Friday, May 28, 2004

Sometimes you find that there is an other mind so close to your own that it is as if the thoughts could have been yours. It is a feeling of thrill and terror - a sensation of seeing boundaries slip and the self become diffuse, blurred. Today I received a book in the mail that gave me exactly this experience.

Ragnhild Tronstad, who defends her thesis Friday 11th of June, in Oslo, has a chapter that makes me feel that intellectual boundaries are dissolving. Chapter six: "Questing as a Deductive Discourse" uses Baudrillard, and discusses seduction and seductive quest objects. I don't know whether to get jealous, or all gooey. I started to plan a chapter/an article on Baudrillard, seduction and games in 2000/2001. There's an old draft on my computer, waiting for me to immerse myself in it - and here Ragnhild writes it. Well, not exactly - I never connected it to quests. Interesting, very interesting connection.

So, as you understand, I am eagerly leafing through her dissertation, but most of all I am just looking forwards to my trip to Oslo, for her defense.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

I have a slight sunburn around my eyes, from taking off my glasses and turning my face to the sun yesterday afternoon. It was pure procrastination: I have to finish grading, and I don't like doing it! But that's the life of a college teacher, it has to get done! Anyway: today and tomorrow, oral assessment and student parting party, Saturday will be spent in the car driving to Trøgstad, a flat spot close to the Swedish border. Sunday; confirmation for one married-in niece, Monday; driving all the way back. Good thing the family likes to spend time together and rarely argue, or twenty hours in a small car in three days might get just a liittle tense.
Australian voices
I noticed another gaming blog the other day, Gamely Manner by Stewart Woods and exploring it led me to Helen Merric's blog on net studies. She uses the word "networksing" as one of her categories, and points out that it is not a gollumification of language, but something more than that.

Both blogs look clean, crisp and informed, but not all that frequently updated. Still, worth a peek!

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Career change
Or just an expansion? Here is how to become a webcam whore!
Weblog design
Makiko Itho, who is not a nameless cat, posts on weblog design. She has a very pretty design herself, which in my eyes gives her much credibility in this topic. She also has an interesting post about blogger template designs and gender.
Interpretation, Performance, Play, & Seduction: Textual Adventures in Tubmud
Ragnhild Tronstad, brilliant, exiting researcher that she is, now defends her dissertation in Oslo, June 11th. Opponents are Cynthia Haynes, Niels Overgaard Lehmann and as third opponent Espen Aarseth.

Monday, May 24, 2004

People watching
Years ago, I spent a week in the company of a spanish film-maker in an office at the University of Bergen, the media department. We had a few interesting experiences; one night we let ourselves be hijacked for a cosmetic demonstration party in a suite at one of the best hotels in Bergen, an other night we skipped dinner and went on a cake-tasting spree in every cafe in Bergen. But the night we spent people watching at a bar was the most fun.

She played this little game everywhere. She made up stories about the people she saw. Fantastic stories about lost love, dark family secrets, fortunes won and lost... When a nice gay male couple joined us the game changed, simplified, into guessing peoples' occupation. This too was fun, although different.

A couple of years later, travelling with a colleague, two teachers and 30 students. We visited Brussels and Amsterdam, a frozen winter week of walking through two large, lovely cities. This colleague also makes films, and when I told him of the people game, he caught on immediately. We spent the student-free evenings creating long, involved narratives, weaving tales across borders.

Since these two experiences, I have been an avid watcher of people. And with Desmond Morris' book, now I am looking for details:

4. The Intention Power-grip. The speaker who is seeking control and is striving in his speech to master the situation, but has not yet done so, performs his batons with his hand held in the frozen intention of the power-grip. This is the Air Grasp posture, with the digits stiffly spread and slightly bent. The hand grabs at the air but does not follow through.

I can hardly wait to find a busy cafe, settle with my book and a cup of coffee, and just look!
Journalist factory
Volda college has been called "the journalist factory", due to the way we process students and send them out to attack the unsuspecting Norwegian public. That's not true, it's not journalists that are our largest output, it's media theory students! Today I am about to walk the "comforting route", and visit students writing exams in media theory. There are more than a hundred students, positioned in 7 different locations. Just finding the rooms they are in is a challenge, I have no chance to actually recognize the students. I just hope they recognize me.

I don't know if this routine is common outside of Norway, but for exams like this - school exams - we always visit the students in the morning, in order to help them understand the questions, give them a hint if they have misunderstood completely and nudge in the right direction if they feel insecure. I have also spent time as an ad-hoc therapist calming exams nerves, I have called for an ambulance for a student who went into diabetic shock from stress, and I have been strict and told lazy students to get back in there and make an effort - suffer through the exam and take a chance at a weak grade rather than leave and be guaranteed to fail. It is one of those things that marks the seasons.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Spam and threats
Jarle Dahl Bergersen (in Norwegians) has used his blog to critizise a spammer, been threatened and considered getting a lawyer, before they finally came to a compromise.

It's an interesting case, so I want to point to it, even if it is all solved now.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Typical May week
Norwegians like May. It's the month with the most holidays all year. Yesterday was 17th of May, and Thursday it's ascencion day - the day Jesus went up to heaven, you know. That means most Norwegians work two days this week, because we all have a little extra time to take out Friday. Those two workdays I am spending with the department, in a cabin on an island, talking about more or less serious things concerning teaching and administration - but also fishing, chatting, having fun.

The weather conspires against us though: there is a gale blowing, 8 on the Beaufort scale (sterk kuling), and it's been raining steadily for the last three days. Wish me luck - I'll be stuck in a cabin with the men I argue with the most frequently! The rest of the week will be spent with family, in various locations at Sunnmøre, all of them without an internet connection.

Beaufortscala, Deutsch
Beaufort wind scale

Monday, May 17, 2004

Are weblogs journalism?
Online Journalism Review organised a roundtable with a group of "blogologists" (don't just dislike the term, I am biting my tongue hard not to use the kind of language I would like about it, while I remind myself "it's supposed to be funny, it's supposed to be funny"). One of the questions asked is:

OJR: Do you consider Weblogs to be a form of journalism? How do they differ from other forms of journalism and media?

The interviewees made good attempts at replies to this question by saying blogging is more than journalism, blogging may be journalism, blogging can challenge journalism, all of it correct. My question is however: where was the editor when the journalist made that question? Is a question like that journalism? It is asked by a reporter working in a review of online journalism published at a college of journalism, but it is clumsy, unprofessional and pretty impossible to answer in a way that does not make the interviewee seem pedantic or trying to avoid the question.

As a public service for all who have considered asking that or a similar question, I am going to do some pigeonholing. I am even going to talk about the size of pigeon holes: which small holes fit into which big ones. Sometimes it just has to be done.

The problem with OJR's question is that we could just as well ask: is writing journalism? Is printing journalism? Is videotaping journalism? Is filming journalism? Is soundtaping journalism? All of these manners of recording and communicating can be journalism, given certain criteria met. The same goes for blogging. We can adjust this question so OJR doesn't need to ask it again in the future, when some other online medium becomes popular, by rephrasing it to: "Is communicating journalism?"

Now, pay attention to the pigeonholes: Communication is the big box. Journalism is a little one that fits inside the big box. Blogging is a box that is smaller than communication, but bigger than journalism. Concept-wise it is comparable to television(ing) and radio(ing), and a lot of different genres of recording and reporting from the world of facts and fantasy fit within each of these boxes.

So: is blogging journalism? No. But a blog can be a medium for good reporting, good newscoverage, good investigative journalism. It is also a lot more.
Syttende mai
The significance of syttende mai. What lacks in this description is how pretty Norway is in spring, and how suitable a celebration is in May, when the light, warmth and life has returned after a bleak, dark, cold winter.

Webcams from some Norwegian cities:
Oslo, Karl Johan's gate
Bergen, Torgalmenningen
Ålesund, Brosundet should give the most interesting view today.

The parades start at different times, the first one in Volda at 10 am Norwegian time. So I have to go prepare breakfast. I have already ironed two shirts, and have to make up my mind what to wear on a cool, rainy day since I have had my national costume refitted for my daughter.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Students don't do what you want?
Colleagues unruly and ignoring you? Your partner refusing to do his part of the chores, or treat you the way you wish for? Perhaps what you need is a new tool in your bag of persuation tricks...

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Spelt flour
Spelt is old-fashioned wheat, with a higher content of protein and a somewhat lower content of carbohydrate than normal wheat. Hildegard von Bingen mentions spelt as a particularly good type of grain, for all purposes, and particularly for healing and strengthening the body.

I have been using spelt rather than wheat in baking for about a year. After a year of testing, I find that I am not as sensitive to bread, cookies and cakes made from spelt as common wheat. I can even have occasional waffles! Particularly with my own specially made strawberry jam. But I am still looking for recipes, and today I had the brilliant idea to make a search for it online:

Steep Hill food recipes
Spelt flour organic recipes
Spelt noodles
Blueberry muffins

And a bonus recipe, Angel Food Cake with fructose, rather than saccharine.

Friday, May 14, 2004

A Doctor of blogs!
Kaye Trammell defends her thesis today - a few hours ago, according to her post. Kaye Trammell's research is on celebrity blogs, contents and user surveys. Congratulations, Kaye!
Planning the autumn
It's the season of planning ahead, and I have spent a delicious little hour finishing the pland for a tiny little course in New Media. I started these plans last year, delirious with happiness that I had received The New Media Reader. Due to a mix-up, that tiny little course never ended up as part of the department curriculum. However, when the media group leader frowned at the plans for next year and muttered "We need one or two more topics here", I volunteered (!) my little plan. For those lovers of lists and plans out there, here it is, Torill's little pleasure project this autumn:

Old news on new media
Dr. Torill Mortensen
The development of the hypertext and the non-linear text from Vannevar Bush and the Memex Machine to the World Wide Web. The ideas behind our understanding of the web.

Three lectures, each 2 x 45 minutes:
The Computer and the thought
Society, technology and structures
Breaking with linearity

Bush, Vannevar (1945): ”As We May Think”, The Atlantic Monthly, July 1945, på

Douglas C. Engelbart. Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework. Summary Report AFOSR-3223 under Contract AF 49(638)-1024, SRI Project 3578 for Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Stanford Research Institute, Menlo Park, Ca., October 1962. på, disse delene: I: Introduction, A og B, III Examples and discussion, A2 og A3 og B4 og B5.

Baudrillard, Jean (1981): “Requiem for the Media”, in For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign, 164 – 184, Telos Press, og trykt på nytt i Wardrip-Fruin, Noah og Nick Montfort (2003): The New Media Reader, the MIT Press, Boston. (s 278 – 288) Også tilgjengelig på:

Williams, Raymond (1972): ”The Technology and the Society”, I Wardrip-Fruin, Noah og Nick Montfort (2003): The New Media Reader, the MIT Press, Boston. (s 291-300)

Nelson, Theodor H. (1981): “Proposal for a Universal Electronic Publishing System and Archive”, i Wardrip-Fruin, Noah og Nick Montfort (2003): The New Media Reader, the MIT Press, Boston. (s 443-461)

Turkle, Sherry (1984): “Video Games and Computer Holding Power”, i Wardrip-Fruin, Noah og Nick Montfort (2003): The New Media Reader, the MIT Press, Boston. (s 500-513)

Moulthrop, Stuart (1991): “You Say You Want a Revolution? Hypertext and the Laws of the Media”, i Wardrip-Fruin, Noah og Nick Montfort (2003): The New Media Reader, the MIT Press, Boston. (s 692 – 704)

McLoud, Scott (1993): “Time Frames”, i Wardrip-Fruin, Noah og Nick Montfort (2003): The New Media Reader, the MIT Press, Boston. (s 712 – 735)

Aarseth, Espen (1994): “Nonlinearity and Literary Theory”, i Wardrip-Fruin, Noah og Nick Montfort (2003): The New Media Reader, the MIT Press, Boston. (s 762 – 780)

Berners-Lee, Tim, Robert Cailliau, Ari Luotonen, Henrik Frystyk Nielsen and Arthur Secret: “The World-Wide Web”, i Wardrip-Fruin, Noah og Nick Montfort (2003): The New Media Reader, the MIT Press, Boston. (s 792 – 797)

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Images of pain
The images from Iraq are powerful statements that may change the path of the war. They have made Tony Blair apologize for the behaviour of the British soldiers involved in the abuse of the prisoners. George Bush calls the abuse a stain to the nation's honour. I think Mike might feel it is somewhat more than a slight discolouration, and that it takes more than a quick trip to the laundromat to clean this up.

I am as stunned as everybody else, and the news resonate through every western society like a shockwave of sadness, horror and fear - fear that the values of the society we try to live in are crumbling, falling apart and giving way to - what?

To me, the true horror is that I feel I have seen these images before - and not from prison camps in dictatorships in Africa or South America, but from the "civilised" west. One of the topics I have studied was images of sexuality. Among those are images of deviations: humiliation, sexual torture, sadism, masochism. Consensual games between consenting adults - but still, a rich source for images of pain, degradation and dominance. And I watch the pictures with the gleeful smiles on the faces of the American soldiers, and I find myself asking: is that what they think they are part of? Is that the frame of the prison and the torture? Is torture and degradation so far from the soldiers who find themselves in that situation that the only frame for understanding their reality is by interpreting it as part of sex games?

Growing up with parents who actually experienced war, and reading Mike's deeply felt essay, I would never claim that war or the military turns humans into automatons, unfeeling machines with no empathy, or shallow shells who only act. But at the same time: military discipline is supposed to install frames for particular situations: given A, you do B. That's what you train on, that's what you do in a tight spot, if the training is right.

Running a prison in wartime is a very tight spot. Was deviant porn the only possible frame for the soldiers' actions in that position? It might work the other way around as well - sexual sadism takes its imagery from the darkest basements of human imagination and emotion. Perhaps is what we see here the very source of all images of pain: the human with too much power and no control. It is not like our culture does not recognize and know about the capability of cruelty inherent in humanity. Read the Lord of the Flies.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Indiana in September?
If you are, you can catch the WWW@10 at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.
And Eeeek! Blogger has changed looks! Feels strange. They refer to the main log-in screen as dashboard. Inspired by the drivers of Grand Text Auto?
Different options
Next time around, I will make different choices when the turn comes for me to return to the worldly pursuits. With the increase of population over the last few hundred years, I can't imagine souls are allowed to stay in storage long, so some of my plans may still be valid. At the moment, the plan for the next life is to learn languages. I want to be the child (daughter is fine) of a couple with one spanish and one russian speaking parent. They should live in Japan. They put me in an international school where I have to learn French and Arabic. Then they move to Italy, and I study classical languages in Rome; Latin, Greek.

Then, when I meet interesting looking online publications like, I don't need to feel stupid and frustrated. Luckily, a link can be recognized in most languages, and it links to a varied collection of online resources. Enjoy!

Friday, May 07, 2004

So much for burning out
Four things happened since yesterday:
Most important - following a link from Dennis' blog I read the NYC times article about Mary Ann Buckles. She dropped everything and quit academia after her PhD on the game Adventure. That dissertation was the first work I read on text-based games, and I sat down and plunged into the MUDs myself afterwards. I was sure she had to be a highly paid tenured professor at some fancy, progressive University by now. Why does it make me feel better that she isn't? Because it legitimises my own occasional academic overload. The only role models visible to me from this vantage point are the ones who finished their PhDs and went on to become powerwielding professors way above me in the hierarchy. Mary Ann Buckles shows me that it is possible to turn the back on all of it and do something else. Perhaps my secret shameful dream of being a nail designer isn't a sign of failure after all, just a sign that this is a rough field and if you feel battered it is because you ARE battered, not a trick of your (failing) mind. The article lines up neatly next to the goodbye of the Invisible Adjunct and confirms that yes, this really IS a rat race.

Did the last of the how-did-I-ever-get-into-doing-this lectures on organisational theory. I guess I am the most competent person the department has on organisation theory. That doesn't say much about my level of competency, really. Lucky it is at a very basic level, or the students would have been better off just reading the book. Why did I do it? I didn't find anybody who both spoke Norwegian, knew the field and were willing to do the lecture, not for money or for threats or promises of payment of other kinds. Or actually I did, but the email never reached me, and I didn't know until four days ago. The irony, the irony.

Booked the flight for my vacation. Guess where? New York in July. Sounds horrible, really, but I am not familiar with the combination heat/metropol, so it will be a different experience. And so nice to get back to the cool clean quiet fjords afterwards. So if you know of interesting events around NYC between 9th and 28th of July, I'd love to know! Nick and Noah have both already pointed me towards the Ars Electronica exhibition.

I read my own blogposts. Not as much gloom and doom as I feared. Looks like I have managed to keep most of it out of the blogspace. Good. Internal super-editor still working.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Minor burnout blogwise
I feel like I do nothing but post about how exhausted and overworked I am. Not fun for you, not fun for me. I will probably (very likely) be back when I have managed to clean my desk again.
drawing machines
12 machines draws pictures 2 months each, online.
Paying my dues
An organisation like Volda College is small enough that each individual has a lot of freedom to create our own job and control our own day. This is the great advantage of working here - in this tiny little pond it's easy to become a big fish among other reasonably large fish who all are pretty autonomous within our territories.

This does, however, in the best spirit of social democracy, entail a duty towards the collective. In other words: I have to pay my dues to the organisation for the trust and freedom it gives me. Now that I have finished the PhD it's payback time. This happens through taking on the tasks vital to the running of the Collage: be on minor or major boards, taking on leadership and responsibility, working for the union. So far I am, apart from being back to leading my by now preteen baby the information education; on the boards of the department, the local researcher's union and the board of employment (for all of the college). I have done my duty time in the arrangement comittee for the Christmas party, and entertained the masses with my eloquence in social contexts. But I haven't even started paying yet. The next big project is the organisational comittee. Due to the changes in the Norwegian educational system over the last 10 years, Volda College is in dire need of restructuring. I have said yes to be part of that. With three other faculty members and a secretary, our job will be to make a suggestion as to how to re-organise a 200 strong organisation with tasks ranging from building maintainance to large-scale socio-political research, with all the quirks of a 130-year-old organisation forcefully joined with another organisation 100 years younger thrown into the pot.

I have to learn a new word soon. I have to practice using it fluently and politely, but with conviction. I desperately need to learn when to say "no".

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Disappearing in plain sight
What magicians do with mirrors, Baudrillard claims we do through other media:

In fact, all this corresponds to the inalienable right or desire to be nothing and to be regarded as such. There are two ways to disappear. Either you demand not to be seen (the current issue with image rights); or you turn to the maddening exhibitionist display of your insignificance. You make yourself insignificant in order to be seen as such. This is the ultimate protection against the need to exist and the duty to be oneself.
Manycoloured wigs
After weeks of feeling that nothing makes sense, it is interesting to find that a site with a picture of wigs in many different colours and a list of links to summaries of books by Baudrillard, Barthes and Marcuse gives me a feeling og nostalgic recognition, reminiscent of coming home. Parry and First seems to be a place for storing lecture notes and summaries by some anonymous graduate student, a little online pocket in a fold of the net, found by google and my command, while looking for links on Seduction by Baudrillard.

Somehow the wigs in the window touched me, as I feel like that at the moment: Like I am only surfaces, that what others think is a head is a plaster lump carrying a wig, a seductress who does not love, only scheme for the effects of learning, not the spell of it.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Back to grey
And that was it, spring in Volda is over: it's darker and cold, even the fresh green of the new leaves is dull as the light changes and the fjord turns lead grey. Business as usual!
Today is a green and blue day: green buds bursting into young leaves, blue sky framed by dark green mountains, green lawns stretching towards blue waters - I couldn't keep the strict red-and-black today, while the colours of grass and sky press themselves so eagerly into my vision.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Grace was her nature
I never really knew her. She knew me though, in several different aspects. I was “that girl” her son went out with. I was the strange guest she needed to treat politely. I was the mother who performed the tasks to keep a household running. I was a source of sweets and treats, an excuse for yet another cup of coffee. At one time I was “the nice lady with the hat and the flowers”. Another time I was “she who brought the white hair.” But most of all I was the maid.

Everybody told me what a wonderful woman she was. Daughter of a doctor, from the times when being a doctor was really something, she was well spoken, educated, intelligent, interested and very, very considerate. Since I loved these traits in her son I was looking for what they told me about her. And once in a while I would see a glimpse of this woman, the competent social worker, the warm friend, the concerned citizen of the world. Those were the moments when she saw me as a stranger, without some lingering sense that she should know me. But long before we met her past had started unravelling like a knitting from her most recent memories and backwards.

At first they all protected her and refused to see that she was sick. She was herself, only more so, more fuzzy, more endearingly impractical, she asked her polite questions a few times more than normal. When I said that something was wrong I was told to shut up, stop being so critical, be happy I had such a darling mother-in-law.

The first years I was unhappy, and felt that I was the one who couldn’t make enough of an impression on her. Then, one visit, she started ranting about how I didn’t do enough work. She had decided who I was. You see, I speak the way their maids had always done – a west-coast dialect. So much more reliable workers, the girls from the west-coast; strong, thrifty and efficient. Her mother always had a maid speaking somewhat like me.

Sociolects guided her understanding of the world as she lost more and more of her memory. By the time her softly west-Oslo speaking son became “that very nice young man”, I had resigned to my role of unskilled labour. I would clean, cook and look after the children. One Christmas I washed her hair, and she obeyed me like a child, the way she had obeyed the maids and nurses of her childhood. There was nothing else I could do for her, and she felt safe with me that way. It confused her when I sat down and had dinner with them, but as I acted as nurse for the children at those occasions, she translated me into some kind of nanny.

I could not help her family into an equally clearly defined space in her world. Her loving, doting husband became “that nice old man”. She thought her son was my son, my “boy”, and cried when in a clear moment she realised that he was hers. My children mainly remember that she stole their candy. At least they were too small to realise their grandmother forgot them.

I never knew the woman her family grieved. But having lost everything, she was still magnificent, dignified. In the end she had no real language, only fragments: “Oh, really? No! What is…? MmmHmm? Yes? Is that so?” This was her entire vocabulary, and she was still able to charm strangers, acting the perfect lady. I can’t even do that with my brain at full speed and my well-mannered husband as a coach. When everything else was lost, grace was her true nature.