task and think that just writing words on a screen is the same thing as real community.

Ten years later the tools may be different, but the danger remains the same. Bringing people together does not necessarily mean community has been created. It doesn't even mean that processes of community building have been enabled or will be supported.

But I'll stop here in case I've gotten off-track, or am not answering your questions and concerns :) Please let me know if I can help further.

Play on

Matt Webb : if the rules of a game are good for one thing, it's for finding out what you really want once you start ignoring them...

(via Matt Jones)

Bound only by the limits of one's imagination

Adam's posted a very fine interview with the ultra fine Mike Buzzard - one of the super talented guys at Cuban Council - and the man who made last year's SXSW a carnival for me (btw - that's Adam and me in the picture with him). They discuss coding, design, the Internet and the art of living.

And at Mike's favourite site - The Speared Peanut - I found the lovely Remedi Project : Random Order

Here we studied the relationship between random happenings and the natural order of things. What did we ultimately conclude? Mainly that you can't effectively study randomness and order using empirical methods, as there were no truly objective results.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Cool jazz (and girl comics)

In my last year of high school and during my undergrad, I enthusiastically read Mark Frauenfelder & Carla Sinclair's zine bOING bOING, and I still read the (very different) weblog for Mark's posts.

Today he pointed to a reissue of Raymond Scott & The Secret Seven's amazing album The Unexpected. If you're not familiar with Scott's music, I also highly recommend Manhattan Research Inc. - a bunch of 1950s-60s recordings "featuring Raymond Scott's performances on his pioneering electronic music inventions" and Microphone Music: "recorded between 1937 and 1939 ... the title refers to Scott's emphasis on the microphone as a 'seventh member' of his legendary six-man Quintette, and the mic's importance in helping Scott shape the recorded sound of his ensembles." Wacky great stuff.

And it may very well have been Carla Sinclair (and Trina Robbins) who got me all excited about girl comics, like the fine work of Phoebe Gloeckner, Roberta Gregory, Jessica Abel and Julie Doucet. Grrr.

D.I.Y. Architecture

Brian Scott's thesis for the McGill School of Architecture (2003)

ARCHITECTURE VS. PUNK ROCK. A distillation of the DIY ethic across different media.

Text | Illustrations | Flash Movie | Comics

Punk culture as we know it originated as a counterpoint to the prevailing culture of corporatism- corporatism, in the sense of relying on consensual standards and artificial entities for human organization. The punk ethic is essentially creative, because it offers a model to those who wish to have opportunities for expression independent of questionable support networks such as corporate sponsorships and contracts. This expression has typically taken place within media like ‘zines, fashion, graffiti writing, more recently the web, and, most visibly, music, always typified by a strong DIY (do-it-yourself) work ethic and a defiant refusal of the corporate mainstream. While punk ethics have permeated virtually every artistic medium, the nature of contemporary real estate is generally hostile towards local variation. Finance, building codes, the development industry, and so on create a restrictive atmosphere not easily out-maneuvered by grassroots networks. Therefore, the challenge is just that: to use the punk ethic to subvert the standard building process and try to find a model that places some of the creative power in the hands of the individual, to re-assert the importance of personal growth for the builder, to develop more sustainable lifestyles, and to challenge prevailing attitudes about what a building really is: commodity, habitat, political statement, or work of art.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004


I love LEGO. Actually, I love just about anything modular and hackable.

At Building-Utopolis, Michel Labelle creates everything from oceanfront developments of skyscrapers to dark cathedrals to lighthouses and piers - all from LEGO. Amazing.

If architecture's not your thing, Andrew Lipson also builds cool stuff - check out his mathematical sculptures, including möbius strips, a pretty red Costa surface and this kick-ass Bour's minimal surface. But perhaps the coolest of all is Escher's "Relativity".

(The Escher link comes from - and got me started.)

Online and on the streets

As you may know, the CityWide Performance project is one of my dissertation case studies.

The collaboration between Nottingham's Mixed Reality Lab and Blast Theory has produced three mixed-reality games: Can You See Me Now? and Uncle Roy All Around You will be joined by I Like Frank, "the world's first 3G mixed reality game," which premieres next month in Adelaide, Australia.

In Experiments in mixed reality, Matt Adams of Blast Theory "explores the interrelationship of art and digital mobility, of overlaying real and virtual spaces."

Monday, February 9, 2004

The past is in front of us, where we can see what happened

Witold Riedel: A brief fragment of a thought about Altars as entry points into the understanding of their worshippers...

I wonder why I had to think about the panels of the Veit Stoss altar, when visiting the control room of one of the giant signs on Times Square the contemporary open air cathedral of commerce…

What is it really that we trust most, and celebrate most and believe in most? How important are the old symbols and their meaning compared to the last minute information, the breaking news, the real time data, flowing straight from the bottoms of our screens into our perception of what we call now?

How relevant is it to us what happened 1000 years ago, compared to what happened 100 years ago, compared to 10 years ago, compared to 1 year ago, compared to an hour ago, compared to 20, 10 minutes ago, compared to now, compared to the predictions of what will happen this year, the next year, and…

Sunday, February 8, 2004

But was this abject misery? No! No!

Working on a cold and snowy day, and I gotta say that Zappa & Beefheart's 1975 album Bongo Fury is just really really good. Although my taste in music usually goes in different directions, it has one of my favourite songs: Carolina Hardcore Ecstasy. If you can't listen to the song, at least read the lyrics. Genius.

That is all.

Saturday, February 7, 2004

Social capital and a lack of public engagement

I've been enjoying conversations with Diego Doval recently, and maybe the latest topic most of all: ideas and practices that can loosely be tied to an interest in the social economy.

Diego recently posted on how - and why - he works, including his attitudes toward business:

A company shouldn't, can't, be an end in itself ... A successful company (IMO) is not one that only makes money (although that's important of course) but also contributes to the life of its employees, its community and society, and does its part, to put it simply, in making things better.

I commented there that this reminds me of social entrepreneurship - which means anything from socially responsible innovation to entrepreneurial approaches to social problems. Either way, two things immediately come to mind: first, its very name implies that other types of business are not socially responsible (a position with which I generally agree, but that's because I really dislike conservative politics and unbridled capitalism in general); and second, that even socially responsible entrepreneurship needs to be held accountable. (After all, good intentions do not ensure good consequences.)

My friend Peter Levesque and I have talked about social entrepreneurship many times, and like him, I was thrilled to hear our new Prime Minister's response to the Speech from the Throne last week, and his support for Canada's "social economy." And again like Peter, I hope he will be a man of his word:

Enhancing quality of life in our cities is about wanting to help each other. It is about a willingness to work together to build great places to live. Today this willingness is everywhere in Canada. We see it in the efforts of a million Canadians working in the voluntary sector ... We see it in the efforts of the people who are applying entrepreneurial creativity — not for profit, but rather to pursue social and environmental goals. That’s what we call the social economy — and while it may be a less familiar part of our economy, we must not underestimate its importance. Its contribution to the social fabric and to the economic vitality of our municipalities, urban and rural, is real and is growing ... The people who are dedicated to these efforts understand the power of the social economy. The people themselves represent a powerful social resource, and it is high time that the federal government recognizes this. We intend to make the social economy a key part of Canada’s social policy tool kit.

I guess what I really want to say is that I expect the same thing from my government and from business: ethical behaviour for and with the people. I believe that just as democratic governments need to come up with new and better ways to have their constituents' voices heard, so too social entrepreneurs need to find just ways of interacting with their clients and customers.

You see, I think there is a fine line between acting for the people, and with the people. The former becomes patronising and fosters dependency. The latter respects difference and creates independence and reciprocity. And I'm interested in ways of keeping governments and social entrepreneurs honest and accountable. They have power, and with power comes responsibility. And I believe it will take these and other groups working together to ensure that people and just relationships are valued in the research and development of emerging social technologies. But that again raises the issue of insufficent public forums - commons - for these encounters and negotiations, and I'll leave that to another time.

Advantages and disadvantages of place

If I lived in Europe, I'd definitely be at ISEA 2004 in August. The networked experience theme takes place in Stockholm, wearable experience in Tallinn, wireless experience in Helsinki, and across all three cities, histories of the new.

In 2004 it will be possible to evaluate new media through its various histories, and to discuss its impact on local and international media cultures through their social and artistic uses. Artists, researchers, and critical practitioners continuously engage with emerging technologies, testing their limits, creating new cultures of media use and experience. ISEA 2004 looks at new technologies becoming old, and emerging technologies becoming cultured.

Still, I'm looking forward to the Mobile Connections conference at futuresonic in April, and DIS in August.

And really, if I went to every conference that interested me, I'd never find the time to finish my dissertation - this year's objective.

Two on design

Dan Hill's article Insanely great, or just good enough? at Core 77 - "essentially about Apple's design strategy in the context of adaptive design and their own software design, experience design in general - with particular reference to the recent battery life debacle."

Eyebeam - reBlog: a web site republishing the best blog posts on art, technology, and culture from around the web. (via JBC)

Not just girls with ray guns

Women Working on Mars: Science and Engineering on the Red Planet

Panel Webcast February 26, 2004 4:00 pm PST

Ask Shonte Wright, Julie Townsend, Zoe Learner and Elaina McCartney your questions about science and engineering on Mars, or what it takes to become a female scientist or engineer for NASA!

See also:

The Women of NASA
The Dryden Federal Women's Program
The Women of Wallops Federal Women's Program

Of love and Swedish meatballs

The truth may not be funnier than fiction, but it sure can be strange.

On the evening of February 14 - Valentine's Day - you can go to the IKEA Singles Meet and Mingle Event in Ottawa:

Did you know IKEA is a great place to pick up a hot date? Come check out the scene!

Chat with others over dinner then we send you off into the store with a partner to test your compatibility. Plan a kitchen together, set a table for dinner guests, create your ideal bedroom and see if your tastes and personalities jive!

For fun and romance join us at IKEA at 7pm in the restaurant. Cost is $6.95 pp includes dinner and a free gift.

The ethnographer in me feels a sudden urge to go shopping on a Saturday night...

Friday, February 6, 2004

Complicated hybrid emotions

I just wrote - and deleted - a long post about witnessing the suffering of someone I know and care about, of reading something she wrote that made me cry. Big wet tears and tight chested sobs. And as much as I want to link to the extraordinary story she tells, I deeply fear exploiting her pain, and write her a quiet email instead.

But I am reminded of my favourite passage from Jeffrey Eugenides' novel Middlesex, and will share that instead:

Emotions, in my experience, aren't covered by single words. I don't believe in "sadness," "joy," or "regret" ... I'd like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, "the happiness that attends disaster." Or: "the disappointment of sleeping with one's fantasy." I'd like to show how "intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members" connects with "the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age." I'd like to have a word for "the sadness inspired by failing restaurants" as well as for "the excitement of getting a room with a minibar." I've never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I've entered my story, I need them more than ever. I can't just sit back and watch from a distance anymore.

Thursday, February 5, 2004

In praise of hackability

It looks like Jonah and Katherine's MIDI Scrapyard Challenge at transmediale04 was just smashing!

Jonah reports:

Over 19 participants and 15 really great instruments were made! The workshop lasted 5 hours and then there was an hour long performance in front of the biggest crowd yet in the Transmediale Salon! Some highlights of the performance included a "Yes/No" helmet with two switches that triggered when you shake your head (pictured above). Also a great duck pond with a floating duck that created notes when it hit the edges of a small pond, Some excellent scraping instruments, digital beat generater made from an old plotting machine, great analog controller from dipping resistors into some soda water, a shaking stick, and a stuffed eggplant with a phone connection, and more!

And Katherine has some preliminary pictures up too.

Update 06/01/04: Katherine's reflections on transmediale are online now too.

Wednesday, February 4, 2004

Because it's more complicated than "friend" or "not-friend"

Diego Doval has a very good post on representing non-binary relationships in social software, including an adaptation of Don Park's friendship circle.

What's old becomes new again

Since I believe there are as many kinds of weblog as there are people who write them, I've always found it a shame that the singular format (reverse chronological with archives) seems to homogenise these differences in passion, intimacy and play, at the same time as it privileges the new.

So I have dedicated this week to an archaeological adventure of sorts: digging through the archives of some of my favourite weblogs, in search of hidden artefacts that fell off the scroll and yet may continue to inform and inspire new ways of thinking about old questions, and old ways of thinking about new ones. You can find me - and them - at space and culture.

Sunday, February 1, 2004

Broken things

Rather than venture out in the frigid winds this morning I am going to try to fix the problem with previewing comments. Good thing there's a php coder in the house to help me. Sigh. Please bear with me as I go back and forth with the server.

For the philosophy geeks out there, AKMA begins to explain the limits of "either/or" binary logic, and how "both/and" binary logic doesn't help us either.

(AKMA also explains why he likes a broken Orkut.)


No luck yet, but check this out! Damn!

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