Monday, May 18, 2009

Too Cool for School

My friend and colleague Peter Krapp often complains -- justifiably -- about the proliferation of "top ten" lists in the blogosphere. He's right, of course, but graduate students often don't get recognized as important contributors to new media studies or to the academy in general

So, with cap and gown season arriving, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge some of the interesting things being done by a diverse group of graduate students whose work I have encountered during the course of blogging here at Virtualpolitik. They are not in any particular order, but I do alternate between male and female future academics in the interest of gender equity. After all, danah boyd and Jane McGonigal wrapped up their dissertations and so aren't blogging about it any more, but there are still many women doing graduate work about social media, distributed networks, or ubiquitous computing in the academy.

1. Not many media theorists know about both the care and feeding of a Madagascar hissing cockroaches and how to wield a soldiering iron effectively to serve their mechanical needs, but -- as this video shows -- Garnet Hertz can do both. In his day job at the University of California, Irvine, Hertz is engaged with the theory and practice of network art, digital imaging, computer based installations, electronics, robotics, visual studies, and the history and theory of new media. He's also the graduate student who has been assigned to sections of University Studies 13: Videogames as Art, Culture, and Technology for the past three years. Recently he created Debt Hole to commemorate the current credit crisis with what Ian Bogost has called "a lovely little hack" of spacer.asm. I like the fact that community service is a key part of his academic philosophy and the fact that he runs the Dorkbot SoCal events at Machine Project in Los Angeles in which "no résumé requirements to present work," and "often well-known and established individuals are billed alongside over-ambitious (and sometimes misguided) amateurs."

2. Nonny de la Peña pursued a career as a documentary filmmaker for many years, before becoming involved with new media projects and machinima filmmaking as a graduate student at USC. With interactive media artist Peggy Weil she has created Gone Gitmo, a digital replica of the Guantanamo Bay prison in Second Life, and a project about walls and borders called Mauerkrankheit/Wallsickness, which is also SL based.

3. I write about Harvard's Chris Soghoian, a fellow at the Berkman Center, in the seventh chapter of the Virtualpolitik book. Soghoian first achieved fame for creating Chris's Boarding Pass Generator, which made realistic looking Northwest airlines boarding passes in order to publicize a security flaw. (I'm fascinated with the political and rhetorical uses of web generators, as this paper indicates.) Soghoian has received considerable prominence among e-government experts since then for his blogging at CNET's Surveillance State where he has publicized problems with the privacy of citizen users who wish to access the parts of the public record housed on YouTube, such as presidential oratory put there by

4. I met Lindsay Kelley of UC Santa Cruz when she organized a panel about responses by digital artists to the Iraq War for the New Media Caucus at the College Art Association that featured presentations by Wafaa Bilal, Joseph DeLappe, Krista Genevieve Lynes, and myself. Kelley also curates her work at Performative where she does new things with the figure of the hunger artist, which continues to be powerful in the era of the Monkey Chow Diaries. For example, Kelley makes disquieting videos on how to prepare liquid food for feeding tubes, which are done in classic Internet video how-to banal style. Her DIY projects around her work starvation seeds also include advice about making mud cookies and information about the creepy commercially trademarked product Plumpy'nut®, which is designed to treat malnutrition. Check out her starvation seeds blog for latest work.

5. Tad Hirsch is a PhD candidate in the Smart Cities group at MIT who does great work on ubiquitous computing and human rights. I first met Hirsch when he gave a very smart talk at the UCSB Social Computing Workshop. In addition to having experience with a number of corporate groups, including Intel's People and Practices Group, which is funding some of my research this summer, Hirsch is also a frequent contributor to the Applied Autonomy Group, which has produced works like Terminal Air, which provides data visualizations of the "extraordinary rendition" flights that transported suspected terrorist sympathizers using third party countries that often practiced torture and other human rights violations. Hirsch's own work has used cell phone technologies as a way to distribute news and information to potential activists in Africa without compromising their identities and exposing them to the wrath of security forces in dictatorial regimes.

6. Sarah "Intellagirl" Robbins, who is writing a rhetoric dissertation at Ball State, has been at the forefront of virtual worlds research for several years, along with her partner Mark Bell of Indiana University, with whom she wrote Second Life for Dummies. She has co-authored several scholarly articles with Edward Castronova and serves as Director of Emerging Technologies at Kelley Executive Partners at Indiana University. She blogs about technology trends at UberNoggin. Best of all, she really does have pink hair; it's not just a feature of her avatar.

7. I write about Virgil Griffith in the Virtualpolitik book as well in the chapter on hacktivism. This Caltech graduate student, who does research about computation and neural networks, achieved notoriety as an undergraduate at Indiana University for creating the WikiScanner, which allows computer users to locate the source of anonymous Wikipedia edits that often turned out to be self-interested PR efforts by corporations, government entitites, or public figures, although Virgil also discovered that the unmotivated edits were the CIA was editing pages about light saber fighting styles. Griffith is an advocate of what he calls "amateur data mining" or "data mining for the masses" with open source tools that are "typically reserved for major corporations" He has also launched whimsical projects like Books that Make you Dumb, which is based on data from college students on Facebook, and online automated guides to finding free food on college campuses. Griffith is also affiliated with the Sante Fe Institute.

8. Lilly Irani looks at the intersections between "everyday ubiquitous computing and interactive and collaborative technologies" as an Informatics student at UC Irvine who studies with Paul Dourish. Although she has a corporate background as a Google experience designer, she describes her research areas as being "everyday privacy strategies in collaboration, postcolonial computing, and feminist research practice." Her work on situated practices of looking in online environments demonstrates the sophistication of her analytical perspective. Irani is a regular participant in events at the UCI Design Alliance as well. (Check out the cool stuff being done about deliberation and information representation in the space program by another of Dourish's students, Janet Vertesi, who did her PhD at Cornell before coming to UCI for a postdoc.)

9. Georgia Tech 6th year PhD student Nick Diakopoulos has capitalized on his interest in salsa dancing to create the Salsa Beat Trainer, but he also works on a number of serious issues about how journalism is (or is not) using computational media in a course he teaches and a symposium that he co-chaired. On this blog I've written about some of the tools for mark-up and remixing of online video such as Videotater and for credibility assessment, such as Videolyzer, which he argues could even be used for things like pharmaceutical product videos. He's also developed a fun casual game called Audio Puzzler.

10. MIT's Talieh Rohani has worked for the New Media Literacies project (NML), the Comparative Media Studies department, HyperStudio for Digital Humanities, and The Education Arcade. Trained as a filmmaker in Iran and Canada, Rohani combines new media art with educational outreach. In addition to working on a number of projects about Iran and Iraq, Rohani has also documented the Come Out and Play game festival.

11. Dan Lockton writes the blog Design with Intent, which was once called "Architectures of Control," although Lockton rebranded it to emphasize the importance of what he calls "design for sustainable behavior." Anyone interested in information design and what Ian Bogost has called "procedural rhetoric" is likely to find themselves drawn in to blog entries about "you are here" maps, salt and pepper shaker tops, and light bulb hacking. Topics include mundane topics like queuing, hand washing in restrooms, and piped-in music in retail stores, but Lockton always draws attention to how subtle systems of societal restraint may be in play in almost invisible ways in our daily lives. Lockton has developed the Design with Intent Toolkit as part of an attempt to create more dialogue between those specializing in persuasive technologies and the larger community of design professionals.

12. Mirjam Eladhari of Gotland University in Sweden and University of Teesside in England does work about AI and games with Michael Mateas. Although her research is grounded in playtesting, Eladhari explores the more ineffable aspects of players' emotional responses as they become engrossed with stories and situations. I like the graphics for her Pataphysic Institute project that calls up associations with other pataphysics related organizations.

13. In "Six Degrees of Kevin Driscoll," Virtualpolitik pal Alice Robison jokes about the way that MIT graduate student and source of YouTube video playlists Kevin Driscoll serves as a large hub with multiple connections to other large hubs. He has had a role in creating YouTomb, a research project that tracks videos taken down from YouTube for supposed copyright violations. In addition to blogging at todo mondo, he also writes items for Students for Free Culture at

14. Pauline Chan was actually a student of mine in my digital rhetoric class, when she was still balancing her interests in English and Informatics in separate schools. She is now a graduate student at Georgia Tech, where she worked with Celia Pearce on a game about Ellis Island, Passage.

15. French graduate student Jean-Baptise LaBrun studies a minor subject: creativity. Like Hertz, he's been part of the Dorkbot scene and has created a number of inventions, such as the Tangicam video recorder for children. He's also presented work to the Lifelong Kindergarten at MIT, where he's now set to be a postdoc in the Media Lab. Check out his work at in|situ| Lab as well.

16. Sabine Niederer is finishing a PhD at the University of Amsterdam. Like recent PhD Anne Helmond, she has been closely affiliated with the Institute of Network Cultures, where she now serves as manager. She co-edited the Video Vortex reader of essays about YouTube with Geert Lovink.

17. Mark Danger Chen of the University of Washington places his guild offices in World of Warcraft on his c.v. Look for him on the conference circuit where he presents his research on player ethnography but he's also a keen observer of interdisciplinary exchanges and an avid collector of digital ephemera.

18. Berkeley graduate student Colleen Morgan studies the "intersections between archaeology, new media, open source, and geospatial technology" and blogs at Middle Savagery. Her reflections about geekdom, photography, archeology, and visual representations of data are well worth reading, whether she is meditating upon the "superstandard English" of "nerd cadence" described by Mary Bucholtz or a "photoshop deathmatch" involving a shot from an archeological dig.

19. Fred Stutzman of the University of North Carolina is the co-founder of, a "project that empowers individuals to manage their online identity through open, decentralized identity tools." Prior to graduate school, Stutzman worked as technical director of, the large digital repository of open-source, open-access content. While at Ibiblio, he proposed and managed the development of Lyceum, the open-source blogging platform. Stutzman has also provided consulting and advisory services to a number of projects and organizations, including media and software companies, non-profits and political campaigns. At one time, his clients have included the presidential campaigns of John Kerry, Wesley Clark and John Edwards. Fred maintains the blog Unit Structures and during the 2008 election cycle he was a contributing author to techPresident, a favorite blog of this blog.

20. Sarita Yardi of Georgia Tech works with VP pal Amy Bruckman and studies how "Atlanta area teens use technology in their lives." She's also scheduled to intern with danah boyd at Microsoft Research New England.

21. Marc Tuters of the Mixed Reality Lab is completing his Ph.D. at Keio University. In addition to finishing an MFA at USC in interactive media, Tuters was a member of the Networked Publics team, as this podcast with him demonstrates.



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