24 Mar
2009

In Honor of Ada Lovelace

So today is Ada Lovelace day and many people are writing posts in her honor that say something about women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).

For awhile I thought I would write on some particular historical figure, but after thinking over my own research on gender and technology, I’ve decided instead to write a bout women I know who are quietly doing their thing in these fields, without public recognition (so far).

Sher Doruff.  I wrote about Sher last summer and while she’s fairly well-known in the European art/culture community, I doubt most people think of her as working in Tech.  Yet she was one of the driving forces in KeyWorx, an open-source project at De Waag Society for Old and New Media.  KeyWorx was a tool for collaboration and interaction between artists/musicians that allowed them not only to work together in real time, but to actually take control of each other’s machines, allowing for some really cool performances.

Lee Atchison.  Lee has been involved with Sequential Tart since it was founded, and has designed our CMS from scratch.  She has been titled web designer, system administrator, and solutions architect at various jobs.  I think Lee is inspirational as an example of someone who just went out there and did her thing, in this case, programming and web design.

Melanie Martin and Megan Thomas.  These are two of my colleagues on Campus who both teach in the Computer Science department.  Both of them have have accomplished a lot in getting doctorates to begin with, but around here (a very conservative geographical area, with a strong patriarchal culture, historically) are especially great because their very existence can inspire young women to look beyond traditional roles and careers.

All of these women also embody ideals held by Ada Lovelace beyond their connections with science and technology.  Somewhere, I recall Lovelace said that you can be complete without having the care of another.  She didn’t just mean parenting, but teaching and mentoring aso count.  All of the women I mention here have done that, either explicitly, as teachers, or as mentors, or both, helping both men and women to learn more about technology and about how unlimited by gender it can be.

14 Mar
2009

Finally Posting Again…

I took quite a stretch off from posting here because I was focusing on my teaching blog, Ethereal Education.  Now that it is pretty well under control, I will resume, though probably sporadically until Spring break anyway.  The teaching blog is going well, and I’ve learned a lot more about theme templates in the process of setting it up, so I may change this theme again.

In the next 12 to 24 hours I’ll start posting the entries I’ve written while in SF for CCCC.  There was no wifi in most of the conference (aaargh!) so I had to just write them as documents…

Anyway, as you’ve divined, I’m in San Francisco for the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) and was speaking about teaching grad students about technology.  My talk went well, but I’ll post about that later.

Nice to be back.

18 Jan
2009

Why Teach ABout Social Media Using Social Media

Howard Rheingold speaks briefly and succinctly about his reason for doing this.  I agree.

Another cool thing I found via Twitter!

18 Jan
2009

Teaching alternatives ways of searching

I was reading a draft of a paper for Bernard about democritizing web searches.  I won’t go into the details of the paper–it’s not published yet.  But, I do want to mention two search tools that I had never heard about before reading this paper, and I’ll give some short quotes from Bernhard on those:

  • Clusty — a search engine that divides results into thematic clusters that users can use to navigate up to 500 results at a time. The cluster list provides a first overview over the search subject and by showing aspects that users were not aware of direct them in new directions.
  • TermCloud Search — a search interface designed to map a topic rather than provide the shortest way between a query and a document. Using the simple tagcloud principle – keywords are shown in different sizes according to relevancy – the goal is to make the user aware of the concepts surrounding her query and to encourage exploration rather than quick answers.

Both of these could be really useful in teaching students about searching because they offer an alternative to Google’s approach of trying to give users the most relevant (meaning most popular) results first.  I think these could alleviate the concern many teachers and librarians have about students who just google everything rather than going into the library and browsing shelves–that they don’t make the same connections or experience the serendipity that can arise from looking around rather than right at the result you want.

13 Jan
2009

History of the Internet in 8 Minutes

I learn about the coolest things on Twitter… Johannes from Monochrom posted a link to a short video relating the history of the Internet–note this is not about the WWW, but the actual development of the network.  It’s amazingly clear, and also makes use of very well done animated icons which are produced through a visual language called Picol (this link is to the blog about Picol, the one below the video is the user profile on Vimeo).


History of the Internet from PICOL on Vimeo.

Anyway, looking forward to the project being released for us all to play with.

12 Jan
2009

Encouraging classroom participation

After trying a variety of different tools, I’ve come to some conclusions:

  • IRC chatrooms work much better for discussion than web forums, even though they are synchronous and so are less convenient.  Unless people know each other well and really care about talking to each other, exchanges on web forums always feels obligatory.
  • Including a picture of yourself makes a huge difference in how well peers remember each other and how interested they are in engaging–an interesting avatar can be ok too, but I think human faces, especially if they can be seen clearly (are big enough, in focus, etc) really makes people feel more connected.
  • The simpler the better, even if it means a little less functionality, especially for people unfamiliar with tech.
  • The less experience people have with tech, the higher expectations they have for it’s performance.

I’m sure there will be more, but this really stood out to me.

9 Jan
2009

Final Version

Update: Accepted.  🙂  Now just have to find a way to pay for the trip.

Thanks to Mirko for the valuable feedback, to Jonathan for encouragement, and to Pirate Cat Radio, Baghdad by the Bay, for music to write by.  I submitted this today for the MiT6 conference.

Ethereal Archives: The Evolution of Information Structures from Social Networks and Their Impact on Collective and Personal Identity

This paper explores how a collective archive may emerge from the individual digital memories of participants in social networks, facilitated by social software. Examples are drawn from social networks in northern California, particularly the SF Bay area, though being largely carried out online, these networks are actually much more widely diffused.  These structures are described as “ethereal archives” because they are widely distributed, mainly linked through blog entries, microblogs, and other ephemeral locations in which content changes over time. At they develop, standard tags and terminology begin to emerge and also a shared understanding of the objects, events, and people being described. The evolution of these ethereal archives represents a response to the disappearance of space, both storage and geographical as a contraint on archives.  Digital technology allows us to preserve our memories both easily and without the constraints of space, and at the same time to broadcast those memories through a variety of textual formats, along with photostreams, video collections and social networking sites that incorporate all of these.

Although this already huge and rapidly growing mass of information seems to have escaped the bounds of space, it is now constrained by time: the time it takes users to navigate, find, and attend to any one item. Harold Innis argued for the importance of communication over time, because these accumulations become an extension not only of personal, but of collective memory.  Both individual and community identities are shaped and preserved in collaborative ethereal archives, made up of a few people’s photostreams, another’s blog, yet another’s video collection, and many others’ microblog feeds.  While digital media allow communication of all kinds to be preserved, the volume of communication is now so great that much may be lost in a sea of texts, images, audiofiles, and videos.  Users face three related problems: how to find information, how to choose from what they find the information most relevant to their purpose, and how to manage the accumulation both of their own information, and links to information provided by others.

As these materials accumulate, they may prompt the emergence of a community that shares particular interests, or expand what was once a small and physically proximal group into a much wider and more influential network. When people connect, their linked personal collections become an ethereal archive, dependent for its organization on social connections across the network expressed through links shared via numerous platforms.  Events, objects and even people begin to generate folksonomic tagging across platforms, most often in the form of #tags and @names. Not surprisingly, clear examples of these ethereal archives have evolved around San Francisco, wherein reside not only many technophiles, but also cooperatively minded people.  In these social networks the transmission of data, along with its storage or creation becomes an important contribution from members; all three activities are required for the emergence of an ethereal archive. Studying this emergence reveals that ethereal archives both reflect and shape the communities from which they arise.

8 Jan
2009

Rough draft of an abstract

This is due tomorrow and this will be replaced by the final version when that’s done. In the meantime, suggestions are welcome.  And yes, my dear tweeple, and Facebook friends, and other connections, probably I will pester you for interviews or some such… You will be immortalized in academia –if you aren’t already! 😉

This paper explores the way collective archives emerge from the individual digital memories of participants in social networks, facilitated by social sotware applications. Examples are drawn from social networks in northern California, particularly the SF Bay area, though being largely carried out online, these networks are actually much more widely distributed.  These collective archives are described as “ethereal” because they are widely distributed, mainly linked through blog entries, twitter feeds, and other ephemeral locations. The evolution of these ethereal archives represents a response to the disappearance of space as a contraint on archives and archives now rather being constrained by time.

Digital technology allows us to preserve our memories both easily and without the constraints of space, and at the same time to broadcast those memories through blogs, microblogs, photostreams, video collections and social networking sites that incorporate all of these.  This already huge and rapidly growing mass of information is now instead constrained by time: the time it takes users and creators to navigate, find, and attend to any one item. Harold Innis argued for the importance of communication over time, because these archives become an extension not only of personal, but of collective memory.  Both individual and community identities are shaped and preserved in collaborative and ephemeral archives, made up of a few people’s Flickr sets, another’s blog, yet another’s Youtube collection, and many others’ Twitter feeds.  While digital media allow communication of all kinds to be preserved, the volume of communication is now so great that much is in danger of being lost in a sea of texts, images, audiofiles, and videos.

However, as these materials accumulate, sometimes they prompt the emergence of a community or strengthen and expand what was once a small and physically proximal group into a much wider and more influential network. As people connect, their personal archives are linked into what might be called an ethereal archive, dependent for it’s organization on the social connections across the network expressed through links shared through Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and so on.  Not only will events or objects begin to generate folsonomic tagging across platforms, but people as well, most often in the form of @twitternames. Not surprisingly, clear examples of these ethereal archives have evolved around the San Francisco Bay area, wherein reside not only many technophiles, but also cooperatively minded people.

6 Jan
2009

Also While in SF….

I got to hang out with people I know mainly through the Twitterverse, which was really great.  When I was there last October for Arse Elektronika (an entry I have yet to post, come to think of it) I had the pleasure of not only meeting some of the people from Monochrom, (who are Austrian) but also some people who are part of the arts/culture/tech scene in SF, including Richard Kadrey and Aaron Muszalski, better known to many as sfslim. This time when I went back, I was lucky enough to meet up with Aaron again at the LaughingSquid Unholiday Party II. This was a great party. Good music, cool space, ample, good, food and drinks.  Best of all, good conversation.

I talked for quite awhile with Jonathan Foote, Neil Girling, and Abie Hadjitarkhani and it was breath of fresh air to speak with people to whom I didn’t have to justify and interest in tech, media, culture, whatever.  Also, all dripping smarts and talent (look at their sites if you don’t believe me).  I was listening to a livestream of Howard Rheingold speaking this morning and one point he made about social media is that it allows not just like-minded people to connect–there are obvious pros and cons to that.  But, it allows people who like to create and share and cooperate to connect, which immediately gives all of them more leverage to do whatever it is they want to do.  This was really clear to me at the party.  From what I could tell, many people there had met online or stayed connected and coordinated online, most of them were “makers” and having connected, many work together on all kinds of projects.  I’m not sure how far that extends into their professional lives, but certainly all kinds of fun activities are organized with help from these applications.

So anyway, eventually I finally actually started talking to Aaron and that was one of the best conversations I’ve had in ages–lasted from probably midnight or so till around 4am.  With all of these people, I think everything that does not fit into 140 character tweets just overflowed.  In fact being able to talk in this extended focused way felt like a luxury, even decadent.  I think this is an upside of the fragmented and distracted nature of communication on the network.

Aaron and I ended up hanging out a bit more the next evening; Chris brought the grrrls in to see the new Academy of Sciences and then we had dinner with friends from gradschool that were in for MLA–again peopel I almost only get to talk with online now–and then Aaron met up with us toward the end.  He had really wanted to meet the grrrls; unfortunately by then they were really tired and clingy (both are just a bit over 5) so it wasn’t the best time for them.  Then I saw them all off and talked to Aaron some more.  Of course with some people you just feel like the conversation could go on forever, but Twitter, Facebook, blogs and other applications like that encourage this feeling, maybe because you get the moment by moment flow and it’s easy to pick up some little crumb that becomes another possible conversational trail to follow.

I think conversational threads are going to be a big thing soon–just came across Tweetree which shows threaded conversations on Twitter; it’s interesting, but would be better if it really looked like a tree.  Now I’m thinking about personal archives, in part because I’m trying to get an abstract together, and in part because so many people, especial technophiles, are accumulating them online.  Not just those they create, but those created through Google searches, on technorati, on del.icio.us, etc.  So there it is.  Now I have to finish cleaning the house for a party.

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