Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Dead Speak

At first glance, Benetech looks very much like other corporate websites, with its navigation to different divisions, section on its "business plan," and use of stock photographs and features of institutional web design. But the company's Blogspot blog carries items about open source rather than proprietary technologies, and headings for "human rights," "literacy," and "environment" indicate that it is activism rather than corporate products or services is what constitutes their core business.

A recent Frontline television special about "Guatemala: The Secret Files" explains the role of Benetech in documenting the human rights abuses of the past. The Human Rights Data Analysis Group of Benetech took on the task of scanning documents and providing database resources to "flesh out the story of the disappeared" with custom software and "tools to capture the information."

The largest known human rights archive in the Americas, the recovered police records could provide critical information about the estimated 200,000 people dead or missing during Guatemala's 36-year civil war and help bring perpetrators to justice.

Another one of the firm's divisions, Martus, from the Greek word for "witness," explains its mission as follows:

Martus is a secure information management tool that allows you to create a searchable and encrypted database and back this data up remotely to your choice of publicly available servers. The Martus software is used by organizations around the world to protect sensitive information and shield the identity of victims or witnesses who provide testimony on human rights abuses.

When I was a teenager, I knew a friend of a friend who was from Guatemala. As a non-native English speaker and survivor of the dirty war that had decimated his family, it was difficult to understand who he was or where he had come from. Finally, at a party my Spanish-speaking boyfriend at the time ended up talking with this guy for hours and listening to him describe a bloody regime that seemed very far from our nineteen-eighties suburban comfort. This conflict is still poorly understood by Americans, but they can host parts of its archive on their computer desktops as part of one Benetech initiative.

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A Shooting in the Sanctuary

A Unitarian-Universalist congregation seems like an unlikely target for a deranged gunman, but -- according to the New York Times -- the paranoid anger of Jim D. Adkisson against homosexuals and political liberals apparently led him to undertake a murderous rampage in a church in which young children were performing on stage. Members of this religion known for its pacifism managed to subdue Adkisson, but at least two congregants died from his gunfire.

I happen to be a life-long Unitarian and one accustomed to being a member of a religious minority so small that many who proselytize on my doorstep have no idea of the values that my faith represents and assume that I am simply a member of another evangelical sect. Yet today our entire congregation received a bulk e-mail about the Knoxville shooting and information about web resources that we could consult about the violence that took place.

We were referred to online statements from church officials about the heroism that took place during the carnage and the professionalism of the subsequent crisis response at the UUA official site. (For example, this posting was careful to include a copyright statement for the lyrics that it had quoted.) We were also given a link to the Unitarian Universalist Trauma Response Ministry that had been formed to provide interfaith counseling and services to survivors of large-scale disasters.

We were not, however, given the link to the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church itself in the mass e-mail.

Like many other faiths, I discovered that the Unitarian church actually has its own official YouTube channel as well. The Knoxville church provides a link to "Voices of a Liberal Faith." But so far there are no videos about the shootings on the church's YouTube site.

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Is "Audacity" Their Code Word for "Uppity"?

The GOP has now launched Barack Obama Audacity Watch, which the New York Times says is designed to portray him as "out of touch" with groups that include "white working-class voters" and a celebrity on the order of Britney Spears or Paris Hilton. As I pointed out recently, the word "watch" is always a signal of a particular kind of critical vigilance, but what is interesting is the way that the word "audacity," which is used by Obama in the title of his book The Audacity of Hope, is appropriated by Republican strategists as a negative term. What is particularly interesting is how branding associated with American patriotism or with the functions of particular offices becomes a particular area of concern for the website. Obama Watch includes links to stories like "Obama Replaces American Flag With Obama Logo" or provides this embedded segment from Comedy Central about Obama's appropriation of the presidential seal. In the Virtualpolitik book I talk about "institutional branding" and government media and how the Bush administration has been known to claim intellectual property rights over the visual icons of the Executive Branch, so their is clearly an understanding of the power of trademark and copyright associated with tradition already in place at the White House.

If I were a Republican media strategist, however, I would be careful. Even if McCain is certain to garner only a tiny proportion of the African-American vote, too much of their anti-"audacity" rhetoric could be interpreted as a critique of his "uppityness" in ways that may alienate moderates on social issues who admire the image of progress and racial diversity that the very existence of the Obama campaign represents to even those with no plans to vote for him.

As to the Obama-as-celebrity videos being made by the RNC and the McCain campaign, here are two examples of the genre:

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

An Uncommon Voice

For five years, writer Vicki Forman has kept the blog Speak Softly as a space for personal reflection about motherhood and life with a severely disabled child. Of course, there are large territories in the blogosphere devoting to parenting blogs and to blogs for disability issues, but Forman brings these topoi together with rare skill and a strong authorial voice that has attracted many readers, who may have also read her heartbreaking mini-memoir, "Coming to Samsara," in the collection Love You to Pieces: Creative Writers on Raising a Child with Special Needs that describes giving birth to twins prematurely and the devastating experience of burying one child and then struggling to raise the other.

Last week, Forman's son, Evan Kamida, died unexpectedly, and fellow bloggers and those in Forman's online communities and social networks were faced with the difficulties of handling expressions of public commiseration in a situation where their friend's loss and grief bears nothing of the virtual. Although web pages often serve to represent rites of passage related to birth and marriage and even sites for memorialization of the dead, the tributes to Evan at Literary Mama and on this Flickr page are particularly eloquent and moving.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Shake, Rattle, and Roll

Today's 5.8 temblor showed how one-to-many broadcast media may still be more helpful to the public than websites in the case of a disaster. As this screenshot shows, the server of the Los Angeles Times went down completely just after the earthquake, and Cal Tech's Media Relations: Earthquake Info and the Southern California Earthquake Data Center were also inaccessible. While online information couldn't be garnered, radio and television broadcasts were full of news about the event.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Apocalypse Whenever

In the museum at Arizona's 50,000 year-old Meteor Crater, there are a number of "interactive" exhibits that allow visitors to feel what purports to be a simulation of the sensation of a meteor impact or pose against a mock-up of the inaccessible floor of the crater as it is today. Most bizarre may be the videogame-like "Impact!" in which players can model different kinds of collisions between celestial objects and terrestrial bodies by pushing buttons to add or subtract mass, density, and velocity. Some projectiles are harmlessly deflected off the atmosphere, but with the right combination of elements, the algorithm generates a scenario in which the entire earth is destroyed to the delight of squealing onlookers.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Death by Accordian

Judgment is being passed on the ruthless regime of Radovan Karadžić now that he has been taken into custody for his role as head of nationalist Serbs in Kosovo in the ethnic cleansing of Muslim citizens of the former Yugoslavia. Karadžić's party, Srpska Radikalna Stranka, still maintains an official-looking web presence, although nationalist websites like this one are largely dead.

On online video sites, the pro-Serb song from official state occasions "Oj Kosovo, Kosovo uzivo" has been pulled from sites such as AOL video and YouTube for "terms of use" violations that are assumed to be related to their status as hate speech. Nonetheless, amateur video versions of the song like this one, shot at what seems to be an auditorium with singing schoolgirls in ethnic garb, or this one with a montage of patriotic images and scenic landscape shots persist. This militantly anti-Islamic rap has a quarter of a million views.

From researching the pull-downs of the Kosovo videos, I also learned about MIT's YouTomb project, which examines how copyright claims are often used to police certain forms of free speech. It records information about Internet traffic, popularity, and time on the site. As an FAQ explains, "The goal of the project is to identify how YouTube recognizes potential copyright violations as well as to aggregate mistakes made by the algorithm."

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Net Results

Populist national news sources have been running a number of items this month about "cyberbullying," a non-news story that has nonetheless been attracting a lot of reader comments from worried parents and self-promoting experts. In USA Today, Jonathan Turley's editorial on "Bullying's day in court" contained some substantive commentary about the possible legal ramifications of the issue. But the same day, the paper ran "Cyberbullying grows bigger and meaner with photos, video," which argued that young people's access to the World Wide Web and their possession of ubiquitous computing technologies to record acts of cruelty and humiliation combined to form particularly egregious digital assemblages that perpetuate bullying for posterity.

Although I certainly advocate teaching children appropriate netiquette, along with sensitivity to rhetorical context and developmentally suitable information literacies, I worry that these campaigns foster "moral panics" that lead to unenforceable legislation and judgmental parenting that forestalls rather than fosters communication, because it is based on an assumed risk between oldsters and a radically different "digital generation." Although "cyberbullying" panics may grant young people more agency than "cyberpredator" panics, the emphasis on reactionary responses remains the same.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

I Now Pronounce You

Today we attended the beautiful wedding of Lisa Henson and Dave Pressler in Telluride, Colorado. To protect the privacy of the bride and groom, I won't be linking to their actual wedding website from this page, but as someone who studies digital rhetoric, I did notice a number of interesting aspects of their site at

The website included photos of the bridal party, information about travel and accommodations, a few modest suggestions in the link to what was normally a full-blown gift registry for other most acquisitively oriented nuptials, and a moving tribute to the groom's father who died before the ceremony took place. The site also included a "Poll/Quiz" in which guests could speculate about the origins of the cartoony bride and groom monsters who served as mascots for the event and the design of the bridal gown by Carolina Herrera. It is interesting that the site is devoted only to preparation rather than to commemoration, since there is no area of its virtual real estate where photos or video of the ceremony and celebration could be displayed for posterity.

Ubiquitous digital technologies were certainly also an important part of the staging of the event, since cellular telephone numbers of the bride, groom, wedding planner, and other hosts of the event were disseminated in a paper handout.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Searchers

The synergy between billboards and websites can be important to provide publicity for causes and products both in urban centers and in rural areas. While driving along the historic Route 66, it was hard to miss the signs for that draw attention to the disappearance of April Beth Pitzer from Newberry Springs, California. Pitzer disappeared from an area that only got individualized telephone service in the 1980s, a place where when a call was placed through an operator in Los Angeles, all the phones in the nearby town of Ludlow would ring at once; customers picked up the phone if they heard the ring that was assigned to their particular place of business.

One of my digital rhetoric students last year composed her final online video essay about missing persons websites and argued that there are often commercial interests or other kinds of opportunistic entities taking advantage of such web-based appeals. In the case of the "Where is April?" site, the sections devoted to "history" and "blog" tell a sad and relatively straightforward story of a search for this mother of two growing cold over time with little of the transmedia hype that my student described in her project. The link to "tips" on the April site appears to be broken in some browsers, and the online form no longer works, although the telephone number for the confidential clearinghouse Let's Bring Them Home still functions. "Donate" leads to an appeal for travel money for April's mother, and "thanks" to appreciation for local law enforcement and merchants who have provided posters, billboards, and supplies.

The next search is scheduled for October of 2008. So far, little has turned up, except for April's clothes in a mine shaft. The site provides the following information for volunteers:

To volunteer for the search you must be at least eighteen years of age or accompanied by a parent. To enter the mineshafts you must be eighteen or older.

If you would like to volunteer to help with the search and/or excavation please understand that the terrain is rugged, the location is secluded, and that the mineshafts are dangerous. You assume all responsibility for your actions and/or injuries. Also note that cars and minivans might not be able to access the location and it is suggested that trucks be used to shuttle people to the site.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Virtualpolitik will be taking a one-week hiatus while I am traveling through the Southwest and attending a friend's wedding in Colorado. I may be posting some items from the road, of course. Daily blogging will resume by August 1st.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Do It Wii Self

Word is getting around that the Wii remote controller can be used to make $99 "smart boards" for high tech teaching. Johnny Chung Lee has released his program to others and provides a demo of the system on YouTube.

Thanks to Jenny Cool who reported back from her visit to the UCI HCI lab about their similar Wii hack, which was on display.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Running Numbers

On the official website for the Republican National Committee, there has been a counter to "Track How Long Since Barack Obama Was in Iraq" for several weeks. Conservative webmasters and bloggers were encouraged to embed the code in their pages. Now the counter is frozen at 925 days.

In rhetoric, this is what we could colloquially call "asking for it," a term not necessarily present in Aristotle but certainly derived from the schoolyards in which other great theorists of public speech probably learned their trades. Now Obama is benefiting from a huge amount of media attention from his journey to the Middle East.

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Bystander Operating Procedure

As the election season heats up and candidates appear at "town hall" style meetings for broadcast media, I would like to draw attention to the remarkable work of Jason Rohrer, who explains his game Police Brutality for The Escapist here. What's remarkable about his commentary is the way that he uses the following two YouTube videos to make a point about spectatorship and intervention. Like the video of a UCLA student being tased by law enforcement in the library, this video shot at University of Florida shows a boisterous student being tased after questioning former presidential candidate John Kerry while horrified onlookers scream in outrage. In comparing the two videos, Rohrer's point is that onlookers were too slow to respond or intervene.

His game rewards fast hand-eye coordination and attention to the dynamics of crowds. You can download the Police Brutality game here.

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Unhappy Landings

Having grown up near an aviation hub in Southern California, the difference between L-1011 engineering and DC-10 engineering was a common topic of conversation around the dinner table and a subject that could make any hapless passenger who sat near my engineer father on a plane squim while he talked about aviation mishaps. (I have linked to the Wikipedia articles for those for whom this dichotomy is meaningless.)

The rhetoric around aircraft design still apparently flourishes on YouTube, where the keywords "plane crash" and "helicopter crash" provide a number of results with very large numbers of views. This week the clip above was even cited as evidence on a twenty-four-hour news channel on nuclear power, as a demonstration of the structural integrity of power plant concrete, in which the speaker gave broadcast viewers the search terms to plug in.

Some like Helicopter Crash #6 show America's Funniest Home Videos-style footage of a new owner who didn't wait for his first lesson to take his bird into the air. Unlike the vernacular camera work of these eyewitness films, some feature extended clips of computer animation of doomed flights that were obviously produced for television audiences, investigators, or for juries.

However, these professionally produced computer-generated examples of footage may be later set to music, such as is the case with Turkish Airlines flight 981 Dc 10 Last Landing Orly. It's interesting to note that another DC-10 near disaster was averted because the pilot had benefited from experience with the then new technology of simulator training, which was just coming into vogue in the 1970s. Now that the three-engine DC-10 has now been retired, Microsoft flight simulator enthusiasts can take wing in the controversial plane, and many websites and online videos look at the DC-10 with nostalgia.

Although other YouTube videos often have minimal description of the posted films, aircraft crash videos often have extensive commentary and historical background to accompany the visuals. In the spirit of database aesthetics, there are compilations of clips of "top-ten" style crosswind attempted landings, plane and helicopter crashes, and plane crashes set to music. Most blogged about is the infamous Hamburg crosswind attempted landing, which -- as Der Spiegel explains -- brought an enormous amount of traffic to in the absence of news coverage over the weekend.

Thanks to Richard Rosomoff, who apparently put together his own playlist for colleagues.

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Oh, That Website's Really Not for You. How about This One Instead?

I'm always interested in government websites that tend not to be linked to the large portal sites of official agencies or otherwise publicized by the state. The Excluded Parties List System is one such example, where you can enter in the names and other information of an organization to see if the group is forbidden to do business with the U.S. government or be a stakeholder in subcontracts. A number of terrorist groups are in the database, of course, but it also contains the names of individuals who have been involved in fraud or criminal activities. It also lists alternative identities that these miscreants may assume. Many of the cases seem to involve the Department of Health and Human Services.

Another interesting example is, which describes itself as a site devoted to "telling America's story." Based on the title, I thought that it might be an archive for information gleaned from oral history, local history, or folk culture, but it is actually a site intended for audiences abroad and falls under the rubric of the nation's public diplomacy strategy. Stories are studiously politically neutral and include feel-good topics such as "space" or "the arts."

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Camp Virtualpolitik

In popular discourses about parenting, the terms "hover mother" or "helicopter parents" get applied to anxious moms and dads who tend to micromanage their children's lives and give them little privacy, distance, or incentive for individual exploration, failure, or risk-taking. At the university at which I work, colleagues frequently complain that parents want to continue to be advocates for their children in academic probation or cheating cases long after this intervention would be appropriate, given the fact that these students are now legally adults.

And, yet, in summer, children are expected to go away, and there is even a certain amount of competitiveness in the affluent Westside, where I live, to send them as far away as possible to show their exceptionalism. "Oh, Jimmy is in England at the summer school for spies." "Oh, Susie is in South America doing forensics on ancient mummies." (These aren't made up examples, by the way, although I have changed the names.)

Blogging to the rescue. To give parents a sense of contact with the lives of their children, many camps now regularly maintain blogs with news and photos of the campers, so that parents can search for details about their loved ones. For example, the Rockbrook Girls Summer Camp
shows campers busy with activities and updates on facilities at the camp. Many of these blogs require user names and passwords, however, in order to protect the privacy of the minors in attendance.

In contrast, Campus Pride Blogs Out, emphasizes individual expression rather than documenting events for an institution. In this exercise, gay and lesbian college students will be writing about their experiences at the annual camp for "GenQ" students who will be learning about techniques for activism and outreach to their peers.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Does This E-Mail Make Me Look Blonde?

There's an interesting e-mail circulating among Republican sympathizers about the wife of Republican presidential candidate John McCain that makes a number of surprising rhetorical appeals, given the audience of conservative voters to whom it is addressed. Although clearly sympathetic to Cindy McCain, the e-mail emphasizes the fact that she is a businesswoman rather than a homemaker and includes the fact that she struggled with an addiction to pain killers at one point.

According to, much of the information in the e-mail, which is stuffed with a number of pictures of the potential First Lady, comes from a Wall Street Journal article from April 17th. Unlike the Wikipedia article devoted to Cindy McCain, the prose style of this e-mail emphasizes colloquial speech and informal or even awkward grammatical constructions. References to "her Dad" rather than "her father" and "Southern Cal" rather than "USC" reinforce the impression of vernacular style.

One version of the e-mail seems to be circulating without any editorializing, but another version ends with the following opinion put forward.

I'm surprised the media is so quiet about her attributes. She sounds more capable than Hillary or Obama. We would really get two for the price of one. A person with business and international experience. John did work for the firm for awhile when he left the Navy. She, however, has the real business experience. Very interesting.

It also opens with a common media paranoia style of introduction among political e-mails:

Bet you would have never guessed this one! No matter your
politics. The media will never tell of this, so pass it on.

GO GIRL!!!!!!!!!!

Given that the writer cites "an article in the Wall Street Journal," this seems like a particularly strange assertion with which to begin.

McCain supporters are well-aware that the last decorated Vietnam veteran with an heiress wife was damaged by unfavorable impressions of his wealthy spouse. Teresa Heinz Kerry was the political liability in 2004. By combining mentions of the two-for-the-price-of-one pitches of Bill Clinton and allusions to Betty Ford with whom the nation sympathized, supporters may hope that a repeat of 2004 can be avoided. The polished prose about Cindy McCain on the official campaign website is very different in style and substance, but Republican strategists must be happy to see this crudely written message disseminated so widely, even if they had no hand in spreading it.

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Chalk Bored

It's instructional technology week here again at Virtualpolitik, even though it is summer, and your faithful reporter should be enjoying the benefits of her academic schedule and lazily sipping margaritas with her toes in the sand.

On Tuesday, I visited the class of USC colleague Mark Marino, where I gave a talk about Internet fame. It was interesting to see how Marino is using students' familiarity with widget-based interfaces to teach small classes. He's currently refining a Pageflakes based tool to solicit more student participation, which I will link to later this summer when it is ready for public view.

In contrast, on Thursday the focus was on large classes, as our campus presented a recap of the recent UC 21st Century conference at UC Davis. From the standpoint of pedagogy, it seemed like there were two major themes in the UCI sessions: 1) the evolution of "hybrid" courses that aim to use technology with live lecture-hall style teaching in ways that are very different from distance learning models and 2) consciousness-raising about the perils of what has been called "PowerPoint abuse" in higher education by The Chronicle of Higher Education, in which faculty become overdependent on one-to-many presentation technologies that often foster passivity and/or resentment of redundancy. (I heard at least one plug for SlideRocket for faculty looking for an alternative, but it sounded like most people still used the Microsoft standard despite its obvious disadvantages to instructors.)

Professor Michael Leon discussed ways to "personalize" large classes of pre-medical students. Leon argued that science classes could sustain class blogs like this one or use tools like this to seize on occasions for learning through updates of "news" or postings on"forums," that online demos such as this one were often more effective than static materials in textbooks, that chemistry homework could be easily personalized so that each student would have a different problem set, and that "garage demos" on YouTube could provide the "library of digital video clips" that faculty have been waiting for. Of course, given the complicated politics of proprietary technologies and intellectual property that YouTube represents, Leon also had a number of life hacking tips for his fellow professors. He advised them to find clips using the flythrough features of PicLens, reformat them into more sharing or PowerPoint friendly formats using Zamzar, and then edit them in MPEG-4 format using Squared 5.

Much of the practical guidance for large classes also focused on the use of "clicker" technologies, in which students answer questions and give feedback to provide data measuring participation and learning outcomes that can be monitored and aggregated from the front of the lecture hall. As Professor Philip Collins explained, our campus had been remarkably patient in experimenting with this technology through trial and error, long after other UC campuses had dismissed the technology as impractical. After rejecting hardwired and infrared clickers, early adopters settled on radio frequency models, although even they admitted that the fact that clickers were often carried in purses and laptop bags where jostling turned them on and off caused many students to complain about dead batteries.

There were also presentations about the UC Irvine about the Open Courseware Initiative and the web portal at UCI for these materials. Although MIT is still a clear leader in the field as far as the number of online courses and pedagogical materials, hundreds of other campuses have joined the movement according to Dean of Continuing Education Gary Matkin. Matkin argued that the low commercial value and the high social value of digital content created at universities should make them particularly likely to be contributers. (To get a sense of the technological habits of the UC Irvine students who attend the physical campus in comparison to what you might believe about your own students, you can check out this recent large-scale survey.)

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Who's Crying Now?

Online video technologies have been extremely important for the defense team of Omar Khadr in publicizing the case of their client, a Canadian citizen who is currently in detention at Guantánamo. This footage is an excerpt from his interrogation, which was filmed through an airduct by U.S. authorities and then released to Khadr's defense team in response to their disclosure request for the tape. Khadr was apprehended as a sixteen-year-old, and his lawyers note both his youth and the fact that he was raised by a jihadist family when questioning his capacity to be an intentional agent of terrorist acts. They also emphasize that the combat situation in which he was defending himself would have defined him as a POW protected by the Geneva convention in other wars. Some of Khadr's dossier, including various exhibits and documents prepared by the U.S. government, are available on this Department of Defense website. The page on Khadr prepared by a Canadian human rights group links to many of the same texts on the site.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Please Exit Calmly

Given all the controversy around the Super Columbine Massacre RPG! game, which was nominated for a 2007 Slamdance award but was pulled from the competition before the awardees could be judged, it is interesting to look at the serious game about school shootings, Lockdown, from the GamePipe Lab at USC. Lockdown appears to use the first-person shooter game mechanic consistenly throughout, unlike the controversial SCMRPG, but the point of view is from a law-enforcement first responder with SWAT training rather than a disaffected young person. In what Alex Galloway has described as the distinctive framing of the weapon in a FPS game, there are a number of guns -- some with special scopes -- and even a smoke cannister.

Sponsored by Sandia National Laboratories, the action of the game takes place on a college campus. Our highly professional protagonist examines the profiles of potential suspects, steps around corpses dispassionately, and instructs spectators to "please exit calmly" on a regular basis before cornering the shooter and engaging him in a firefight.

Other games from the academic year at GamePipe, including a number of others in serious games genres, are described here.

(Thanks to the lab's director Mike Zyda for the updates on some of the work being done at USC.)

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Tough Sell

According to the Grammy foundation's own blog entry, it sounded like yesterday's session on the "future of music" with this year's crop of nationally selected next generation music professionals didn't go as well as organizers might have hoped. Facing an audience of high school musicians, old hands in the business explained about their backgrounds as veterans and told war stories about several of the various golden ages of rock 'n' roll, but -- according to those present -- what "really sparked many responses from the GRAMMY Campers was the topic on illegal downloading and DRM."

The campers were asked if they were illegal down loaders or honest buyers. Cohen responded to the campers that honestly admitted that they are illegal down loaders by stating, ”We are in the age of recommendation. It’s not about file sharing anymore; distribution is trivial.” He recommended websites that can indeed distribute music worldwide. But the question that really ignited back and forth banter between the campers and the panel was, “If we are out of the age of illegal distribution why is their [sic] DRM Protection on music?” This question began a dialogue on how file sharing is being replaced by subscription because the average consumer doesn’t want to spend thousands of dollars on music to put on a portable device. The conversation was then directed towards Amanda, Tim, and Matt, who discussed the details and motives of DRM. They returned the conversation to the campers, asking them about their average buy of music for their IPOs and the majority of shared music on their Ipods. Stimulated campers wanted to know in return how file sharing affected the music industry and were labels turning to the internet to market artists. “But if the music industry is moving towards a technical age what is the point of a major label if an artist can do it independently?” The panel responded by stating an artist can market themselves on their own but in order to receive international coverage they need a label that has the right resources. All in all, the panel got GRAMMY Camp ’08 off to an informative start.

Although the spelling was less than perfect, I admire the official blogger who reported on what was apparently a very contentious conversation. The music industry now also has to deal with hostility to DRM from their own potential ranks.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bad News Travels Slow

I don't envy our dean Vicky Ruiz for having to notify people in the School of Humanities over the summer about the death of former faculty member Lindon Barrett. These kinds of missives sent in the form of mass e-mails require both sensitivity and decorum, which are qualities that Dean Ruiz has certainly brought to her tenure. But it is interesting to see how the following electronic notification raised far more questions than it answered.

The School of Humanities is deeply shocked and saddened by the tragic death of our former colleague, Lindon Barrett. A leading literary critic and cultural theorist, Professor Barrett enriched the school as a member of the Critical Theory Institute and as a faculty member in the Departments of Comparative Literature and English. He was among the founding faculty of the Program in African American Studies in 1994 and served as director from 2004-2007. The dynamism that Professor Barrett infused in the program and other departments in the school reflected his scholarship, including his landmark book "Blackness and Value:Seeing Double" and his current project entitled "Racial Blackness and the Discontinuity of Western Modernity." A commemorative event will be planned and details announced at a later date.

As an example of digital rhetoric, this e-mail actually conveys a lot of information. We know that Lindon Barret's death is "shocking" and "tragic," so we know that there is more information than can be conveyed through official channels. And we also know that Professor Barrett was an individual who was important both for his "dynamism" as a public intellectual and that he continues to be considered a colleague by an academic community that would wish to commemorate his contributions to the institution.

Of course, what we don't know from this message is the fact that he died a violent death, although careful readers -- which instructors in literature departments tend to be -- sense that there are a number of disquieting clues. Within minutes, faculty members on department mailing lists were linking to local academic blogs with more details about Barrett's murder, such as this posting on College Life from the Orange County Register, this blog posting from an Asian American Studies librarian on the UCI campus, and a post about the crime and Professor Barrett's career from another library colleague Ned Raggett.

The chair of the department commended bloggers for "undertaking the difficult but necessary task of communicating what they have learned about the tragedy and for making it possible for others to express their grief and offer their tributes." However, soon other e-mail messages were questioning the role that the "public fora of blogs and listervs" were playing in the collective mourning process and asking for more respect for those who wanted to remember Barrett "privately" instead.

Although I may describe this series of distributed electronic communications dispassionately from the detached viewpoint of a media theorist looking at what institutional electronic messages do and do not convey, I should also say that Lindon Barrett was my colleague in the Humanities Core Course, where I still work, and that I too was shaken by this truly terrible news.

I was still a novice teacher when I worked with Lindon a decade ago, when I was little more than a graduate student foot soldier in the trenches of a vast pedagogical enterprise directed at over a thousand undergraduate learners. But he taught me an enormous amount about how to capitalize on particularly teachable moments and how to use limited time at the podium for maximum impact in ways that continue to work for multitasking students in the era of laptops in lecture halls.

Certainly, he loved to shock his audience of freshmen. That's part of what made him so fun to work with and why people at UC Irvine are so awfully saddened by his premature death and the utter waste that it represents. I remember that he would bring a container of what seemed to be malt liquor and would quaff a bit mid-lecture to get students examining both their media-shaped stereotypes about African-Americans and their passivity as spectators witnessing what seemed to be a transgression by their professor. He understood that good teaching was good theater, but he also was a careful close reader who could lead students through lines of text with remarkable rigor. Because of Lindon, I appreciate the carefully crafted prose of Langston Hughes in The Big Sea, the significance of anxieties about masculinity and race expressed in the seeming pulp of Tarzan, and the importance of including Nella Larsen in the canon of world literature.

It appears that his killer has been apprehended, but there is still a lot to be processed for those following the case.

Update: Just as many joyous occasions are now organized by pages on the Internet, there is a funeral page for Lindon Barrett from with details on commemorations being held. There are also a number of Facebook pages coordinating events and this main Facebook page, which now has over a hundred members.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Principles of Escalation

A few months ago lawyer Fred von Lohmann of the Electronic Frontier Fountain discussed how the Sad Kermit online videos had been the subject of intellectual property litigation. Unhappy copyright holders were unhappy with depictions of a dissolute version of the familiar green muppet engaging in intravenous drug use, oral sex, and prodigious bouts of vomiting.

The creator's current page contains the disclaimer that "Sad Kermit is in no way affiliated with Disney or The Jim Henson Company. Sad Kermit is an adult parody and is NOT suitable for children. Discretion is advised." The site solicits PayPal donations for bandwidth costs and legal fees, while also taking requests for possible sad songs for the famous frog to perform. It explains the narrative behind Kermit's much-watched renditions of "Hurt" or "Needle in the Hay" as follows: "Soon after the death of Jim Henson, Sad Kermit spiraled downward into a life full of addiction, romance and pain. The songs and videos on this webpage shed light on Sad Kermit's descent into his dark, hurting world." What's particularly interesting about the send-up of "Hurt" is that it is as much an homage to Johnny Cash's version of the song, which transforms it into a tale of mourning, as it is a parody of the nihilistic indie rock original.

Of course, trying to shut down the site has only made it more of an Internet meme. More technically crude videos have been made with still images and other depressing songs sung in Kermit's voice, such as "Hallelujah," which is also described as a cover-of-a-cover (Leonard Cohen via Jeff Buckley). And anyone familiar with this meme will recognize the references in "Kermit the Frog reacts to 2 girls one cup" and "Kermit shows Rowlf the Dog '2 girls 1 cup'," which have received almost five million views combined.

Some might argue that it is better to just ignore Internet parody rather than engage with it litigiously, as George Lucas does by allowing viral videos like "Darth Vader in Love." But with Jim Henson having been such a revered figure and so closely linked to his ping-pong ball eyed creation, it may be difficult for stakeholders to do.

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Chris Kelty's Two Bits

Anthropologist Christopher Kelty, who specializes in science and technology studies, has now announced the release of the online version of his scholarly book about the Free Software movement, Two Bits! You can buy the book in its traditional print format, which is out from Duke University Press, but Kelty also encourages you to interact with the text in the following ways.

I'm sending this note to let all of you know that the book is available, in print, in pdf form, and in "CommentPress" form for discussion on the site. Go forth and spread my message of love. I would appreciate any and all forms of promotion, reviewing, name-dropping, subliminal placement, blogging, flagging, digging, burying, mixing, remixing, facebooking, wikifying etc. If anyone can get a copy on the Space Shuttle, that would be extra cool.

But wait, there's more...

Since starting the publication process, I have discussed with Duke University Press ideas of "modulating" the book, which is a key aspect of the text itself, viz. that the practices of free software are "good to think with" and provide us with ways to change how our own scholarship is written, read, published, circulated and built upon. The idea is related to those "remixing" experiments like Larry Lessig's Code V2 wiki ( and Yochai Benkler's wiki version of his book (, The Wealth of Networks.
However, my primary interest here is just what it might mean to "re-mix scholarship" --and beyond just my own book.

Ergo, I am herewith soliciting possible "modulations" to be included on a related (and unpolished) website: . What are modulations? To begin with, it might mean articles, essays, or student papers and projects that make use of, take issue with, or expand on Two Bits itself--any work on free software, public spheres and recursive publics, history of software, software studies, geeks and hackers, intellectual property, liberalism and technology, free culture and so on-- especially those works that track the spread and movement of these issues beyond the domain of free software.

But it isn't all about me: I'm looking for stuff in our collective conceptual space. Articles, published or not, and ideas for projects that come from any of the fields we play in: science studies, anthropology, media studies, history, sociology, legal studies, information studies, philosophy etc. I have a few works lined up that I will try to highlight over the next few months, and hopefully that will give people some ideas about where to take it... but at this point I'm open to all ideas.

I think of this project as blurring the lines between an online repository, a scholarly journal and edited volume. More than a blog, less than a large-scale publishing project, and with the blessing of Duke University press and HASTAC, slightly more official and legitimate than a list of links. An on-line volume of work, edited by me, with uneven periodicity and hopefully some occasional vibrant discussion.

Why? In short because I think we need to start experimenting with the limits of scholarly collaboration--beyond the journal and the edited volume, but also beyond the blog and the wiki. There is nothing technically new about what I'm proposing here (yet); what's new is that I want scholars and scholarly presses to re-think publication and circulation, and to use the example of Free Software to do so: free, permanent, legitimate, alive. I worry, perhaps too much, that our scholarship is increasingly unfree, unstable, unauthorized and unread, and I certainly don't think it's because our work is boring or bad. We suffer from too much focus on getting published, and not enough focus on getting circulated. I think we need to change that.

I will edit (curate is probably a better word here, I don't intend to do any copyediting, or necessarily ), but I dream of exanding this role to others. I will maintain it for now, but I dream of making it into an "official" publication somehow--perhaps just something in a catalog, perhaps an experiment in print-on-demand. It will be technically simple (a table of contents, an RSS feed and comment threads) but I dream of exploring new tools and new platforms... for now, however, it's an experiment. Thanks for thinking on it.

Kelty also does work on political deliberation, specifically on voting machines, and has questioned why new technologies don't make new computational approaches to the winners and losers of politics possible.

Of course, Kelty isn't the only one pursuing this kind of open publishing/comments welcome model with the blessings of an academic press. Virtualpolitik pals Siva Vaidhyanathan, McKenzie Wark, and Noah Wardrip-Fruin are all experimenting with new ways to do scholarly publishing.

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Looks Aren't Everything

There are several aspects of instruction from visual rhetoric that get applied to the artifacts of digital culture. Perhaps most familiar is the "correction model," which is represented in the contents above from the YouTube channel of the longtime web design schoolmarms at Web Pages That Suck. In the Virtualpolitik book, I talk about what I call the "correction model" in more detail and use examples like World's Worst Website and David Kay's "What's Wrong With This Slide?" to show how negative models can be used for pedagogical purposes.

Of course, there are also sites that encourage "spoiler" analysis of digital objects, where the work at issue isn't necessarily "bad" or "wrong" and may -- in fact -- be an example of a virtuoso performance involving digital tools. For example, Frank Baker offers these resources for teaching about the manipulation of photographic images to foster "media literacy" about how design software makes the manipulation and manufacture of seemingly realistic images possible. Among the sites that Baker recommends, you can check your ability to spot digital forgeries here at this industry-sponsored site.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

On Transparency

Transparency has become an issue for those who care about visibility, which in the open software movement has translated into wanting to be able to see the raw code by which programs function and among those who participate in social networks has manifested itself as an overriding concern about seeing exactly how people are connected and viewing their most private social ties.

Of course, there are many who say that we are presented with too much information in our contemporary digital lives. A recent New York Times story, "Lost in E-Mail, Tech Firms Face Self-Made Beast," describes how corporations concerned about productivity are trying to create devices that provide more screens and filters to protect their employees from the barrage of data that they face on a daily basis. For example, Intel's concern with this issue is expressed on their official blog with tags such as "infoglut," "infomania," and "information overload" and approaches to practices of redesign and self-government that even include old school coaching.

However, in The Social Life of Information, John Seely Brown and Paul Deguid have argued that much of this anxiety about so-called information overload is actually rhetoric that is designed to promote corporate agendas and to limit consumer choice. (See Julia Lupton's recent review of the book's applicability to everyday users and designers here.)

The issue might really be more about information representation rather than information screening, so that users who wish for more context and content can reach it with a mouse click or two at their discretion. In the case of a program like Photoshop, savvy users can examine a PSD file and see the entire history of a document's creation. For example, the image on the left has six layers; the spotlight, table, and reflection are all computer-generated. The image on the right has twenty-five layers and uses many techniques of digital collage. Access to these kinds of electronic files can be invaluable to those who are interested in what has been called "media archeology" so that scholars can analyze how digital artifacts produced by teams of people come into existence and represent the final product of competing discourses and material constraints.

On the other hand, as social network sites make it possible to see more of the links that connect people together and gather more information about an individual's social capital, which danah boyd and others have argued is by definition part of their function in that they make visible far more than was ever possible before, I think there is an issue about the consequences of transparency that has yet to be considered. John Rawls argued that we can make the best kinds of ethical decisions by imagining ourselves in the "original position" in which knowledge about our relative position of privilege is obscured so that we would hypothetically make choices through this thought experiment that would be fair no matter what our rank in the social, cultural, and economic hierarchy. If we are able to see so many connections, rules, and rankings from the outset, will we have the same incentive to treat our neighbors ethically?

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Postdemocracy Always Rings Twice

I've been thinking a lot about the idea of "postdemocracy" during the course of the Obama campaign, particularly after friends Ava Arndt and Julia Lupton wrote this essay about "forgetting representation" and embracing participation in many-t0-many practices of political life.

On this subject,
Reformatting Politics: Information Technology and Global Civil Society is an an ambitious collection of essays that attempts to come to terms with with what editors Jodi Dean, Jon W. Anderson, and Geert Lovink call the "postdemocratic" political order that is being shaped by computer-mediated communication and distributed electronic networks. The collection shows how far thinking has come about e-government in the last decade beyond old HCI paradigms that only focus on usability or access, as the authors follow trends in generally non-governmental civil society organizations toward subsidiarity, multistakeholderism, the role of expertise, and reputation management created by the "hybridity, reflexivity, mobility, and performativity" of networked social units.

Unfortunately, sentences like the following one may need a bit of unpacking for readers outside of these debates: "Experiences of diasporas and of creolization come forward from the margins, highlighting less displacement and mixture than the centrality of reputation management as a vital component of network society's postdemocratic governmentality." In somewhat plainer English, the beginning of this sentence tells us that the authors are well aware of arguments in recent critical theory taking place in Europe and the postcolonial world that include Étienne Balibar's ideas about "fractal borders," Eduoard Glissant's critique of Négritude, and the rise in academia of "diaspora studies" and have chosen not to pursue themes of "displacement and mixture" that are popular in other schools of critical Internet studies and will instead consider the role of strategies of command and control. By using the distinctive term "network society," we know that these writers have read Manuel Castells (and probably Jan A.G.M. van Dijk before him). We also know that they are influenced by the later work of Michel Foucault, particularly his work on "governmentality."

The first essay by Noortje Marres in the collection examines the intellectual history around "issue networks" that are divorced from political parties or other formal structures of institutional politics and cites the work of Hugh Heclo who pointed out some disturbing aspects of this phenomenon back in the Carter administration. The next essay by Ned Rossiter is clearly one that I see in dialogue with my forthcoming Virtualpolitik book, which opens with a great allusion to the Communist Manifesto: "A specter is haunting this age of informationality -- the specter of state sovereignty." Rossiter goes on to talk about the "limits of liberal democracy" and question how well rational consensus models of politics from John Rawls and Jürgen Habermas really work in an era of multistakholderism by citing and then critiquing the work of Chantal Mouffe and then Wolfgang Kleinwächter. The next essay by Clay Shirky is probably the most accessible to nonspecialists, since it uses graphs to explain how "power laws" generate inequality in the supposedly nonhierarchical structures of the blogosphere. Written before the era of YouTube and the work being done in connection with the Video Vortex project, Drazen Pantic's "Anybody Can Be TV" looks at videoblogging as a possible challenge to network news.

Then, a number of provocative case studies from around the world follow. Lina Khatib writes very intelligently about one of the current areas of fear-mongering about the Internet, the use of the World Wide Web by groups of Islamic fundamentalist radicals. As someone actually able to read the language and study the relationships of hyperlinks, Khatib's thoughtful analysis of the rhetoric of these sites and how it relates to cultural conversations about globalization provides much needed scholarly perspective on this subject. (For those interested in further reading, this report from the International Crisis Group is also useful.) Merlyna Lim's essay about the Internet in Indonesia points out that electronic distributed networks have been useful both for toppling despotic governments and for promoting jihadist agendas that undermine liberal democracy. For a great overview about the role of mobile telephones in the politics of the developing world, Okoth Fred Mudhai's essay is also very interesting.

The final section of the book looks at international governing organizations for the Internet and debates about ICANN and the United Nation's World Summit on the Information Society. Articles by Hans Klein, John Palfrey, and Claudia Padovani and Lovink's interview with Milton Mueller close the book with an exploration of issues, conflicts, and rhetorics involved with transnational governing bodies.

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Missile Envy

Agence France just retracted a photograph that appeared on the cover of many national newspapers this morning, which showed what was supposed to be an inflammatory Iranian missile test. It appears, as the orange outlines make clear, that this evidentiary image was digitally altered by a program like Photoshop. According to The Lede at The New York Times, the Iranian government has been known to rely on the clone stamp tool before. It's also interesting to note that the source of the item about the previous forgery is the right-wing blog Little Green Footballs, which is now apparently running spoiler stories regardless of implied political ideology. The original story from the French news source no longer shows the ballet of mass firing and now only displays less compositionally interesting one-shot wonders. A blog at The Los Angeles Times admits the mistake and includes a "before" version of the photo, which explains that the motivation for the alteration may have been to obscure a failed rocket station in the center of the group.

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Well, The Severed Head Was Only Foreplay

Ian Bogost points out the existence of this amazing information graphic that appeared last week in USA Today. (Click to enlarge.) In it, parents surveyed indicated that two men kissing would represent more objectionable content in a videogame to their morals than a graphically depicted severed human head. More here.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Head Trip

This YouTube video, "I Met the Walrus," transforms onetime teenager Jerry Levitan's interview with John Lennon into an Oscar nomiated animated film directed by Josh Raskin that uses both the penwork of James Braithwaite and digital animation techniques using the Adobe suite of tools by Alex Kurina. It's an interesting example of information aesthetics that borrows from several graphic genres to which the very low-quality sound serves as a counterpoint.

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Cheaters Never Prosper

Academic research on cheating in games includes the work of Virtualpolitik pal Mia Consalvo, but there are also many digital culture practices that are intended to share cheating tips for high-stakes real world environments as well.

I'm interested in how YouTube videos combine cheating advice with a DIY aesthetic in videos like the one above, which also contains advice about using the software program Photoshop. For more examples of the genre, you can check out this collection from Law Geek.

Of course, I plan to look for these tricks among test-takers in my own classes, which will join classics like writing-on-the-visor or filling-out-the-blue-book-in-advance.

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Watch Words

Any blog with the word "watch" in it -- other than one intended for timepiece fanciers -- sends a clear rhetorical signal from the title at the top of the page. It lets readers know that the author is putting forward a blog of single-minded scrutiny and critique, which can be a dangerous bid if visitors to the site assume that an overly narrow focus compromises objectivity and therefore credibility.

It seems that most "watch" blogs are devoted to corporations (Google Watch, Microsoft Watch, etc.), media organizations (Times Watch, Chicago Media Watch, etc.), or ideological orientations (Fundie Watch, Far Left Watch, etc.). To have a blog devoted to the name of a specific individual is, of course, a form of cultural flattery as well, since it occupies the opposite side of the same coin of cultural celebrity as fandom. For instance, there is a Hitchens Watch, which tells its readers in its banner that "We watch Hitchens, so you don't have to" (much as another "watch" oriented blog, News Hounds, says, "We watch FOX so you don't have to) and two different blogs for one right-wing commentator: Malkin Watch and Michelle Malkin Watch.

So it's interesting to look at Battelle Watch, which is devoted exclusively to Federated Media's John Battelle as an example of the genre. At the top of the page, we see the subject of the blog in an unflattering pose, displaying his middle finger, and the banner reads "because one fucking Internet bubble collapse just wasn't enough." The prose that follows is devoted exclusively to savaging Battelle by claiming that he is a huckster promoting a false economy and his own achievements. Its detail-oriented obsessiveness and spoiler mentality is clearly often off-base: for example, its ah ha moment with a broken link to a Berkeley faculty webpage hardly shows that Battelle is lying about past affiliations. Besides, reporters get information about academic positions wrong all the time; they certainly have in my case. There is also some irony to the fact that the author uses the same type of metric tools that his nemesis claims are important for monetizing the Internet economy, since the Battelle Watch blogroll includes sitemeter, Technorati, and Digg logos, and the HTML page contains metadata for collecting data about readership.

Certainly, there's a critique to be made against Battelle's would-be online media empire that has nothing to do with its economic viability. Although many of the digital rights activists that Battelle supports as bloggers and cites as sources are concerned about citizens' privacy and corporate incursions into the public sphere, it is the promise of deeply troubling information-gathering practices that attracts capital to Battelle's enterprises and by extension to these seemingly alternative media outlets. And Geert Lovink and Trebor Scholz have written about other forms of implicit coercion of Internet culture by global finance in The Art of Free Cooperation.

My fear is that what Battelle is talking about isn't actually huckerism or vaporware. There really is a new entertainment and information economy in which people are unwilling to pay directly for content and so will pay indirectly. In Los Angeles, journalists and writers for television and film that I know are only just beginning to realize this. People's individual private search habits and social media profiles already have definite dollar value to marketers, although I always laugh at the targeted ads I see, since I claim to be born in 1910. As search, mail, online video, blogging, social networking, and document sharing becomes absorbed by a limited number of companies, the aggregation of data will only become more totalizing.

However, to think that you can seriously engage in debate by creating one of these "watch"-themed blogs is sort of ridiculous, so I'm not surprised that the author of Battelle Watch eventually gave up on the axe that he was grinding so that now the site has been relegated to the realm of abandoned blogs.

(Thanks to fellow Polytechnic alum Elizabeth Jeffer Anerousis for the link. She -- like me -- went to prep school with Battelle. In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably admit that Battelle also teased me mercilessly as an adolescent -- even though I owned this awesome early PC -- but bought me drinks to make up for it as an adult.)

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Monday, July 07, 2008

When Hermits Have Websites

In the Web 2.0 era of relentless self-promotion and extroversion, it's hard to miss the irony that even the Hermits of Our Lady of Mount Carmel have a website.

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Sunday, July 06, 2008

My First Hypertext Primer

One of the charges leveled against e-literature is that too often it is divorced from the rhetorical, pedagogical, or social issues that make other kinds of literature relevant to those outside of a small coterie of academics and artists. Recently, however, bloggers have been drawing attention to examples of how these forms of computer-mediated expression could be used in the classroom and among friends. Deena Larsen's Fundamentals: Rhetorical Devices for Electronic Literature uses the ephemera of traditional education as metaphors with which to explore this relatively recent canon. Designed for high school or college learners, it includes a "hornbook," a "coloring book," a "reader," and a "prompter."

Over at WRT: Writer Response Theory, Virtualpolitik pal Mark Marino is assembling a bibliography of works of electronic literature that use social media applications. Elit 2.0 (a guide to literary works on social software) is missing Ian Bogost's Wandering Rocks on Twitter but is otherwise a good summary of works.

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Saturday, July 05, 2008

The Emperor's Nude Clothes

Streaker videos on YouTube are so common that they are really their own genre. Generally shot during sports events, particularly soccer, sometimes they are composed of outtakes from news footage, and sometimes they are the product of grainy cell-phone cameras, but they are almost universally remarkably wholesome displays of the human body with their own conventions of modesty and distance. Other videos of nude figures on the web tend to take advantage of the intimacy of the medium, as can be seen in the Netporn Studies Reader, but streaker videos sanitize the form of exhibitionism that they display in a number of ways.

This YouTube video from the cheekily named "LoveyGirl88" uses the format of the fake news broadcast to spin an improbably tale of fated love. A related website,, carries the fiction further, but careful readers will notice that the entire multimedia apparatus is actually designed to promote an Australian clothing company called Rare Wear.

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Counting Your Chickens

Now that people have a number of potential profile pages at their electronic disposal, countdown clocks that tick off the time until the current president is out of office have become a popular feature of this strange form of identity politics that inhabits the increasingly mass produced environs of what was once only represented by the vernacular architecture of an HTML page. (See John Labovitz's essay on"The Evolution of the Home Page" for more about the pre-widget web era.)

Facebook actually has two competing applications: Bush Countdown Clock and Official Bush Countdown Clock. The Firefox browser even offers it as an add-on. There are also hard goods being promoted for this purpose, such as calendars, clock magnets, and clock keychains that are timing the president's exit. Of course, there were countdown clocks in 2004, some of which are now partially defunct, so perhaps digital citizens shouldn't count on it.

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Picture This

The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office has a reputation for being much more savvy about the rhetoric of Web 2.0 than their American counterparts in the State Department. Now they have announced a new contest, "Photo Challenge - Better World, Better Britain," for those interested in participating in their Flickr group. They've also mapped the data. So far, the page only reflects content from eight entries, and strangely they misspell the popular photo-sharing site as "flickR" with an odd terminal capital letter.

You can also view the larger photostream of the diplomatic corps here.

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Friday, July 04, 2008

Kymaerica the Beautiful

For those still feeling patriotic, as the afternoon light gives way to dusk and the expectation of fireworks this July 4th, check out the alternate national reality at Discover Kymaerica, where Virtualpolitik pal Eames Demetrios has been spinning tales both online and in print in books such as Wartime California about "a universe that is parallel to our linear world." Demetrios is also serving as a geographer for this spatial environment, marking the Kymaerica territory with plaques and historical markers.

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In "The great Colombian fake-out," The Los Angeles Times describes the role that a fake website for a bogus humanitarian organization played in convincing hostage-holding FARC rebels that their leaders had ordered the captives release. This PowerPoint presentation about "Operation Jaque" from the Colombian military doesn't include details about the web presence of the "International Humanitarian Group" that played a role in the government's deception that resulted in freeing the hostages without bloodshed. Because their website is so vacuously slick and their terms of service are so draconian, I'm hoping it is these people. The very fact that the FARC guerrillas could be duped points to the truth of many of the assertions in Reformatting Politics about how the understudied .org factor in transnational networks merits more attention from critics and scholars.

According to the LA Times, operatives also used "pen drives and floppy disks to send bogus messages to the leadership," because their former communications channels had been disrupted. See this Virtualpolitik story for more about FARC's use of ubiquitous computing technologies and the ways that these tactical moves have been represented in the PowerPoint politics of the nation-states that respond.

In Europe their were a number of online petitions to free longtime prisoner of the FARC, Ingrid Betancourt, such as this multilingual one with video. Sites like the Ingrid Betancourt Support Committee seem to have no intention of disbanding, given that over four thousand people are still being held by the FARC.

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Political Fireworks


This week, in honor of the July 4th holiday, Remix America, has made a formal debut to a number of digital rights advocacy groups. As Noel Hidalgo explains, the group has also resisted the claims of copyright holders who have had political content pulled from YouTube, such as "The Empire Strikes Barack" and "Baracky." Unfortunately, the video above is the only piece that samples the inspirational speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., which are fiercely protected by the King estate, which has been known to license the civil rights leader's image for advertisers while refusing to allow his work into the public domain. Nonetheless, Hidalgo's press release indicates that the group is still hopeful of remixing more of King's speeches.

We are a non-partisan, non-profit project of Declare Yourself. Through you can participate within the political medium of video remixes, mashups and video comments. Not only can you use our software to easily create your own remixes! BUT
you can join the discussion by using your webcam to "talk back."

Through our "American Playlist," we make it easy to combine today's political debate with America's great ideas and historical speeches -- from the Gettysburg Address to Kennedy's Inaugural to Dr. King's speeches -- we give you the power to remix America's greatest moments.

Have a great July 4th, wherever you are in the world, and check out Remix America's blog and Google group while you're at it.

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Sincerest Form of Flattery

I'm afraid that Jim Miles did an all-too-accurate impression of the general prose style that I use for the daily boilerplate entries on this blog.

As a researcher in socio-rhetorical ‘techs-pression’ I find it interesting to observe how broadly users of the social networking website Facebook interpret the “politics” and “religion” fields of their personal profiles, as a means of pre-emptively deploying arguments on matters important to them. OH WAIT GOTTA GO SOMEONE POSTED ANOTHER HILARIOUS YOUTUBE VIDEO ABOUT OBAMA.

Ouch. Writing instructor, heal thyself.

Miles also makes a legitimate observation about how people subvert the default "religion" and "politics" entries in their Facebook profiles with material that defies classification. After all, it's true that my own "religious views" entry on Facebook reads -- very accurately -- as follows: "devoted to her hometown baseball team, the Dodgers, and filled with reverence for all things French." (Click to enlarge.)

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