Category Archives: conference

Fun at the PCA

Well, a quick update on the conference and I’ll write more later. Before attending anything I met up with David Silver who runs the RCCS and we share coffee and what turned out to be my nearest thing to lunch.

David’s even nicer (and much taller 🙂 )in person than online and it was a very pleasant chat out in the sun, in a little park near the Moscone Center. We talked a little about our projects and about the state of research on new media/ICT/Internet and Digital culture–how ever you want to call it. We agreed that work in the US is more fragmented than in Europe, and the lack of much public funding has given it a very different tone. More on that later.

Then I went to the conference where of course I trawled through the book exhibit, went to few panels than planned, drank too much coffee, and met some interesting people. As I said, details to come, but now once more into the breach!

More Con. scheduling…

And the San Diego Comic Con is July 24-28. Normally I wouldn’t mind missing it; but Tart will be 10 years old and we plan to celebrate. And Connie Willis is a guest. I love her SF. Argh. Once I was so used to living on a shoestring that didn’t know what I’d do if I had piles of money. Now I know exactly what I’d do with some; travel without worrying about whether dates and locations were all coordinated!

And now there’s a chance I could attend an SF Masterclass in London from 6/20-6/22. It’s tough; earlier (late June to mid July) works better for me personally, but doesn’t work so well for some of the people I’m trying to work with in the NL. But we’ll see.

European Science fiction meet-up

Ok, so my going to SFRA 08 is not looking so good, unless I get major grant money. But we’ll see. I and my partner in crime have had several discussions about investing in our own research, so maybe… In any case, I’ve been talking a bit to Sandor Klapcsik (who doesn’t seem to have a webpage anywhere) about how to increase European participation and the sort of vicious circle that can occur because if you don’t have a European event, it’s hard to get people involved, but if a lot of people aren’t already involved, it’s hard to have an event. Because I already think that meeting in person is crucial, I am going to try organizing some kind of meeting next summer, probably in early July, so it won’t conflict with SFRA. While we may have some scholarly discussion, my main hope is that people connect sufficiently that we are inspired to collaborate and more people get involved with SFRA. Maybe I’ll do something like the Barcamp held recently in Rotterdam. In fact, that might be just the thing, only for two days. Maybe Worm would even be a good space, if Hajo were willing. Hmmmn. The question would be finding inexpensive housing for everyone. Rotterdam is less expensive, but hotels anywhere…ideally I’d find university dorm rooms or something like that.

Before deciding though I will talk to Paweł and see what he thinks, since he seems the resident authority on the European SF scene. –And I’ll just gloat for a minute that now another scholar has joined Facebook at my instigation. Mwahahahah. How long can I resist having my vampire bite him… 😉

Well, I’ll post updates here, as plans solidify.

Conference scheduling conflicts. Bleah.

I don’t travel all that much, and because of that I generally only attend conferences about intersections of tech and culture, so you’d think it would be fairly easy to avoid conflicts… but no. Having just joined the SFRA, I was happy to learn that the 2008 conference, which is held during summers, would be in Dublin because I already have plans to be on that side of the Atlantic in late June-Early July. Unfortunately, thanks to the plummeting dollar, the organizers shifted the conference to the states, to Kansas. If it was even on the East coast, I might have been able to work something out… (or if my school had anything approaching reasonable levels of support for travel).

Well, so, now I’m investigating if there are any other SF conferences that are being held in Europe during the time I plan to be there, but so far all I can find listed anywhere are conventions that don’t include scholarly presentations. Sigh.

Brian Massumi at SLSA

“Signs of Danger: The Political Ontology of Threat”

This was quite a talk. Massumi set out, step by step, the arguments used by Bush and his cronies to justify war in both Afghanistan and Iraq and every other vile act they’ve committed. And as was lucidly explained, the same trick was used every time: a feeling of threat was created based on what bin Laden/Hussein/terrorists would do if they could. This equation can’t be denied with factual evidence because it exists always in a speculative future–no WMDs? Well they would have had them if they could have. No evidence of terrorist acts by those prisoners in Guantanamo? They would have done it if they could have.

The way Massumi described the tactics was often extremely funny, but often I felt I was laughing more in pain than amusement, especially when remembering how hard people worked against our going into Iraq and how that accomplished exactly nothing. In the end though, I hoped he would say something about how humor operated in or against this dynamic of fear, and there was even a question about that. But he didn’t address possible counters, humorous or otherwise, and in a way seemed strangely distant from the whole subject.

After this talk, everything was over, the weather was foul and we tried to regroup for dinner and many drinks, as we’d been vowing to really enjoy since Thursday, leading to another sort-of adventure, but that’s another story.

Back to SLSA — Code Play panel

Ok, backing up to talk about what I think was actually the last panel I saw. Speaking were Dene Grigar, Jamie Bono, and, well, I’ll get to that later. I’ll go out of order…Dene spoke about an interactive kinesthetic system she and others are developing that creates a live game space that they are trying to use in a pedagogical way. The original system was used in dance clubs (and looked really fun for that). The presentation basically described the system, but I would have liked to hear more about how they had actually tried using it. At the end, even though Paweł tried to ask about what kinds of classes or material would work with the system or not, we still didn’t get much more detail. I think though that while the right design the system’s application beyond obvious subjects and categories, still some kinds of knowledge and classes work better as, say, discussions, or through textual exchanges.

Jamie argued that players who searched out and used cheat codes were little different from scholars who engaged in close reading and who used esoteric textual knowledge to glean further, new, and richer knowledge of the text. That’s an interesting proposition and I wish Jamie had gone through just a few examples and really traced the parallels. But as often happens to people speaking about their dissertations, the details (of user behavior in this case) overwhelmed the larger structure some, which I think led to our grilling Jamie at the reception later, wanting further explication.

The most interesting point, I think is the relation between the game authors (!) and players. Clearly those creating the games do deliberately plant easter eggs, trapdoors, and so on, and they rely on gamers to find these hidden treasures and figure out how to exploit them. But more than that, the desire for gamer to play games that contain these kinds of elements have shaped game design–really I wish Mirko had heard this talk; it’s right up his alley.

Finally the talk I thought would be most interesting, about how we exist in an info-cloud and where the borders between ourselves and others lie in the all of the communities in which we participate. Now this sounded like it fit right right in with my work, so I was really looking forward to it. Well, the speaker spent the first 20 minutes defining list after list of terms that were all just for background info. Then, in the last 5 minutes or so, he raced through about 20 more slides of what looked like the heart of the talk so quickly that I couldn’t even read one word. And I read pretty fast. So I was completely irritated. Thanks goodness it was the last talk (except for Massumi) and I had the reception and pleasant conversation to help revive me.

SLSA Saturday evening reception

After the last Saturday panels, there was a nice reception at the Portland Museum of Art. I went over with Paweł and some other SFRA folks; once there we found Istvan, Sherryl, Ed Chang and everyone, actually. We continued talking to Jamie Bono about video game cheat codes…I realize now that I forgot to describe that panel. Damn, now it will be out of sequence…well, anyway.

People had another good chance to talk and I had the feeling that we had all finally been there long enough and gotten to know some people enough that really good conversations were underway–so of course it was the last evening. So, right, cheat codes. We reached something of an impasse on whether or not searching for and using cheat codes should be compared to close reading and/or digging into textual history, partly because we had never spelled out what we meant by close reading and partly because (I think) we were all rather conferenced-out and possibly a little buzzed. I think I need to ask Jamie for a copy of whatever he’s actually written on this so far.

Also at this point it was clear that people had settled on who they were hanging out with at the conference–I mean, that while this probably happened by the end of the first day, I could actually see it at this reception. Because this conference was small enough that we all saw each other every day, and because most people went to most sessions, we soon recognized most of the faces. So it was pretty easy to see that the same people were together in panels or at receptions, lunches, and so on.

I find this interesting because I realized some time ago that most professional collaborations began as friendships, or at least between schoolmates, and often between people who were romantically involved. You may be thinking “what about the internet? Doesn’t that make it easy to connect?” Actually, I heard a quite convincing talk at New Network Theory in which a study of scientific collaboration had found that they largely occurred between people in close proximity, or who had at least one face two face meeting that began the relationship.

So when these groups form at a conference, I’d bet that within 6 months we could spot the professional results, if we looked for them. I think the need to meet in person suggests something interesting about the importance of embodied experience. More on this after I report on Massumi.

More on SLSA — Zippy the Pinhead and Will Eisner

Saturday–another full sleight of panels though I missed the 8:30am strand thanks to the primitive business center at the Holiday Inn. Having been convinced by Paweł and the combined charm of the other SFRA-ers to join, I saved the html form to my computer, edited it, saved it to a usb drive, and figured I could print and mail it at the conference… Well, the old PC was not thrilled with my “high-speed removable storage” since it only had low-speed usb ports, and then the printer to which the computer was connected had a jam. So finally I had to email it to a woman working on the other computer which was connected to another printer… And then I had to walk 4 blocks to the post office for a stamp…

Really it was ridiculous, but by then my rare but powerful stubbornness was fully engaged and I was determined to send that damned form. Which I did, but at the cost of a whole session. Nice walk though.

So the next round I saw was themed around Cartoon Images. The first speaker, Ellen Grabiner, presented “Wild About the Box: The Disruptions of Zippy the Pinhead.” This was a really good talk. Not only did Grabiner make interesting point about the way creator Bill Griffith plays with visual conventions in order to subvert our narrative and linguistic expectations in a humorous way; raise real ontological questions; and challenge visual conventions of the comix medium, but I love Zippy and she picked great, hilarious examples. Combining solid analysis with humor is no mean trick. And I think a number of the other people in the audience hadn’t encountered Zippy before, and it was nice to see how much they enjoyed it.

Next was a paper by Chris Couch, “The Geometry of Emotion: Doorways in Will Eisner’s Comics.” I was interested to hear that Chris had been part of Kitchen Sink Press and now was teaching Comp Lit at UMass Amherst, where I did my MA and PhD. Kitchen Sink was such a cool press, not least for their support of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and the once embodied Words and Pictures Museum of Northampton. (That was such a great place; I spent so much time entranced by the rotating exhibits and there that I first saw the ever-so-cool Devil Girl chocolate… anyway he quite an interesting talk, once he got going. It was a pretty straightforward analysis of window/door/portal images in Will Eisenberg’s comics, which was cool (if only because comics were treated exactly like any other subject of art historical study).

My only quibble is that I didn’t really see the science connection, or the code, or anything that connected this paper to SLSA. (Unless we are just going to say the portal metaphor is code enough.) But I suppose it doesn’t matter too much, because it was really informative lecture on Eisner–I’ll edit this later to add just a few more details on that, after I locate my notes… 😛

Finally, the last presenters were talking about I don’t know what–nuclear bombs, bio-art, fruit flies, mutations…they spent way too much time on the fruit flies and not nearly enough on the main point. They shall remain nameless.

SF panel 1 at SLSA

SF panel 1 at SLSA
Originally uploaded by cuuixsilver

Here we see some post-talk discussion. The panels at SLSA all lasted longer than normal, which was great when they only had 3 people on them. There was ample time for questions and since most panels had at least 8 people attending, this was actually useful.

The SF panels were quite good and since many of the interesting SF talks (like Paweł’s here) were from people who were in SFRA, I have to think seriously about attending that conference.

SLSA 2007 — Thursday Evening plus Friday Panels

Ok, time to catch up a little. Thursday evening I went to eat with Anthony (my roomie and former colleague from MIT), Paweł (see previous post) and Christian Ulrik Andersen who was in the audience. We had a pretty good dinner and excellent beer at (I think) 3 Dollar Dewey’s. Everyone was pretty tired (though I was still on CA time + much coffee) but we went back to the reception. In fact, Paweł, Christian and I, and Rut Jesus, who turned out to be studying in Copenhagen like Christian had done, closed the evening. It was a good conversation.

This conference is turning out very well in that there are so many people here who like tech and lit. and art, and SF. Why did I not know about them years ago? I’m not going to the European SLSA in Berlin 2008, and I’m not even sure I will do SLSA next fall because I only do 2-3 conferences a year now and have to be picky. So while this one was cool, I’ll only go to the next if I know some friends will also go again as well. The European one could be in some ways easier because at least it’s in the summer.

Anyway, Friday panels. I saw one on Alchemy which was a bit dry–too much time just reviewing images and not enough on the big picture, but at least admitted the influence of Arabic texts, which made me happy. Then a paper on Marcel Duchamp (how was this alchemical?) with an interesting discussion of the alternate identities he created. But, little discussion of how these were related to sexual identities that could not be openly revealed or to more recent instances of alternate identities, like Audacia Ray for example. I left during the last paper because I just couldn’t stand to watch the speaker clutching his paper, standing in front of his own projected images…

Then I had lunch with Anthony and Christian — really good Sushi. Paweł went to review his paper as he was speaking in the first afternoon panel. We were late getting back to SLSA, so I missed the first speaker on the SF panel I went to, but was in time to see the second speaker and Pawel.

So, Gundula Hachmann was speaking about narrative complexity used to understand theoretical insights in physics. Somehow none of the content really stuck. I think she did too much close reading and not enough connecting of detail to big picture–a really common problem it seems.

Guess I’ll break this post into several entries as it just keeps growing….Stay tuned for the rest of Friday.