Monday, February 28, 2005

Winter picnic

picnic, originally uploaded by Rotill.

They had dinner over the open fire, the children were skiing and the sun was still shedding skant warmth on their fun. But when it set, two minutes later, the kicked snow over the wood and left, and in a minute their were inside after a day picknicking on the field, right outside out kitchen window.

Understanding understanding

Did I mention how much I love libraries? There is nothing I want more than my personal librarian, complete with a decent budget, good storage and reading space, and a mission to gather information. One of the few Norwegian science fiction book-series, which was also a radio show way back when, was about librarians, a ship that sailed among the stars, gathering knowledge.

Today's ode is caused by a visit to the library today. I tend to forget about it when I am not researching a particular topic. I have the books I need from day to day in my office, and I like that. But today I wanted to pursue the issue of understanding, the connection between reading, writing, the media and the way we think and learn. And our library has that literature. While I normally don't have much to do with the teacher's education part of the college, standing in front of the shelves I realised that there, right there, was where we could see the advantages of the wide range of subjects taught in Volda. Because the books were there, the titles that appeared obscure only a few months ago, at my ned, they appear - in the library.

Rethinking writing, Page to Screen, Learning in virtual environments, The knowledge web, What video games have to teach us, Interaction of media, Cognition and learning and last, not exactly related, but irresistible as my hand passed it on the way elsewhere: Rules of Play.

I haven't had time to read them yet, but I am working on an article on new media, weblogs and literacy. I am pretty updated on new media and weblogs. I just need a little more input on the literacy side of it. When I am, you will all know about it, and I promise to share any particularly juicy bits in the stack I have next to me on the couch. Right in the spot where the cat likes to sleep, actually, so she sleeps, annoyed, a little further up, by the cookbooks. Anybody got a good link or a suggestion? On the literacy part - not the cat and cookbook part...

Friday, February 25, 2005

Game Conference in Bergen

By way of Jill, I found that Rune Klevjer and the people at the information and media department, University of Bergen, are planning a game conference in Bergen in October.

And I just submitted my requests for funding this fall! Oh well, I ought to be able to make a conference in Bergen - at least if I don't get to spend the autumn in New York, as I am hoping for.

Things I want to understand

Occasionally, you see sensational headlines claiming that playing games on the computer increases productivity. I have, however, always problems with tracking down the actual sources of such claims, so I never see anything but tantalising bits indicating that the brain is stimulated in interesting ways by reading computer mediated texts.

But from personal experience, I find that playing certain games helps me to change from one mode of working and thinking to another. It is for instance an important part of making the switch from administration to reading or writing scholarly material. Playing adventure games puts me into an analytical mode which resonates with the problem-solving structure of many of these games. First and second person shooters have a limited hold on me, but in a way they lead me the other way, from the analytical mode of research and writing, to the problemsolving mode of administration. Get the crooks lined up, figure out how to finish them up and get the job done - that pretty much sounds like administrative work to me...

On this background I am frustrated with the kind of knowledge I don't have, and the kind of research I don't find. What I would like to know is how different people react to deifferent media when they want to be expressive. I have all kinds of rituals. Some are like the rituals of athletes, who have to have two odd socks on for the important matches. My slight obsession with pens comes in that category. In order to write something clever, I think I need a pen that meets certain criteria. But other rituals are important parts of making the brain work differently, like when I outline an article in different colours on a large piece of paper, or when I write its bits and pieces on stickies to move tham around.

Meditation touches on this, as it is a conscious effort to put the brain into a particular mode. It is this mode-change I would like to find some literature describing: preferably in the way writing and reading and playing online primes the brain for certain tasks. I feel this effect on myself, but I don't know if it is just that I have conditioned myself to react in a certain manner to certain stimuli (administration + break with games = research time) or if the brain actually slips into different working modes. Or if it will ever be possible to figure this out.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Dreams of two weeks

I have two weeks - 75 hours - of overtime to spend, and I have no idea how to do it. It's just built up since before Christmas: exams, semester planning and administrating, obscenely packed workload in January and February- it adds up. And this is the time when I have felt so exhausted I haven't really managed to do all the work I should do. And I have still been doing work I couldn't write hours for, because I was doing it for others than the college.

Two weeks. And no, getting paid extra isn't an option at this college - it's why we have such flexible hours. Right.

I can't decide what would freak the department out more, if I said: I am taking two weeks off, right now, or: I am going to be away one day every week until May. Most likely I'll just do nothing, and once in a while just dream about what I could do with an extra two weeks added to my vacation, while more overtime heaps up. Mmmmmm....

I think I want to go back to Alhambra, and then follow the Spanish coast to Portugal. Oh yes, I wish.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Media students and natural sciences

For norwegian media students out there: The Norwegian board of research would like applications for journalistic/information projects concerned with the natural sciences. The board of Research will finance good projects, and the deadline for applying is 1st of March 2005.

Forskingsrådet vil ha søknader fra studentprosjekter på journalistikk, informasjon og medieutdanningene i Norge. Prosjektene skal være rettet mot naturvitenskapelig forskning, og formidlingen av denne i media. Eksempler på relevante søknader er søknad om økonomisk støtte og kontakter som gjør det mulig å reise til ulike norske forskningssentra i utlandet for å skrive artikler om aktiviteten, eller semesteroppgaver som studerer dekningen av naturvitenskapelig forskning i Norske media.

Mer informasjon om dette får dere på forskningsrådets sider. Sekretær for programstyret er Torstein Pedersen. Søknadsfristen er 1 mars. Neste møte i programstyret og behandlingen av søknadene er 11 april 2005.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Protect the chocolate!

Unless the chocolate production turns environment friendly and ecological very quickly, in five years we will face a serious chocolate crisis, according to Fair trade chocolate is already grown according to the principles which will protect the environment while protecting the cocoa bean bushes from diseases and insects which are now like a plague in the plantations. Pesticides has to be used to a so large extent that it may be cheaper to just return to the natural way for cocoa beans: let them grow in the shade of tall trees populated with birds and small animals.

This was very serious news. Of course, I think about stockpiling chocolate, but experience has taught me I just can't have chocolate in the house for any extent of time, much less five years.

Kiss of the elephant

The last 9 days I have had a visitor. A woman I care very much for has been here to teach organisational communication, living in the house, the guest room serving its purpose. Esther Ewing of the Change Alliance has had the first year information students firmly in hand, talking about assumptions, personality, communication and organisations, teaching them the noble art of naming elephants.

I have enjoyed the visit very much, although I do wish Esther would have let me have more personal time with my kitchen. I respect and appreciate a guest's need to help out, but I also enjoy finding my kitchen implements where I normally keep them.

And I have enjoyed watching my own stubbornness. Esther has been teaching the students to examine their own communication pattern. It's a tough subject and an even harder task, but she's been able to get the students interested and committed to it. I respect and appreciate that. At the same time I was gritting my teeth every time she repeated her main message and all-week litany: "check your assumptions." To a constantly critical academic like me, checking your assumptions is not something something you can learn in a week of listening to a consultant. (Ooohh, the assumptions I am making about consultants vs academics right there! I'll tell you why I suspect the argument holds up though. Transparency is the academic way, after all.)

Checking the assumptions in scholarship and research is the matter of sound methodology, substantial science theory work, and a high level of reflexivity. There are people who spend lifetimes creating systems for checking academic assumptions (Derrida, anybody? Bourdieu? Stein Rokkan? Ivar Åsen?). Paradigms shift when assumptions are checked.

I have been watching her teach this topic, which I assumed has to be complicated, involve years of hard study and rigorous discipline, in a few hours. Oh, I itched to deconstruct her lessons, to show her the cultural differences between the world she works and lives in and the one the students will face - but what would it change? The most valuable lesson may be to see this gap for themselves, checking the assumptions of their lessons. Perhaps I should take a lesson from the way she blithely sat the curriculum aside to focus on only a few aspect of organisational communication. Perhaps I should give myself the American KISS, and organize my lectures accordingly. Keep It Simple, Stupid.

But then again, if the students only get 60% of what I say anyway, I would prefer those 60% to be packed with information and challenging statements. And so, with an inner resigned grin, I see my own stubbornness mentally compose the next lecture. Sorry boys and girls, but once more I will make you suffer and work for your 60% of comprehension.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Ragnarok will see no blogs

Softly the darkness spreads. It is a word in the heart of the wise, casting its shadow on their wisdom, it is a murmur in the ear of the greedy, turning their eye to the freedom. The darkness touches the fingers of the free, the ideas of the wild, and reaches for the links, coveting their power.

And so the darkness touches the links, and the darkness tastes their power, and the darkness broods and breeds in its desire. The dragon of the night rises, corporations tangled in its wings. It leaves the links powerless, the search-engines crippled, and the readers lost as the rankings swell like rivers and the paths of cyberspace are flooded.

The name of the darkness is marketing economy, and all it touches turns into tinned, cold meat. And so the voice which spoke unbidden, the fingers that wrote unchecked, the words that filled the hidden corners and built the labyrinths of mystery will be harnessed and set to work. While in this harness the bent line will straighten out, the hedges of opinions will wither, the twists and turns of the mind will freeze in unsurprising patterns, and that which was desired will slip out of the darkness. Like a pebble it will lie hidden among the common rocks of the riverbed while the mountain of dead meat tries to take on its name, but like a seed it will break through with the spam as fertiliser.

And I see a new voice and a new beauty rise, but never in the shape usurped by the dead.


Another article in the promotional blogging discussion. After reading this, I know what I want. I want a tag which will let me link without giving the site I link to google rank. The problem for me, you see, is that even being critical of a certain company which I have already mentioned far too much, I give it rank. Would it be an idea to furl it, and then link to the furled page? Does anybody have another idea?

Friday, February 18, 2005

I want to take the opportunity to congratulate Jill with her new domain, About time, Jill!

She is moving her blog and I guess also the archives to the new domain, and so I guess my frequent links to her will suffer link-rot, abandoned in my archives. I'll see what I can do about that if it becomes an issues - I guess some old-fashioned handcrafted search and replace will fix it - one of those days of nothing else to do, when the cold weather has spread to normally extremely warm places.

The transition has not been flawless though, so us poor IE users only get to read the frist 80-90% of her lines. Hopefully Jill soon snaps into full geek mode and shares those tantalising endings with us all.

The ethics of the subject

One of the more aggressive literary discussions in Norway at the moment has been started by a former friend of the young female writer Hanne Ørstavik from Ørsta (right next to Volda). Solveig Østrem is a PhD student and works at Vestfold College. In an article in the journal Samtiden she attacks her former friend for using too many details from their common past, and not in a manner particularly flattering for Østrem. (articles and links in Norwegian)

At first reading, this looks like two women who at one point were extremely close, then they hurt each other deeply. But who's the one who is abusive here?

Hanne Ørstavik uses glimpses of the former friendship to give her characters flesh and bone. Names, mannerisms, habits get described in different contexts in several of her books, and Solveig Østrem feels that they are consistently used negatively. So what Solveig Østrem does is call her friend, and then quote the obviously painfully passionate response in her article - a private telephone conversation between two friends quoted publicly with the full name of the participants. What Solveig Østrem does not quote is her own words - she says she asked a reasonable question in what she considers a reasonable tone of voice. She never quotes the other responses of Ørstavik to these questions, only the angry outburst at the end. Østrem also does not tell us if she ever told Hanne Ørstavik that she would use the conversation in an article in a journal.

Literary history is full of authors who with more or less discretion use real people as their models, and of their models attacking them for this. Østrem didn't have to use the painful scene with the rather nasty quote in order to illustrate her point and write her semi-scholarly article. She would have written a better and stronger article by doing a bit of research into the topic through literature and other discussions. What that quote and this angle gets her though, is attention.

Østrem's article offers a great and juicy piece of gossip. It tastes of love betrayed, of a friendship between girls which is more than a friendship (she quotes letters from Ørstavik, picking passages which makes them sound like love-letters), and then heartbreak as a man comes between them. This is the ancient story of how women drift apart when a man comes into the life of one, one moving on, the other dwelling on the pain and hurt, carrying the bitterness with her to let it colour her life. What a scene for Solveig Østrem, what drama: desired by a creative and well-known artist, revenge through literature, family values being criticised through endless rewrites (marriage, the birth of three children - Østrem writes that her breasts are no longer big as Ørstavik describes them, not after breastfeeding three children), and more than a hint of Ørstavik's obsession with what was between them.

With a few lines Østrem positions herself as the desired piece of the drama, but at the same time innocent of it (where are the words Østrem spoke to Ørstavik at this time? How did the cards and letters she wrote sound? Did she share a warmth which she then withdrew, closing Øsstavik out of her life?) She claims to have thought theirs was a warm, but innocent friendship, she thought they understood each other, she thought what happened was just that they drifted apart as Ørstavik got new interests, and she repeats this in articles and interviews, calm, rational, composed, quite impressive for a woman who feels she has been used.

Ørstavik says nothing.

I have to admit, I don't like Hanne Ørstavik's books. They are too heavy, dwelling too much on dysfunctional relationships and dark drama, too impenetrable in the language, too emotional in their topics. Give me a good fantasy and a heroine that saves the world. There are enough dysfunctional relationships, I don't need to read about them on the time when I want to rest and recuperate. But I don't like Solveig Østrem's article either, and the reason is that Østrem does the same thing that she claims Hanne Ørstavik does, but she does it with a full name, she points the finger, she identifies the character she paints, she publishes private letters, she quotes private conversations without making the slightest attempt at hiding the identity of the other.

I don't know what really happened between Solveig Østrem and Hanne Ørstavik. My guess is, they don't know, either. For Ørstavik this relationship (probably like many other life experiences) has given voice and shape to a topic she struggles with in book after book. For Østrem it has sparked an interest - not in literature, but in the ethics of the writers. Ørstavik does however still put some kind of filter between her life and the reader. Østrem uses no such filter, she identifies herself as the source of this recurring theme in another woman's writing.

And all I can see is two women who once thought they loved each other, both in pain and angry. Such a sad story. Perhaps Hanne Ørstavik writes a book about it soon. I'd buy that one.

(For Norwegian readers, more on Hjorten's blog, or in the links to the debate through Samtiden.)

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Things I have learned

The last few days I have spent working on the reorganisation of Volda College. I am part of a group of six who have as our mission to suggest a new way to organise the the faculty and administrative staff. Part of the project was a seminar for everybody at the college, with working groups discussing a set of ideal models for organisation, and how these would work with the changes in the environments and the legislation for higher education.

In the course of the last few days I have learned some not exactly to-the-point things. But they are the things I remember.
    A group of professors from European and American Universities were given a random collection of Norwegian Ph D dissertations, and were asked to assess them. They all reported back that the dissertations were among the top 25% they had ever read.
    The Nordic professors given the same set reported that the dissertations were pretty average.
    Patricia McKillip is a very interesting fantasy writer.
    The College has a "house band" consisting of quite good pop/jazz musicians.
    Seal fat oil is better than cod liver oil for your joints.

I told you the things I remember were not to the point. But it's what's stuck and remembered right now.

Monday, February 14, 2005

A list of Fallacious Arguments

I have been silent in all aspects for several days now, my throath so sore I had to cancel and postpone lectures, and listen instead of talk. Exhausting stuff, listening. This has lead to such a backlog of unsaid things that I will be busy all week and well into the next to get it all said.

Until then, this blog will be slow, but to entertain yourself you can brush up argumentation techniques with the help of A List of Fallacious Arguments by Don Lindsay. List found by way of, which I also recommend highly for random new links - and less random stuff too (organised by tags).

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Voice lost

Will be back when it's been found.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Informasjon og journalistikk

Til ære for debatten her i det siste, to linker til Aftenposten: en tidligere student som er lykkelig med sitt valg som informasjonsarbeider i Burson-Marsteller, og en som ble fornøyd med sitt valg selv om han ikke kom inn på informasjonsutdanninga og endte opp med fjernsynsjournalistikk.

(For English readers: This post contains links to interviews with two former students from Volda College. They are nice interviews in one of Norway's largest papers, show our former students in good jobs out there, and draw a flattering picture of the College - one we tend to forget about in the daily struggle to get all the details of our complex studies to work.)

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Dreams of world dominance...

One of the things the first information students on the two year information study and I managed to get through the department board back in the stoneage when I started working in Volda was that the public information students would have half a semester of journalism as part of the (then) two-year study. This was a victory over a set of not-so-pleasant prejudices which were quite strong among journalists. These were the days when journalists working for internal newspapers or in information offices had to leave the journalist union, and the faculty of Volda College was daring and radical to establish public information on a parallel track to the famous and established journalism study.

Now it seems like the tides have turned, and quite surprisingly so. I heard the first hints of this from some of the faculty, in offhand quotes from study board meetings (mostly students, some staff on those meetings). It seems like the journalist students want more contact with the information students. I know that despite working here for a very long time I don't really have much to do with the journalists, but that made my lack of journalism-student-contact blatantly obvious: I never saw it coming!

And then I find this delicious little discussion in the comments of the blog of a journalist student. It's all in Norwegian, but part of what they say is how unfair it is that the information students get to sit in on the journalism lectures, while the journalists don't get to go to the public information lectures.


However, one of the changes we have recently made is to open up a course for everybody with the right combination of subjects. This means that if journalism students would like a course in information, they can enroll to inf211.

Clever, hmm?

Friday, February 04, 2005

Games, griefers and blogs

The recent Satin Pajama Awards at A Fistful of Euroes became interesting as an example of game dynamics. As soon as there was a contest with participants, audience, supporters and a ranking list, a fairly level-headed and serious-minded blog turned into a gaming site in an instant.

What developed was strategies in order either to influence your audience to win. Some used promises like le petite anglais who promised to pose in a satin pajama if she won, some played the nationalism card, always ready to be activated in Europe, while others tried to be nice guys and make people go vote for others (my strategy was linking - I linked twice, once when I saw I was in the competition, and then, cunningly, as I saw I was nr 2 and it was the last chance for people to vote.)

As in all other games I have so far played, on- and off-line, of course we got both cheaters and griefers. The cheaters were still playing the game. I am basically too lazy to go from machine to machine at the college, and vote over and over again, but that's the kind of cheating which was more or less expected: that if you had access to more than one machine, you would vote more than once. This is taking advantage of loopholes in the rules in a way which does not really exploit the system unfairly, as the same exploits or cheats are available to everybody.

When the competition got ugly and national between two blogs, some of the players wanted more influence than the average participator, and developed exploits which took some extra effort. OK, I would have been able to clear the cookies from the computer and vote over and over again, but I really don't have the time, so that's one resource not available to all who would like to vote. At this point it's still exploitation or cheating, it's not yet griefing. The grief-play appears in the comments at two different blogs, at The Glory of Carniola and a fistful of euros.

One voter chose to make an issue of the exploits everybody knew of and had access to. This caused considerable grief, enough that Michael Manske of tried to withdraw from the competition in order to make certain Petite Anglaise won, and also made him close his blog for comments to avoid a flame war. At AFOE (a fistful of euroes) it caused enough grief that they are considerign changing the rules for the next award.

This is typical of griefplay. It causes personal distress in people who try to play the game fairly, and it causes rule changes, frequently at the code-level, to make the griefing impossible. It is also typical that the grief player does not consider his or her actions to be griefing. To them it is just one more exploit, and everybody can do it if they like.

The problem with grief play is that griefers only respect hard-coded rules, and barely that. If griefers can hack the code to get an advantage, they do that. If it is possible, it's permitted, is their rule. Griefers are the reason for umpires. They are the ones who will consider breaking noses and kneecaps a fair way to beat the competition at soccer. Everybody who plays some kind of game know one of these. They do however rarely know themselves.

Consider however that griefing is also relative to the people who are being ruffled. If they are a little sensitive to certain types of criticism, it will not take much to define exploting the game as grief play. And in that case the griefer doesn't need to break a single kneecap before causing distress.

I don't consider these different types of game behaviour to be limited to online games, but it is amusing to observe it so clearly online. Griefplay may be more common online, as in real life griefers tend to become excluded from playing quickly. The anonymity and larger player base lets griefers play their own version of the games with less danger of censorship. I suspect that griefplay is closely related to the flamewars particularly common on discussion sites.

Hmm, need to read up on that.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Credibility, protection and blogging journalists

The trend from Always On is of course not the only example of blogs and commercial publications merging. has had a blog since 2003, the Guardian has several different blogs, BBC made "reporter's logs" in 2003, to cover the war in Iraq and later the election in USA, while The crippled monkey covers news coverage of disabled people(!). CNN had several blogs for the election. Some, like Chicago Tribune, make blogs that serve as a personal column, while the Norwegian paper VG has a techno-gadget-blog reporting on things for nerds.

With the many mixed genres of blogs appearing not just around but also within the established media, it's no wonder journalists and teachers have started worrying about the ethics of blogging, the distinction between blogs and established news media, the question of credibility, the integrity of bloggers, of blogging journalists, of readers, the role of journalists in a new media world... the list is long. And while blogs criticise the established media, the journalists strike back. And this happens through powerful media such as in this interesting article questioning the intent and integrity of the writers behind the blog Power Line, the blog of the year 2004 in Time Magazine.

Norwegian journalists have discovered blogs too., the Norwegian magasine for journalists, writes about VG-nett's new blog Teknoisme. This leads to an intense discussion at the Norwegian yahoo group normedia (moderated, restricted access and in Norwegian) discusses issues for people working in the media in Norway. In the end of January 2005 one of their issues was journalism, blogging and the role of the journalist.

In Norway the issue isn't so much journalists and papers being criticised by bloggers, as journalists criticising their own work in blogs. The need to distinguish between the private opinion and the professional reporting is emphasized, but the line is blurred as blogs are incorporated into the established media. A Norwegian journalists has written irrevelantly of the Norwegian Queen in his blog, and the Press profession's board (PFU) rises the question: should blogs be considered subject to the same rules and ethics and the established news media?

The discussion touches on an important issue, the matter of credibility. Blogs operate on a different economy from other media. In my opinion this changes the matter of credibility. Journalists relate on the credibility of the paper. PFU is part of the establishment that gives credibility to the established press, and when journalists write on their own time and risk, they should be prepared to face the consequences without the benefit of editors, proofreaders and the newsdesk.

A journalist is trusted or not depending on how reliable the paper/station she works for is considered to be. Only special journalists have a position in the consciousness of the readers which gives them credibility of their own - for good or bad. A blogger relies on her personal credibility, which is often connected to the professional status. This leaves a blogger a lot more vulnerable to criticism, and the public attention to the individual can be ruthless - as the Norwegian journalist discovered.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

New York Times cares!

At least about correct linking for bloggers. Or is it Aaron Swartz who cares? He has developed a blog-safe link generator for linking to articles from your blog!

I haven't tested it yet, but if this works, all online papers who want to be quoted frequently should get one, or just make sure to have good, reliable permalinks.

The Satin Pajama

Yep, I won best tech blog. And I am struggling not to get (really) obnoxious about it.

Administration trick

Jill's recent posts about being head of the department resonates powerfully with me. It was in 1991 I came to Volda and got a brand new two-year study dropped in my lap, together with the promise of an office and some vague hints about how to find a place to live. The first years 10 minutes of research to write a blog post would have felt like a waste of precious time, as I was patting, kicking and bludgeoning the study into shape.

I did it though.
Then I wrote a book that gave me "tenure" (Norwegian system isn't quite comparable).
Then I came out on top for two scholarships for my Ph D.
Then I turned my back on administration, and immediately lost one very important habit I had gotten in the 7 previous years of administration and teaching. I stopped keeping a to-do journal.

I have a new one now, right in front of me. It contains a list of stupid little things, the things that slip your mind, but are very important to the daily grind. "Send a list of exam dates to the department admin. Reply to the letter from the student administration. Remember: short note on plans for developing the information study for the next meeting." If a task makes it into that book, it gets done, and being able to strike tasks out is very satisfying.

Sometimes I walk into the office and end up staring at the book, aware there's something I need to write into it, but I just can't remember what it is. Normally what ever that was comes back to bite later, so I remember, eventually.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Last chance to vote

At the Satin Pajama Award. It is the first time I have been running for any of these things, although I know blogonblog was nominated once - sadly after we had slowed down the activity towards zero.

So what ever happens before they close for voting, I am delighted to have been both nominated and voted for, but if ou really want to make my day, grab 10 different IP adresses and go vote for me.

And we all know such nominations and awards are weird anyway. Although the Satin Pajama is interesting - because it has nominated more than the usual quota of female bloggers. Pathetic, isn't it, that I feel this when there are whole categories which (apparently) are only populated by males?