Thursday, January 30, 2003

Oh, baby
do I have a groovy new little toy...
First we'll take Manhattan...
Or actually, it's Brooklyn I am about to re-invade. Bay Ridge area is traditionally Norwegian turf, so it is very home-like. There are meat-balls and milk chocolate from Freia in the deli by the subway, a danish bakery and - best of all - I can see the sea with just a five minute walk. OK, so its somewhat more brakkish than Voldsfjorden, but it smells of salt and there are boats on it, more than the two ferries running back and forth over the fjord. I'll be in Brooklyn from tomorrow and for two weeks, hiding from all the trivial questions like how to keep the roof dry, the car running and the food on the table, immersing myself in the big, important questions, such as: "how can I cut an other 22 pages from this (bloated) manuscript"?

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Citing Games II
Jill asks who to put as author. It is complicated, and I may get it wrong, but there are a few hints.

If there are sequels, and one or more names show up in the same main spot: for instance as director, creative director, lead artist or what all those titles are, fairly high on the list, either on top or with just a producer or some administrative positions above, I take my chances with that/those name(s). I also try to read about the game, interviews etc. That's a lot easier when I know which names to look for, search engines are wonderful things. I occasionally try to write the press-department, but so far I have only had one reply. For those of you who might need to cite Myst or Riven, here it is:

Dear Torill,
There are several methods of displaying bibliographical data (APA, MLA). I'm not sure which you're using. Here's one format:

Cyan Worlds, Inc., "Myst", 1993. Ubi Soft Entertainment, SA
Cyan Worlds, Inc., "Riven", 1997. Ubi Soft Entertainment, SA
Presto Studio, Inc., "Myst III Exile", 1999. Ubi Soft Entertainment, SA
Cyan Worlds, Inc., "URU", 2003. Ubi Soft Entertainment, SA

The authors of Myst and Riven are as follows:
Author/Developer: Cyan, Inc.
Publisher: Broderbund (originally), now they are both published by Ubi Soft
Entertainment, SA.

Myst III Exile:
Author/Developer: Presto Studios, Inc.
Publisher: Broderbund (originally), now published by Ubi Soft
Entertainment, SA.

URU (to be released August 2003)
Author/Developer: Cyan Worlds, Inc.
Publisher: Ubi Soft Entertainment, SA

Chris Brandkamp

As you see, for Myst and Riven, there is no personal author, but a company. Espen, beloved advisor to both Jill and me, insists on a personal author while the company developing the game insists on a collective author in the shape of a company. This is an interesting conflict which reflects the creative process of a game as opposed to the more traditional products for academic analysis. This problem is already discussed in film theory, read for instance Bordwell and Thomson: Film Art, where they emphasize the point that a film is a collective effort . In some cases, such as with Tomb Raider, the game originates with one person who is listed in the credits, in other cases a game is the result of collective thought, brainstorming in groups within the different companies. This indicates that both the personal and the collective approach is "correct" - and that a poor scholar will never win...

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Chapter 11
Which might easily be chapter 10 before I am done, is sent off for proof-reading. Now I just need to slash 51 pages from the 350 page document, to achieve the desired 299 pages the thesis should sprawl over. I already have a taker for chapter 10, if I don't use it in the thesis (it's a really good chapter, I think it's my favourite, but I am not sure if it belongs in the dissertation. At the same time... I removed an entire chapter from my master's thesis, with disastrous effect!). I have two days left at the college before I take two weeks off from administration and teaching. It's been a rough fall and winter, I have been pushing and pushing against the sluggish material of final editing, while introducing a three-year education rather than the two-year one I left, implementing the "quality reform" and since just before Christmas leading the Information study. Now I have two weeks away from all of that, starting Friday. This was supposed to be a vacation, but it will be used to finish the thesis. When I return from NYC I hope it's the last time I carry the manuscript - the next time I'll carry the book instead.
Cyborg Mommy
I just found the blog of a woman I have seen in real life. Pattie Belle Hastings was Cyborg Mommy at DAC 2000 in Bergen. The name of her blog? Cyborg Mommy of course. And I found it by way of Cyborg Woman... one of the Cyborg family at blogspot? Actually - there is a, but cyborgman, cyborgdad and cyborgboy are still open.
Here or there
Sherry Turkle quotes one of her interviewees:
Finally, Thomas took a job as a bellhop in the hotel where I had just given my lecture. "I thought that working evening hours would let me continue looking for something that would get me back into the middle class," Thomas says. "I haven't found that job yet. But MUDs got me back into the middle class."
Thomas sees himself as someone who should be headed for a desk job, a nice car and life in the suburbs. "My family is like that," he says, "and they spent a lot of money sending me to college. It wasn't to see me bellhop, I can promise you that." during the day Thomas carries luggage, but at night on MUDs he feels that he is with and recognized by his own kind. (Turkle 1995:240)

The new game for women called There takes the consequences of this desire to be middle class. In There players can go shopping and design items. The items you design can be worn by your avatar or sold to others in the game. This sale of designed items happens with "There-bucks". The difference from MUDs is that there-bucks have to be bought. In this manner There inc. try to avoid Sony's "problem" with EverQuest, as described by Edward Castranova in his by now well-known article Virtual Worlds: A First-Hand account of Market and Society in the Cyberian Frontier. In EverQuest people sell the items their avatars gain in the game for real-world money, on e-bay. In There not only is There inc. planning to keep the profit of their products (or rather, the products of Nike and Levi Strauss), but also a profit of the designs you make and might want to re-sell. And to keep complete control, you can't just design any old sweater to wear in There, it has to be approved. After all, the game has an image to uphold:

"It's more like Club Med than the real world," said Darla Marcomb, 38, a controller with a health care company in Fremont, Calif. "Hunger and death don't exist in There. But shopping does. The start-up last week announced partnerships with Levi Strauss and Nike to make their apparel available in the game, so players can dress their avatars in the latest styles." (Chris Gaiter)

An easier online life, more chatting and shopping, less effort and less life-like qualities than Sims Online is supposed to be the way to success. Personally, this game makes me want to sign up for Sims Online out of solidarity.

Monday, January 27, 2003

Game Credits
These can be tricky to track down. I am increasingly relying on Moby Games. If anybody know of a better site to find the credits of the bibliographic data of games, I'd love to hear from you!
Computer illiterate
ph8 rants about how hackers are supposed to work for free for "the suits". Being a person who can't hack, I tend to fish for favours for hackers, but I normally reward them somehow, and I totally agree that anything else is rude. However, there was this interesting little passage:

Aside: What's so special about this so-called "computer illiteracy"? Most people you meet who genuinely cannot read (are illiterate) are duly ashamed of their illiteracy, and many are (commendably) working to overcome it, but only a vanishingly small number of the self-described "computer illiterate" are even remotely embarassed by their failing -- many of them act proud of their (invariably self-imposed) ignorance. Far more annoying, these "technologically challenged" types use their "challenge" as an excuse to avoid work -- how many times have you heard (or uttered) "Oh, I'm computer illiterate, so you'll have to do it for me"? Simply using (as opposed to hacking on) a computer is no more difficult than driving a car and obeying the most basic traffic laws, but you don't hear people (seriously) trying to escape a ticket with the excuse "Oh, I'm vehicularly illiterate, so you can't expect me to obey stop signs".

I have heard, over and over again, people try to avoid doing a job by saying: "I don't know how to operate the dishwasher." "I always botch the laundry." "I can't help out because I really don't know how to cook anything but a fried egg." "Sorry, but I don't know how to clean the floors." And there are people who commit to life-long contracts - called marriage - in order to be permitted to do these things for their partners... Hopefully, the cooking and cleaning illiterate are vehicularly and lawn-movering literate.
MUD performance
I want to point to Ragnhild Tronstad's exellent article on Semiotic and nonsemiotic MUD performance (pdf). She argues the distinction between theatricality and performance in MUDs, and she does so comprehensively and elegantly.

Using performance and theatricality as metaphors to describe MUD adventure games this paper starts out by defining a difference between ’performative’ and ’theatrical’ acts within MUDs. Performative acts differ from theatrical acts in that they are effecting ’real’ changes to the MUD environment, thus directly influencing the game in one way or another. It is argued that to understand the performative aspects of MUDs it is necessary to separate ’acts’ from ’meaning’, and to pay special attention to the former in order to avoid confusing the questing process (which should be our main focus of attention) with the experience of having solved a quest.

Friday, January 24, 2003

Space and place
In ph8, an other interesting weblog from the blogs of note list (whoever picks that list these days has a taste in blogs disturbingly close to mine), there's an interesting little prelude to a discussion of space and place in computer games. There are no references in the blog, but read that post with Marc Augé: Non-places for full intellectual enjoyment.
New blog of note: Game related
By way of bloggers blog of note list: Games * Design * Art * Culture by Greg Costikyan, among many other things game designer and member of the board of reviewers for Game Studies. His blog is an other interesting addition to the developing field of game criticism, and I add it to my blogroll with great enthusiasm!

Thursday, January 23, 2003

Fragile sun: Volda version
Jill wrote about suddenly seeing the church in sunlight, and the pale, pale sky. Up here the church is so close to the water level that the sun doesn't reach it at winter, so I can't match her near-religious experience of beauty that way. I had one which was perhaps a little more - ummmm - sensual?

A benefit from working at Volda College is free access to the very nice pool. I try to go swimming at least once, preferably twice a week in the winter half of the year. This morning as I arrived, me and my friend Heidi agreed that we would NOT turn the lights on. The windows face south-west, and from the pool we could see the sky change colour from a dusky blue to that fragile eggshell colour of the winter sky. Contrasted against that delicate colour was a mountain, Rotsethornet, at first a faint pink, but as the sun rose and the rays coloured the snow-covered mountainside it turned a bright, intense colour. We swam through the shadowy waters of the pool, watching this spectacular display of winter colours: warm and comfortable and all alone in that large pool, privileged and sheltered against the elements, while nature was putting on a colour-show more fantastic (and with more daring colours) than any lazer designer could imagine.

I think perhaps some night, I'll try to get Heidi to go swimming with me while we can watch nothern lights from the pool. That would be so decadent!
Procrastination and urgency
I have a reputation for being a very good administrator and very accessible for the students. What the world doesn't know is that it's all procrastination. I sit here with the text full of Espen's hand written comments on the desk next to me, I have the appropriate file open on the computer, and every time I try to edit the thesis I remember something which needs to be fixed - right now. Good thing there's a cleaning service at this place, or I'd have washed the entire College because it was so urgently needed...

I think there might be a formula there somewhere, where urgency of n tasks depend on level of resistance to task A. Perhaps I should track down somebody who can help me work out that formula... perhaps I should do that right now...

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

A brief introduction
Jonas Heide Smith writes Computer Game Research 101 - a brief introduction to the literature in Game Research. The article is exactly what it says it is. Good for a start - don't lean back and assume you've found it all after reading this.
Delight, envy and guilt
is what I feel, in that order, as Hilde Corneliussen, a dear friend and fellow PhD candidate, announces that she'll defend her thesis February 21st.

Now if you'll all excuse me, I have a thesis to finish.

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

I am getting a new lap-top, but I don't know exactly which one yet. Yes, I leave such an important decision to the College IT department. After all, they are the ones who will suffer when my computer for some reason doesn't work. Sometime next week, I'll have a new toy. It feels better than Christmas!
Live Action Role-Playing
I have only done it once, so if you'd like to get a hint at what it's about, have a look at Esther's photos of the wonderful players in her group. One of the things I really like about role-playing is the incredible creativity displayed in all details.
Practical Existentialism
SMS story by Robert F. Walsh

"But I need to find myself," I stammered. My father picked up the newspaper saying, "If I were you, I'd find myself cutting the lawn."


And for some friends out there: Dream of a Ph.D.

Sunday, January 19, 2003

The sound of my own voice
Doing research, isolated in my office, my topic and my head for months - not to say years - blogging was a way to hear my own voice. All the little things that I was thinking, all the things that somehow connect to other ideas and thoughts, but didn't belong in the thesis, came out here.

Over the last couple of months I have become increasingly annoyed with my blogging. Not because I think it takes too much time - no, it's as easy and effortless as ever - but because I don't feel that urge to communicate. After the first few lectures this semester, I think I see what happened. I have started teaching again, lecturing, interacting with students, answering questions and introducing ideas, questions and thoughts directly to an active, intelligent and critical audience. When a lecture is good, I manage to weave my own thoughts and ideas into it, show the students how current affairs connect to theory, demonstrate how the things I read and enjoy can be analyzed and questioned. I get to display different types of criticism, I get to recommend books, and I get involved in discussions over the topics that interest me.

This is exactly what blogging does for me.

However: where the lectures and topic-bound and sporadic, the blogging is constant. My mind works all year too - so lectures can't fill all the need for a place to think and express myself, even if I don't get to hear my own voice here. It's actually a pleasant, clear and distinct voice which sounds very good on radio or television, although it doesn't cut through the din of a noisy auditorium. (My silence is very loud though.) I am hoping that my writing voice, my blog voice will settle to be something of the same. (Although I imagine that silence in the blog will not give the same effect as silence in front of the class... "ssshhhh, stop the writing on the net everybody, so Torill can start....")

Friday, January 17, 2003

Guardian teachers
I just finished the lecture, and am still riding on the high of a good performance. Because it is a performance. For 2 x 45 minutes, I have kept about 100 people in their places, watching me and listening to me. Of course other things than their fascination with my voice does that. The structure we are within has considerable power: I am a teacher with more power than for instance their high-school teachers. Besides trying to teach them what is in the books, I can influence what books they have to read, I can influence the questions they have to answer to their exam, and most important: I will be part of setting their all-important grades at the end of the semester, based on what they have understood of the literature I refer to, and of my teaching. All of these things make students come to the lectures, it makes them sit relatively still and behave reasonably well.

These things can't make them attend to what I am actually saying beyond the automatic taking of notes which academia teaches us. The trick is to make the students think. If I can make that happen, I don't mind if what they think is: "I am going to show that bitch that she's wrong even if I have to read through the entire library to prove it!" That particular trick was something my favourite Norwegian-teacher from high-school, Marta Lynge, taught me - 23 years ago perhaps? Marta greatly encouraged my poetry and writing, but I fear I disappointed her there. However, she also influenced my thinking by being a role-model and an example of how it's possible to be woman, intellectual, independent and strong and still keep a wicked sense of humour and adventure.

One of the male students claimed grandly that women should always fight oppression, and should never take advantage of the fact that they were women. He was of course quite annoyed with the fact that his female future colleagues might one day get a better interview than he could just because the men in power might feel protective or attracted to the female journalist. My argument was that to put such a burden on women as a group is further oppression. Still... women would not have the opportunities we have today without the individuals who are willing to live their lives acording to their ideals. And when ever I talk to students about feminism, gender differences and individualism (actually, on quite a few other topics as well, she never put limits on her opinions while teaching), Marta is there in the back of my mind. She is not a conventionally beautiful woman, her laughter is characteristic and not for its pearly qualities, she can be quite sharp and outspoken and she is able to argue the other side of any point given 5 second notice... but she's the closest thing to a guardian angel I'll ever have in the auditorium.

Thursday, January 16, 2003

Weather, again
We went to bed with a western gale blowing, and woke up to snow. My aversion to the climate in this country increases with every day I can't repair the roof.
Feminist Criticism
I am giving a lecture about this tomorrow, and although it's a repetition of a lecture I did this fall, I feel I need to prepare (or over-prepare) again. Here are some links found in the process:
Feminist Literary Criticism and Theory: a bibliography sorted by topic.
Gesturing Toward the Visual: Virtual Reality, Hypertext and Embodied Feminist Criticism by Carolyn Guertin (1998): An article which discusses feminist explorations of Virtual Reality, and the role of female researchers in hypertext studies, lamenting the male dominance.
Definition of Feminist Criticism, a page from a site that was not available as I did the search, captured by google.
Feminist Criticism defined by Greig E. Henderson and Christopher Brown
An other bibliography of Feminist Criticism, this one annotated.
Feminist Criticism applied to a fairytale by Grimm, my favourite so far. Check out the different approaches to this fairytale, apparently a student project for a class in German.
The truth will come out
And this picture explains a lot...

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Weather exercize
If you want to understand Norwegian weather forecasts, you need to understand the very precise language describing wind-forces and weather. As an aid, I found this little guide to weather in Norwegian. So when I tell you today is "sterk kuling økende til liten storm" that should explain why I am in front of the computer and not on the roof, fastening tiles. Between 15 and 20 tiles had been moved and/or broken. We need to lift at least three, perhaps four rows of tiles (30-40 tiles) and nail the two or three lower rows to the roof, drill holes in the lower row in order to fasten them twice, and put it all back. This needs to be done in one operation, which means we need nothing more than "laber til frisk bris" and preferably no rain for approximately two hours. Snow or ice will make the work impossible - but if the temperature drops, so will the winds, and there won't be any additional damage. Living in this climate is such an adventure...

(And yes, electricity prices are dropping... on the business market, not to the individual consumer. This winter will most likely cause changes in the legislation concerning the sale and distribution of electricity.)

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Pleasures of the north
Tonight since 3 am I spent all my psychic powers holding the roof onto the house. I was only partially successful, and the hurricane which blew south-west along the fjord with a deafening roar picked tiles off the roof. I need to get up there and put new ones on before the next storm, which includes several operations: I need a 10 meter ladder, new tiles since the old ceramic ones of course are cracked, and a little respite in the wind and rain while it's still daylight. Wish me luck - too much wind, and I might be Torill Poppins for about 3 seconds...

The bright side? A few more days like the last three, and the energy crisis should be over: The dams must be filling up now, and as long as the wind keeps tearing down the electricity supply to large parts of the north-west coast of Norway, we don't use much either. I can add that the falling tiles did not blow in through the windows, they were also all ripped off the edge of the roof not the center where a leak would have done real damage.

(According to this article - in Norwegian - tonight's storm wasn't really a hurricane (orkan) this far inside the fjord, since it did not sustain the required force for long enough periods - it was only hurricane strength in gusts which lasted less than 10 minutes. So I stand corrected - it was only "sterk storm" or a "strong storm". The word of the day is orkan, which means a wind with an average speed of 63 m/s for more than 10 minutes.)

Monday, January 13, 2003

By way of several leaps, starting out in jill's linklist of women bloggers: Fatpower, mainly pictures of city life. For some reason the city as theme is extremely attractive and romantic to me - perhaps because I have my tea in front of windows opening right out on some amazingly beautiful views of nature. All that fresh air and healthy living can get really old...
Big job number four (out of five)
This was delegated away from Me while I was away, sick or hiding in a corner trying desperately to get all the other things done. Isn't it great to work in a place where others can help, assist or step in when you really need it? This means that once I have done three minor jobs in the shape of lectures, I can get around to the fifth thing on the list: final editing of the thesis!

And I mean it - this is final. Espen said it is starting to look like a thesis, and he isn't insisting that he wants to see it once more, so I'll edit, proofread and submit!
(But that word is still very difficult for me to relate to...)
Layers of meaning - this time in tattoos on convicts.

Sunday, January 12, 2003

Space time social games
I need to get my head back on the game-thinking track, so I am playing around with google. I typed in space time social games, and these are some of the more interesting hits:

Games, Entertainment and After: A short essay by Fred McVittie (1992) on the relationship between games and plays, with a sharp little kick in the side of avant-garde theatre.

Space Games: Puzzle your own galaxy but beware of the annoying pop-ups!

Time and Space for Children: "Let's stop consuming our kids" is Elizabeth Goodenough's modest proposal. In an interesting essay on secret spaces of childhood, she touches on some very important issues pertaining children in the modern world.

Reframing the Cultural Space of Computer and Video Games: Kurt Squire at MIT with a very well-thought out article on games as a teaching tool, games as a tool to question the state of the world, and the violence/games discussion.

The Weekly Noun:Time: Time in role-playing games - what time means for your character. In Game Grene: For the gamer who's sick of the typical.

And to round this little list of more-or-less interesting search-results off:
Prime-time Primates:keeping the Peace: No, it's not a case-study from UN, but of chimpanzees in over-crowded environments. Unlike for instance rats, they develop coping behaviour. Perhaps somebody could learn something...

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

Play yourself fit
I actually think Reebok has a good idea here. I just wish they could make a bike which could deliver energy for the television as well. With the prices for electricity in Norway these days, it could solve the energy-crisis as well as the weight-problems of the nation, lower the expenses of the health budget and cut down on the heart-operation waiting-list.
Hei Hilde
I like the way you have renewed your blog-design - although I am very happy that you kept the pictures at the side - nice!
600 seconds
A fun little project from a group of bloggers: Write for 10 minutes about a given topic. Make sure to visit their archives!

By way of NYC bloggers, this blog is located at 86th street on the R-line, that is Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.
Jon Lech Johansen won!
Remember Jon, the boy - or young man by now - who hacked his own DVD and then made the hack accessible online? He was charged by the Norwegian unit for economic crime, and faced the possibility of two years in prison. Yesterday, three years after it was discovered that he had written the program that let him view his own DVDs on his own computer, he was aquitted. The court ruled that there was no evidence against him, and that he had not comitted a crime.

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

Internet research ethics
a.(o)i.r - Association of Internet Researchers - has made public the recommendations of their internet research ethics comittee.
We make work-plans for our students each year. At times we are tempted to make dietary plans and financial suggestions, as well as setting curfew hours and plan for exercize and hobbies, it feels like we are that detailed when it comes to planning student lives. These plans contain everything we can imagine that students will need to know and then some, and is a very useful planning tool.

A well-made plan relieves a lot of stress, as most questions can be met with: Do you have your work plan? Now open it up to page.... A badly made plan, however, is a nightmare. It demands constant updates and corrections and is a major source of confusion and frustration. Last fall the plan wasn't really so badly made, under the circumstances, but due to illness it became obsolete in the first few weeks of the semester for the new students. This meant major confusion, insecurity and student angst, which lead to stress, guilt and short tempers at the staff side.

This semester I have been working on this plan since November. I have been through it I don't know how many times, and harassed colleagues to make them keep the deadlines in relation to the plans. In a few hours I'll give them over to the students, and at that point I expect to see THE ERROR. Something has to be wrong. I just hope I'll find out fast.
Awaited arrival
And hey, the long expected parcel arrived, and only the CD-covers were broken. (It's hard to break jelly-beans and other vitamins.) They were totally smashed though... But mine for NYC has not arrived yet - although that was sent somewhat later. So my anger at learning about the privatisation of postal services is now less personal and more a matter of principle. I am still not happy though.
I haven't tried this out with students before, and I don't even really know how to go through with it, but this year I am going to spend time making the students think about their own learning curve. Adrian mentioned a method he used, but I don't think I can just adopt his approach. I have to find a way to approach this within the context of this college.

What I want to do is have the students put into words what they expect they will be able to learn, on the base of the syllabus for the semester. I'll make them write this on a piece of paper, and hand it over to me. Then in 6-8 weeks, when the "quality-reform" insists that I have a meeting with the students to discuss their plans for their education, I will pull out this little paper and ask them how they find themselves in relation to their original expectations. Third time - I like the number three, it tastes of magic and is nicely fulfilling - I discuss this with them will be at the very end of the term. I haven't made up my mind yet though if I want that to be in public: all the class, and the students discussing each other's work, or one-on-one. Or a combination: let them do the same as the first time, only this time assessing what they have actually done, not what they will do.

My goal is to make the students aware that while I can teach, they have to learn! Learning is not a passive experience, and as long as they don't take responsibility for their end of it, I can be the most brilliant teacher in the world, it won't help! Me just being your average lazy college-professor, they have a lot of work to do...

Adrian also lets the students assess each other's work. At first I thought that would be impossible, but after some thinking I realised that we have been doing that for years. All practical assignments are assessed like that, as well as at least one presentation of literature each semester. I didn't even think of this as he was speaking, because it's just one of those things we make the students do in order to teach them how to give and take criticism in their future jobs as journalists or information professionals. I won't do anything about that, except ponder how we can make better use of the student intra-net to do that. We will use this net to publish little articles this semester: to let the other students see and criticise the work of their peers, perhaps I can expand on this in other contexts... It needs some thought though.

Monday, January 06, 2003

My mood
By way of Esther and her elegant newly designed blog, poetry to suit my mood:

I Would I Might Forget That I am I

I would I might forget that I am I,
And break the heavy chain that binds me fast,
Whose links about myself my deeds have cast.
What in the body's tomb doth buried lie
Is boundless; 'tis the spirit of the sky,
Lord of the future, guardian of the past,
And soon must forth, to know his own at last.
In his large life to live, I fain would die.
Happy the dumb beast, hungering for food,
But calling not his suffering his own;
Blessed the angel, gazing on all good,
But knowing not he sits upon a throne;
Wretched the mortal, pondering his mood,
And doomed to know his aching heart alone.

George Santayana (1863 - 1952)
Fear of flying
I was never afraid of flying - and I am still not. But I am afraid of bullies, and according to the reports I read from USA airports, that is what I can risk meeting the next time I go to NYC; which will be in February. By way of Mark, a very amusing but also very sad report of what happened when Penn, of Penn and Teller, didn't want to have his crotch grabbed by a security guard. Read it in conjunction with this description of how Nicholas Monahan and his pregnant wife were treated in a similar situation.

When the time comes I'll let you all know when you should expect to hear from me at my return. If you don't see a blogpost in time, please send the Red Cross and a couple of trained tracking dogs to the Newark dungeons...

Sunday, January 05, 2003

Two down...
Finished grading exams today. It's my nightmare of Christmas. The fall term in Norway is very short, and in our college it always includes exams for all classes of students in almost all of their subjects. This means a big load of work for the students... but an even bigger load for the staff. It is however in the students' best interest to make sure the staff is happy while reading those papers, so here are some hints for students who want to have happy people grading their papers.

1: Read the information you get about writing papers. There is a reason why we tell you that you need to quote in a certain manner, that you need to make your literary list in a certain manner, and to make sure you check what the different scholars you refer to REALLY wrote.

2. There is also a reason why we want you to work on your introduction and your main question, and it's not because we need to know certain things or because we are sadists who just like to see you suffer before you even start writing (well, that might be true but it's not the ulterior motive). It is because if you know what you are discussing in your paper, your discussion is infinitely easier to go through with!

3. PROOFREAD!!! Don't think that you'll spellcheck when it's all done. The spellchecker won't catch missing words, correctly spelled, but wrong words, incorrect names and terms which are misleadingly similar in writing, but have very different meanings. When it is about your grades it's stupid to leave the responsibility for our understanding of what you say to Bill Gates.

4. Make an outline. Even if you never use it: make an outline. Even if you find that it's awful and you don't agree with it and this is the most stupid rule you have ever heard of: make an outline. Why? Because if you know why you can't structure your writing the way your outline was structured you might think enough about structuring your work that you avoid writing a stream of consciousness. A bad outline is better than 20 pages of random placement of something which might be related to what you perhaps stated that you thought you might write.

5. Get your friend to proofread. After a while you become blind to your own writing. Your friend is most likely also writing his/her paper, and is blind to his/her writing and needs somebody to proofread. Switch, use a red pen, pretend to be your worst nightmare of a picky teacher (for some poor students I am aware that it's me, there is a reason why I was nicknamed "the butcher from Volda" early on in my career) and start picking at what you don't understand in your friend's paper. You do each others no favour by being kind, after reading 20 BAD essays, I won't be.

6. Now that you have written the paper, sit down, read it, see what you have REALLY discussed and done and how you have concluded... and write the introduction.

7. All you need to do now is check your attachments, check your bibliography, proofread one more time, have a cup of tea, repeat the process... and submit. You have just increased the chance of decent grades as well as given your assessor a chance at a better, nicer and happier reading experience. And what else can a student want for an exam?

Friday, January 03, 2003

One down...
Just sent off the final draft of an article for a "real book" - one published not by a college or a scholarly publishing house, but a more popular and public one. It's going to be a collection of articles describing some of the research within the large Norwegian research programme which has financed my research - SKIKT. The Norwegian Board of Research is about to close the program as the new one - KIM - opens, and I have written a small article describing the playing of a RP-MUD. It's called "Tatt av spillet" - "Gone with the game" - and is in Norwegian.

Writing in Norwegian was a pleasant experience after all these years of practicing my English. I have always written well, quickly and easily (although the content tends to be a little lacking, I write faster than I think at times), and to write of this topic which I now know so extremely well was a pleasure, fun and almost ridiculously easy. Typically, the publishing editor liked my writing better than the academic editor, but since this is supposed to be somewhat popularised research publishing, I went with the publishing editor's view - as did professor Knut Lundby, the academic editor, once they had discussed it.

So all in all, despite this being only one of 5 urgent matters that need to be resolved RIGHT NOW, I feel rather good about the morning.

Thursday, January 02, 2003

Lost gifts
If you want to make sure your loved ones think you have forgotten all about them, send a parcel between USA and Norway. Since the beginning of November 2002 the Norwegian mail does not deliver parcels between Norway and USA, that task has been taken over by Expressgods General Parcels. This has caused a severe delay on all parcels, even the ones that are supposed to be air-mail and normally used to arrive within a week. But as if it's not enough that the parcels arrive late, when they arrive, the receiver has to pay a transport fee. So, to add to the insult of a package arriving a month or two late, you have to pay to get it!

How do I know this? I am of course waiting for a package. My NYC connection sent it more than three weeks ago, and he paid handsomely to make sure it would get here by Christmas. When I started checking why it hadn't arrived, I was told to contact either General Parcels or Ekspressgods. Neither place is of any help to me. I am angry and impatient, and quite a bit worried about the parcel.

So how do I start a meme? I would love it if every time somebody make a search for ekspressgods, general parcels and "forsinket pakke USA" they learn that the privatisation of the Norwegian postal system DOES NOT WORK! It gives us worse service for more money!
Role-play games and murder
In Sweden they have found the head and the legs of a young man, the remains of a gruesome and unexplainable murder. In the different newspapers (all in Norwegian so far), he played vampire role-playing games, games with a heavy emphasis on the romance of death.

Role-playing games have been accused of inviting deaths before, as well as been used as an excuse in the defense. In 1996 Roderick Ferrel killed the parents of a young woman he took into his coven. Ferrel was 16 years old at the time, and he clubbed and stabbed the parents to death. According to the article I found online, he did it to save the daughter - save her from what is not clear.

The idea of vampirism is however not a new phenomenon. The German Fritz Haarman was convicted for killing 27 yong boys. He chewed their throaths over while sodomizing them.

This post was however prompted by a friend of mine, who asked "If this is a real role-playing killing, what will be the impact on the role-playing groups in Scandinavia?" The answer to that is of course, I don't know, but I can still say something about this incident in a role-playing perspective.

To answer the first part of the question, I don't think there is such a thing as a "real role-playing killing." If the young decapitated man in Sweden was killed as part of a role-playing ritual, who ever killed him didn't role-play the killing. To be able to go through with the dismemberment they have carried out, the person needs to be beyond play. It is the act of a severely destabilised mind or a very desperate person.

To answer the second part of the question: Most people get killed by their friends and relatives, still we keep having friends and relatives. All killers are some person's child, yet we keep having children. Teachers kill, students kill, but we still have schools. People are killed in extreme sports, but people still do base-jumping. Not to talk about sex. A lot of people are killed before, during or after sex, because of too much sex or too little sex... but we still do it. People are killed because of books but we srite them, people are killed on television and we watch it. I don't think it will have such a large impact. There might be a heightened awareness in certain groups, such as those who do bare steel fencing as a part of their role-playing, but apart from that it won't change anything.

The burning of churches didn't stop "satan worship" even when the beautiful stave-church at Fantoft burned down in the early nineties. Just like we keep visiting family over Christmas despite the horrible statistics of violence, role-players will play.

Wednesday, January 01, 2003

Fighting a bug that has caused me to lose rather than gain weight this Christmas, and also made me horribly late with a lot of important things. Back when I can eat, think and write.