Saturday, April 24, 2010

Internet of Objects vs. Internet of Things vs. Web of Things vs. Things on the Web vs. Real World Web vs. Whole World Web

Some people find the naming of things to be incidental, uninteresting or even irrelevant, but from a sociological perspective the struggle to find the "right" name is critical to understanding people's interests, concerns and claims over domains of knowledge and practice. (For example, to declare the name of something an issue that needs correction, or as a problem to be solved, can be seen as the first step in what Michel Callon and Bruno Latour have called a sociology of translation--the successful result of which comprises an actor-network.) And I have a particular research interest in Pervasive Computing, the "Internet of Things" and/or the "Web of Things" as contested domains of knowledge and practice, so I was really interested in a conversation I followed on Twitter this morning.

Now, it's actually pretty hard to sequentially represent a Twitter conversation between several people so the transcription below only approximates how it unfolded in real-time. Plus, there were participants whose Twitter accounts are not public, and so not included here. But the perceived issues of the debate are what's most interesting to me, along with who or what drops out of conversation.

tomcoates: Trying with @bobbiejohnson to think of a better phrase than 'internet of objects' for pervasively networked, web of data aware devices...

jennielees: @tomcoates i prefer 'the internet of things', or if you're oreilly-oriented, 'web cubed'..

tomcoates: @jennielees The problem with the 'Internet of Things' is that I think it triggers a whole bunch of weird assumptions. It doesn't quite fit.

kevinmarks: @tomcoates I take it you don't like @bruces's 'spime' then?

tomcoates: @kevinmarks I'm not anti-spime as a useful descriptive term, although that's not completely what we're talking about here.

tomcoates: @kevinmarks Spime—as I understand it—is more of an object that can be tracked through space and time, rather than as a two-way transport.

jackschofield: @tomcoates It's already known as the Web of Things! (@bobbiejohnson, er, who? ;-)

tomcoates: @jackschofield Yeah, I don't really buy that one either. It implies a web between things, not a relationship between things and the web.

tomcoates: @jackschofield Honestly, I'd prefer Things on the Web, although that's also semi-confusing, I accept.

tomcoates: Suddenly struck by the phrase "Real World Web" as a semi-reasonable phrase to describe the shift towards connected devices and environments

jackschofield: @tomcoates If you want to rename everything that could have a better name, you'll be busy for decades, and it won't make the world better.

tomcoates: @jackschofield I'm 100% with you - I'm not greatly in favour of having long, drawn-out semantic arguments about the names of things.

tomcoates: @jackschofield Generally much more important to get on with the process of building stuff.

tomcoates: @jackschofield But certain ideas just don't kick off if their naming is wrong or you can galvanise a community by renaming it.

tomcoates: @jackschofield The three obvious (positive) examples that leap to mind are the coining of 'social software', 'web 2.0' and 'ajax

jackschofield: @tomcoates True, though the actual meaning of Web 2.0 is arguable, and ajax's meaning is not obvious or recognised by most users...

jackschofield: @tomcoates What do the French, the Germans, the Japanese, the Chinese etc call Web of Things? One of those might suggest a better word...

egoodman: @tomcoates Maybe Whole World Web? The claim that some worlds are "realer" than others always bothers me. Life online is pretty damn real.

tomcoates: @egoodman I know exactly what you mean, but I think the danger is that you have to spell out what's different about the term.

tomcoates: @egoodman Whole World Web can be read really easily as the same as World Wide Web - both *could* refer to the physical world...

tomcoates: @egoodman That's the bit I'm trying to get to - how do you have a phrase that captures (1) the full range of meaning (2) is self-explanatory

tomcoates: @egoodman I think web of objects or things is nasty though - sounds like a separate distinct web from the web of pages or data...

egoodman: @tomcoates Agreed to all. Although in the beginning, World Wide Web was also a mysterious term.

egoodman: @tomcoates Mixed r=eality web? Hybrid web? ... now I'm just spiralling down, aren't I.

tomcoates: @tigoe I would go further and say the "Internet of Things" term has never been useful. Generally, though, I agree with you.

tomcoates: @tigoe My problem with The Internet of Things is that it feels separate and analogous to the Internet, when there's no distinction.

tomcoates: @tigoe What we need is a term that points towards the extrusion of the data-rich network into objects, while acknowledging the wider whole.

tomcoates: @tigoe For me, the interesting thing is not the 'things' but the way the network pushes its way into / through them.

tomcoates: @tigoe I think that's why I like the Real World Web pitch - because it points to that extension of the web. A new phase of The Internet.
Any thoughts?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Of moggies and pussies

In New Zealand and the UK, domestic cats - and especially outdoor cats - are called "moggies." I was curious about the etymology of the word, and a quick look-up turned into an hour reading about the historical associations amongst cats, women and (by extension) effeminate men in colloquial English.

In terms of my current research, I'm fascinated by how "moggie" has been applied to both stray cats and stray women. For example, "moggie" as slattern or slut points at a socially inappropriate woman, a woman out-of-line, a behaviour out-of-place. "Moggie" as unkempt streetwalker further conjures women out-of-bounds, lacking in both physical and social pedigree. To later apply this term to an animal isn't surprising if we believe that the earlier sense stripped a woman of her humanity. The use of "moggie" to refer to creatures not receiving care (they live on the streets) nor being worthy of care (they are sub-human) also fits with the word's earlier use. Similarly, the early historical use of "puss" and "pussy" to describe fickle, spiteful or sly women created cultural associations between women, animals and the unpleasant qualities of each. Although "puss" and "pussy" moved away from such negative connotations and became terms of endearment for gentle, pretty and playful women, they also became derogatory terms for men whose behaviour was deemed to be overly feminine.

All of which is to say that, with one exception, both "moggie" and "pussy" have most often suggested a cultural status that is hard to place, if not entirely out of place. In trying to locate or situate outdoor cats in cultural and spatial contexts, these words and histories generate interesting connections and possibilities. I'm not sure where they'll take me, but I'm pretty sure the curiosity won't kill me.

(Photo by Mel Hodgkinson)


In case word geeks want details, this is what I copied from the OED:


1. a. colloq. (orig. and chiefly Sc. and Eng. regional). Originally: a girl, a young woman. Later: an untidily dressed woman. Now rare.

1648 W. LILLY Astrol. Predict. 60 Expect not so fair an enemy as Cromwel, nor such fair quarter as now is given thee: Jockey, Jemmy, and Moggy thy she-souldier, must than all to the sword. c1680 Scotch Moggy's Misfortune (broadside), With her Chearful Hops, that Shakum Giue will bury his Wife, and then make Moggy a happy Mother. 1699 E. WARD London Spy I. VII. 15 In another Hut, a parcel of Scoth [i.e. Scotch] Pedlars and their Moggies, Dancing a Highlanders Jig. 1886 R. E. G. COLE Gloss. Words S.-W. Lincolnshire, Moggy, a slattern, dressed out untidily: ‘She did look a moggy.’ 1980 AA Bk. Brit. Villages 263/3 At Ickwell Green..the May Queen is accompanied by moggies (raggedly dressed women).

3. colloq. (chiefly Brit.) A (domestic) cat, esp. a non-pedigree or otherwise unremarkable one.

1911 J. W. HORSLEY I Remember xi. 254 Cockney slang..‘moggies’ for cats. 1958 L. LITTLE Dear Boys I. xii. 211 ‘Do you mean you actually killed them [sc. cats]?’ Sid asked disgustedly. ‘That's right,’ said Jake.., ‘that's what we did. Dozens of the bloody things... Until we ran out of moggies.’ 1966 New Statesman 27 May 788/2 He dries his hands on a moggie and uses a kitten to blot a false death certificate; ‘just a fur ball, it's nothing,’ he says. 1967 New Scientist 4 May 257/2 In the desert, there are several little wild cats superficially indistinguishable from domestic moggies. 1973 People's Jrnl. (Inverness & Northern Counties ed.) 4 Aug. 4/3 Oh, and before I leave this topic of pussies, my neighbour across the lane also had a good laugh from the moggie next door to her. 1994 Cats 5 Aug. 7/2 Some lucky owners may have a moggie which looks like a Maine Coon, or any other pedigree breed.


1. a. A conventional proper or pet name for a cat, freq. (sometimes reduplicated) used as a call to attract its attention.

a1530 J. HEYWOOD Iohan & Tyb (Brandl) 590, I haue sene the day that pus my cat Hath had in a yere kytlyns eyghtene. 1565 Kyng Daryus (Brandl) 181, I can fere the knaues with my grannams Cat. Pusse pusse, where art thou? 1568 Newe Comedie Jacob & Esau II. iv, in W. C. Hazlitt Dodsley's Sel. Coll. Old Eng. Plays (1874) II. 223 Esau left not so much [of the pottage] as a lick for puss, our cat. 1591 R. PERCYVALL Bibliotheca Hispanica Dict. s.v. Miça, The terme to call a cat, as we saie ‘pusse’. 1648 R. HERRICK Hesperides sig. L6, by our aches... True Calenders, as Pusses eare Washt o're, to tell what change is neare. 1712 E. COOKE Voy. S. Sea 214 The Spaniards, when they call them, say Miz, as we do Puss. 1792 S. T. COLERIDGE Coll. Lett. (1956) I. 25 Puss like her master is a very gentle brute, and I behave to her with all possible politeness. 1801 S. OWENSON Poems 73 View puss by fire her station take. 1897 B. STOKER Dracula vii. 89 The dog..was in a..fury..its hairs bristling out like a cat's tail when puss is on the war-path. 1956 Post-Standard (Syracuse, N.Y.) 4 Oct. 1/2 Mrs. Doctor looked out the window and poor Puss was stretched stark dead on the lawn. 2000 Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat & Chron. (Nexis) 20 May 1B There is an unwelcome silence at home now that my Puss is gone... I am planning to adopt another kitty as soon as I can. 2004 Daily Mail (Nexis) 13 We ‘know’ when the cat is out there waiting to come in. Open the doorn - Here, ‘puss, puss, puss’ - but there she is already.

b. colloq. (orig. nursery). A cat. Cf. PUSS-CAT n., PUSSY n. 2a.

1598 J. FLORIO Worlde of Wordes, Muccia..a yoong cat or kitlin or pusse to play with. 1605 G. CHAPMAN et al. Eastward Hoe IV. i, When the famous fable of Whittington and his pusse shal be forgotten. 1694 P. A. MOTTEUX Wks. F. Rabelais (1737) IV. xvii. 71 The Bite of a She Puss [Fr. chatte]..was the Cause of his Death. 1744-5 MRS. DELANY in Life & Corr. (1862) 342 Have I told you of a pretty tortoiseshell puss I have? 1818 R. HERBER Let. 31 July in A. Heber Life (1830) I. xv. 490 On being asked whether New Zealanders eat cats, he answered ‘New Zealanders eatee hog, him..eatee warrior and old woman, but him no eatee puss!’ 1835 W. COLTON Ship & Shore 192 Our unfortunate puss had been taken on board at Malaga, and since her embarkation we had not been visited by one favorable breeze. c1840 W. E. FORSTER in Reid Life (1888) I. v. 135 A most delightful black kitten..; a most refined, graceful, intellectual, amusing puss. 1935 R. GRIFFITHS Imagination in Early Childhood x. 183 The puss saw the rat, and went like this (crouching) and the rat didn't see 'im. 1993 Star-Ledger (Newark, New Jersey) 5 June 5/4 He said the puss was shot Wednesday night and was workers from Irvington Animal Control the following morning.

3. a. A girl or woman, esp. one exhibiting characteristics associated with a cat, as spitefulness, slyness, attractiveness, playfulness, etc. Originally used as a term of contempt; in later use also as a pet name or term of endearment. Cf. PUSSY n. 1a. Now rare.

1602 T. DEKKER Satiro-mastix sig. F3, Ile give thee none but Sugarcandie wordes, I will not pusse; goody Tripe-wife, I will not. 1612 B. JONSON Alchemist V. iii. sig. L3v, The baudy Doctor, and the Cosening Captaine, And Pus my Suster. 1630 T. DEKKER Second Pt. Honest Whore I. iii. 106 This wench (your new wife)..This Shee-cat will haue more liues then your last Pusse had. 1663 S. PEPYS Diary 6 Aug. (1971) IV. 264 His wife, an ugly pusse but brought him money. 1732 H. FIELDING Mod. Husband IV. 55, I think her an ugly, ungenteel, squinting, flirting, impudent, odious, dirty Puss. 1753 School of Man 95 The ingratitude, the villainy, says he, of the little Puss. 1780 C. DIBDIN Shepherdess of Alps III. iv. 62 Piqued at the little angry puss, Cried he, she sets me all on fire! Then plagues himself, and makes this fuss, Only to raise her value higher. 1846 DICKENS Battle of Life i. 13 ‘Somebody's birth-day, Puss,’ replied the Doctor. 1861 T. A. TROLLOPE La Beata I. v. 102 To think that the little puss should defend herself so coolly. 1881 W. BESANT & J. RICE Chaplain of Fleet II. ix. 173 They could not have believed their daughter so sly and deceitful a puss. 1919 R. FIRBANK Valmouth xi. 189 ‘Oh, she's a regular puss; my word she is.’ A regular civet if ever there was, Mrs Thoroughfare wickedly commented. 1940 M. SADLEIR Fanny by Gaslight I. 46 How's that, William? The puss says she will come too! 1951 G. HEYER Quiet Gentleman xii. 183 Shocked! Ay, so she might be, the naughty puss! 1978 M. M. KAYE Far Pavilions II. ix. 148 All the young fellows lining up to take his pretty little puss out riding and dancing.

PUSSY, N. and ADJ.

A. n.

1. a. Chiefly colloq. A girl or woman exhibiting characteristics associated with a cat, esp. sweetness or amiability. Freq. used as a pet name or as a term of endearment. Cf. PUSS n.1 3, PUSSYCAT n. 3.

c1557-65 in T. Wright Songs & Ballads (1860) lxxiv. 209 Adew, my pretty pussy, Yow pynche me very nere. 1583 P. STUBBES Anat. Abuses I. sig. Hv, You shall haue euery sawcy catch vp a woman & marie her... So he haue his pretie pussie to huggle withall, it forceth not. 1836 THACKERAY Let. 2 July (1945) I. 314 How have you passed the night dear Pussy? 1852 H. B. STOWE Uncle Tom's Cabin xvi, ‘What do you think, pussy?’ said her father to Eva. 1932 A. CHRISTIE Thirteen Problems xi. 193 ‘The dame de compagnie, you described, I think, as a pussy, Mrs. Bantry?’ ‘I didn't mean a cat, you know,’ said Mrs. Bantry. ‘It's quite different. Just a big soft white purry person. Always very sweet.’ 1941 A. CHRISTIE N or M? iii. 38 Old boarding-house pussies. Nothing to do but gossip and knit. 1952 M. TRIPP Faith is Windsock iv. 73 ‘Your rear gunner is a hit with the ladies.’ ‘Jake knows how to make the pussies purr; it's an old Jamaican custom.’ [1959 M. RICHLER Apprenticeship Duddy Kravitz I. ix. 50 Milty ran off crying... ‘What is it, pussy-lamb?’] 1986 D. POTTER Singing Detective II. 45 But tonight there isn't a pussy in sight. Not even a four-legged one. All good people have gone home.

2. a. nursery and colloq. A cat. Freq. used as a proper or pet name. Also used occas. as a call to attract a cat's attention (cf. PUSS n.1 1). In quot. 1873 (humorous): a tiger (cf. PUSS n.1 2).

1699 T. D'URFEY New Songs & Ballads 7 As Fleet as my Feet Could convey me I sped; To Iohnny who many Times Pussey had fed. 1726 MRS. DELANY in Life & Corr. (1862) 124 My new pussey is..white,..with black spots. 1764 K. O'HARA Midas 21 And pussey Can counterfeit sleeping, When mousey Steals tip-a-toe creeping. 1800 MR. UPTON in Myrtle & Vine III. 8 Says I, ‘Pray who's been here?’ When she, who thought me boozy, Cries, ‘Nobody, my dear, 'Twas only Tom our Pussey!’ 1821 J. CLARE Village Minstrel I. 167 Ah mice, rejoice!.. 'Tis yours to triumph, mine's the woe, Now pussy's dead. 1873 Routledge's Yng. Gentl. Mag. 535, I should have liked to have potted a pussy, particularly such a blood~thirsty brute as this one seems to be. 1889 J. K. JEROME Idle Thoughts 119 He strokes the cat quite gently, and calls it ‘poor pussy’. 1915 L. M. MONTGOMERY Anne of Island xxxviii. 297 ‘What are you going to do with Rusty?’ asked Phil, as that privileged pussy padded into the room. 1927-9 H. WHEELER Waverley Children's Dict. VI. 3486/1 Another pet name for a cat is pussy. 1960 P. WILLMOTT & M. D. YOUNG Family & Class in London Suburb ix. 107 Next door but one has pussy when we go on holiday. 1992 Los Angeles Times (Orange County ed.) 11 June O.C. Live! 4/2 They'll choose the pussy with the longest whiskers..and the splashiest color. 2006 Herald Sun (Austral) (Nexis) 26 June 16 Pussies were purring as they were snapped up for as little as $40 at the society's annual cat clearance.
B. adj. 

2 colloq. and slang. Exhibiting characteristics associated with a cat; cat-like. Also (in later use chiefly): weak, cowardly (cf. sense A. 1b).

1842 Amer. Pioneer 1 182, I walked up very carelessly among the soldiers..and concluded they could never fight with us. They appeared to me to be too pussy. 1863 C. KINGSLEY Water-babies v. 213 She was the most nice, soft..pussy, cuddly, delicious creature who ever nursed a baby. 1863 C. KINGSLEY Water-babies v. 241 Little boys..who have kind pussy mammas to cuddle them. 1930 D. L. SAYERS Strong Poison xvi. 197 Mrs. Pegler, a very stout, pussy old lady with a long tongue (!) 1977 M. TORRES in R. P. Rettig et al. Manny iii. 101/1 I'm not about to turn out. You picked on the wrong guy. I'm not pussy! 1985 E. LEONARD Glitz xx. 173 But when Weldon turned and threw his beer in Bad Isham's scarred face it surprised Isham. It seemed a pussy way to get things going. 2003 Ice Oct. 111/2 No-one dared take me on. It's why I had to start backyard wrestling - everyone was too pussy to start something.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Locative media and mediated localities

The latest issue of Aether: The Journal of Media Geography is now out. Guest edited by Tristan Thielmann (University of Siegen), the topic is locative media and mediated localities:

Locative Media and Mediated Localities (pdf)
Tristan Thielmann
Locative Networking (pdf)
Greg Elmer
Locating Media Futures in the Present (pdf)
Anne Galloway
From Radar to Reader (pdf)
Christoph Rosol
Hidden Treasure (pdf)
Katharine Willis
A Moment of Experimentation (pdf)
Sophia Drakopoulou
Modes of Being in Mobile Telecommunication (pdf)
Miya Yoshida
The Power of Momentary Communities (pdf)
Michael Salmond

There is all sorts of interesting work here worth taking at look at, and I'll be presenting some related research at the Media in Action Conference in June.

In related news, I'm almost done revisions for an essay on the affective politics of urban computing and locative media for Ulrik Ekman's forthcoming book Throughout: Art and Culture Emerging with Ubiquitous Computing. And, for the last of my dissertation-related research, I've got a journal article currently under review. I'll post both pieces here as soon as I can.

Update 09/04/10: Serial Consign has posted an interview with locative media artist, scholar and educator Jeremy Hight that includes some interesting thoughts on technologically mediated spaces and narratives:

"We also are seeing what really excites me as a writer and researcher which is new ways to write and publish within maps and their augmentations, so not just locative narrative but even...a literary journal in the augmentation where Route 66 once ran or inside an immersive visualization of an abandoned building that is placed on its space in the map."

Still struggling to find my teaching + research + blogging rhythm, here are a few things that have recently caught my eye

The upcoming pain of migrating this blog

On the (in)visibility of the quantum world and the debate over animal "personhood"

In search of indigenous research methods and Maori research ethics

Neighbourhood cats and Street fauna of Wellington; Have you ever bought a gadget that your dog actually needed?

Jaroslav Jurica's Rubikon pinhole rebel camera

Commentary about how asinine it is that female academics are told to "smile more" in their teaching evaluations. (Also a personal pet peeve; my professional male friends never have to deal with this sort of bullshit.)

George Spratt's 1850 Obstetric Tables, Joanna Ebenstein's "Private Cabinets" photo series and the Congress of Curious Peoples

And, well, actually, everything I've posted over here.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Week 442

Since it's been almost six weeks since my last weeknote, I feel as though I'm giving confession!

The most significant thing that's happened in this time is the start of classes. I ended up choosing to focus on a set of cultural domains that shape and are shaped by design, and I think that my Design Anthropology course is off to a good start. I also decided to assign one major project in three parts, so the students will be designing and creating (but not deploying) their own cultural probes. The goal here is to gain broad theoretical exposure, and deep practical exposure, to culturally-based design research. This trimester I'm also a tutor for our third year design research paper, and I'm really looking forward to getting into studio-based learning and teaching.

In other university-related news, I've taken up my position as Convenor of the School of Design's Research Committee, which promises to be very interesting. The question of what constitutes the process and product of design research is complex, and given that our first-year curriculum and Design Innovation programme combine industrial design, media design and culture+context, it's easy to see how our faculty's research activities are quite varied. Finding ways to value a range of material, empirical, theoretical, creative and performative processes and products should provide no small challenge - especially with New Zealand's next Performance-Based Research Fund round quickly approaching.

I'm also enjoying the overlap between teaching and research that occurs with post-graduate supervision and examination. I'm impressed by the quality of student work here, and can't wait to see how this develops in the next few years. Given my own research interests, I'm also fascinated by my colleague Ross Stevens' explorations and teaching in Design Led Futures and we're trying to figure out ways of collaborating - including, I hope, a paper for the speculative design track at EASST 2010.

In other news, I'm starting work on a small research project on the ontological and social status of "outdoor" cats in urban areas. Domesticated but definitely not livestock, "outdoor" cats exist somewhere between pets like "indoor" cats and "urban wildlife" like possums. I'm most interested in the relations here between humans and non-humans, and how material culture - everything from katkabins to tweeting rfid cat doors - is designed and used to mediate these relations.

Otherwise, I've got several papers in various stages of review and publication that I need to get off my plate as quickly as possible. I'll be heading to Europe for two weeks in early June for Media in Action: International Conference of the Media Upheavals Research Centre at the University of Siegen - and I've got a bunch of UK and Norway university visits that need to be finalised sooner rather than later. If anyone wants to get together during that trip, please let me know.

Now, as Kang would have it, "We must move forward, not backward, upward not forward, and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom..."

CFP - What Objects Do: Design, Consumption and Social Practices

EASST Conference 2010
2-4 September, 2010
University of Trento, Italy

What Objects Do: Design, Consumption and Social Practices
"After 30 years of STS, it became impossible to understand how the social life works without appreciating how design objects, devices, settings, and environments mediate everyday practices, without accounting reality as a result of multiple interactions among humans and nonhumans. Indeed, STS contributed in recognizing not only meanings and social values attached to objects and technologies, but also the ways in which these artefacts materially contribute in shaping everyday social practices and patterns of life. Drawing on the STS’s assumption that objects with their scripts and incorporated programmes of action and “things” with their heterogeneous ontology and contested nature constantly articulate and rearticulate social ties, the track will explore design’s and consumption’s performativity and their capacity to trigger specific ways of enacting the social.

Papers are welcome on a variety of issues, including (but not limited to):

  • The performativity of technical objects, of spaces and design environments. What can objects do? How do they equip human communication? How do they mediate social interactions? How do they generate meaning in design experience? How are humans and nonhumans shaped and enacted by design? Do objects have social lives? How are their biographies entangled with the trajectories of their makers and users?
  • The processes of consumption and domestication of objects and technologies. How do people appropriate and use objects and technologies? In which ways these processes of consumption of technologies contribute in shaping the patterns and routines of everyday life? How can we recognize the relevance of the technical and material dimension of things in the creation, stabilization and transformation of everyday practices, routines and habits?
  • Design and the Social. How does design facilitate everyday sociality? How is design used to “outsource” morality, ethics, and politics? How does it play to solidify, reinforce, and prolong the social, the political, and the cultural? How does design shape individual or collective behaviours or become pattern giver of social practices? How does design turn the “public” into a problem? How do designers make their activities accountable to citizens or their representatives?

Scholars of different disciplines and research fields engaged in the study of the role of material artefacts and objects are invited to participate. While contributions may cover methodological and theoretical issues related to design, consumption and STS, we especially welcome papers that will base their findings on empirical examples and fieldwork. We also invite participants to organise their talks, if suitable, around the objects or “things” they might wish to bring with them in the session."

Abstracts of no more than 500 words should be sent by email (following website instructions) by March 15th 2010.

Convenors: Paolo Magaudda (Università di Padova), Mika Pantzar (National Consumer Research Centre of Helsinki), Paolo Volonté (Politecnico di Milano), Albena Yaneva (University of Manchester)

Previously posted EASST 2010 CFPs
Speculation, Design, Public and Participatory Technoscience: Possibilities and Critical Perspectives
Design, Performativity, STS

Friday, February 26, 2010

Framing tiny things

Seed Magazine showcases some of the most beautiful things I've seen in a long time: Howard Lynk's collection of Antique Microscope Slides from the Victorian Era c. 1830s - 1890s.

In the early 1800s, as optical instruments like the microscope became more refined, there was a corresponding demand for things to look at and a commercial industry in prepared or mounted slides emerged. Not only did these slides gather and portray an astounding array of natural objects, but the actual mountings are beautifully crafted.

"Many of the slides...use a method of construction wherein the mounting slide (usually a 1" x 3" piece of glass or wood) is covered either wholly or in part with colourful gilt decorated lithographed papers. This practice of using paper covers originated as a necessary means to mechanically fasten the mica or thin glass covers that were placed over the specimens, to the main slide. However, the paper covers quickly became more of an expression of decoration and individual presentation than need, as the use of Canada Balsam and other mounting media became widespread. Much of the best early preparers work is immediately recognizable, as they each settled on standard paper colours and graphic designs, which became their trademark of sorts."

Individual craftsmen - and they do appear to have been men - became known by their particular styles, and slides often bore the name of both the mounter and the optician who sold the slides. I was quite taken by the arranged slides - where many small objects were placed to form designs or patterns. Some of this work was so delicate that it required the use of boar bristles or cat whiskers to manoeuver the tiny objects or pieces into place.

Diatoms (Ernst Thum)

Radiolarians (Amos Topping)


Diatoms, Butterfly Scales, and Spicules (Mounter Unknown)

"A variation on the 'Arranged Object' mounts, Exhibition slides [1st and 3rd above] were often considered to be the pinnacle of the commercial mounters art, considering the degree of difficulty in their preparation. Combining various objects, often many 100s (or 1000s!) of individual butterfly or insect scales, diatoms, spicules, etc.; each piece was individually selected and assembled to create pictures or complex geometric arrangements."
I was also really impressed to learn about microphotos, or those photographic images of "famous people, art works, buildings, geographic landmarks, etc." that are only visible through a microscope.

There's just something really astonishing about seeing the moon through a microscope; it messes with everything I understand about scale!

But I think that, most of all, I just love the attention to detail and the value placed on materiality. And I wonder: is there any contemporary or digital equivalent?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Vegetable sheep

I'm doing some historial research right now on human-animal relations, especially those among sheep herders, their flocks and their dogs, and I've been completely charmed by New Zealand's vegetable sheep.

Not to be confused with the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary, vegetable sheep are actual plants of the Raoulia species. This "densely compacted, rounded cushion plant grow to several feet across and sometimes two feet high ... and the white colour of its flowers and also of the hairy covered leaves gives it the appearance, from a distance, of sheep."


Figure 108 Large cushion of the Marlborough vegetable sheep, Haastia pulvinaris.
Mt. Cupola, Nelson Lakes National Park. Photo: J. W. Dawson.


Figure 109 Close view of a portion of a Haastia pulvinaris cushion showing the
branchlet tips closely invested by woolly leaves. Photo: J. W. Dawson.

"On the shingle-slips the wonderful vegetable-sheep are encountered. These grow not on the shingle, but on the rocks which the stones have nearly buried. Large examples form great hummocks, 6 ft. long by 3 ft. across, or even more. Really they are shrubs of the daisy family, and are provided with a thick, stout, woody main stem and strong roots, which pass far into the rock-crevices. Above, the stems branch again, and again, and towards their extremities are covered with small woolly leaves, packed as tightly as possible. Finally, stems, leaves, and all are pressed into a dense, hard, convex mass, making an excellent and appropriate seat for a wearied botanist ... The vegetable-sheep are not inaptly named, for at a distance a shepherd might be misled."

-- L. Cockayne, New Zealand Plants and Their Story, Wellington: Government Printer, 1910 



"Though singular and interesting to the botanist, these plants are of no value economically, but, on the contrary, as we have shown, certain species of them are a plague to the shepherds, inasmuch as they give them much trouble and annoyance to discern between an animal sheep and a vegetable sheep."

-- John R. Jackson, "The Vegetable Sheep of New Zealand," The Intellectural Observer: Review of Natural History, Microscopic Research and Recreative Science, Volume XI, pp. 128-135, London: Groombridge and Sons, 1867.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

In search of elegance

Walking along Oriental Parade on the way to work this morning I saw an old man watching the tugs bring in a container ship. I stopped and said "Aren't those ships impressive?" He smiled at me and replied, "Aye. But not very elegant." We watched in silence for a few moments before his smile faded. "Young people today don't see elegance, just function," he proclaimed. I thought for a moment and replied, "I wonder how many values are lost because we don't get exposed to them?" After another moment I added, "But I sure do like the tugboats. They seem strong and happy." He smiled broadly and said, "Aye. They do have a rugged elegance."

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Week 436

I keep reading all these interesting people's weeknotes and I'm going to see if I can get in the habit too. The truth of the matter is that when I have a lot to do I get really bad at recognising what I've already done, and that makes it really hard to motivate myself. So here I am in the spirit of "reflecting on your work, your achievements, and what's on deck." Phil Gyford smartly started writing weeknotes in his 335th week of freelancing, and since I like the idea of recognising how far I've already come, I've decided to start counting from the first day of my PhD studies and that makes this my 436th week of research. I'm not sure what I'm going to write about, or if I'll actually manage to do it every week, but there you have it. "Let the great experiment begin!"

This week was shaped by two big tasks: the design of my new Design Anthropology course and my preliminary proposal for a Marsden Fund research grant.

First, after posting the first draft of my course outline here last week I got some good constructive criticism. But I also got some rather unconstructive criticism along the lines of designers saying it's too much anthropology and anthropologists saying it's too much design -- and that really discouraged me. Plus, most people had suggestions that would completely change it into their dream course, and that also didn't feel very helpful. The end result was me looking at the outline for hours and hours and making nothing more than minor tweaks. But an unexpected breakthrough came yesterday after a meeting with Miki Szikszai, the CEO of Snapper. It turns out that the company is busy moving from ActiveX smart cards to Java smart cards which will allow them to provide a platform for developers interested in RFID. While that in itself is really interesting - and I'll come back to it in another post - the important thing for my course is that I immediately recognised the opportunity to work on something that interests both me and them, and offers students the opportunity to work with a local company on matters of design and culture in everyday life. So I'll be talking more with their developers, designers and marketers to identify some research and design concerns that will help me create briefs that fit into the course objectives. I'll also be going to their Summer of Code SmartCard workshop on 1st February, and will report back on how that, and our meetings, reshape the course.

Second, research applications challenge me at the best of times but add my lack of familiarity and experience with the NZ academic system and I've been faced with a whole new set of unexpected challenges. I circulated my one-page draft to a dozen overseas colleagues and got some really positive feedback and constructive criticism. But I ran into trouble when it came back from local colleagues and not one person was clear on what I am trying to accomplish. Obviously, not being able to identify clear research objectives is an instant fail in the world of funding applications so I started to panic. In fact, I'm still struggling to get it all down on one page -- constantly swearing that the detail people are asking for is better left to the full proposal. But I know that argument will be irrelevant to the Marsden referees because all they have to go on at this stage is that one page. So I'm stuck. Our research office is holding an open session tomorrow afternoon to give people feedback because Monday is a holiday and applications are due next Thursday. This means I've got to come up with another decent draft to take in tomorrow, revise it over the weekend, and run it by a few more people next week. I can do that, right?

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