Friday, December 23, 2005

Snow music

I don't know how to explain what I felt yesterday when, as I walked through the falling snow, enormous flakes sending shards of light in a thousand different directions, Sigur Rós came through my headphones. I stopped and looked up at the sky, feeling the snowflakes land gently on my cold cheeks, and hearing the music slowly build. The swirling snow and light took on the sounds of the instruments and I could no longer tell where one began and the other ended. My body felt like it was going to explode from joy but I couldn't move. I must have stood there for fifteen minutes, listening, looking, smiling. It was glorious.

Watch Sigur Rós live in Reykjavík last month.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The day the sun stands still

Hans Christian Anderson's The Snow Queen is a wonderful story about the struggle between light and dark, warmth and coldness and, ultimately, about love.

Sun Halo at Winter Solstice

Sun Halo at Winter Solstice

May your light burn bright on this shortest day and longest night of the year.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


So I'm finishing off a workshop proposal and going through my notes on remembering, forgetting, materiality and cultural value. I've gone back over Nietzsche's active forgetting, Ricoeur on memory, history and forgetting, and Auge on oblivion. Excellent stuff. I also glanced back over some of the essays in Appadurai's The Social Life of Things and Mary Douglas' The World of Goods, as well as Michael Thompson's Rubbish Theory: The Creation and Destruction of Value, and his more recent article Time's Square: Deriving Cultural Theory from Rubbish Theory (which builds on the work of Douglas). Not entirely my cup of tea, but useful.

I also checked out Organization's Special Issue on the Rise of Objects in the Study of Organizations, which has some good work by John Law and Vicky Singleton on objects as regions, networks, fluids and fire ("objects as patterns of discontinuity between absence and presence") and an interesting account by Lucy Suchman on how how values of the "new" operate in technological design culture.

Bruno Latour has recently attempted to move from objects to things, and I like all sorts of, um, things, about his dingpolitik, but the Making Things Public exhibition catalog is a brutal read. It just goes on and on, and despite having essays grouped into sections, it's almost impossible to determine the ideas which one could apply in one's own work. So I've just got the library to order What Things Do: Philosophical Reflections on Technology, Agency, and Design by Peter-Paul Verbeek to see if it might be more useful.

But there's something about Thompson's work that is sticking with me. As Will Straw puts it in The Thingishness of Things:

"Michael Thompson noted that the central problem in the analysis of objects was the disjunction between economic decay and physical decay. Long after objects have ceased to hold any significant economic value, long after they have stopped being signifiers of social desire, they continue to exist as physical artifacts...Here, an analysis of cultural artifacts almost of necessity becomes an ecological analysis, in the broadest sense of the term. The accumulation of artifacts for which there is no longer any observable social desire invites us to deal with the question of how we deal with cultural waste..."

This becomes particularly interesting when I think about pervasive computing, and especially those spatial annotation projects that seek to capture collective memories. Persistence is a funny thing...

Geeky goodness

CFP: She’s Such a Geek: An Anthology by and for Women Obsessed with Computers, Science, Comic Books, Gaming, Spaceships, and Revolution (via)

"This anthology will celebrate women who have flourished in the male-dominated realms of technical and cultural arcana. We’re looking for a wide range of personal essays about the meaning of female nerdhood by women who are in love with genomics, obsessed with blogging, learned about sex from Dungeons and Dragons, and aren’t afraid to match wits with men or computers. The essays in She’s Such a Geek will explain what it means to be passionately engaged with technical or obscure topics—and how to deal with it when people tell you that your interests are weird, especially for a girl. This book aims to bust stereotypes of what it means to be a geek, as well as what it means to be female...We want introspective essays that explain what being a geek has meant to you. Describe how you’ve fought stereotypes to be accepted among nerds. Explore why you are obsessed with topics and ideas that are supposed to be 'for boys only.' Tell us how you felt the day you realized that you would be devoting the rest of your life to discovering algorithms or collecting comic books. We want strong, personal writing that is also smart and critical. We don’t mind if you use the word 'fuck,' and we don’t mind if you use the word 'telomerase.' Be celebratory, polemical, wistful, angry, and just plain dorky."

3,000-6,000 words essays due January 15, 2006

A new and already impressive collection of STS scholars, programmes, blogs, syllabi, journals, readings and a bunch of other STS-related wiki stuff. If you study or are interested in social studies of science and technology be sure to contribute!

Pruned: The Physics of Space Gardens

How Much E-Waste Per Child? - Jamais Cascio (WorldChanging)
On the waste that could be generated by the "Hundred-Dollar Laptop"

Effects of Pervasive Computing on Sustainable Development by Andreas Koehler and Claudia Som (via)

Technology and Social Control: The Search for the Illusive Silver Bullet (via)

Saturday, December 17, 2005

It's a snow day today

A few weeks ago, I realised that I had oh-so-quietly slipped into that dreadfully boring place where I respond to most questions or statements with "Well, really you should read [insert academic du jour]". Let me assure you that few comments can so effectively end a conversation, and it was clear something had to give. This finishing of the PhD is really dehumanising and I prefer to be fully human.

So, more exercise, more meditation, more reading and writing of fiction, and way more laughing has brought me back to life. And, perhaps not surprisingly, I'm getting more accomplished and enjoying it more while I do it. Plus, Christmas is coming and I've hand-crafted all this year's gifts and I can't wait to give them away. Even better, I'll be spending the holidays with my family for the first time in eight years. But the point is, as Webb put it in IM, "goofy is good for you".

That reminds me: Jack and Matt (as Schulze & Webb) have documented their mobile phone personalisation project for Nokia.

"As well as looking at how materials (and the practices of the people who work with these materials) affect the phone, we’re also looking at how personalisation of Nokia phones can change their meaning or impact culturally. Large-scale manufacture is inevitably distanced from the very precise social context of use. Once we bring in short-run manufacture, however, the mobile can be more culturally situated. Manufacture can occur locally, and be influenced and shaped by everyday usage."

Not only are the material explorations interesting, but they've raised some issues around where the mundane rubs against the extraordinary. They mention the "bespoke creation of expensive items" but what is the relationship between everyday usage and luxury/status? Is this personalisation for the many or the few? And what kind of personalisation? Is the purchaser personalising it her "own way" like when she builds her "own" Mini Cooper online? Or like when he knits a matching winter scarf and cozy for his iPod?

Good stuff. An article in the latest issue of First Monday also caught my eye. Sumanth Gopinath's Ringtones, or the auditory logic of globalization takes a look at technical and cultural transitions in ringtones, and explains them in terms of auditory culture (refreshing enough when so much has to do with the visual) and capital accumulation over time. A good Marxist analysis, with everything that implies. And since I often think it's lame that we can't talk about nationalism without conjuring fascism or neoconservatism, I have to point to this piece on Benedict Anderson (via). It's not that he's got it all figured but I'm pulling together stuff for next term's lectures on cosmopolitanism and he raises some interesting points.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Pervasive computing

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