Monthly Archives: August 2007

Pimping Sequential Tart

Over at Sequential Tart, for which I write monthly articles, I’ve got a piece up on my trip to the Netherlands. It’s the first of three and is focused on more touristic aspects of my visit, which I haven’t really mentioned here. So if you have been wishing to read more about that, read my Tarticle.

Ontological question from a 3-year-old

“How do we know if someone is reading a story about us? And if we went outside there wouldn’t be anything, but if he read about us [being] outside, then there would be something.”

Sometimes my children are a little creepy…my daughter, after asking this, decided it was just hilarious to imagine. Which is certainly better than deciding it was scary and keeping us up all night with nightmares.

But this is an example of how interesting it is to watch my children develop an understanding of language and narrative and their connection to reality, or our perceptions of reality. Even more interesting, they don’t develop understanding in the same way. One of my daughters seems to really grasp the larger structure that stories typically have (based on the sample she’s encountered so far) and she has an idea of what kinds of elements are needed when you make up a story, what you need to tell people. My other daughter doesn’t seem to notice this as much, but she is much more aware on a micro level of what kinds of things people typically say or do in every day situations that might occur in a story–eating, cooking, arguing, going out, going to bed, etc.

At least they aren’t playing funeral any more; that was rather disturbing!

On top of all the other challenges and joys, having kids is just so interesting, it raises so many questions and ideas for me, about things I research. I never expected that.

Their questions often reveal my assumptions about all kinds of things. It’s cool. And since I can’t resist dragging my work into everything, it’s a kind of remediation, looking through my children’s eyes.

Where to Begin…

As I approach the first week of classes, the pace has picked up on campus quite noticeably in several ways. I’m getting about four emails a day from people trying to schedule meetings I am supposed to attend, my department mailbox has received a flurry of paper about various events, and students are already asking me for syllabi, though classes don’t start for another week.

I’m excited though, because this term I teaching a composition class entirely online and themed around online community and participation; I think it will be really cool! Also, my grad class will be fun–I’m finally teaching one I’ve taught before–so I can incorporate things that have worked well before and drop those that didn’t. –It’s nice to finally get to a “second draft.” I kind of wish I could teach two sections–it’s been over-enrolled by almost half again several times since last spring.

And, the books I shipped via ground transport from the Netherlands have finally arrived, and seem to have survived their journey intact. –I was starting to wonder what I could possibly do fro here if they didn’t show up. The box of cocoa powder leaked a bit, so now the books all smell chocolatey. Which, if I was going to choose a scent, isn’t bad at all…

Second Life Explorations

What I’ve found so far:

  • for cheap and free stuff, visit Sarah Nerd and Vienna Freebies–the former has more variety, the latter has better quality (ie, less trampy looking). –But what makes it Viennese, I have no idea.
  • the virtual Rotterdam Stadt Museum is actually cool, but hard to move around in because it’s a bit cluttered. I kept tripping against objects or accidentally going through the wall. Weird steam pipes hang off the bottom–what’s the deal with that?
  • you can make money filling out surveys on money tree island, but it’s a real pain–far longer than five minutes. Better to dance for money in a club…
  • surprising number of Dutch dance clubs…but I really have to visit the Rotterdam Gabber club. 😉
  • quite a few locations where one and a partner can sit (or recline) and go through the motions of cuddling. I can’t quite see the attraction and I’m reminded of the T-shirts sold on the “First Life” website–“I fornicate with my actual genitals.” If the object of my desire were so far away, I’d rather save my money (or find a way to get some) and visit for real, instead of wasting time in SL.

So far there are some interesting things to look at and it might be fun to explore with friends, but a real city would be more fun any day…


Originally uploaded by cuuixsilver

Ok, here’s a recent picture. Now if I could duplicate my jacket in SL… I got it this summer when visiting the Netherlands, and it quickly became a favorite.

If SL had some place like Target, but so far all I can find are clothes that cost hundreds of Linden Dollars (LD) and look like they are for clubbing. I just need a T-shirt and jeans, really.

Second Life…

Originally uploaded by cuuixsilver

So I’ve just joined and tried it out and I must say, Second Life is a weird place. I wanted my avatar to actually look as much like myself as I could manage, but getting even close took forever. It was a pain, yet I couldn’t make myself give up on it–which was creepy.

This is the current result and I’ll post a recent picture of me for comparison. One thing; I could not find really short prim or flexi hair for women (hair you buy and that looks more real, and moves when you do.) Eventually I just got some men’s hair, but I still couldn’t find any that was really as short as I wanted.

Now I plan to spend more time exploring the cultural and educational scenes, but I don’t have much time to spend on it, because term starts in two weeks.

"True North is in the Eyes of the Beholder"

Today I spent about 7 hours reading “writing proficiency (something) tests” –I always forget what the S stands for because everyone just says “WPST” all the time. Anyway, it’s exhausting to read and score (holistic scoring on a 6 point scale, 2 readers for each test) so many. I think I read about 60-70, about 8 hand-written pages each. They were actually better this year then last fall, which is when I last participated in the reading.

Anyway, after a while we all just get kind of punchy because we’re drinking coffee and reading and reading, and stumbling across phrases like the one I share in this title. This was an actual title of an essay exam. Just think about it for awhile. And we had our perennial debate over what exactly we care more about; correct usage or clear arguments. I think this time I was more convincing about the importance of argument.

So I hope the trend continues, that students seem to be more ready by the time they take the test. One interesting note–students were writing about generational differences and without fail identified experiences with technology as on of the main differences between their own experience and their parents’ or grandparents’. I was impressed at their awareness.

Tick Tick Tick

Every now and then I enter some kind of mental phase when my brain feels overclocked. My thoughts speed up and run in parallel processes. Right now I am thinking about three different grant proposals; my undergrad and grad classes which start in two weeks; the orientation for new TAs next week; the 10 emails to which I’m awaiting replies; those I have to send out tomorrow; the Empire conference I’m co-chairing; a bi-lateral agreement with Piet Zwart; four calls for papers I might answer; my review of the ELO electronic text; my latest article for Sequential Tart; the skype calls I’m trying to arrange…

Does this count as a dynamic heterarchy? Intermediation?

Sometimes this might make me feel overstressed but sometimes it feels like my brain is whirring along, sustained by it’s own speed, in perpetual motion. It’s not perpetual of course, and the one problem is that it’s hard to sleep in this state. I have trouble dropping off until late and as soon as the sun is barely up my eyes fly open again. Just can’t stop thinking. And I don’t really want to except I’m getting rather tired…

Anyway, now, as if all this weren’t enough, I’m thinking about scholarly subjectivity, engagement, and Kenneth Burke.

The Point of Tags

I’m not going to launch a discussion of folksonomy and collective intelligence; look at this webcast from MiT5 for more on all that web 2.0 stuff. (not that I don’t take and interest). But, a few people have written about tagging in more concrete and useful ways (for me). One is Ulises Mejias who has written about tag literacy and says (brace for big blockquote):

Tags are very efficient ways of allocating attention in the face of informational overabundance. It takes very little time to bookmark and tag a resource. Because users are the first ones to benefit from classifying the resources that interest them, there is a very high motivation to tag. Thus, what people are doing in reviewing tags is capitalizing on attention allocated by others, specially on aggregated attention (what happens when large groups of people allocate attention to the same tag or resource, as seen in the ‘Most Popular’ tag or resource feeds in a DCS).

In short, Google yields search results that represent attention allocated by computers, while DCSs yield search results that represent attention allocated by humans. The former method (computer attention) is cheap, and hence ideal for indexing large amounts of information quickly; the latter method (human attention) is not so cheap, and not so quick, but it can yield more socially valuable information because it means a human being has made the association between a resource and a particular tag. Hence, this method is ideal for qualitative indexing. Furthermore, this method can be made cheaper and quicker by distributing the process across large communities and tying it to the individual interest of the user, which is exactly what a DCS does.

Mirko Schäfer takes this builds on this idea in a discussion of “micro-learning” in his article RTFM! Teach-yourself Culture in Open-Source Software Projects. (scroll down to section 6). He elaborates on how tagging can, in addition to making information easier to navigate, also offers users/contributors a framework for thinking about their own contributions.

Maintaining the database would entail correcting and improving the stored information by adding or changing tags. Instead of constantly expanding the given documentation material into countless directions, this approach forces the reader/writer to thoroughly re-think the context of the material, shaping it according to its possible connections.

So I feel somewhat obliged to tag, not just for my own convenience, but to help others. But, while I agree with Trebor Scholz (and others) that people have lots of motives for this kind of effort, and admit that I do as well, I still contend that an important possible (and for me actual) motive has been largely overlooked; care for family. There are people, some close friends, some not so close, that I (for whatever reason) think of as family in the sense that I care about their well-being and want them to be happy and successful. If I think they are benefiting from something I do, like tagging, then I will damn well take the trouble. –And I do know that few of these people are checking because they joined my network on, so there it is.

Now I can’t even remember why I felt I needed to go into this. Tick Tick Tick.

The Rhetoric of Tagging in Blogs

I’ve spent about an hour this morning editing the tags on my entries, and I’m not nearly finished! I feel a bit foolish because I’ve read many blogs and yet when I started this one I forgot about tagging the entries for about a month, so now I’m slowly going back and adding tags. But in doing that I’ve realized that choosing tags that are really useful actually takes some though, otherwise I end up with a ridiculous number of tags that each have just a couple of entries, which defeats a lot of the purpose.

Of course I could be like Neil Gaiman who has made tagging into another creative practice that serves not so much to organize individual entries into broader categories as to make them even more distinct from each other, but since this is a research blog (mostly) I think I would drive myself crazy, and maybe my readers as well (if there are any!).

But now that I am trying to tag entries when I write them, I realize that sometimes it’s not easy to identify what the most dominant categories will really be, so it may have worked out better that I went a month before starting. Looking back at the summer’s entries, I can actually see the major themes and pick those as tags, which should also make it clearer to passersby what I’m writing about here. And I think this works differently in blogs than at sites like–I’ll write about that kind of tagging later.

This is a really pragmatic approach and it’s in tension with another impulse (of mine, at least) to use tags that will intrigue readers and make me look more interesting. So for example, instead of just tagging posts about particular people as “friends” or “scholars” or something like that, it’s tempting to say “academic rock stars” which is silly, but sounds fun, or “people I wish acknowledged my presence” which makes me sound completely neurotic, but still my be more interesting. Over on the nettime list our discussion of ex/including the personal from/in academic writing has made me think in a more organized way about how much I constantly and keenly feel this tension. It seems at least some others feel it too, but it’s hard to talk about even when we sort of give ourselves permission as we have in this particular thread, because I can’t help but feel that my normal levels of enthusiasm and whimsy, which I usually filter out of my academic work, are going to cost me the respect of serious scholars…now I really sound neurotic!

Anyway, I think that by and large it’s worth the risk. The pleasure of scholarly work is so much greater when combined with friendship, for example and/or ethical conviction is so much greater than simple intellectual interest, that the chance of increasing my chances of having more of it far outweighs any anxiety.