Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Life, elsewhere

Planned Obsolescence wonders how people can go on just living as usual shortly after a tragedy like what is happening to New Orleans.

But what to say about Katrina? What can anyone add, which has not already been said? What can be said about a disaster which was telecast before, during and after in such detail? The only thing I can say is that I think it's awful. I wish I had seen New Orleans before this. I feel like another treasure has been wiped off the map of the planet.

But for a person who is worried for her friends and family, my selfish concerns about not being able to experience a certain ambience are pointless. So if I am silent in the face of disaster, awkward and shy, it is because the right words are not mine at all.

That does not mean I don't care. I am reading Barbara Hambly again, the descriptions of coffins floating the the graveyard, the swamp, the colour, the heat and the poverty of a New Orleans which has been totally washed away now. It's the only postscript I can make to a city I never got to experience.

Update: I am closing the comments on this thread.

Low IQ? Female, I presume

OK, so we have smaller brains, and we are more stupid than men.

At least, we score lower on IQ tests than men do.

Nothing to be done, from now on I will have to submit to my superiors, the white western males, despite their lower performance. After all, they have higher IQ, and women are way down there together with males and females of all other ethnicities than western, white males.

For those of you who read Norwegian, read what Drusilla has to say over at Dagens Onde Kvinner. I am glad there are still women who are able to speak their (small) minds after this impeccable research has been revealed.

Counter-culture blogs

I need to find some, and I need it by tomorrow afternoon. They should be political in nature, and represent the voices of people who otherwise would not be heard in the mainstream media.

If you have any suggestions, please leave a comment or send an email.

I will be back and post what I find this afternoon and tomorrow morning, but now I have to run, I give a lecture at 10.15, and I ought to be there.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Four hours

Two lectures

My poor voice needs a rest, and so does my poor head. But instead I am debating with myself if a game like World of Warcraft is a hypertext or a stretchtext.

I think stretchtext. How about you?

Monday, August 29, 2005

Spam, blog version

It had to come, the systematic use of blogs as a way to gain attention through non-personal networks.

First we had the commentary spam. It showed up at this blog as well, even if people need a blogger account to post. Here it took on the nature of "I love your blog, have a look at mine".

Then we had (and probably still have) paid blogging and promotional blogging. Commercialisation is inevitable, when a good blogger sees a way to make money doing what they know how to do and like.

Now there's the "high-class blogs" thing. That may be serious, perhaps there is somebody out there who really want to show off good blogs. It looks like spam though - now that I have received the same message in email and in the commentaries. I guess if you manage to generate a lot of traffic through links of the nature "I was asked to submit this to high-class blogs", you get a portal which then efficiently points on to other blogs, no matter what the quality of said blogs is. Flattery works, that's the main lesson of the Nigeria-scam mails.

The next version was through email as well. This was the press manager of an English artist, who is writing the writers of art-themed blogs. I never noticed "art" as a particularly well-promoted feature here, but I guess I have said the word once or twice. They suggested a link exchange, very politely.

While not "squeeze my silicone tits", these suggestions have the flavour of spam - high-class spam perhaps (full sentences, no mention of sex or attempts to sell me viagra or a college diplomas, correct spelling), but still. Or perhaps I am doing people injustice, and this blog is just SO attractive that all these wonderful people are willing to send a lot of formula letters in order to make me notice them.

Yes, that has to be it.

(and steve (read the comments) has proved himself a spammer, and I have deleted his post in my comments. If you get hold of Faltin Karlsen, let him know his blog is being spammed.)

I never asked for that!

There's an email in my mailbox, with a link to a page for changing my password. According to blogger I had asked for a new one. I never did. I did change the password though, just because. Used my husband's birthdate instead of my own, so now you have to find that out, whoever you are who asked for the password!

Of course, it may have been something totally innocent, some other Torill who had forgotten her log-in, or a bug, so blogger sent that email to a lot of different people.

And no, I don't really use birthdates for passwords.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Battling Addiction

China wants to stop the growing game addiction, which according to Chinese sources has caused at least one death and one real life killing. Dagbladet had an article on this, but you can also read about the Chinese plan to stop game addiction for instance in Financial Times.

The suggestion to start giving penalties to the character after 5 hours is interesting, but how realistic is it that this will work? I'd like to know what the experience is from for instance World of Warcraft where there is already a mild reward/penalty system in. When you log out, preferably at an in, there is a little sign at the experience point bar that starts moving to the right, and the colour of the bar changes from purple to blue. As long as you have a blue bar, you make double hitpoints from slaying beasts. The longer you are offline, the further to the right will the little sign move, and you will make double hitpoints for a longer time - and so boost your levelling speed by not playing.

You can however get the same effect from staying in a city and for instance trading. There is a auction house in Orgrimmar, and it is always packed. Horde players all have to go there in order to buy or sell items. And if you are clever you can buy ingredients, make them into objects and sell these with a profit, while your purple bar turns blue. Then you can go out and kill something again.

I guess the Chinese version of this will be a lot more drastic. I can't say I disagree either: while I don't think playing in itself is dangerous, I definitely think taking good breaks between sessions is healthy.

Unless you're a sane person who can control what she is doing, like me. Now excuse me, I have research to do.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Election for Dummies

You think it's complicated to decide what to have for dinner? Try to decide which of 7 parties should lead the country for the next four years. If you want to learn more about them, read Oslo Girl's The 2005 Norwegian Elections Guide for Dummies, part 1. Hilarious reading, but sharply observed.

Blogger etiquette

Bloggblogg, a Norwegian meta-blog blog, has some quite interesting discussions. Their latest post questions the blogger's responsibility to the journalist. Should we always wear a "I am blogging this" T-shirt? The links from bloggblogg among others lead to an exchange between Mark Cuban and a New York Times journalist. It turns out that the journalist has written a very different story from the one Mark Cuban thought he participated in. So bloggblogg asks: should the journalist be warned?

Personally, I have no qualms about uncovering bad journalism. I do prefer to do it before the story is printed, so I insist on reading articles before printing. When that's said: there is more to this question.

Friday night I entered a discussion with colleagues Erling Sivertsen and Thomas Lewe. They both asked: "Is it ethical to blog somebody's interaction with you, without their permission?"

As you can see, I think so.

However, there is such a thing as etiquette. We learn what it is OK to share, what definitely should be shared, and when we should keep quiet, and we learn this as children. Not all of us are good at it. Some people are gossipmongers, who are so delighted to have something to share that they do it, no matter how "in confidence" your initial interaction was. You and I both know that we really don't want to talk to those. If they are bloggers, you can expect your darkest secret to be online in no time - if you are lucky, slightly rewritten in an attempt to anonymise you.

Some things should be shared. Since this was a serious question, and taking credit for it would have been unethical, it's more correct of me to give credit where I should: To Erling and Thomas, than to not share that particular piece of interaction.

The only thing that changes in the understanding of what is correct and proper communication, is the number of potential people who might learn what the gossiper says. From perhaps 1000 who will share a juicy piece of gossip in Volda, the same piece may be spread to 70 000 in no time, and be available until the other person deletes the archives. The stakes are higher. But if the original rules were applied, common sense and manners should be enough, even online.


A new laptop is on its way. I can't wait! Lacking the laptop is now leading to physical pain. Saying it was a prothesis was less of a joke and more of a truth than I thought: it let me work with less physical effort, and helped me overcome my back problems.

The technical department, two very nice men who do their best to make sure things work well, sent me a tracking link. I am checking it obsessively.

Monday, August 22, 2005

The wrong path

Did you ever play those "choose your own path" games, and take only the wrong turns? If you came to a crossroad you would consistently choose the path that forced you to go back, lose a lot of what you had gained, and start over?

That is my life at the moment. When I think things can't get gloomier, one more little thing happens, and it's worse. For the first time ever I am actually afraid of flying. I am afraid of doing anything which can make me choose the wrong thing. But inaction can be the wrong choice as well, and staying on the ground might be as spectacularly wrong as flying. I am doomed to continue down the wrong options in the multi-choice story of my life, either way.

Any upsides at the moment?

Well, Agirra is level 30, and I love having the totem of the air and the air spells as part of her repetoir. She can walk on water and see around corners as well. I think I want to become an orc and move to Durotar.

Friday, August 19, 2005

State of the Blogosphere

Just a reminder to myself, this is the link to the Technorati "state of the blogosphere" report.

Journalism, blogging and professionalism again

Now that blogs have become popular in Norway, Norwegian newspapers have started writing about it and Norwegian media professors at the universities can talk about it. Professor Martin Eide at the University in Bergen uses weblogs as an example of how "happy amateurs" can challenge journalism. His article is mainly about the need for intelligent, questioning, critical and thinking journalists - since UiB opened their three year journalism education this year.

So why is this important for us? (apart from the fact that this means more competition for Volda)

I think it is very interesting and even significant that weblogs are being used as the threath to make journalists wake up and sharpen their wits. The fear of blogs in the US has caused a massive attack on blogs and bloggers from the media, followed by an attempt to colonize the concept - which we see in Norway today. I have claimed for a long time that this is a strategy to maintain control of the media sphere, and keep the power of communication on a limited number of hands. It this can be done, the media companies don't have to run the risk of the economical challenge good alternatives rise. They also don't need to run the risk of the political implications of having good, critical journalists.

A good, questioning journalist, one who has not been bought, one who has access to a large audience through the mass media, is a powerful person. An uncorruptable person with power is dangerous to the adversaries. Who wants the power of the media in the hands of a person who is not predictable and malleable?

To avoid this, journalists are systematically socialised into "the newsroom spirit", taught to write "the way we do it here", and pressed to publish "what the audience wants". Now that the audience starts writing for themselves, and obviously wants something they don't get from the established newspapers, the new groups of writers has to be if not silenced, then made suspect. But Martin Eide is right. The readers and writers of blogs does not potentially have the power of a really good journalist. The real problem is that the really good journalists are so few, so far between, and most of the time totally immersed in the task of writing stuff that will keep the news selling, and beat the headlines of the competition - in some internal media game of one-upmanship which changes nothing but the numbers on the accounts of their owners.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Me, the expert

When I got a question from the Norwegian Research Council to write an expert assessment of a research project, I was, of course, tremendously flattered. I am still flattered, but not as impressed as I was to begin with. The Research Council has implemented electronic systems for submitting and assessing projects. The system is not impossible to access when you submit something: then it structures the application process quite well. And at that side you are prepared to put in a lot of effort anyway, potentially a well done proposal can mean millions for your research. At the other end, which I was at this time and where you only get 100$ and a chance to put it on your CV (priceless), it's a different story. Of course, I should have checked things out before the last minute, but I have been a little distracted lately, so I didn't. What I found was that:

a) there was no information explaining what I should actually do
b) it was impossible to find the link to the form I needed to fill in
c) when I found the link (after several emails), it didn't work
d) email and contact with human beings to explain things the first time was absolutly a must

Once I had all the right information, it was easy.

Isn't that eternal truth? (And you need to have been a Helva fan to get that connection!)

Play and playfullness

Agirra is still running around in WOW, Mainly in Kalimdor. Her territories of movement and play are slowly expanding, now she is manouvering with a fair amount of expertice in the orc core areas of Durotar and The Barrens, as well as Mulgore, Thousand Needles and Ashenvale, with occasional trip to Booty Bay and Undercity with Silverpine Forest. The game is created to invite this kind of expansion and exploration, but it does not force it.

What I have been looking for in these explorations is however role-play. There is some playing going on when people group for quests and instances, but more often than not it is groupings out of necessity, not play. The conversation tends to be messages like "heal me" "ress please" "g" "n" "yay!" - not a lot of depth to that. A lot of the role-play happens in the clans or guilds, if you are not in a guild, you are isolated. Hence I have been looking for a guild.

The guild I was hoping to get into was The Onyx Ascendancy. I met the guild leader early on, in a lower-level character, and role-played and had fun. Afterwards we kept chatting, and I started looking out for members of the guild, to have a chance to play with them and be recommended. I have not had much luck with that, when I see people from that clan they are always on the way somewhere else, focused on some grand plan or other probably. And there's the lowbie effect: if your character is beyond level 50, you don't really see the ones below 40. And the people I have seen from the Onyx Ascendancy have all been way up there in the level range. The leader mentioned that as well, with a touch of frustration, searching for a clan member to group me with in order to arrange some role-play; it was impossible to find anybody online in my level range.

But there are other guilds, and while I'd have loved to play in the guild of one of the truly nice people I have met on that server, there are plenty other nice folks around. Some of them have a silly streak a mile wide, and can play with it. So when Agirra was magically turned into a pirat wench for an hour (how absurd is that?), it ended up in a fun round of RP and some friendly sparring (because orcs just don't do that to other orcs and expect to get away with it - Agirra had to kick his ass).

I had almost forgotten the frivolity of games, the liberty to be dramatic, flamboyant and playful, in all this theory and research. But that is such an important part of what I like about it, so when Agirra was invited to join "Legion of Darkness", run by two Swedish students, she and I happily jumped in. This is a guild filled with lowbies - Agirra is the second highest level character at present - small, and with no particularly clear plan for what the guild is about yet. But the players I have met have been very accessible, nice and most of all, playful: able to do the kind of improvised mental sparring and leaps of fancy which takes role-play from pompous posing to entertaining interaction. So for a week Agirra is a peon, reporting to the same warrior who made her into a human. We'll see how that works out, indeed we will!

Of other interesting interaction experiments was playing with night elves of the Alliance. Following the motto "your enemy's enemy is your friend", Agirra raided a satyr village in the company of a night elf druid. This was particularly interesting as characters from different factions can't group, can't heal each other and can't even talk. We had to communicate through actions: nods, cheers, bows, as well as the acts of saving and attacking. It worked like a charm. We took turns attacking, and then the other followed up: this way both got experience points, and both had back-up. If one was attacked by several NPC's it was just a matter of jumping into the melee and pulling off as much of the agression as possible. We rested together, protected by Agirra's totems, then attacked when both were at full strength again.

Was this correct role-playing wise? Agirra can defend her actions through the logic of "greater evil". There is greater evil in the world than the Alliance. The corruption of nature, the destruction of the balance, madness, disease - it isn't all caused by the Alliance. And so for two both on the same quest to save the world from corruption and darkness to cooperate across the predefined lines is a matter of sanity and common sense. Perhaps what can one day heal the schisma and bring true peace?

My WOW playing son, a nightelf in his main character, demanded the name of the traitor, to track him down and kill him. Agirra's vision of world peace through cooperation may be long in coming true.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Girl teams

Norwegian girl team for Cyberathlete Professional League: Team "Fainted" - From

"The boys used to laugh at us" is the headline in the article in Dagbladet. According to Tore Vesterby boys didn't just laugh at female professional counterstrike players. In Dundee he described some of the behaviour a Danish team had to put up with, and the verbal abuse was quite significant. His master's thesis is called "speak softly and carry a big gun" (pdf) - sadly useful and familiar advice for women in all contexts.

Day 4 - resignation

The exhileration had left the police force as I visited and signed the statement they needed to continue to press charges. Monday was marked by progress, Tuesday they still hoped to find the missing things, today we all resigned.

He must have had an accomplice, one with a car. Nobody said so, but I fear the accomplice has my computer, the cellphone and the camera.

The department is ordering a new laptop. Nobody can stand to work with me while I am grieving in public, showing up red-eyed to meetings and whimpering every time somebody says the word "computer". And the dean claims he's losing 3000 n kr a day while I am inoperational due to computer-amputation. Getting a new one and getting me working again is cheaper than to wait for somebody to hand over the old one, in his opinion.

So, now I'll leave this subject alone until there is some real news. Other than the news that he probably stole a mini-disc player as well. One is missing, and it was last seen right next to the window he left through. Fun fun fun. At least he didn't see the other expensive music equipment under the sheets and towels left scattered since the last slumber party. And thief-accomplice, if you read this: NO, it's not there any more.

Day 4 - upset community

It does not take a lot of criminals to upset a small community. One busy thief is quite enough, and this one has been working hard.

First we discovered was that he has been moving bikes around. Volda is having a bike shuffle - he has stole bikes, used them for a short distance, left them behind and moved to something else. Just by where the police found the computer from the boat, he stole a scooter - beating it up severely in order to start it without the key.

With a scooter his range expanded, and it would be possible for him to move more stuff quicker, like a load of wine boxes and fishing poles way up into the hillside. The scooter was found, still running, in another garden as the house owner returned Monday morning. The owner was the daughter of a colleague, a girl who used to be in the same class as my son.

In a small place everything somehow interlinks, what happens to one happens to a whole group of people, and a series of events like this involves not just neighbourhoods, but the whole little town. And as the police officers chasing him are the brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, husbands, fathers, mothers and in other ways related to the people who are the victims, an event like this does not become impersonal or dismissed. My colleague felt that he was dismissed over the scooter, but Monday the officers had been called out the night before to catch the guy, and was running like crazy to find all he had displaced. Volda has a significant amount of gardens for them to search through. And while I can understand my colleague's feeling that the banged up smashed violated scooter had deserved more attention, I can't be angry with the police that it wasn't so high priority. I would, of course, have felt differently if it was my computer they appeared to ignore.

This is a frustrating, unpleasant experience. But it is also a very interesting one, one which shows me new sides of the community and human interaction. See, see all the pain one "griefer" can bring? And there I got to relate this to games as well!

Day 4 - me, the cyborg

It's all the little things. I didn't have any large stuff which I can't find copies of on the laptop, I think, but there was a lot of small stuff. When I try to work, every five minutes I think: I had something about that - I had a draft for that - I had downloaded an article... and it's on the laptop. Through the day I get constantly reminded of the fact that it isn't here. Normally work is my way to forget unpleasant things, or gaming. Now, even playing WOW, I realise that I have learned all the backbone stuff on the laptop, and the big computer, while having a faster connection and more general OOMPH, just isn't the same thing. And I find myself reaching for the wrong key, and I remember it's not the laptop, and...

The prothesis metaphor isn't just an image. I am a Cyborg.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Black Company as a game

In Melbourne in 2003, the creators of the game Dragon Realms, which was the main example for my thesis, told me that the "Black Company" books by Glen Cook was an important inspiration. When I read the books I saw what they meant: dystopic, gritty books filled with fantasy, heorics and despair, as well as personalities and hope.

Now more than my heroes, the DR immortals, have seen that the Black Company could be a good source for inspiration for gaming, and there is a Black Company Campaign setting. You can be your own Dungeon Master, and immerse yourself in the wicked world of The Lady. Enjoy!

Day 3 - morning

It's been raining all night. The newspapers were full of descriptions of what had been going on this weekend. A lot of the what he had stolen has been found. My son had even passed one of his stashes Saturday night, but as it was boxes of wine he and his friends thought it was somebody planning a party in the area and thought nothing more of it. As I called the police this morning to ask if the PC the newspapers mentioned was mine, I told them the boys had passed the stuff. They wanted to know if they had seen somebody nearby, particularly a car. The thief must have had an accomplice in Volda, somebody to help him move that much that far. He couldn't do that on a stolen bike.

The found lap-top was from the cabincruiser he had stolen. My things are still out there, somewhere, hidden in a hurry in a garden, not even the thief knows where. And I keep thinking about things I need to do, then I remember: no, I need my laptop for that, and then I am right back in that mental loop.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Stolen computer day 2

The exitement! I can barely stand it!
OK, updates:
First, we discovered that a cellphone was missing as well, but I have already mentioned that. Then the police rang our doorbell last night returning a bicycle (belonging to a friend of my son) they had retrieved while chasing the thief. Somebody had been seen in the area, running through the gardens, finally stealing a bicycle. Seems like all the police officers in Volda were there last evening, and they were very happy to have hunted him down.

This morning they had no evidence yet that this was the guy. But they had the boat he had arrived in, and it was empty of equipment: television, computer, GPS - lots of different electronic goodies. So he had to have a stash somewhere. I went down after lunch to report the break-in and the stolen stuff, with what documentation I could find. All the police were out looking for the loot, they had searched through our garden and the outhouses of the empty house below ours, but one of the officers in charge came back while we were there, to take my report.

As we were doing that, the phone rang, and the officer had to take it, as he was the one in charge and everybody else were out. The thief had then just confessed to breaking into our house as well. And what was even better, they may know where he stashed it! So now I am optimistic again, after a somewhat gloomy morning. I am just hoping it is somewhere dry. I feel the electronic pain, like it was my own prothesis he had stolen, a slice of my brain, the third eye.

So I didn't finish the formal registration of the break-in, just gave them what information I had to help recognising the items we are missing. I will be back later, when they are done treasure hunting in the hillsides and gardens of Volda, to make certain the formalities of the case are correct.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Stolen computer

I am a computer and a camera short today, but have a bike too much.

Somebody left a bike by the garage, went into the garden at the back, climbed in the window in a bedroom, went into the downstairs livingroom, stole my lap-top and digital camera, and left through the living-room window. It happened between 2 and 4 am tonight.

The lap-top was a tundra, bought this winter, the camera a sony cybershot, a gift from a close friend. Both were full of material that is irreplacable, if not of life-and-death importance, and extremely important for my work.

There was no force used, the thefth was most of all marked by coincidence. I hardly ever use the lap-top downstairs, but I did last night. I also left the camera next to it, planning to work more this morning.

I am, of course, distraught. I have called the police, they will show up and fetch the bike. The chance of getting the computer back is small. I don't expect ever to see the camera again. But the computer is of an unusual brand. If somebody tries to sell a tundra in the area around Volda, or suddenly have one, if they have no papers, let the police know about it. There are not that many of them about, I'd think.

It is rather ironic, I have carried the computer with me all over Europe and the US, same with the camera, and it gets stolen in the downstairs living room. Time to become paranoid also when home, I guess.

Friday, August 12, 2005

No, not hopping

Some of you may have noticed that the blog isn't exactly hopping with activity. Well, neither am I. Third week of being sick, at the end of a cure with antibiotics, and getting worse again. Back at work, but with two precious vacation weeks sacrificed to this bug which will not let go, and I am more exhausted than when it all started.

Please, please goddesses, let August warm up, and let the last pills I am chewing kill what is lodged in my sinuses, clotting my thinking.

Until then, excuse the slowness of things.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Women, computers and games

Women in Games in Dundee is being interesting, exhausting and frustrating, exactly the way a good conference should be. There is a very strong wireless network in the conference area but no way to connect to it, so no chance to blog until this morning, when I have treated myself to some hours of connectedness from the hotel. Dundee is a pretty little town, Scottish in ways I thought only belonged to television series made by BBC, but the hotel is very modern and comfortable. My sore throath was sufficiently healed by Monday that I could speak, but Tuesday I collapsed in the afternoon and just went back to rest. Travel, stress, alchohol and a lack of sleep may not be the perfect medicine.

The conference itself is the kind of eclectic and frustrating mix I have come to expect of media conferences, whether it's "new" or "old" media. You have your sharp analysts, your dedicated students, your artists with no clue but looking for a venue, your powerful professionals, your prestigous names whose mere presence is enough, and the village idiot. Who, of course, in this case is me, so stop guessing right away.

A conference with no tradition and no well-developed discipline behind it will always have moments of "Ooops, am I in the right place?" In this case what is painfully obvious is that Games is still a new "thing". It's easy to know what a book is and means, but a game? Is it a game if it's made on the computer and you can play with it, but it has none of the features of a classically defined game but the limited arena - which, frankly, is unavoidable once you use a computer. While pretty unlimited in some ways, the computer is an arena seperate from the flesh world and can be seen as a playspace in its own right. But it is not automatically a game.

So, I have a bookful of notes, and a couple of interesting business cards, and some nice people I want to meet again, and still half a day of conference to go. Tonight I will be sleeping in Aberdeen, to be close to the airport in the morning, and tomorrow I am home, and it's been real, and fun.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Dundee next

Today I am off to Bergen, to prepare for the Women in Games conference with Hilde. I am enthusiastic about the paper, but sadly not yet over the cold that has been taking its toll this summer. But yesterday I finally went to a doctor. He listened to my nonexisting voice, did some of the magic things doctors do to see if you're sick, and wrote a prescription of antibiotics. So by Monday, when our presentation is to be, I expect modern medisine to have worked its wonders. But I think I will have to leave to Hilde to do most of the red wine tasting though - only a little, for my health...