Thursday, November 08, 2012

The Hospital: Life in Copenhagen #10

The last 18 months have brought me in closer touch with the Danish medical system than I really wanted, and it's not over yet. I keep haunting the national hospital, Rigshospitalet, which is the main research, teaching and specialist hospital in Denmark, situated in Copenhagen and my local place to go. (And yes, "haunting" was a reference to "Riget", the Danish mini-series by Lars von Trier. It was my first and only impression of the Danish main hospital for 10 years, of course I think of that series when I go there.)

 In most ways, medical care in Denmark and Norway is similar. Norwegian doctors have a little more time for each patient, but in Denmark I don't pay a fee for materials used during the consultation. Since the fee isn't high, I have to admit I miss my regular doctor and the fact that he had time to chat a little, ask some questions about what I was doing... but here I can get in quickly if it's urgent, I can just show up and I will get an appointment without waiting 3 hours. Both systems have benefits, I really can't say either is better.

In hospitals, they are a little more eager to toss you out. That says something, because it's not like you're allowed to linger in tax-payer luxury in Norwegian hospitals either. Some of that difference may be due to the smaller distances here. If I was in one of the larger specialist hospitals in Norway, getting back and forth would take from 2 - 8 hours by car, depending on what needed to be done. Most of Denmark is available in a 2-3 hour ride, and you'll have passed a lot of exellent hospitals on the way. There is no such thing as a remote place here, if you measure distances with Norwegian eyes. Actually, if you want to get out of the country, from most places in Denmark you can reach Germany in three hours (Sweden in 20 minutes from here). And since I live in the city, if I get a problem I can be back at the hospital in 15 minutes by bike, 5 if it's in an ambulance. And no ferries involved.

Since it's so close and convenient, yes, I ride the bike to get there. So do hundreds of others. At "Riget" the main problem isn't to park your car, but to park your bike.

The buildings themselves are exellent examples of early 70-ies functionalist ugly. Concrete and stone, in huge squares. But if you pause to look around, it's actually not that badly built, and it's certainly decorated. Inside in the corridor where I walked today, the wall is decorated with a friese in a very typical funkis manner: The same material as the walls on both side of the friese, but the long friese itself is made up of colour variations, black, grey and white rocks mixed/set in concrete, and then sculpted into abstract shapes. It is as if the building itself has suddenly grown into this odd wall, the way a rockside can go from uniform grey to striped and broken into different colours and crystals, in order to return to the grey granite at the other side of that.

I passed two other works of art in the 30 seconds it took to walk out of there - one of them a very interesting 60ies sculpture of a young woman cast in bronze bearing a portable television monitor. I wish I knew what it would show if it had been turned on. The light wasn't good enough for a picture though - I may bring a real camera the next time. At the door there was a double mural - one to each side - in a very bright 70-ies naivism, and then outside I found a piece of art I have admired every time I came by - and been annoyed by how it is always crowded by bikes and delivery vans. Still the jewel-bright colours shone strongly after the rain today. I have yet to find how old this is and who made or donated it, but it does its job - it brings a little brightness into the front of what might otherwise easily be just another urban wasteland.

I was just going to let these last pictures speak for themselves, but there's this empty space here, and it looks really weird. So I'll end this with a question. I tried to google art at Rigshospitalet, but didn't find any good overview of the many sculptures, murals and paintings that dot that busy, eclectic space. Do any of my weblog readers have more luck? Do you know the secret words to use in google to find such an elusive documents? Anybody?

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Notes on the usefulness of electronic books in reviewing

Using an electronic book in the review process is both more helpful and more problematic. Problematic, because it does not always (and in this case not) give page numbers. Helpful, because location is a much more precise notation, which leads directly to the sentence in question. Helpful, because it allows for quick searches, and it answers several questions to the book quickly, such as “how many times is this mentioned, and in which chapters?” or “where does the author use this theory?”

On the other hand, certain ways of organising the text, such as an endnote system for references, becomes confusing. The electronic medium resists the quick skipping from the chapter in question to the point in the back of the book where the footnote is positioned, and at least in this instance, the electronic text did not call up the endnote from its position in the chapter. Also, the numbers of the endnotes were not searchable, so it was very tricky to go from a number on an endnote to its position in the text. If the reference system had been anything which demanded the name of the author (APA or MLA for instance) put into the running text, it would have been much easier to go from reference to point in the text, but using endnotes the usefulness of an electronic text was reduced. Apart from these problems, the distribution of electronic books is still very limited, as it cannot be given away except as a loan, unless it’s bought as a gift.

This means that an editor can’t receive a book, look it over, decide on a reviewer and pass it on. The different systems of electronic book loans are not a good option, as one of the attractions of reviewing books is to be able to keep the book afterwards. A limited-time loan of an electronic book does not cover that reward. On the other hand, if the publishers allowed editors the right to pick and donate electronic books permanently to reviewers, the distribution of the book would be much quicker and more precise.

Today books need to be shipped over long distances, a process which delays the reviewing further. With electronic copies, the book could reach a reviewer at any internet connection, when ever they logged on. After working on the most recent book, I lean heavily towards making the electronic book the standard for reviewing, but with certain changes in the standards of reference systems, in the standards of electronic books, and a better and more liberal distributing system which retains the benefits of the physical paper copy.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Asking questions

From the Wikipedia entry on phrases from the Hitchiker's guide to the galaxy;
In the first novel and radio series, a group of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings demand to learn the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything from the supercomputer, Deep Thought, specially built for this purpose. It takes Deep Thought 7½ million years to compute and check the answer, which turns out to be 42. The Ultimate Question itself is unknown.
When asked to produce The Ultimate Question, the computer says that it cannot; however, it can help to design an even more powerful computer, the Earth, that can. The programmers then embark on a further ten-million-year program to discover The Ultimate Question.
Questions aren't easy. They can also be very dangerous. People are killed for asking the wrong questions. But here's a little guide to how to ask questions in conferences. Thanks to Mia for linking it in the #IR13 twitter stream.

Knitting a community - at IR 13.0

While I have noticed that people start giggling the moment I start to talk about knitting, I never knew how surprising it would be for people to discover that I knit. Seriously, I am a middle aged Norwegian woman, grown up in a small town, and I have children. The chance that I would not at least know how to knit is very small, and it's quite likely that I am decent at it. As a matter of fact, I suck compared to my Norwegian neighbours and relatives, likely because I spend so much time gaming.

Now that's said, I am presenting some very early thoughts on traditions, crafts and community exemplified by knitting here at IR 13.0, and I want to share with you some links from the presentation.

Davadottir sells her own creations, and shares the love of knitting with her mother.
Majken's corner is the blog of Davadottir's mother, who still lives in the Faeroe islands.
"Prunes from everyday life" is the blog of another woman from the Faeroe islands who shares her patterns and the stories of her past with us.
I am not using examples from Ravelry, but from - a norwegian site for sharing patterns.
Gudrun & Gudrun are the designers of the sweaters from "The Killing".
On the blog "slaughter a holy cow" Liselotte asks who are copying.
The second sweater used by Sarah Lund did not cause the same kind of controversy, as Gudrun & Gudrun published the pattern.

And for some more links I looked at, but didn't manage to stuff into this presentation, two of my tags on

Friday, October 19, 2012

Salford, Internet research walking in circles

Today at the first plenary of Internet Research 13.0, the discussion turned to the reality of realities. Some of the heavy hitters discussing identity and online ethnography stated once and for all that it "Virtual Reality" was not where we were going, it was all realities. Susanna Paasonen arguing for the importance of materiality, Tom Boellstorff countering with the analytical power of virtuality.

Flashback to 1998 (yes, last millennium), and the discussions of IRL (in real life) and IRT (in real time) in games (MUDs, can it get more last century?), and how these were indeed parts of real lives and happened in real time - nothing virtual about them, the real virtual reality is between our ears.

I am feeling extremely old on this conference. It's not just the cancelled flight sending me on a 4 hour busride from London to Manchester in the middle of the nights, nor the fact that I can't eat most of the food (I expected that. We're in UK.) (Quick word to the organisers here: I don't doubt the quality. Others say it's really good.)

No, the sense of being ancient comes with the sense of having been there, done that. Even the most engaged of discussions trigger layers and layers of earlier discussions. The floods of literature now published in the many different digital research areas carry with them a sense of "good, somebody wrote about that, so I don't have to stand there explaining it singlehandedly."

I want to be wowed again. And not by another release of additional content. Not the pandas of Internet research, please, but... but... Well, if I could tell you that, I'd implement it. I'll get back to you all on that.

In the mean time: Internet researchers at The Lowry, Salford. Young, fresh, lovely, and I am so happy to see them, I get all warm and fuzzy over being here, really.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Unfashionable enjoyment

Over the years I have become so jaded: New games are just new games, new software is just new software, and computers are just computers. I join my many colleagues in finding the flaws, the problems, the negative side, the aspects that keeps us all from getting all overjoyed and enthusiastic about what the internet has in store for us. Leaving Facebook and taking breaks from being online is oh-so-fashionable, and we speak about the joys of being disconnected.

This is when I have to admit it. The Internet, the World Wide Web, Web 2.0 and social media have made my life more fun, more connected, and so much easier. Aside from the long, long list of tools for a researcher, and the research opportunities for a communication researcher, I enjoy it, plain and simple.

I think the moment when I realised that I do was when I met an old friend in Tampere, and he said: "you know, it's not popular to admit it, but seeing updates on Facebook makes me feel I know what goes on in your life, and that we're connected." It's true. It does make me feel more connected. No, it's not a big help when I need somebody to carry a cabinet from the street to the apartment, and another one back down (that will happen soonish, so if you're a friend in Copenhagen, and have a relatively healthy back, stay tuned, I'll alert you when I have managed to find THE cabinet.), but it is a great way to know abit about where my friends are and what they are up to.

One old friend was in Spain for a long time, now it looks like she has moved back to Norway. Interesting. A girl I spent a large part of my childhood and youth very connected to now lives in Sweden. I never knew! An old student keeps everybody updated about her life, which means I get to see where a fairly large group of old students hang out and what they are up to. Also, very interesting. A colleague was suddenly very quiet for weeks, nothing showing on her Facebook feed. What was up? Oh, look, she swapped workplaces! Really interesting!

Facebook (and other social media) feeds are mundane, but it's the mundanity that makes life. After all, life is what goes on while we wait for something to happen. So it's in those little bitty updates it really goes on, and that's why I am no longer too cool to admit it: I love social media. Thank you, all my online friends, for every picture of cute cats and cuter kids, article read, concert heard, restaurant checked into. It's life that goes on right in front of our eyes, and I don't care that it's edited to make you look good. I love you anyway, so I want to see the good parts you want to share. And I'll hold your virtual hand over the hard patches, if I can help. That, and birthdays, is what social media are for.

Monday, June 18, 2012

"Dit barn bliver riktig dyktig til at slå ihjel"

This is my response to a blogpost by the Danish Ph D, medical doctor and author Vibeke Mannich. In her recent blogpost Dit barn bliver rigtig dygtig til at slå ihjel!  she attacks computer games violently, based on her reading of a list of articles by Craig Anderson et. al. If you have followed this blog for a while, you know that I have repeatedly cited other studies which question and disprove this research and meta-research, at most levels from methodology to knowledge about games in general to the funding.

Anyway: Vibeke Mannich was surprised at the vehement reactions to her blogpost, a post where she blamed World of Warcraft for the terror shooting at Utøya, and warned parents that their children will grow up to be just like the killer. Her blogpost was offensive to me as a Norwegian citizen who has been following the case against the Utøya-killer day to day, as a researcher who has spent the last 16 years studying games and gamers, as a gamer who has played that "horrible" game World of Wacraft for years, and as a mother of children (now adults) who have also played the game and not killed anybody yet. (Instead they are working to save the world from climate change, and care for children with social and physical problems.) She has also written another blogpost about how offensive the responses she received to the original gamer blogpost were, which is why I post my response here. She is moderating her comments heavily, and I am not convinced that my post will make the cut. So, here goes:

Update: Vibeke Mannich responded to my comments, particularly when I pointed out the criticism of Craig Anderson, and how the research and meta-research had been criticised and to a large degree disproved.  That's when I realised that I have been trolled. From her response:
Jeg må så sige, at det er tankevækkende som du beskriver Craig Anderson og hvordan han er blevet mistænkeliggjort og dæmoniseret. Jeg oplever jo i virkeligheden det samme – måske trods alt i mindre målstok. Men at jeg dæmoniseres i uhyggelig grad og udsættes for ja regelret chikane.
Translation: "I have to say, it's throught provoking how you describe Craig Anderson and how he has been drawn in doubt (made suspicious - direct translation) and demonified. I am experiencing the same - maybe to a lesser degree. But I am demonified in a terrifying degree, and am a victim of straight out harassment."

With a response like that to being made aware of criticism (he has published in peer-reviewed journals - well, who hasn't?) there's nothing more to be done. All I can do is tick her blog off on the list of online weirdos, which in itself is a learning experience. It's been a while since I was properly trolled.***

Kjære Vibeke

Jeg ser at den kjente og uhyre omstridte amerikanske forskeren Craig Anderson er en sentral kilde til din forståelse av computerspill. Da er det kanskje nyttig for deg å vite at hans forskning er sterkt kritisert både av psykologer, pedagoger og rene computerspillforskere. Hans forskning har vært forsøkt brukt som basis for å forby en rekke spill i USA, men det ble stoppet i høyesterett i California med begrunnelsen om at forskningen ikke er bred, grundig og uhildet (unbiased).
Se denne beskrivelsen av en artikkel fra 2009 av Christopher Ferguson, som kritiserer nettopp den type forskning på computerspill som du siterer over: Jeg kan også foreslå at du leser forskningen til denne svenske forskergruppen, som leverer en meget kunnskapsrik analyse om hvordan vold blir oppfattet og behandlet av spillere av spill som nettopp World of Warcraft.

Breivik-saken: Når du bruker Anders Behring Breivik som et eksempel på hvordan computerspill gjør en person farlig, så er jeg også nesten nødt til å spørre om du har fulgt med på rettsaken? De sakkyndige uttalelsene sendes direkte på norsk fjernsyn, og NRK er ofte en del av danske fjernsynspakker, så jeg går ut fra at du har hatt anledning til å studere dette? Dersom du har fått med deg hva debatten handler om, så er computerspill en forsvinnende liten del av det hele. Spillenes betydning for hans handlinger har blitt tonet kraftig ned. Tvert imot er det mye som tyder på at han har fått sine meninger og holdninger fra blogger på nettet, hvor mennesker som mener de er spesialister på et felt har uttalt seg skarpt, autoritært og ensidig uten å lese mer enn et par bøker som støtter deres egne meninger, samtidig som de stempler alle som er uenige med dem som hjernevaskede og kunnskapsløse. Noe som er litt ironisk i denne sammenhengen.
For å gå videre med forskningsartikler rundt massemordere og computerspill, så har det vært gjort forskning direkte på dette. En av de som har skrevet en rapport om skoleskyttere [og] risikofaktor er Mary Ellen O’Toole (pdf)

Det stedet hvor hun nevner computerspill er i denne passagen: “The student spends inordinate amounts of time playing video games with violent themes,and seems more interested in the violent images than in the game itself.”

Som du vil se når du leser rapporten er det ikke spillingen i seg selv som er problemet, det er interessen for vold. Forskning rundt vold viser at barn og unge som har lært fra sine omgivelser (venner og familie) at vold er en god løsning på deres problemer bruker alle ressurser de har på å bli dyktigere til denne form for problemløsning. Disse bruker blant annet bøker, filmer, musikk, kurs, skytterklubber, militæret, politi- eller vektertrening og ja, også computerspill, til å finne inspirasjon og idéer om hvordan de skal bli dyktigere til å bruke vold. De er imidlertid allerede voldelige, den ofte brede og varierte mediebruken er bare en måte å bli dyktigere til noe de har bestemt seg for å gjøre.

Så til et av dine egne utsagn fra debatten om dataspill: “Tak for jeres kommentarer – desværre må jeg jo sige, at en del af jeres ganske aggressive indlæg desværre bekræfter hvad jeg skriver i min tråd – nemlig at voldelige videospil gør (nogen af) jer voldelige/aggressive.”

Til dette vil jeg svare med en uhyre underholdende leder fra Fiktivt våld gör forskare aggressiva

Når du publiserer et så skarpt utsagn som er så sårende og svakt begrunnet i erfaring og i forskning som “Dit barn bliver rigtig dygtig til at slå ihjel! ” og kobler tusener (millioner) av hyggelige, vennlige, kunnskapsrike unge mennesker til et så brutalt tilfelle som Anders Behring Breivik, da er det dessverre ikke helt uventet at du gjør mennesker opprørte. Kanskje ikke alle er så høflige som de burde være, men deres reaksjon er forståelig.

Med vennlig hilsen

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Still Going Wrong

The main benefit of living in Copenhagen over Volda is the easy access to theatre, ballet, opera and whatnot. I know that sounds as if I am constantly off to some performance, while the truth is that most nights are spent falling asleep before I manage to finish the episode of CSI.

I do however get to see some of what is on, and last night I went with the husband, a sister and a friend of the family to a truly funny dance/performance/theatre "thing" which challenged the idea of "wrong". Still going wrong is performed by an ensemble of five dancing for just short of an hour in a very intimate stage. It explores "wrong" and turns odd, erroneous and ugly into a performance of surprising impact and humour. The dancers wear pink socks that lets them slide around the stage, they sweat through the casual wear they dance in, they bump into each other, look shy and akward, and run into the walls - just like your average distracted and introvert scholar.

I was unprepared for the experience, I just knew it would be pretty alternative compared to the classical ballet at the scene next door. Dansehallerne is  a center for dance built in the old soda factory of the brewing giant Carlsberg, and caters to a wide varity of dance styles with dancers and choreographers both Danish and international.

Unrepared was not a problem, though. Instead of coming out feeling elated after seeing a superb performance of exquisite style, Still going wrong had me coming out laughing and ready to explore the environment. After watching the dancers battle shyness, errors and akwardness, getting up on the playful installations waiting in the yard and jumping and moving in silly poses felt right and permitted. It was a performance more about the delight in flawed humanity than about the genius of perfection, and as such it spoke to us about what we could do ourselves.

Riding the bikes back home in a pack like serious bad-boy bikers (three women and one man, all between 50 and 64, crazy folks indeed) was the perfect way to end the evening, seeing Copenhagen in the sunset, soft warm light fading into fat drops of rain.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Summer!: Life in Copenhagen #9

(This was written 2nd of June and got stuck in the process.)

It's been almost two years. I have learned to ride my bike like a dane, which includes using the bell when the tourists wander into the bicycle lanes, to not worry if I haven't shopped for three days before a long week-end, and to call to talk to people in public offices, such as for instance the dreaded "skat", the tax department.

My language is changing, I am deliberately letting it slip into a more archaic form (to Norwegians archaic = Danish), and I am trying to decide which words may make it the easier for my students to understand me come fall. Some never will think I speak comprehensively, I know that, but I keep trying. I am practicing, in my head, to use "i" and "jer" rather than "dere" (which covers both in Norwegian), and "at" rather than "å". I have already given up words like "må" and "svært" due to its different emphasis in Norwegian and Danish, but I am keeping "enkelt". That one, my darling TAs assure me, is very easy to understand. It's "nemt", as they say. Hopefully, step by step, I will be able to lecture in a language a bit closer to Danish.

Until then, I take comfort in the fact that several of my students are willing to tell me, face to face, that they love the lectures. My Danish friends say Danes are introverts, reserved and uncomfortable with giving praise. I don't see that. My colleagues are warm, joyful, funny, and my students are interesting, challenging, polite, graceful and, surprisingly and extremely welcome, quite willing to thank me directly for the semester. I get that over and over again: "Thank you, for this term. It was a great class." Sometimes, even "it was the best class, the best class ever." I cherish that. It makes every exhausting lecture worth it, it even excuses what I do to my mother tongue.

But life is good outside of work too. The heat the last week has turned Copenhagen back to the city I fell in love with when I moved here. I wear sandals all the time, and have packed away most of the winter clothing. (OK, before I posted this, the weather turned COLD). I change into a T-shirt and work-out capris at home and just throw a thin top over for decency as I ride the bike to the Pilates work-outs. The ladies at Pilates cph deserve a mention. Perhaps even their own blogpost, soon. I started with Pilates years ago, but at home, from DVDs and books. It still helped, and as long as I managed to work out, my back gave me less problems. Then I found a teacher, for a day or two a week, in Ørsta. I loved it, but my schedule and hers made it less than efficient. Here, there are classes 6 days a week, all year, and I can schedule time online. This means, for instance, that even if I am travelling to Norway or Finland more than every second week since the beginning of April until the end of June, with a conference here in Denmark, I manage to get in two sometimes three work-outs a week. I have a long way to go to control a perfect "teaser", but I can get up into it, and hold it long enough to roll back down somewhat controlled, if I don't have to stay up there, showing off.

You might think I'd be more physically active in a place like Volda, where there isn't much else to do but hiking and living healthy. The truth is: I have had less pain since we moved to Copenhagen than I have had any other winter since 1985. And now it's warm, too, my muscles feel like butter, and I enjoy moving about, something I have rarely liked. Are there no problems? Oh yes, last week I was at a conference in Roskilde. Despite the effort, I never managed to get on the right train to get there on time. Partly it was me, not being sufficiently prepared - but how can I prepare for sudden 20-30 minute delays of the trains, and the chaos that is Nørreport station? The sudden heat caused the shoes that I had worn to work without incident just a week earlier to rub my feet raw, and the conference was on a topic I didn't know, leaving me to feel alienated and odd, like a giant dancing bear among all those tiny, serious women studying culture. After three days of heat, trains, Danish lunches and uncomfortable lecture-rooms I was physically wrecked.

Before that I had, for some reason, had 50 000,- dkk of "benefits" added to my income by the tax department. I was totally unable to track down where that had come in, as the electronic tax form didn't tell me. Hence, see the first paragraph. Mastering conversations on the phone with tax officials is vital. Also, the pollution worries me. I ride my bike to work and home through a cloud of exhaust, every day. I take some comfort in the fact that most of the time, I also ride up against a strong wind coming off the sea. I try not to think of what it carries with it from Germany, Poland and the other countries to the east and north.

And I miss the mountains. That plan I had: To sell Rotsethornet to Denmark, so we could have a bit more light? I still think it's a brilliant idea, but from the other side. Imagine how impressive it would have looked in Amager fælled? And imagine the opportunities it would have offered: just the resistance from the climb, the sensation of getting somewhere, getting up - yes, I miss it. But I'll go to the summer house this summer, live by the fjord, climb the mountains, curse the rain. I'll hurt, be cold and exhausted, and long for this little apartment right here, in the city.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Piracy and academic publishing

We all need to publish. It's part of the job description: The knowledge we, the scholars, are gathering, needs to be distributed. We do quite a bit of that through teaching, but it's not enough. Society not just expects us to publish, it demands it.

This demand is institutionalised through several different structures. The different roads to degrees, jobs, titles and opportunities are all paved with journal articles, the stepping stones are monographies and the embellishments all come in edited anthologies. The Universities are rewarded by the publishing of their scholars, and so they reward us, and the publications are used for public relations and for media attention, which again covers another part of our job: that responsibility to participate in the public debate. Research and learning is ok, but we have to demonstrate that we have done so.

There are of course rules to publishing. This blog doesn't give me any points. I have had (and still have) great pleasure from it. It has brought me in touch with some incredible people over the years, and in a few cases have been immediately useful. But it circumvents the structures that puts value to academic publishing. It's not peer-reviewed, it has no editor, no isbn-number and no rejection rate. It is, in short, not an academic journal. Academic journals is where it all happens, where publishing becomes elitist and important, and, for everybody but the scholars, where the money is. Some of them get paid both coming and going: Universities pay to have the articles of their scholars published, and then they pay to display the same journals (and articles) in the libraries, physical and digital. For a small university the price of journals is through the roof: there's no way we can afford it all.

And so we end up pirating.

When I am in a library with full access, I download like crazy. You can spot the experienced scholars in a big research library or inside a flush university network by the suddenly intense look of a treasure hunter about to download two or three or five years of journal volumes, and on the backchannel of conferences there will be a quiet whisper among friends about who grabs what, while we're still connected. Now, this is a pretty legitimate "piracy" - after all, we are supposed to exchange knowledge. The piracy university libraries targets is the stealing of journals by stealing student emails and passwords, and then grabbing volumes of journals for resale. Considering how extremely expensive it can be to buy one article - Jstore often asks for 25$ or more for 10-12 pages - this quickly becomes very profitable.

I am mostly a law-abiding person, and I couldn't hack Jstor even if I really tried, but I do get a little bit annoyed with the practice of making us pay both coming and going. As it is, scholars and their universities handle all the costs of the initial production. We are talking about years of work in many cases, and decades of education and study. The scholars write the material up, often presenting it at a few conferences on the way, to get feedback. This means it's already been through one or two peer-review processes before a version reaches a journal. This means at least 5 people have been directly involved in creating and editing the materials, before it's even sent to the journal.

Scholarly journal editors often work for free, and the peer-reviewers certainly do. We read and give feedback because we know we are in a loop of favours returned. I read for you, you read for me, and in the end we all get peer-reviewed. The double-blind process stops the most immediate exchange of favours, but there are still levels at which we are mutually dependent. Anyway, the journal itself does more or less decent copy-editing (often lacking, something that skews academic publishing heavily in favour of native English speakers), some design, some legal work as to registering the materials with the relevant libraries or central archives, printing and online publishing, and a minimal amount of advertising. And the sales, of course, where the largest revenues come from libraries, libraries at the universities where the same scholars who wrote the articles have to buy their own material back.

In other discussions about piracy, content producers point to the poor creative souls who try to make a living by writing their souls out, only to be ripped off by the pirates. In academia, pirates just can't steal anything more from us. We already pay, often twice, for content we have produced and the universities and research institutions have financed. And yes, we get something back, but not from the publishers. Hence, I don't hesitate to mail an article to a colleague or a student. I dip into the stored secrets of my hard-disk, and hand articles out, mine and others.

I do feel guilty though, in a looking-over-my-shoulder kind of way, but not because I think I am doing something bad. More in a slightly paranoid fashion, as if I expect Big Brother to look over my shoulder, not in the reality show version, but the Orwellian Science Fiction of 1984.

And now, back to downloading articles.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Transformed Play

Tomorrow the conference The Transformative Museum starts up in Roskilde, and I will be there together with two colleagues from ITU, Bjarki Valtysson and Nanna Holdgaard. Their contributions can be found, among many other objects, at the conference paper site. Go read them, they have put a lot more effort into their work than I have managed to make time for this spring. My presence there started out of a desire to look at and write about everyday culture, under the working title "Mundane and digital" at the ITU, and I have been cooperating with Bjarki and Nanna, as well as Susana Tosca and Lisbeth Klastrup. The paper for this conference is an attempt to catch still half-formed ideas, and it shows. Still, it feels like a useful direction to go, if I want to combine my very varied fields, those of strategic communication, social media and role-play games. And here it is, for those with special interests: limited time only, the latest edition of Transformed Play, written for The Transformative Museum, Roskilde 2012.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Larps can change the world!

Because it's too beautiful an interview to pass on, for a game-researcher: Heikki Holmås, Norwegian minister of development, talks about his past as a larp fan and practitioner, about his roles and about how playing role-play games can lead to epiphanies of understanding within safe environments.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

CFP: Play Experience workshop

This popped up in my mail, hope somebody out there still have time to plan a contribution.

***Invitation to Contribute***

March 27th, 2012 is the final Submission Deadline Extension for the FDG 2012 - Play Experience Workshop, to be held in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA on May 29 2012

This workshop will bring together researchers interested in GUR (Games User Research), including game evaluation, player experience, game-user research, game telemetry, think aloud, observed behavior, heuristics, metrics, and psycho-physiological measurements. The main goals of the workshop and the expected outcomes are to bring the community together and discuss the methods and applications of the methods involved with Games User Research on the design process.

We invite participants to submit position, empirical and theory abstracts on the use of qualitative and quantitative methods for the evaluation of digital games, and the design of interfaces that can better account for the player experience while interacting with them.

In particular, we seek submissions focused on the following topics (but are certainly not limited to):
·       Lessons learned from working with play experience – in the broadest sense
·       Theory and models for measuring play experience
·       The correlation between various play experience measures
·       User models developed based on existing games user research methods
·       The possibility of fielding different measures in the practical context of academic research and industrial game development
·       The application of play experience models in game AI and game design
·       Data analysis techniques that are best suited to process GUR data for creating optimal player experience

Workshop Schedule:
- industry keynote speakers
- overview of game user research methods from Game User Research SIG at GDC 2012
- summary from workshop on Game User Research from CHI 2012
- participants presentations
- group formation and work
- results presentation

Submission Information
We ask interested participants to submit a one page abstract. Submissions must be in either PDF or DOC format, and comply with the official ACM proceedings format using one of the templates provided at In addition, we ask that each abstract is accompanied by a brief biography or alternatively a 30-60 second presentation video. Biographies and presentation videos will be displayed on the workshop website (
All submissions should be done through the easy chair website at:

Journalism and precision - again

Yesterday I was interviewed by DR ,Danmark Radio, about Bitterfissen Bethany, the blogger I wrote about yesterday. The article that showed up at DR's page was however not exactly what I thought I had responded in the interview. That teaches me to insist on seeing the material before it's published.


DR has picked only the things I said which fit with the journalist's opinions. According to him I consider her real identity to be a disappointment, while I really felt it would be a disappointment to some, to discover that they were being offended by your ordinary housewife. After all, not everybody are in a position to really offend, and an assistant in an office shouldn't really be in a position to take on well-known media personalities. Still, she did.

Further on, I apparently think it's a bad thing to write anonymously, until you're in danger of your life. That is something I distinctly remember to have modified, when the journalist tried that on, by saying that people criticising an otherwise open society may also need to be anonymised. Of course, modifications look less impressive, but keeping that is on your editing, dear journalist, not on me.

Also in the same interview, I pointed out that the main reason why this blogger got so much attention is because she attacked the media, and the media love to write about themselves. She used the media's self-absorption to hit them hard and play around with them, until she had written her book and could use them again, to get free PR for the publication. For some reason that, which I consider to be a vital part of this whole event, was not mentioned by the media. They only mention that through quoting her (in character and rather wicked) address to the media, where she jokes about how she has been playing them. The truth is: she has played the Danish media. By being focused on their own "front", the journalists chasing her have played into her game.

Yes, I think her not being somebody famous has disappointed a lot of people. It didn't disappoint me though. I am still giggling and saving links, for future study, while I take note that journalists still listen with their agendas more than their ears.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Bitterness and anonymity

Last year I started to get phone calls from journalists about Bitterfissen Bethany, "the bitter cunt Bethany", a blogger who spoke where others would call the doctor and ask if they had some help for Tourettes syndrome.

Bethany was suddenly in the media spotlight after she had attacked the established media blogger Anne Sophia Hermansen. And her attacks didn't hold anything back, the language was about as delicate as the Danish delight of hyperbole and direct attacks could make it, as she spewed (when she didn't piss or shit, according to herself) abuse over the targets that would get her attention. Since she was anonymous (surprisingly, there is no Bethany, the bitter cunt in the phone book,) speculations ran high about who she was. I did my best to help that along, by telling the journalists they couldn't know who she was, she might be a man, or a grandmother, or a journalist with a grudge - we had nothing but speculations and guesswork. There were rewards offered for the person who could find her name, and a few potential lawsuits waiting, for when she would come clean.

That happened today, in MetroExpressen. It was immediately picked up by the Danish media, here an example from Danish Radio. So who was she, what happened, and why did she do this?

Bitterfissen Bethany is in the flesh Jeanett Veronica Hindberg, a single mother from Farum. Farum is somewhere north of Copenhagen, and I really don't know enough about it to tell you if this has any kind of significance for Danes. She is an office assistant, 39 years old. She doesn't have four children nor a farm, and she doesn't drink constantly. She also doesn't repent her actions, and she didn't come forwards until she had written a book. Now that the book is ready and can be bought, here she is.

Clever, isn't she?

I have very few opinions about this, exept that touch of glee I feel when an amateur takes the professional journalists for a ride. I suspect a few things are important here though. First, she wasnt seen until she attacked a media personality. Then she discovered, or rather uncovered, how the media really works. The most interesting thing in the world for the media is the media. So do something that puts a journalist on the defensive, and suddenly you have the whole Danish media world snapping at your heels. Jeanett (Bethany) did exactly that, and she enjoyed the trip! She was safe behind her pseudonym, while she also was (in)famous. It must have been a powerful feeling.

Now Jeanett has a shot at fame in her own name. I was never impressed by the blog, and I am not buying the book, but I suspect others will. I wish her all the best, although I suspect we're not looking at the new A. K. Rawlins here, single mother or not. Ironically, most of that fame probably comes from anonymity. As long as she was a mystery, there was a certain sense of danger and exploration, literally anybody could be behind this blog. Now it's just Jeanett.

 And to Jeanett: get used to being talked about within a feminist agenda. You may think you don't belong there, but you have done a very 70ies thing, by taking control over your inner bad girl to let her out, demanding room in the media and online. Any moment now you'll find yourself with a mirror in hand, admiring your own pussy and considering why society could ever think that such a nice little (I am guessing) shaved fold of skin should determine your right to be harsh and aggressive.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Copenhagen #8: Extreme traffic

Not everything is perfect in bicycle-land, and there have been a lot of complaints through 2011 and into 2012 about cyclists breaking traffic regulations. The police has had several campaigns in order to catch illegal cycling, and since 2012 the fines are doubled, something the police celebrated with giving out more fines.

I am still trying to learn the distinctions. In Norway a bicyclist either drives as if we're in a car, or on the sidewalk. Both are permitted, and driving on the sidewalk is recommended in heavily trafficked areas. You can imagine how well that works... But this means that I tend to take short-cuts when it gets me our of dangerous situations. There is, for instance, this one sidewalk on the way to work. There's no way I can cross the street right there, and it's perhaps 30 meters to the traffic light, where I can cross safely. So I roll slowly over a small bridge on the sidewalk, or get off the bike and walk if there are people there. In the heavy morning traffic I choose the safest, least trafficked route - which leads me to this little traffic transgression. And while I roll there, riddled by guilt, I see again and again examples of the Danish driver's interpretation of traffic-lights.

Traffic lights are supposedly very clear. It's green for go, yellow for wait, and red for stop. Yellow is for the transition between full speed and stop, for when you can't break without endangering traffic. Right? Yep, that's what I thought.

Now, if you are a bicyclist in Copenhagen, please realise that while you'll be fined by the police if you cross on yellow to red, Copenhagen yellow-light interpretations will kill you. Here's the Copenhagen car-drivers guide to stoplights.

While driving
Green: Go as hard and fast as you can.
Yellow: Keep going.
It's been yellow for a little while: Speed up, you can still make it across on the yellow light.
Red: It's only been red for 2 seconds, so it's still yellow.
Red for more than two seconds: Stop, preferably in the middle of the bike-path or the foot crossing.

While standing still
Red: It will be yellow any second, so I'd better keep prepared.
Red and yellow: Time to inch forwards.
Red and yellow if you are behind another car: Prepare to honk your horn.
Green: If you are behind a car pausing for some reason, honk.
Green: Full speed!

Now, if you combine this with the bicyclists reluctance to stop - if you stop you'll have to push off and get back on the bike, so you don't want that - what you get in Copenhagen are situations that makes me wonder why I haven't seen any serious accidents yet. On this one place on the path to work, the lights are synchronised. This means that if you keep a steady tempo, you'll reach the next light just as it turns green. However, if you're a little quicker than the mainstream biker, you reach the next light as it's still yellow and red! So, we have the Danish car-drivers' reluctance to stop until it's been red for a while, combined with the quickest bikers reluctance to stop or even pause on their way to work, sending cyclists at full speed in front of cars jumping lights.

I tell you,  I get all the adrenaline thrills I need regularly from riding my bike to work. Add the police's habit of driving like they are all in a second-rate cop-movie that relies on the car chases to make money, this city keeps the inhabitants' pulse up.

In defense of Copenhagen drivers: They take the most gentle and considerate right turns of all drivers I have seen. Normally turning  right is the easiest thing to do in right-side traffic. But when there's a lane of bikers just to the right of you, turning right becomes a hazard, and you need to make certain all bikers have passed before turning. I have to give it to the local drivers: They wait patiently. This is totally at odds with the regular stop-light behaviour, but a life-saviour. Of course, Danish television regularly sends a really scary reminder for both bikers and drivers about the danger of turning right without carefully checking the blind zone. I had nightmares about that infomercial the first months I lived here, and have now developed a healthy survivor habit of making certain the cars waiting to turn right see me before I cross.

In general, I have developed a habit of being a lot more alert as a biker than I used to. It's not just the cars, it's the other bikers and making sure I don't pass another biker just as somebody were about to pass me, guessing how the pedestrians will move, and seeing from the ripple of movement through the people waiting at a bus-stop whether the bus is approaching. Bicyclists are supposed to yield for people getting on or getting off the bus, so I need to know if I am about to be overtaken by one. Years ago, a friend compared driving on a six-lane highway with playing a computer game. Now I am playing that game, only it's a lot more complex. I have to understand and deal with so many more factors in traffic, different speeds, different rules for different participants, and the sudden moments when the behaviour changes - it's Extreme Traffic; Copenhagen Rules. The game is on.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Quiet time to do research

Denmark, like most countries, has an ongoing debate about how Universities are to get as much as possible out of the Universities. Due to very good economic support for students, many young people try to ride out the crisis by taking an education. That is not the worst way to go, and I am all for offering education as an alternative to unemployment.

However: the Universities expected to deliver this education get very little extra funding for it, no new positions and also a change of policy which rewards externally funded research, and takes teaching for granted (link in Danish, it's about the demand for more teaching in the Universities.) Now, professors are not stupid (if we were, that would indeed be a sad state of affairs), even if they sometimes are idealistic. And so, when the government says: get more research funding - well, we get more research funding, putting researchers on the case, while finding ways to keep the teaching rolling at the side.

This leads to teaching which is not research based, because all the professors are busy doing research for external funding, just like the government ordered! In order to fix this, the government insists that students need to have more classes, and these classes have to be with the professors who actually do research: research based teaching.

I am very much in favour of this, so I have no problems with the demand for more research based teaching. It's the one benefit Universities have over private research organisations: I get to meet students. Over the years, students have challenged me, pushed me and rewarded me in ways no other part of my job does. But they challenge me into doing research. Without research, which gives me something new and interesting to share and each, facing the students become a repetitive chore.

At the same time, research appears to be viewed as a time of "quiet", of "peace". "We need to give the staff quiet, calm times to do research," professor Sune Auken from the blog Forskningsfrihed says. The error in this is how it puts teaching, apparently a stressful, draining chore, up against research, a calm, peaceful, contemplative activity. In my experience, this is wrong. Of course, included in research is long hours of reading, days of checking for literature, months of analysing data, sometimes years of organising and writing up theories and findings. It may look peaceful. Still, if you're doing research worth the paper it's printed on, it's stressful, tense, fraught with doubt and built on meticulous, tedious fact-checking and proofing, in all possible ways.

Research isn't a time of calm or quiet, it's a time of immersion, introspection and tension, put up against a time of activity, communication and attention to others. In universities these two positions do not oppose each other, they play together and rejuvenate each other. The teacher needs long stretches of time protected from teaching in order to immerse herself into research. The researchers needs to come out of the immersion and communicate, be challenged and be pushed, in order to have something new to bring into her time of immersion.

Of these activities, teaching is the one that it is possible to hire others for though. Entry-level teaching can easily be done by somewhat more advanced teachers, that's not where researchers really have to engage. And so in order to meet the demands for research, universities look at the teaching hours, and move the researchers from the least demanding classes - which also happen to be the most populated. It's a matter of trying to work more efficient - as the government constantly insist the Universities should do. This way some students will get research-based teaching. Hiring non-teaching researchers to do the research while the professors teach means NO students will get research based teaching, as their professors will always be teaching, and never researching.

In order to create a good policy of teaching and research, the government needs to remember that it's the same people who have to do both. It's impossible to drain the university brains into externally funded research, and expect the same heads to have time to teach. And it's impossible to demand research based teaching, and not give the teachers time and opportunity to do research. There are only two answers to this: Fewer students, or more professors. Barring some groups in different organisations - there are always some groups that have more slack than they really ought to have, I have no idea where, but they exist, it's the law of organisations - that is the only way the government can have both more teaching for each student, and more research for each professor. I am sorry. There are no easy ways to split the professorial heads, and neither research based teaching, research itself happens without effort.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Wedding traditions in transition

What is a Norwegian wedding tradition? Currently, the idea of the "traditional wedding" is dominated by a mixture of American traditions gleaned from movies and "Bridezilla" programs, where we learn how they do things elsewhere. It's about white brides, bridal music of a certain kind, and church weddings where brides battle to the death to get the church they always wanted. But is this the traditional Norwegian wedding?

First: about half the weddings in Norway 2008-2010 were in a church, the other half was elsewhere. I am not counting the part abroad, as it's not registered whether those were church- weddings or not. So, if tradition is defined by what people do, church weddings are no longer the one, true way.

Next: white weddings. The white wedding dress was not common until between the first and second world war in the US, and was still not all that common until 1940-50 in Norway. Before that wedding dresses were all colours, with both red and black as much-used colours. If we are to look at the more recent traditions, as in four - five years old, like the weddings above, people get married in just about everything, and the strongly coloured national costumes are quite common, even in churches. Considering that only half the weddings happen in churches, where white seems to be the strongest tradition, and several of the church weddings see the bride in national costumes, I think there's a good chance that white isn't the most common (i. e. traditional) bride colour any more.

Third: Why did I write this at all? There is this beautiful article about two young women who are quite unhappy that they won't have their dream wedding, since they are early adaptors to a new law. The Norwegian church has not yet written a liturgy to include same-sex weddings, and so a church wedding will not be legally binding. They will have to marry twice if they want both a church wedding and a legally binding ceremony. While that is sad for two girls with conventional dreams, it is traditional for non-conventional weddings. Back when divorce was unheard of, only previously unmarried people or widows/widowers could marry in the church. Unless you were a king and changed the church in your country, of course. When divorce lost the taint of scandal, priests would still refuse to marry people who had been married before, and refuse them access to the church. In 1991, one of my relatives could not have a priest in her wedding in Norway, since she had been married before. This was quite common treatment of heterosexual divorcees.

What I am trying to say is, the traditional wedding for Norwegian couples that do not adhere to the norm of heterosexual, Christian, first-time marriage is an untraditional wedding. It's a wedding where the couples mix family traditions, local traditions, traditions from film and television, examples from royal weddings, made-up traditions and their own ideas about a good wedding.

So you go, girls, making your own interpretation of traditions. I suspect that is the most traditional tradition of all wedding traditions: To pick something here and something there, adjust, change and renew until you have a ceremony and party that fits with what you want. In that manner, you're traditional early adaptors. Thank you for sharing it with us. You are beautiful and brave.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lego blondes

Almost two months ago, I wrote a blogpost about LEGO, and how the Friends series is problematic for a woman who is conscious about the gendering of toys. Since then the topic has made quite a splash in Denmark, and the Danish minister of - hmm - likestilling, what's the good English word for that? Minister of Equality? Anyway, Manu Sareen had to withdraw his criticism of LEGO Friends, because it became too problematic for the party. The argument used against his criticism was a classic rhetoric strategy to make criticism go away, as described by Benoit in his theory of image restoration. The public, very likely fueled by political opponents and the fact that LEGO is pretty much a holy cow in Denmark, told Manu Sareen that he had much more important questions to worry about.

I, however, am not elected to much, and I can disagree without losing any votes. That's why I went out and bought two little LEGO figures. I bought one regular one, that I put together from different bits, with very good help from the nice people working in the LEGO store in Copenhagen, the other part of a set of Friends LEGO. (I could buy a set with a girl baking and working as a waitress, or a set with a girl lounging at the pool. Yep. That's what girls can fantasize about when they play with girl-segment LEGO.)

I have claimed that the Friends LEGO figures don't fit with the others, but I have been a little uncomfortable with the claim, because I hadn't really studied them well enough to be absolutely certain. But let's look below:

 First, the Friends figure is taller. She will not fit into the cars, planes and many wondrous creations in the regular Lego series.
 Next, she can't actually sit in the brick cars, fit on the horses, or stick in the pilot seat of the planes. She is designed to not fit in with those objects.
She can stand on the brick sets, so building a city, for instance, she can stand on the street or in the houses.

She can't fit into the helmet, even if we remove her hair.

It belongs to the story that I had to costum build my space girl. I tried to buy the lovely little pink space-suited figure on display in the store, but it belongs to a special set that is no longer produced.

So what is going on here?

1: It's 2012. Do I really have to point out that the LEGO Friends character is slimmer and has budding boobs, while the old-fashioned one is a genderless brick figure? With the increased sexualisation of childhood, this is one more object cementing a feminine ideal of slim, tall women. Slim tall women who can't do what the small, squat, genderless figures can. The LEGO men have all the powerful options.

2: The structure of LEGO makes it impossible to use the Friends figures in as many ways as the regular ones. The version created for girls has, in game-structure language, less affordances and more restrictions. This is a game-changer, literally, as it means the girl toys offer a different game from the boy toys.

3: LEGO wants to make twice as much money off the consumers. I can understand that. Childhood is a big money machine in the western countries, and we already wade in LEGO. They have to do something if sales are to be increased. So by making certain that the figures don't match, parents of children of two genders have to buy both series if they want to offer equal opportunity building bricks to their kids.

Yes, there are other important topics out there for the Danish minister Manu Sareen to pay attention to. I am not certain if they are more important than the commercialisation and gendering of the childhood.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Feeling stupid lately?

I keep getting all these questions, as if people expect me to have been drinking from the fountain of knowledge, or eating the apples of wisdom as a regular diet. Of course, the University tap-water does come directly from mimisbrunnr, but what that has made me good at isn't giving answers, but asking questions. That is what Deep Thought and most scholars and researchers have in common, and it is why feeling stupid isn't always such a curse.

(Of course, being stupid is a curse, but those who are stupid mostly feel like they know everything, so the curse is on the rest of the world.)

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Anything for money...

Some days ago, I was in a meeting where the group discussed how to attract the right type of applicants for a research project. I had pointed out that they might need to rethink their call, if they wanted new partners, because not everybody would be willing to cooperate or interested in the call the way it was presented. The response was "researchers will do anything for money."

At the moment, I responded snappy and snarky, as I sometimes can, with enough humour that there was laughter. I didn't stop thinking about it though. Do we do it all for money?

My paycheck, to start there, indicates that of the group at the meeting, I am the least motivated by money. They all out-earn me, some of them several times. Then to the things I do for them and for others. I am a pretty cheap lecturer, and a very easy partner for discussions. I travel large distances to contribute, sometimes without decent funding even for the costs. When that same group needed to make the initial plan for the research call, I sat aside a day, for free, to speak to their staff and assist them. If I had asked them for help, 1000 kr an hour would have been charity.

I respond at length to journalists, I give lectures at schools and organisations at a symbolic pay, I respond to public hearings and I publish for nothing but the chance to have my work aknowledged. While I do get a salary, I don't even get all my books and computers covered, the tools I need in order to do the work I am hired to do.

I, like most others in the same position, put in a huge amount of effort at unpaid work, reviewing for journals and conferences, and a huge amount of underpaid work, such as assessing exams and applicants for various positions - luckily some of the last work is occasionally paid fairly. That is not the rule, though. And all of this adds up to work-days which are illegal according to Norwegian law. If I registered all the work I do my employer could get in trouble for taking advantage of the work-force.

Yes, sometimes money motivates me. Like right now, while we are two people on one salary, I would really like to be paid for some of that extra work. But when I apply for research funding, it's not the money that motivates me, it's the project.

What I am willing to work 50-70 hour weeks for is the research itself. For this I am willing to write applications and argue for funding. I will patiently and politely listen to employers who insult my professional integrity, and then spread the money I get out of it so thin that it looks fake, in order to make it really, really last.

Next time people claim I (a researcher) do anything for money, I'll ask what they get paid. What motivates them, you think?

Monday, January 16, 2012

When teaching works

One of the things about being a teacher is that it's pretty hard to know when teaching works. I tend to believe that the reason things work out is because I have such brilliant students. I am a pretty privileged teacher, I have a lot of brilliant students, they participate, they share, the listen and they learn. It's a wonderful place to be in.

Sometimes, however, I get this sneaking suspicion that I have influenced them. And I am not talking about the many, many students traumatised to the point of never being able to squeeze another ketchup bottle after advertising lectures with graphic images. No, you see, sometimes I do something with my teaching because I want students to get better at one particular skill, and they get better at it!

I have just come out of a marathon of paper grading, the curse of every professor. When the students go on vacation, we hole up with supplies, good reading light and a red pen, and get to it. This is a strange and exhausting process, as it demands intense focus for hour after hour. Luckily the students I grade these days submit computer written papers - when I also have to decode handwriting, this is headsplittingly hard. Anyway.

Going into a long period of grading is like zoning into a very special slice of life. It's just you, the reading list, the course list, the demands to the papers, and this large stack in front of you. It's easy to feel disconnected from reality and worry that you're being too nice or too harsh, or believe you are hallucinating. Sometimes we are. Grading large stacks takes endurance and practice to do well - at the end of day two, the words blur and you turn pages with only a vague idea of what is on them. Again and again you go back, read over, check the notes, worry you may have been in that empty trance state too long, and can't get it all back, but you have to press forwards to the end of the stack.

Then you call the other assessor. You communicate - carefully - your idea about how the grades are this year. Surprisingly often you and the other assessor agree! This is always a miraculous moment. There is something measurable, and you have both sensed and measured it in a manner that is at least comparable!

This year I got this sneaking feeling early; that this was a generally good stack. (Now, if you are a student, no, I am not giving you your grade until all the formalities are in place, and then you have to call the administration. The papers are in the mail between me, the censor and the student administration. Wait for it.) Not that they were all brilliant, some were brilliant, some bad, some failed. It's how it is. But they were on average much better than I have been used to! I thought this was odd, because it's been a rough semester. I had to bring in several external leturers (thanks folks, you did really good by my students!) and rely on the TAs a lot (and they were amazingly reliable). So I started to pay attention, to try to figure out what had happened.

One thing stood out: They papers were organised! They had a strong and clear structure, they had developed the research questions, they had all elements we ask for from a paper, and they used literature well and correctly. I almost wanted to cry. I have been drilling this into student heads all autumn, repeating the structure of a paper, the reference systems, the reason for both and the logic of scholarly argumentation. I have linked reference systems and written outlines, and then repeated it all one-on-one for those who came for supervision. I worried I had overdone it.

If I overdid it, at least the message got through. Even the weak papers were structured. In several cases this saved them from a total crash and burn, as the adherence to structure helped discipline the progress. And this I know is different from the terms before. This one thing was drilled more, and more systematically. The teaching made a difference.

So, now I have that working for me. Tomorrow I'll be at the library, considering what else I need to spend time on. I am thinking of how to tighten up the reading list and the progress of lectures, and couple it better with the exercizes. I can't promise that it will work as well, but I can guarantee that I will try.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Remember the milk 2

One of the things that my new to-do software does, is ask how much time I need to spend on the tasks I schedule. I try to put in realistic estimates. Until March 21st I already have work planned and booked estimated to take 53,12 working days. This is before teaching, planning, administration and meetings. All of this will take between 18 and 22 working days.  In this period there are 51 working days. Perhaps this is why I feel like I never get things done?

In a recent study of the time-use of faculty at universities and colleges in Norway, it turned out that 8 out of 10 of the active researchers who are also teaching, use their spare time for research. The day simply does not have enough hours to cover the three tasks: administration, teaching and research - sadly often emphasized in that order.

Over the next weeks I will have to use a lot of non-paid hours in order to cover all I have to do, if I want to teach well, maintain a network, publish and participate actively to the running of the University, and this is nothing special.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Can I still buy Lego?

A picture from an old ad flashed around the internet with viral speed a week or so ago. It's a little red-headed girl, holding out her colourful, glorious Lego creation. The discussions and the issues this brings up has touched me both personally and as a researcher looking at play, games and leisure. Lego has long been the benchmark of free creative toys, dominating the market with their simple and sophisticated idea.

 This was the Lego ideal when I had children, and it's the lego they grew up with and loved. We still have loads of the toys, one of the few things we did not throw out in the move, and now that our daughter has more room, I expect her to take them home. I loved my own Lego pieces, particularly when my father or older sisters would get down on the floor with me to play. There was this sunny spot on the floor which was like made for a long afternoon building odd creations.

When my sister had kids, some 15 years later, we started looking for Lego for them. It wasn't really that easy any more, because it had all become extremely gendered all of a sudden. The different stories that could be told with Legos had taken off, and where my kids could have a kingdom's castle (which was great, female characters make as good knights as the male ones), 10 years later the options were much wider - and almost all for males. Ninjas, Star Wars, Pirates of the Carribean - girls could still play with them, but it was clearly aimed at the tomboy side of girls. If we wanted something neutral, it was getting tricky. For years, we actually stopped buying Lego, because buying the boy-stuff for the girls would have made it seem like a present for the boy. We did not want to encourage the gendering of toys by getting him space-legos and the girls crayons, so it ended up with crayons for everybody. But we kept looking, and once in a while we'd find a nice design, a house, some cars, some animals. We still loved Lego, you know.

The last few weeks have made me seriously reconsider that love. Lego has redesigned their toys - supposedly after four years of research - and created a girly line. I am stunned. Here I was, happily thinking I'd just have to wait out the space-ship and pirate runt of the last few years, and I'd be able to find lovely, gender-neutral Lego again. Instead they go dramatically in the opposite direction, gendering the toys beyond recognition.

Check out more pictures from the new Lego sets at Geekologie and, and have a look for yourself. The figures are no longer compatible with the other lego sets, so if the girls want to create a pink-suited space girl to fit in the rocket and use the same gear as the boys, they can't do it. They can't put them on the horses, they can't work the farms, they can't fit the police uniforms  and they certainly can't fit a hard-top over their styled hair.

Lego, I understand that girls have been telling you they want more stuff for girls. I have been looking for more good stuff for girls myself. But I have not been looking for yet another arena where boys and girls are shown that their interests and activities can never mix. The beauty of Lego was that it could all integrate. If I had wanted to get plastic toys with more realistic figures, different shapes and standards that didn't match the other toys, I'd have bought Playmobil!

Instead I would have liked to see a bakery next to the car-wash or a complex model of a cupcake factory or a dairy - have you ever looked at those? They are the model-train enthusiast's dream come true! Why not let the girls have pink space-suits, purple cars and sturdy female ambulance drivers in the same fit and design as the rest? The Lego universe is potentially as diverse as reality as it is, and yes, a kitchen in bright colours would be cool, but can't it fit in right next to the command bridge on the death star? Even evil villains taking over the universe have to eat, you know.

This all makes me want to go stick my head into SWTOR and never come back out. In there I can be female and look gloriously competent and dangerous, in armour sets that do not bare my boobs, either. Thanks, BioWare. The next toy I buy for a child of any gender may be a digital game.