Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Present, present, present!

I am looking through the ICA website with the links to the papers presented, and something is dawning on me, slow, naive Norwegian that I am.

Most people regularly participate in and present more than one paper (three seems to be a common number).
People cooperate in order to have their names up in as many papers as possible, or
people cooperate in order to give their advicees a chance to present as many papers as possible.
It is more important to have a paper presented than to actually engage in debate and discussions.

What do you get from this? A conference that is packed with presentations and has no room for discussions during, after or between presentations, has no common break-times for hooking up with those unknown-to-you special contacts, and has no organised space for socialising. And yes, I know, it would be impossible in conferences at this size. And they are this size because everybody needs to be at and present at this conference, or else.

It makes perfect sense, really.

I am ever more nostalgic for the Nordic media conferences, although I miss it again, this time for the Women in Games in Dundee.

No escape

I have now three times this morning tried to open my email in order to search for the log-in at the ICA webpage. Each time there has been some email concerning a matter of extreme urgency which has distracted me and made me forget what I was looking for. This really isn't a good start of the day.


I did not get bored much, but I did have occasional moments when taking pictures of the chandeliers was more interesting than paying attention to the speakers.

Escaping to the area with wi-fi was not all that thrilling either, as it was packed, noisy and came with sudden demands to buy drinks, if you managed to find a seat.

But the weather was good, and as always, walking on Manhattan brings witness to human whimsy and humour.

Challenges in Computer Game Research and Theory

Friday at the ICA

James D. Ivory started the session with a paper on “Exploring the role of Technological Advancement on Video Game Effects.” It contained the anticipated issues about effects of games, and followed through without any shocking news. Sean Zehnder did not exactly change the scale of the expected either, with his “Methodological challenges and rewards for using eye tracking technologies for computer game research.” This paper was a fairly thorough presentation of what you can do to see where a player is looking and focusing through cameras and infrared light, a much less intrusive technology than the eye-tracking technology of the early media studies. At large discomfort to several victims, media researchers in the 50ties and 60ies discovered that the human (western) eye moves in a shape similar to a “Z” when scanning a page, and design has considered this ever since. After Zehnder’s paper it is pretty obvious that the discomfort of the next generation of human guinea-pigs will be much reduced, while researchers figure out the ultimate eye-movement pattern for computer games.

The fun in this panel started with Francis F. Steen’s paper “Digital Dystopia: Rise and fall of the Sims Online.” Steen had a clear and impressive analysis of why the enforced peaceful society does not always lead to utopia, and revealed the wicked nature behind the mild academic in his descriptions of how locking up two sims in a room they could not escape would eventually lead to disaster and/or tragedy. The major flaw of Sims Online according to Steen was how the game denied the players any creative outlets but crime. And so, as the game had been created to make griefing impossible, to actually manage grief-play became a major challenge, and as such the sign of a really skilled player. He also pointed out that the game’s only permitted advancement method was horribly boring, and after you had struggled to advancee your own character to the point that you could get a house and your own stuff in the game, your best way of liberating your character from drudgery was through taking advantage of the other players’ need to advance, and make money off their character’s practice sessions.

This was a rich and sharply critical paper, and also well researched, delivered by somebody who obviously had taken the time to really play and understand the game, and as such was, to be frank, a highlight of the Friday sessions. But it was perhaps a little miscast in the methodology session, as it discussed the Sims Online rather than the methodology of studying it.

John L. Sherry’s paper on “Measuring Media Flow” was more methodology, as he spoke of the challenge of measuring flow. Sherry was looking for a way to measure the direct experience, as he does not believe in using narratives or interviews after the event. He did not offer any solutions, the paper was exploratory, which is nice as it leaves open ends while giving suggestions.

I still did not find his approach useful, as I don’t think flow is something which can be measured without the player’s own assessment of the experience as something particularly involving and gripping, while Sherry specifically wanted to avoid that kind of narratives, dismissing the individuals' own assessment of their experience. The behaviour we see in people involved in flow can as easily be seen in people struggling in frustration with complex tasks, or even be caused by aggression or by being deeply involved in competition, neither of which necessarily cause the experience of flow. This means that measuring and studying behaviour does not give us a good tool to explore this, while interviews and narratives does – which is what Sherry wants to avoid. A neat little dilemma there, and I am not holding my breath expecting it to be solved any time soon.

And now a little personal gripe about the use of “flow”. It comes up frequently in American game research, and tends to be treated as if it is a natural state the players can slip into. Particularly while discussing gender-related flow experiences, it seems as if researchers think flow is genetic and hard coded. It is not. Csikszentmihalyi points out that flow is the result of learned behaviour, and that people need to practice a skill actively in order to achieve it. This means that when women do not experience flow from the same things as men experience it from, this is not mainly because women genetically are different from men, but because women have been taught to master very different skills from men, and also to recognize different challenges. (And that felt good, it’s been annoying me since Friday and I now finally got it off my chest.)

In general the game sessions at ICA so far are not stunning. The research is pretty mainstream media research, perhaps even a little old-fashioned and theoretically thin, applied to a new medium. What is uplifting is that this is a line of game research not heavily pursued by the communities forming around Digra and other European based game-groups. The lack of contact between these two traditions is frustrating, but as quite a few of the younger game researchers are aware of this gap and aware of the other traditions, this promises a diversified future for game research.

Chick Webcam

While I have been at a conference, things have happened in Bergen. This webcam looks straight into the home of some real Oystercatcher chicks!

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Online Games

Next session Friday was home of the memorable quote "Up until this point, game research has been about violence in games." I will not cite the source, out of the journalists creed of protecting those who may be unaware of the consequences of their words, but it is sadly typical of the rest of the computer game issues discussed this day.

The first paper on this panel was Dmitri Williams with "Virtual Cultivation: online worlds, offline perceptions." He was presenting an attempt at using Gerbner's cultivation theory in games. His findings indicated that there is a certain cultivation offect of gaming, same as Gerbner found there was from television. However, the cultivation theory is quite contended in the United States, and so, of course, Williams' presentation was challenged along the same lines.

Personally, I enjoyed the presentation, as it did touch on some of the issues in media effects which I find more relevant than the more direct stimulus-oriented studies presented here.

"Beyond Shooter Games: How game environment, game type, and competitor influence presence, arousal and aggression" with Matthew S. Eastin, Robert Griffiths and Jeffrey Lerch was more along those lines. They explored the concept of "Presence" in computer games. Presence appears to be the degree to which a game will let the player feel he or she is present in the game, and this is, according to Eastin, a higher degree of virtual reality.

What I missed in this paper was an understanding of how "presence" as a concept limits them from finding similar issues in other studies. Several works on games discuss involvement, immersion and personal investment in games, without calling it presence. This leads to the concept being exclusive, rather than inclusive. I found this to be true of all the "presence" papers on this session, and the entire use of the "presence" concept.

And so the two next papers were, to me, flavoured by the same lack of a wider scope when it came to studying games. "Presence Reaction to Video Games: The impact of image quality and skill level" had the redeeming quality of looking at skills and considering that immersion might be a result of what the players actually did, and not just high quality graphics. The third "presence" paper was perhaps the one where the limiting quality of the concept was the most handicapping to the paper, as Ron Tamborini was talking about "The Role of presence in the experience of electronic games", and his main argument was "I have tried to tell you guys that this is important since 2000, and now you get it!" An argument like that is tempting, particularly to those of us who wrote about computer games back in the nineties, and have that feeling every time somebody new discover the virtual wheel, but it isn't really all that flattering when it is accompanied with a touch of ignorance of other studies discussing the same thing, just under a different names. So that was the first lesson of the day on how important it is to look up from the desk, and at least use google!

Fifth presnter on the panel was the ever correct and precise Nick Yee, and compared to the other discussions it was very nice to see a thoroughly researched paper not pretending to say anything about what kind of work other people did or did not do, just giving the facts and drawing some conclusion based on the numbers he had, not just dumping the numbers in the head of the innocent listener without a breakdown and some thoughts about what the results could possibly mean. The topic was "The demographics and derived experiences of users of massively multi-user online graphical environments," and if I download only one paper from this panel, it will be this one.

Teens, Media and online literacy

The presentation which stuck with me from the early morning panel Friday, was Sonia Livingstone's presentation on UK children and their use of the internet, "UK Children go online". It was both a spirited presentation and some really interesting findings. Among other things she could show how many children used the net regularly, where they did it, proving school again to be the great equaliser, and she showed how important social background is in using the net.

The other two papers were interesting, but did not make the same impact. I hardly know what a Teaching assistant is, and so I was unable to absorb the potential impact of their use of technology in teaching. I do appreciate the very thorough work of the two teaching assistants presenting though. And Siho Nam appeared to be in the wrong panel, until I realised the "Critical Media Literacy" means the ability to use media in a conscious and critical manner, not something on critical media theory. At that point it became quite interesting, and I have to admit: involving 250 students in active, critical media use is impressive.

Friday, May 27, 2005

At the 55th annual ICA conference

The buzz in the lobby is deafening. I can imagine it must be quite annoying to the peope who happens to live at the Sheraton and NOT attend the conference. People with lap-tops and badges in red lineyards are all over the place, eagerly greeting old friends or actively networking. And even a shy Norwegian country girl has managed to hook up with somebody I know. Unknown to me, one of the wonderful people I have known since my first year of media studies, Ingunn Hagen, is here, and we were at the same presentation this morning. I hadn't seen her for at least three years before this, and now I haven't seen her since. This conference is big enough that we may go the entire rest of the period without meeting again.

Another surprise was Knut Lundby, looking tall, elegant and official, deeply in discussion with some other official looking distinguished gentlemen. Knut Lundby is one of those people who will greet you at a conference and make you feel noticed and recognized, no matter how busy he is, so that helped to reduce my alienization at ICA.

Then I ran into Alex Halavais, as I hoped I would, and met a couple of his advicees - he obviously enjoyed the role, surrounded by cute little asian girls listening to him seriously and still trying on the irreverence he invites so easily.

But the really fun surprise was meeting Francis F Steen. I have known about this Norwegian who works at UCLA and is interested in Computer games for quite some time. And at one of the panels today, there he was! The conference is on such a tight time schedule, I did not have time to linger and chat with him, but I will try to return to the game panels and catch up again, and if everything fails, I have his card firmly tucked into my wallet now.

The conference is extremely busy. Accustomed as I am to organised lunches, where we actually get time to talk, it is a little frustrating to know I have to drop something to be able to have lunch. Sheraton is also not entirely up to the challenge of 2000 academics loose in the corridors, running from one session to the next (but that is of course a BIG challenge). After some exploration I managed to find my way through the labyrinth from 5th floor and down the stairs to 3rd floor. Supposedly we should use the elevators, but the lines in front of them between 3rd and 5th floor was staggering, and quite enough to make me late to a panel. Add that to the internet access only in the lobby, leaving the lobby PACKED, and the lack of coffee-serving facilities inhouse, well, then you have my main gripes. So, you see, not much, at the logistics side, at least.

The content gripe isn't really a gripe. It is just a confirmation of something I have experienced and had Americans point out before. Scandinavian media research is diversified, open, cross-disciplinary and quite up-to-date on theory and methodology compared to the US. For a conference this size I find that the presenters move within a surprisingly narrow range of methodology and theory. Now it may be that I am just incidentally picking the presentations which are all of a certain type, but I don't think so. I have been listening to teaching and education presentations, game presentations and alternative media presentations, and it is all more or less the same: What do we want to test, what can we do to our human labrats, count the responses and present the findings. Or sometimes the labrats are online, and all we need is to count the work they do anyway.

I guess if I went to the purely theory sessions, I would get a different impression, but still. Where are the discussions inherent in the papers between different views and the meaning of their results? Where is the awareness of the theoretical framework? Where is the cross-diciplinary awareness? After listening to a man who presented as if he had singlehandedly discovered remediation in blogs and called it reframing, without once mentioning either cultural studies, semiotics, intertextuality, reader-response theory, postmodern media theory or even Bolter, Grusin and remediation, I am starting to think that perhaps there's a trend here. It's not only that I experience a certain lack of awareness of what is happening in Europe ("All game studies have up to this point been centered on violence in computer games" is one of those unforgettable quotes from a conference in 2005), but even a certain lack of knowledge about what is happening in the next state.

Still, the USA and this conference is so big, I will be having plenty of new experiences. I set out with a plan to blog live for you, but with the lack of internet access, I will not be able to keep that up. But I expect I will blog some, as the impressions stack up and insist on getting out through the fingers.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

When, where at the ICA

Inspired by Kaye Trammel's post on her paper, and the realisation that I did not have enough information to find her presentation easily, here's my preliminary plans on the offchance that somebody would actually like to hook up with me at the ICA conference in New York this week-end.

Today I will just be dropping in to pick up the conference material and register, not staying for the opening session or for the reception.

Friday I am there for the whole day: Teens and media and online literacy, Online games, possible lunch break in the plenary session, Challenges in Computer Game Research and Theory, Alternative media reframing of the media mainstream, then so many interesting panels are clashing that I may just have to get a cup of coffee and a break, before the Interest group in Game Studies - exploratory meeting.

Saturday I thought I could sleep in until 7 am, but thanks to Kaye and Alex Halavais I will be out of Brooklyn before 7 to catch the early morning Emerging tecnologies lecture. Then there's Blogs and the media emperors/new clothes, possibly doing the lunch during the plenary session thing again, althought this one looks the most interesting to me, Digital libraries and sites of communication and technical practices next, and that's it for Saturday.

Sunday I have very few plans, but the plans I have are early morning and late afternoon: Culture and media - internet use at 8.15, and then no real plans until 5.15 pm; Research methodology for communication and technology.

Monday is fairly filled up all morning: Games and human interaction, The internet - technoactivism and the public sphere, Methodological challenges of computer game research, and that's it for the current plans.

This is however a crowded conference, it is unfamiliar to me, and the only two people I know will be there are Kaye Trammel and Alex Halavais - both great bloggers and nice people - so I can't guarantee I will not change my mind somewhere along the route if something comes up. The blog- and game-topics are pretty safe bets though.

(And in honour of my own complaints about the CCCC abbreviation: ICA stands for International Communication Association, and the full name is right up there next to the acronym on their website. Good communication work there!)

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Towards the Matrix

Monday I accompanied my NYC connection to one of his job things, the presentation of a new development in a company he is representing as a stock broker, Isolagen. Most of it was unfamiliar in the expected way: Men in suits, really good snacks at the reception afterwards, not just academically economic, and language about business that I did not understand.

But some of it was fascinatingly alien, in a oh-my-where-does-science-split-from-fiction manner. Isolagen introduced ACE, their unit for growing living cells, more precisely: growing your skin, in order to reinject it in your body and make you look pretty. It can of course also be used for plastic surgery: wounds, burns and scar treatment, not just to fight the process of aging, but that is not where they see the big money at the moment.

The ACE unit has made it possible for them to go from a process where humans had to transfer the growing cells into increasingly larger containers, into one unit with an automatic feed, that makes it possible to have all the new skin cells needed grown in one box, and not 20 different plastic bottles.

I have to admit that my first thought as I saw the stacked black ACE boxes was The Matrix. I asked their Chairman Frank deLape if he had seen it. He had. They had initially wanted a central feed for all the units! They dropped it due to the risk of contaminating all their little pods though.

I am not scared. The whole thing was so reasonably and logically explained, and it is just skin: your own skin, cultivated and put into your own body, not grown on the back of a mouse or anything. But it was - different indeed.

Heat is on

Did anybody think I am basking in summer temperatures here, as far south as Rome, having cappucinos comfortably on metropolis sidewalks, wearing cute little summer outfits? Relax, I have much better work-weather than that. I spend the days wrapped up in blankets in front of the computer, the outside is a familiar 9 degrees celcius, and the inside is not much better. This morning I hear the heat coming on though. The steam is hissing through the pipes, and I am looking forwards to wearing only one extra sweater while typing today.

Save the music

Warning: strong scene.

By way of Erling :)

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Geography and dreams

We wanted to get back from Manhattan quickly, because it was pouring down and I was still jetlagged. That's why we just jumped on the first subway train in our direction. I was reading Isabel Allende's wonderful version of the Zorro-myth, my NYC connection was contemplating the possibility of making spelt biscotti, when we realised that we didn't know where we were. The train had chosen a different direction from expected, and when we tried to check which train we were on, there were no markings.

Standard procedure for events like that is: get out, get on a train going back, try again. So we did, at first stop.

Walking up to look around didn't really help much, as we did not find the stairs down to the other platform. Asking people outside the subway gave us blank stares and incomprehensible mumbling. Finally we went back in and asked at the office in the subway, as we found the other subway entrance, cleverly tucked away next to a Halal fast food chicken place.

So we got on the first train back to where we thought we needed to be. My NYC connection, by now alert to the fact that we might have messed up a little, asked what train we needed to get to the R-line. The conductor answered - and at the right place we crossed over the platform. Note: crossed OVER the platform. Turned out we should have just crossed the platform. Crossing over lead us back towards where we had just been. We got off quicker this time though, to the other platform easier, and settled down to wait.

Problem was the train that made the longest stop at this station was the maintainance train. Row after row with garbage bins, no help for us. At least not for a while. OK, back to the place where we crossed over, this time simply crossing the platform. Next train in the hopefully appropriate direction.

This lead us above the ground, to views we did not recognize. And at this point my mind decided there was a lesson in this. It often works like that, when I mess around for long enough, I start thinking I am clever.

The NYC metro system is like a hypertext. Or a hypertext is like the metro system. Each link carries you from one point to another. Sometimes the only option you have is going back, sometimes you hit nodes like Union Square or Pacific Street/Atlantic Avenue, and you can go in many different directions, but no matter what, you have to get away from where you are if you want to continue exploring. This is a very absolute, digital solution: either you are here, or you are not here. Ones and Zeroes.

Stretchtext on the other hand is not absolute. As Mark Bernstein points out, it does not take you from here to there. It adds something right there. But this gives it a dreamlike quality, not the finite and absolute of Bernsteins example. Sitting on the subway somewhere lost in Brooklyn, trying to reach Bay Ridge, instead of thinking about the fact that I was shivering with the cold of my drying clothes, I tried to find a good metaphor for stretchtext, and could not find one outside of the realm of dreams.

To a certain point a stretch-text is like a building with several levels. If you want to see more of what it contains, you can go up and down the floors, without ever leaving the address. However: where a building has a finite geography that limits the number of floors and the square meters of each floor, stretchtext has no such relationship between the surface level and the further content of the text. This lack of relationship between outside and inside is more connected with magic and dreams, than with earthly geography. To enter a room which is larger on the inside is a recurring theme in descriptions of magic, while we have all walked through dreams of the houses of the past, and found that unknown doors open on rooms which never existed and could never bee there.

So, while hypertext traverses the cyberlandscape, stretchtext exists in the cyberdreamscape.

And yes, I did finally reach Bay Ridge.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Life in an apartment building - White noise

The upstairs neighbour has the radio on at full power. I am getting a mix of bad american pop music and commercials through the thin floor in a house which works like a whispering gallery at some aspects, and I have no way to shut it up. Please, do anybody have a link to a file of white noise? I am off to find some powerful earphones.

Sunday, May 22, 2005


While I have been away, the New Yorkers have put up a new house at Astor Place. Decent of them to make it shiny, modern and protruding!

Truth is: I like it. Is is so alien, it could never happen in Volda, but so perfectly reflecting the environment it is in.

Friday, May 20, 2005

The bloggers are coming!

6 years late and 4 years since Aftenposten wrote about it for the first time, the newspaper has discovered blogs. How? Well, the Swedish newspapers are blogging. So, Dagbladet starts it in Norway, Expressen and Aftonbladet does it in Sweden, then Aftenposten discovers that VG does it in Norway. Brilliant research. Brilliant. (Note: add sarcastic tone of voice to "brilliant".)

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Stupid things I almost did

Almost-accidents are really big news - planes that almost crash, wars that almost start, avalanches that almost hit a bus - they have the thrill of a real accident, no relatives to be careful around, and plenty of surviving eye-witnesses to interview.

I just had an almost-accident too. I almost returned my computer in order to have the soundcard fixed. The sound tech guys were able to help me though. With their combined skill, they spotted what I did not see: The volume control at the side of the computer. Ouch. But I lived to tell the story.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Articles electronically for sale

Did you try to go to amazon.com, search for "books" and type in "blog" recently? Well, try it, it's interesting and quite illuminating. While I won't call 5-6 $ for an article "micropayment", if the option is to not get the article you so desperately need to quote, the price is not unreasonable. And getting it through Amazon puts it all under one established transaction agent. "One agent rule them all..." Let's hope the idea of micropayment grows a little more towards micro as the service is more commonly used.

Twisty little passages

I just browsed Nick Montfort's pretty book on interactive fiction. Are you interested in MUDs, MOOs and other "old" games telling stories? Read it. I will. Am. Any moment now.

The wicked circle

I have spent the winter whining that I was exhausted and couldn't work. Now I am working myself into exhaustion. Go figure.

Monday, May 16, 2005


I may be more than averagely dense, but the American LOVE of abbreviations sometimes drive me nuts. Or can somebody in a quick and simple manner tell me what the CCCC stands for in these conventions?

Update: I found it - Conference on College Composition and Communication. Took me at least 15 minutes to track down.

Just say no?

I just noticed something I am not sure about in Charles Lowe article in Into the Blogosphere:

Given that students have access to the Internet, weblogs can easily replace traditional classroom uses of the private print journal. While weblogs are normally public, free tools such as Blogger can be used for private, expressive writing. Students need only choose “no” when Blogger asks if they want a public blog site, keep their site’s location on the web secret, and exchange the URL only with the teacher, resulting in a private electronic writing space where they can be free to express the personal.

Is this true? I thought it only kept your weblog from being published in the list of recently updated weblogs generated by blogger, but the moment you started linking to others and they linked back to you, your private blog would be public? Does anybody know?

Friday, May 13, 2005

Journalism blog

My markup net points to Dagbladet in order to give an example of how newspapers should deal with weblogs, and criticises Expressen for starting a blog run by the journalists in the papers. Actually, Expressen is just doing exactly what Dagbladet did, way back in 2003. So yes, they are watching, and learning.

The sound of silence

Jill posts that she does not blog. Others blog, and get fired for it. Some offer help to avoid such unpleasant consequences.

What to say about that? Our lives are too rich to be contained even on the internet. Something will be edited out. If we choose to post our anger and discontent, our delight and warmth is edited away. The same happens the other way. What comes to us through our responses to the options we have, is the result of our choices. When we edit out the joys of life and get anger and bitterness in return, that should not surprise us.

We continuously edit ourselves, by choosing to smile when we want to cry, or hiding our laughter to spare the feelings of others. It is no surprise that the same kind of social skills that make us do that in face to face interaction, should be useful online.

So why do I post today, is there something I am not blogging? Always. Constantly. Sometimes about my private life (quite a big chunk, really), sometimes about my job (hmmm - equally big chunk), and a lot of the time about things which provoke me which I decide not to get into, because it would bring too much attention to a cause which does not deserve a single link. Every single post I write, is written at the expense of something I do not write. And today I already have several experiences I am not blogging. Trust me, there will be more.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Work, interrupted

Hilde just left. She has visited since Monday, and we have been working on the article for Women in Games 2005, in Dundee. Hilde came to Volda because I couldn't come to Bergen. But as I stayed in Volda, teaching and administration intruded on my already sparse research time, and I suddenly had no more full days to dedicate to research this week. And it got worse. Every time I showed my face at the college in order to give a lecture or be present at a meeting, I ended up attending at least two more meetings. And answering some questions. And assisting at an exam.

Having Hilde here was wonderful, and she is such a very efficient and powerful scholar, I am humbled. I feel like a noisy bumblebee, heavy, zigzagging my way towards something, despite physics, daring to defy gravity, undecided and slow compared to Hildes determination and focus.

The article will be great. I only hope it will not be great despite of me.

Yes, I won

Way back in February, I won best tech weblog at afoe's Satin Pajama Award. It was a silly little fun thing then. Now that it's on the front page of bt.no, one of the larger newspapers in Norway, and the local newspaper wants an interview, it has become absurd.

Lord Nasher's companions

Did you play NeverWinter Nights? Did you notice somebody saying somethign about Lord Nasher's past, and his companions? (One is the Mistress of the Moonstone Mask). Do you remember where, when, who, what? I'd love to get a hint.

Blogs as spare memory

Yes, I know, it's kind of tacky to have my own students promote me, but at least they are not the editors of forskning.no, so the article published there today about me and my blog and the blogging practice has passed through more than one filter. And I already admit to being a "harry" person in the interview, so I guess it's all in character. ("harry" in Norwegian means having a low or barbaric taste, for instance wearing white tennis sock with your dark suit.)

One of the courses this semester was on journalistic writing, and in order to support that course my colleague Øystein Pedersen made a deal with forskning.no that if the work of our students was good enough for them, they would publish it. The students have been interviewing researchers at Volda College, and there have been a few articles as a result of this cooperation. Great practice for the information students, easy access to good and proofed content for forskning.no, a chance for the faculty in Volda to get their profile in a visible spot in the Norwegian research community.

The articles have gone through the same quality control as the work of other freelancers (at least), and although there have been a fairly large amount of articles written, so far only four have been published.

Other Volda researchers interviewed by my students:
Anne Marie Rekdal on Ibsen
Johann Roppen on newspaper ownership
Peder Haug criticising the Norwegian school system

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Blogshares - such an evil game

Press Release
thinking with my fingers suffered a huge setback with several analysts urging their clients to ditch the stock as it suffered a public relations disaster. The exact nature of customer dissatisfaction was not known but Mike Black was rumoured to have had a hand in it. Industry insiders suspect a Degree (artefact) was involved. thinking with my fingers share price dropped from B$2,079.50 to B$1,060.55

Mike Black declined to comment on the recent speculation.

Mike Black: http://blogshares.com/user.php?id=28218

PRID# 294226 / Posted: 18:28 07 May 2005

Considering that I spend far more time talking about PR than about games these days, seeing my blog suffer a PR setback in a game seems like divine justice. At least somebody with a degree (artefact) were involved!

Philosopher timeline

Did you know when Michel Foucault died? Or when Descartes was born? I didn't, but luckily algis.com has put philosopher's timeline out there.

Is Feedburner important?

Feedburner just went commercial on me, and I no lenger get the nifty statistics of which items people like and which readers access the feed every day unless I agree to upgrade to a pro account.

Now I wonder if it would be very inconvenient if I deleted the feedburner account. I have had from 120 - 200 daily hits through this, between 25 - 40 actual readers, and 1-6 daily click-throughs (people who have accessed the individual blog posts).

I have no statistics at all of the blogger atom reader, so I have no indicator if anybody actually use this.

Anyway, while I would like to get out of Feedburner since they have spoiled me with priviledge and now took it away, I don't want to punish my readers for this. If you have a good reason for me to continue using them, I would like to know. And no, I don't need a vote or to hear from the 120 who would drop by on a slow day, for me it's enough with the 1-3 who occasionally actually read something here.

Update: Within a short time of me writing this post, Rick Klau at feedburner had found the post, asked what was wrong, and made me check again, promising that they had taken nothing away, only added more.

I am so charmed by the quick response that I am letting the feedburner account stay, no need for neither the 200 on good days or the 1-2 who actually read the stuff to make any changes, and a gold star to Rick for instant expanded customer support!

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Learning with Lego

Don't think it stops as you leave pre-school! The Lego ArtLab Research centre offers lego sets for the ages 16 - 35, featuring Judith Butler, Anthony Giddens and Michel Foucault, among others.

The right to morals

By way of Dennis Jerz, a rather miffed NPR (National Public Radio to non-US citizens with diminished abbreviation skills) ombudsmann who writes about those pesky blogs with a total lack of moral.
Second, the blogosphere has proven once again to be an amoral place with few rules. The consequences for misbehavior are still vague. The possibility of civic responsibility remains remote. It is a place where the philosophy of "who posts first, wins" predominates.

Reactions like these are interesting, because they indicate a wide range of changes within the mainstream media (MSM, as the abbreviators like to call it).

It shows that the established media has had a feeling of being in control, a feeling which is now failing them. The economic and political structure of established media is not developed for free dissemination of information, but for controlled information. I am not talking about journalistic ethics here, check your sources, protect those who don't understand the dangers of being exposed, protect the privacy of victims, don't spread slander. I am talking about institutional morals, which is very different from journalistic ethics.

Institutional morals is jesuitic in its core. If it can keep the institution running smoother, make more money and beat the competitors, it is good. This is a vital element in the editorial decisions made every day in newsrooms all over the world. Do we have a good case? Can we scoop the next-door neighbour by printing this? Will the girl's tears sell? Will her tits sell better?

We live in a society where powerful media institutions have had the opportunity to play this game behind closed doors. The individuals who have questioned these morals have never had an efficient channel. Now they do. Of course that means the practice of bloggers has to be amoral. Amoral as the opposite of the institutional moral of the mainstream media.

I don't like all the blogs out here. Some of them are disgusting. But if the mainstream media, with their ruthless abuse of our intellect, credibility and human sensitivity are moral, give me the amoral multiverse of blogs anytime.

(Oh, and the practice of scooping - who taught us that? Really, where did the general public learn that scoops are good? Hmm, mainstream media, where did that come from and who keeps doing it over and over again, a game of one-upmanship which has cost lives and caused deep human tragedies more than once? Just asking.)

Friday, May 06, 2005

Blog bibliography list under construction

I have made a list of articles I have been able to track down, on weblogs. This may be expanded with books and more articles as I find the time to write them down, but until then, if you see me missing something major (except the entire blogosphere collection), please leave a note. After 8 hours of nothing but tea and blogarticles, I am getting offline for some maintainance.


I like them.
I use them.
I use other people's blogrolls.
I miss them when they disappear.
I agree with Bitch Phd.

The woman hunt

Please, I have a little problem, you see, I can't recognize female names in all languages. I have this list from AO2005 Innovation Summit@Stanford, and I can't find the female names on the list. I recognize three and wonder about another on the "Money's back" panel, but for the rest, I just can't see them. I guess it's just me being a silly Norwegian used to names like Kari, Hilde, Britt and Guri for women, so would you please help me to find them on this list? There are 61 names all together. Thank you.
Is the Whole World Going Open Source?
Moderator: Ray Lane, partner, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers
Jonathan Schwartz, president & COO, Sun Microsystem
Kim Polese, CEO, SpikeSource
Marten Mickos, CEO, MySQL
John Chen, CEO, Sybase

SmartPhone 2010
Moderator: Pip Coburn, managing director of research, UBS
Trip Hawkins, founder and CEO, Digital Chocolate
David Nagel, CEO, PalmSource
Ed Colligan, CEO, Palm One
Bill Watkins, CEO, Seagate
Bill Nguyen, founder & president, SEVEN

Dislocation of Media and Entertainment
Roger McNamee, founder, managing partner, Elevation Partners
Mark Cuban, owner, Dallas Mavericks
Michael Weiss, CEO, Streamcast Networks
Anthony Noto, managing director, Goldman Sachs

The Money's Back
Moderator: Eric janszen, EIC, Trident Capital
Tim Draper, managing partner, Draper Fisher Jurvetson
Mark Heesen, president, NVCA
Janice Roberts, managing partner, Mayfield
Aneel Busri, managing partner, Greylock

Are your ready for the Chinese revolt?
Scott Kronick, President, Olgilvy PR / China
Elizabeth Economy, Council on Foreign Relations
Min Xin Pei, Carnegie Endowment for Peace
Chai Ling, student leader, Tiananmen Square 1989
Howard Chou, partner, O Malveney
Lili Zheng, partner, China Services Group Deloitte
John Wadsworth, honorary chairman, Morgan Stanley, Asia
Yadong Liu, Medley Global Advisors
Dan Burstein, managing director, Millenium Partners
Joe Schoendorf, partner, Accel Partners

Open or Closed Web
Moderator: Marc Canter, founder and CEO, Broadband Mechanics
Steve Berkowitz, CEO, Ask Jeeves
Joe Kraus, founder and CEO, JotSpot
Doc Searls, Senior Editor, Linux Journal.
Scott Rafer, CEO, Feedster

Is Technology Making Us Safer?
Moderator: Paul Saffo, Research Director, Institute for the Future
George Gilder, CEO, Gilder Technology
Bill Joy, partner, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers
Eric Drexler, Chairman, Foresight Institute

Silicon Eye With George Gilder
Moderator: Andy Kessler, Velocity Media
George Gilder, CEO, Gilder Technology
Carver Mead, Chairman and Founder, Foveon Corporation

Future Disruptive Technologies: The Perspectives of MIT and Stanford
Moderator: Tom Byers, professor, Stanford University
Jim Plummer, Dean, School of Engineering, Stanford University
Alice Gast, VP, Research, MIT

Tapping into the Power of the Blogosphere
Moderator: Tony Perkins, founder & editor, AlwaysOn
Rich Karlgaard, Editor-In-Chief Forbes
Dave Sifry, CEO, Technorati
Allen Morgan, partner, Mayfield
Michael Moe, CEO, Think Equity
Robert Scoble, blogger/author, Microsoft - Scobelizer

Fireside Chats:
Mark Cuban, owner, Dallas Mavericks
Norm Pearlstein, Editor in Chief, Time Life
Shimon Peres, Vice Premiere, State of Israel
Barry Diller, CEO, InterActive Corp
Mark Hurd, CEO, H-P
Howard Stringer, CEO, Sony
Bob Sutton, professor, Stanford University
Jonathan Schwartz, president & COO, Sun Microsystems
Bill Joy, partner, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers
Eric Drexler, Chairman, Foresight Institute

Oh, I did recognize one more female name, and the letter where I received this list used "her" about this person. It's Kathy. Seems like you can mail her or phone her if you need somebody to take your order.

Word, voice, face

One of the things I so enjoy about weblogs, is the soap opera quality. How the individual writing develops in a long, continuous stream, from a stranger into someone you have expectations to. A lot of those expectations are in your own mind, I know, but they are fed by something: the turn of a phrase, a described event, a slip of the fingers. One of the blogs I have read for years belongs to a brilliant writer who knows how to do just this: give us bits and pieces to maintain the suspense, just enough to make us return, not so much it gets tacky or boring.

First, he appeared to me like a character of fiction, slowly filling out. A wonderful, politically correct role, a homosexual American married to a Swede and living in Stockholm. There is a certain flash and daring to that, and framed by his brilliant writing and on the backdrop of a gallery of characters such as female priests, former models, television producers and published cooks, he became a steady read, tinged with a touch of urban envy here from way out beyond coffee-houses and theatres.

Suddenly this fictitious character stepped out of his frame and met with another character in Denmark. And so, not even six steps apart, it was confirmed, there was a flesh world person claiming the role of Francis Strand.

Then there was a period of small email exchanges. Personal, targeted messages, always sweet, always polite, and to my delight, signed "your fan, Francis." It tickled me no end, and pushed him into focus, made the edges sharper, and made him ever more real to me: An intelligent, considerate human being behind the lighthearted tone of his blog, and one who liked what I write - even if his own writing is so much more elegant, nothing of the heavy blundering, the crooked grammar, the stilted sentences and repetitions which my language suffers from.

Suddenly, after a couple of years of this, I could hear his voice. Scary, isn't it? A voice is not print, a voice is uniquely personal and almost impossible to fake. While print can be produced by any fingers, only one throath can produce one voice. While still abstract and disembodied through the peakers, it was a production of the flesh, vocal cords and breath passing them. Intimate, the voice is - body speaking to body, breath leaving mouth to create vibrations to reach the ear. As a moment of stalking, I imagine the voice has to be a breakthrough, a defining event. Me, I am an amateur at this stalking thing, and I still thought it was special

Now you can hear him at bloggforum 2.0 in Stockholm, see him, and perhaps, if you can fight your way through the fans, touch him. Me, I can't get there, but I did find a picture.

Does this mean I am done with my Francis-watch? Nah, I will not be satisfied until somewhere in the world our paths cross, and I can shake his hand, laugh, and add it all up, all those years of reading, sharing, slowly seeing a character expand into a person. And, most likely even then, if the flesh contains the brain that writes the tiny stories I like to read and all the rest I have come to enjoy, I hardly think it will be over. When I think of this writer of that other blog, there is nothing distant or disembodied about him. His voice, words and presence online is part of my network, like and not like colleagues, neighbours, friends and family. There is a space in this web for cyberneighbours and cyberfriends.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Please, all you good boys and girls

When you submit papers to conferences, no matter where, no matter when, unless the conference standard explicitly states something else, would you please write all the correct bibliographic data on top of the page?

I am going through stacks of papers on blogs, downloaded from AOIR and other conference archives, and less than half have this useful feature. Which means that for each paper I have to guess which conference it was presented at, check the programme for said conference, and then put in the correct year and conference in the bibliography. When all this is already on the paper as soon as I open it, I save perhaps three minutes for each papers I check. With 50 papers, 35 of which does not have this neat little thing... well, you get it.

Thank you.

Journals and journalists

Mike points to Doc Searls' closing keynote at Les Blogs in Paris. In his slides, I think there's a pretty good statement about the relationship between bloggers and journalists. Sure, it's simplistic, and working in a deparment teaching journalism, I can't say it's neccessarily correct in the contemporary understanding of journalists, but it's good :)

Public and personal

In the post below, Giving it away, I am questioning the development in the Norwegian blogosphere, where newspapers and weblogs overlap. There are some excellent comments to that post, and it leaves some issues which need to be addressed. These are
Promotional blogging versus writing for free
Professional versus amateur writing
Commercial agents and ideology based acts
Grassroot movements and mainstream media

This links back to a post on the bloggers getting paid to write about a certain product. Thomas M asks what is the difference between selling yourself for money and selling yourself for a position, more readers and a good note on your CV.

The main difference here is the packaging, and the writer/reader contract. When I buy the newspaper I am aware that I am not buying an independent product, I am perfectly aware that this is produced by a huge corporation which needs to sell advertising as well as papers, and so needs to pamper both the readers and the advertisers. Knowing what I do about the mechanisms of media prodction, the trust I have in the paper is very, very small, mostly I buy it for the entertainment value and to have something to discuss with family and friends. When I read a weblog by a fellow scholar, I trust the integrity of that individual. This trust is not absolute, but in the fields where I know this individual to be an expert, I trust him or her a LOT more than I trust the newspaper.

When the individual suddenly gets paid to promote a particular brand, that trust plunges. The individual I trusted for the integrity and skill, has become just another commercial agent. There are of course degrees of plunging, but still. When the newspaper tries to borrow the trust I have to these individuals, by offering them space within the paper in which to display their skill, their writing becomes associated with the paper, not with their individual expertise. I haven't trusted Dagbladet since it changed formats. This does however not flavour the individual blogger's writing in the same was as the promotion. That is because I am not being fooled, led into the weblog with false promises of free alternative thought, in order to find plugging. To publish in the weblog of Dagbladet.no is fair, I am not an idiot, I can read the context and they are not pretending anything else than to be part of what the paper offers. Does it change their writing? I am sure it does/will do. But they are not pretending nothing has changed.

Dagbladet.no (and VG.no) offers space to the amateurs, and takes them in under their logo, appearantly in the name of democracy. It is a channel for those not hired, a way to reach a large audience freely and for all - wonderfully in the spirit of the new media.

Newspapers have always used the writings of amateurs. Journalism is a free trade, you don't need a license to write. They used to call good, non-hired writers "freelancers" back when. And they used to pay them. Otherwise they would call it "letters to the editor", and the good ones would be printed. This is a way for Dagbladet.no to get better writing for less money, and without the need to have somebody reading all the letters and editing them. By picking tried and tested bloggers and offering them something they want other than hard cash, they don't need to treat their writers according to the established rules governing freelancers, short-term employees and steady employees.

Of course, if this is a success, the blogger team can insist on money, or else... I think that may be an interesting development. At that point I think the people who gambled from day 1 deserves to be ahead at the game. But with the current economic climate in Norwegian newspapers, I am not holding my breath.

Bjørn argues very convincingly for his belief in the weblog, and how it will change and expand democracy. As a means towards this end he is willing to sell some ads for Dagbladet, as long as that may save some souls for the cause. More power to Bjørn for that conviction, I say.

Me, I have never been much for convictions. Mainly because I don't think the weblog as such is important. It is a convenient piece of software, one that hit the net at the right moment, just when a lot of people had internet access and nothing to do with it. It is structured in a way that makes search-engines love it, and it is extremely easy to use. Great. But it could have been anything. It could have developed in any direction, and it has. Even as I write this, I know that the meaning of the word "blog" is shifting, away from the tool for the people, towards a tool for the powerhungry. When I talk about blogs to people who really should know better, they tell me that blogger blogs, livejournal, diaryland and other low-tech blogs are just "too common" for them. Not sufficiently highbrow. Why should they read them? They want wordpress or movable type, or at best something programmed by an obscure wizard in a language only he (frequently a male) understands. The blog as a tool for the masses is disappearing, because the word blog is coming to mean a webpage displaying highly informed, political opinions by white men working in unison with the established media.

This means that by focusing on the blog, the ideal of a web-based public sphere slips out of sight. What we need to promote is not just the blog, it is the idea that the net is offering increasing options for sharing thoughts, ideas and opinions. The position of trailblazer is within reach, today, by any net surfer who understands about del.icio.us and how to use a tag.

Last, I want to address Hjorten's post on bloggblogg. This is all in Norwegian, so I'll just quickly sum it up in English. He is one of the politics bloggers, and he feels like he may have sold himself too cheaply. But he doesn't know if that is good or bad for the blogosphere.

I am not worried about the blogosphere. Blogs are a big thing, soon newspapers, television stations, corporations, politicians, multinational companies, voluntair organisations, stockbrokers, presidents and kings will all blog. They have to, it is a too cheap and too good way to get attention online that they can ignore it. Read Business Week and see the writing on the wall. The blogosphere is going mainstream, and it's happening now.

In a very short time the only people who will not be blogging, are the common man and woman. They will be doing something else, chatting, surfing, playing, looking for another little niche where they can express themselves without being drowned out by the organised, professional communicators.

Yes, this is a dystopic tale of the blog. But dystopia is not all darkness. We read stories of the world after the apokalypse not for the destruction, but for the tendril of hope. Men like Bjørn and Hjorten, who actually want to do something good, represent this hope. Academics, who want to make information and scholarship free and available to all represent this hope. Jill, writing herself into the narrative of the web with her talent and beauty, the Terra Nova and Grand Text Auto teams sharing their thoughts and skill, Oslo Girl and Dagens Onde Kvinner relentlessly pointing towards the dark and ugly spots of our society, misbehaving systematically saying what others had preferred was unsaid - these threads shine against the dark backdrop of the powergames played out through, in and around the channels of communication open to us.

I read fantasy for the miracles. I blog for hope.

And that is, perhaps, as close as I come to a manifesto of blogging.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Making up my mind

I just sent off a grand overview of the research I want to do for the next three-four years. Topics, combinations, publications, and how it all ends up in a splendid work which will change the world as we know it, combining computer games, user research and weblogs in a perfect synthesis and with exquisite logic.

No, I don't dare share it with you all yet. Let's just say: My fingers are visionaries. Today was two days after the deadline for submitting this. They took over where the mind boggled, and I now know what they have been plotting for the last ten years.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Giving it away

A while ago I wrote about promotional blogging, and how I feel that getting paid to promote a product in your blog changes the way you write and the status of the blog, the way gettign paid for what used to be fun so often does. Today I want to talk about "giving it away", about bloggers who give their content to big companies for free.

In Dagbladet.no blogs are the next big thing. The paper has discovered that while journalists can write OK blogposts, good bloggers do it better. So they have opened two new blogs for the public: a gameblog and a politics blog. And they have managed to attract some of the better known individuals in the Norwegian blogosphere to their project, particularly to the politics blog.

While I think it is great that papers in Norway recognize the skill of these people, I am also surprised. These are people who already have good, visible blogs where they reach a large audience in their own right, and then they choose to sell advertising for Dagbladet.no instead?

OK, I can see that there is a certain usefullness in posting under the umbrella of a large newspaper, and get publicity through the paper's front page, but posting under ads for whoever paid Dagbladet to be featured around their more interesting nodes, and even doing it for free? The newspaper does not ask these people to blog for them randomly, after all, they ask because these are names that attract readers. And the newspaper is in the business of selling readers to advertisers, not content to readers. To be able to charge for free content is a very sweet deal indeed.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Under pressure

Sometimes I feel like I don't know where it came from, when I read what is on the screen. Hence, of course, the title of this blog. But it isn't really the blog which is the most typical exponent of this feat in me. It more regularly happens in meetings, when I cooperate, when I supervise, and when I for some reason need to make a snap decision and stick with it. When I have to improvise. In a way the blog has become the regular, safe and steady outlet for my musings, and I occasionally think about blogposts for quite a while before they reach the keyboard, enjoying the freedom and leisure of just writing.

But sometimes I still surprise myself. Dennis Jerz has generously ignored my lack of responses to his suggestions for a panel I agreed to participate in for a conference, and kept including me in his emails to the bitter end. And since it was still night in USA when I got to work today, writing a response within the time limit Dennis gave could be done! OK, 100 words, a 100 words... can't be that hard. And I wrote.
The thought, the word, the blog

Weblogs have become a medium of cultural expression, of personal confession and of learning and study. I am exploring the connection between the individual desire for attention, anonymity of the internet, demands of the imagined audience and the use of the net in self expression.
I look at this through reading teen-age and student weblogs in Norwegian and English. By following a few select weblogs I will look for their integration of the personal with the public, the limits between personal and private, and their expressed relationship to their chores and duties at school or college.
When reading it, I had a minor epiphany. I looked at the 100 words and realised: I do this, I could do that, I know how, I know the theory I want to refer to, I know where to find the blogs, I know... and I wanted to do it. It was like my subconscious had kicked my conscious aside and sent me an important message.

It was my fingers talking again, under pressure and only reporting to the brain later.