Saturday, October 31, 2009

Political Spooktacle

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. It comes the day after my birthday, so as a child my birthday parties always had ghoulish themes, and as a punk rock teenager celebrating Halloween was associated with the best of the Los Angeles music scene, West Hollywood costume contests, and festivities for Dia de los Muertos.

But, thanks to the Christian right, it would be difficult to tell that the nation was celebrating Halloween from government websites. Even though the Obamas have two Trick or Treat aged youngsters, you wouldn't know it from the White House website.

There were a few exceptions, however. The Library of Congress could acknowledge the holiday as part of American folklore. Other government agencies used the scare tactics of the holiday as an opportunity for risk communication. The Centers for Disease Control has put out some Halloween Safety Tips on its website, and you can even send out seasonal e-cards about Halloween heath with the Halloween Germ Monster. The Consumer Protect Safety Commission has some information about Halloween Safety as well.

Only the NASA website seem to revel in the subversiveness of the holiday and its association with lunar beauty and interplanetary travel. Visitors to their website can enjoy Spooky Space Sounds as well.

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Cutting Remarks

A Halloween Los Angeles Times newspaper story "Two Highland Park neighbors killed in a knife fight" shows how the paper's gravitas can be undermined by online comments from the public, many of whom used this forum as an opportunity to champion gun rights or marijuana legalization, make generalizations about the ethnicities of the victims/perpetrators, and lampoon the gruesome fight-and-revenge scenario with the subversive context of the trick or treat holiday in mind to suggest that it was only a pumpkin carving party gone wrong.

Many of the comments have since been deleted, but one reader wrote that "I think it is very insensitive of the L.A. Times to allow anonymous cowards to post insensitive comments mocking dead people. The L.A. Times has really sunk to new lows."

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Friday, October 30, 2009

When in Doubt, Blame the Internet

Coming into work yesterday, I heard a segment on the radio about teen dishonesty, in which a spokesperson for the Josephson Institute repeatedly made a causal connection between lax morals among the young and access to the Internet.

Indeed, the Institute, which boasts of having White House approval for their Character Counts program, has been pressuring Google for several years to omit advertising and search engine results that would lead students to content from term paper mills, sometimes in ways that seem to support the rhetoric of the movie and record industry in calling everything piracy and ignoring how great writers have appropriate material throughout our entire literary and rhetorical tradition.

Martin Luther King Jr. plagiarized parts of his doctoral thesis. Helen Keller pilfered an early short story, “The Frost King.” Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code, has been accused of stealing twice. The list goes on. Plagiarism is as old as the printing press, which allowed text to be distributed wider, easier, and cheaper.

The advent of the Internet has reinvented the practice. Any academic institution that considers itself free of piracy is probably either turning a blind eye or fooling itself (and should check the April edition for a free anti-plagiarism tool).

Not only is it possible to copy and paste online text into essays, but it is incredibly easy to buy entire essays and pass them off as one’s own. Google says it will address the issue by banning companies that sell essays online. Google also blacklists companies that sell or promote weapons, tobacco, cigarettes, or gambling.

That’s not to say those items are not available elsewhere online, but rather that Google is trying to live up to its unofficial motto: Do No Evil. At the time of writing, the inclusion of companies selling essays online had not yet been included in Google's AdWords Content Policy document, but a Google spokesman confirmed the sale of essays in the AdWords service had been disallowed and updates to the Content Policy would be made in the near future.

As Writing Director of the Humanities Core Course, I have to deal first-hand with the consequences of plagiarized student work, but I don't appreciate seeing the Internet demonized or unworkable models for policing intellectual property praised.

Actually, I have had a skeptical view of the methods and causal claims of the Josephson Institute for a long time. I well remember working at a delinquency prevention center for the California Youth Authority, where I ran an after-school tutoring program and computer lab. My supervisor loved the slick pamphlets and videos of the Josephson Institute and wanted to take academic time away for their secular sermons, which I usually refused to give. If we had any free time to talk about ethical dilemmas in the classroom, I often spent the time on emphasizing how the harm for students' lapses could be minimized, since I thought that low-income students of color with family members in the justice system often paid disproportionately for their transgressions. Thus, I was more likely to mention birth control distribution or strategies for avoiding people packing weapons, rather than abstinence or principled stands on violence.

After all, even exhibitionism, dissimulation, and transgression may have their own kind of moral authority on the Internet.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Cloud City

Those concerned about what Siva Vaidhyanathan has called "the Googlization of government" may not be happy to hear that "City of LA Moves Email to Google's Gov-Only Cloud" in an attempt to save money on the costs of operating their own e-mail servers. As TechPresident explains, this kind of initiative has been championed by the federal government's CIO for the Obama administration Vivek Kundra:

Leaving aside the vagueness surrounding what "cloud computing" is, exactly, Kundra has been extolling the merits of moving government to the clouds. Google brings to the table rather enormous server farms all over the world, but storing government information in scattered bits and pieces raises security and reliability concerns -- especially after the recent SideKick debacle. Don't worry, says Google. This might be cloud computing, but it's a private cloud with a chain-link fence around it; the company is building a government-only Google Apps-hosting cloud, housed on only U.S.-based servers and staffed by employees that gave undergone the security checks called for by the government entities housing their goods on those servers.

Having one of the country's biggest cities make the Google switch -- while saving money, ensuring security, and giving its employees a bit more flexibility with how they use their email -- might help Kundra sell the idea of moving Uncle Sam to the clouds. In other U.S. CIO news, NextGov reports that the Open Government Directive that the OMB promised to deliver by the end of this month is now on a timetable of "within the next couple weeks."

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Professor Prose

I've written about the UC System-Wide online sexual harassment tutorial several times before, first in this blog and then in the Virtualpolitik book, as an example of what Ian Bogost has called "procedural rhetoric." Gone are the cartoon characters of the earliest iteration, although characters in the scenarios continue to have silly names to go along with their departmental or institutional identities. The emphasis in the version of the tutorial that I took this week emphasized the case law involving sexual harassment with more ____ v. _____ cases summarized than opportunities for role playing. Links on the tutorial often went to PDF files of policy statements from the University of California.

The programming of the actual software showed little progress four years hence. Pages were slow loading, curly quotes were rendered as nonsense, and icons sometimes automatically downloaded into one's image editing software. As if that weren't enough those who completed their certificate and wanted to check that the system had registered it online might accidentally restart the tutorial from the very beginning and thus seem to cancel their scores.

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Pins and Needles

Yesterday I attended one of the sessions at UCLA's Mobile Media series, a talk by web artist Jonathan Harris.

The slides in Harris's talk contained words and phrases like OPINIONS, BELIEFS, VIBRATIONS, OUR DIGITAL CRISIS, NO TRUE ESCAPE, WORLD BUILDERS, SIMPLICITY, LANGUAGE, SPECIAL EFFECTS, IDEAS, ACTING ALONE, IMITATION, REPUTATION, IRONY, and SCIENCE + SPIRITUALITY that were spelled out in leaves, pine needles, or dirt to represent his reflections about technology and digital participation seen from the perspective of his Oregon cabin. Harris mentioned a range of possible icons for work that addressed what he saw as fundamental questions: Frank Lloyd Wright, Donald Judd, and Andrei Tarkovsky, who was mentioned several times. (My favorite Tarkovsky clip is below, starting on the middle of the YouTube timeline.)

Harris expressed his concern that too often designers missed the fact that "mystery is an ally if you are making stuff," and that the "vibrations" that make up the sounds, images, and colors of an artist's palette had become -- in the era of digital social networks -- about a "volume of communication" and a "number of relationships" that had become too difficult to manage. Not only was the intensity of such Internet vibrations increasing, Harris also argued that they were becoming "more homogeneous."

Harris also had harsh words for our "mania with social networks," which he asserted reinforced sameness and were "making us stupid." He forecast that if the forces of "compression and velocity" continued unchecked, people would be reduced to transmitting "monosyllabic grunts" on the Internet. He said that his general message to people from "journalism, publishing, and radio," which were "collapsing," was that they should have "patience," since it is not their business to "make tools to get their stories out," but he worried that the Web's tendency to be "good at breadth" and "bad at depth" might keep the trajectory headed toward crisis rather than encourage users to "bounce to something earlier."

So he also counseled his audience of design students to think about being "world builders" and "deciding what the digital world will look like." He argued that this would involve thinking critically about "simplicity," which he argued shouldn't be confused with what he called its "fashionable idea" incarnation as John Maeda-style minimalism. Rather Harris insisted that designers should reject the "prudish," "fascist," or "hardass" character of minimalism in order to embrace "organicism" as a more appropriate approach that is guided by nature and its regulations of complexity.

(Disclaimer: I actually like the wit and political engagement of Maeda's work, and I don't agree that his information design is as soulless as Harris implies.)

He also argued that "language" was a major category for design, as a "system for expressing ideas," which could include photography and dance as well as Java and Flash. At this point he acknowledged the presence of audience member Casey Reas, co-creator of the language Processing. He argued that earlier Internet projects of his, such as We Feel Fine, might have been too much like "going to the opera" and not enough like "playing Beatle songs" at home to elevate one's mood. (His newest story-generation project, cowbird, is being done in "basic HTML and Javascript.)

However, he did concede that there could be value is some "special effects," such as "motion," "interaction," "physics," or "layering." But he argued that web interface creation should be less like "fashion design" and more like the zen of sword making.

At the point in his presentation where he talked with the slide with the word "ideas" spelled out, he claimed that ideas were not like "memories stored in the brain" and that brains were more like radio receivers than hard drives.

In closing, he said that he was not a big fan of "irony" and was similarly skeptical about imitation. His final 1-2-3 dictum had to do with having a 1) universal concept that was 2) executed with as much simplicity as possible and 3) contained an element of play, nostalgia, or beauty that humanized the work.

During the question and answer session, he explained how the Whale Hunt had been a defining moment in his career and how he would still choose his laptop over his sketchbook and pen and paper.

Those in the mood to look back at the "web evolution" that Harris deplores can check out the Internet Archaeology site, which shows screenshots of social network sites becoming more complex with each iteration.

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Campaign Finance Loophole

As Forbes explains in a piece called "A Presidential Hacking Hoax," the linking structures in certain kinds of websites facilitate so-called SQL injection, and now a hacker is claiming to have used the still-active campaign website at to access Roosevelt University, which had databases with unencrypted passwords that could have made the incursion far worse for the campus's public reputation.

An anonymous blogger is claiming to have gained full access to the databases behind the president's campaign site,, through a simple SQL injection attack. The White House says it doesn't have a comment on the matter and the Democratic National Committee denies the blogger's claim.

Forbes analyzed the hack and it appears that the blogger used to gain access to the databases behind, a liberal arts college outside Chicago.

As the magazine points out, there is an irony that the hacker chose not to explore: "What's interesting to note is that it appears that any outside Web site can be browsed using the secure proxy, including the Republican National Committee."

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

In Good Company

Today is the launch on the new DML Central website, which has "a physical office at UC Irvine and a new virtual destination," where "the Center will support emerging research on digital media and learning by hosting international conferences, facilitating workshops and working groups, and bringing together researchers, practitioners, policymakers, industry leaders and others working on related projects." It is also home to "related research initiatives of the MacArthur Foundationʼs digital media and learning initiative. Harvardʼs Berkman Center for Internet and Society and the nonprofit research group FutureLab are partnering with UC Irvine on Hub activities." The news was announced today at a splashy Google event, "Breakthrough Learning in a Digital Age," by U.C. Irvine's own Mimi Ito.

I am pleased to report that I am part of a top-notch team of bloggers for the site, which includes danah boyd, Howard Rheingold, Raquel Recuero, and Constance M. Yowell. I'll be posting about my favorite topics about authority, cultural institutions and traditions, and digital media: civic education, political participation, higher education, and digital parenting.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Rose and Gold Colored Glasses

In "Obama & Google (a love story)," Fortune magazine points to the irony of America's anti-corporate crusader treating a search engine and data services monopoly based on the promise of cloud computing and the semantic web as an exception to his Main Street not Wall Street rule.

Indeed, two of Obama's economic tenets -- support for more U.S.-educated engineers and the expansion of Internet services to poor and rural areas -- grew out of a visit to Google headquarters in 2004, an encounter Obama recalls in his book "The Audacity of Hope."

Of course, some might argue that in our technophilic society expressing affection for icons of computer-based technology represents a rhetoric that also solidifies his nerd credibility and his masculine ethos as a tech-savvy Chief Executive.

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Would Rush Limbaugh Believe in Bonsai Kitty Too?

As the New York Daily News notes in "Limbaugh falls for Obama thesis hoax - but is in no Rush to apologize," the conservative talk show host obviously lacked the media literacy to spot fake content on the Internet. Apparently Limbaugh's staff fell for a satiric version of what was alleged to be President Obama's undergraduate thesis at Columbia in which a young Obama was supposed to be defending a radical redistribution of wealth. What's amazing is to see is the gusto for amateurism and swagger in the original source, "Obama College Thesis: 'Constitution is Inherently Flawed," which appeared in a publicity-hungry Blogspot blog called Jumping in Pools.

What's also striking about the story is the rifts in the conservative blogosphere that it reveals. For example, in contrast to Limbaugh's refusal to issue a retraction, bloggers at the National Review quickly acknowledged their mistake. And in a recent posting, Jumping in Pools takes on conservative mega-blog Little Green Footballs.

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Archive Mind

I'm fascinated with the politics of national libraries, as the chapter about book digitization in the Virtualpolitik book makes clear, and I have long argued that media studies needs to be more engaged with archival policy and the rhetorics of library science. So I certainly was interested to see Geert Lovink's recent "Critique of the European Heritage Industry," which looks at the alternative presented by European archivists who offer a vision of collective public investment that is in stark contrast to the fast-expanding commercialism of the Google Book Search project.

Although certainly no fan of what Siva Vaidhyanathan has called "the Googlization of Everything," Lovink has a critical eye aimed at the ideology of the European archival project itself and the ways that librarians might be caught in a double-bind of 1) privileging preservation over access and 2) being susceptible to the worst forms of Web 2.0 hype.

I love libraries and archives, yet shy away from the ‘cultural heritage’ industry. How come? I grappled with this question last week when I visited Lund where a EU meeting of national archives took place. The event was called “Improving Access to European Heritage” and I was invited to speak in section 3 on Friday entitled “Where are we heading”? BTW. before me spoke Pelle Snickars, the co-publisher of an anthology on You Tube who works at the Swedish National Archive as a researcher. Whereas he urged the dusty archivists to get more involved in Web 2.0 and do experiments with Flickr, YouTube and so on, I was more cautious.

The main emphasis of the meeting was on the progress of the Europeana project, which was launched late 2008 (read the Wikipedia entry for more info). You can find the ppt presentation of the Europeana director Jill Cousins here. Cousins emphasized that the Europeana digital libraries initiative is the most visible part but only the tip of the iceberg. Only 2% of Europe’s archives are digitized. Together with others it so far received 20-180 million euros in European funding. The emphasis on technical work is done through EU programs such as eContentplus/CIP and brought together in the Europeana Thought Lab. Europeana will look for public-private partnerships and has to figure out how to generate revenue. The main concern, so Cousins, is to work towards a reform of the fragmented copyright framework. There is a real risk of ‘national silos of information’, archives such as the one in Norway that is only accessible inside the ‘national web’. Europeana thrives for cross border access. Other problems are ‘orphan works’, broken links and the danger of a 20th century ‘black hole’ because of expanded copyright, for instance on audio-visual material. Limited access to 20th century material differs from earlier collections that are in the public domain and 21st century (user generated) content that is published under Creative Commons.

The main problem I have here is Europe’s preoccupation with its past. Why not Giving Access to the European Future? It’s in particular the European Commission who is to blame for this. It is save to put money in the past and risky to invest in the future culture. There is money to made from history. When I think of Europe I see Asian tourists doing’ Paris and Rome. How can we get rid of this cliché? Maybe we’re in Amsterdam all too sensitive for this problem of the tourist industry as a trap. Can we ever overcome Museum Europe?

In Lovink's reading, there is a grave danger of collapsing the function of the archive into those of the museum, and investing resources in the staunch defense of copyright and proprietary software rather than databases for cultural remix, which I also found in my discussions with ministerial officials in France about the national patrimony. As Lovink puts it, "Just have a good website, then the Web 2.0 crowds will do the rest. Let them work for you, these prosumers!"

As an outsider, I also worry that some of this nationalistic attachment to the documentary record of the past has to do with a fear that "Museum Europe" might become a more culturally diverse "Muslim Europe" in the urban present.

Having interviewed librarians at the highest levels of three national systems, I think that many of them agree that standards and protocols -- and open source alternatives -- are far more important to their ten-year plans than meshing their catalogs with predatory corporate products, but Lovink's call to action certainly can not hurt.

In the roaring nineties librarians played a pivotal role in the Internet access movement. At the time were ahead of the game. These days it seems that they have lost their edge and are busy with large digitization programs of historical material. There seems to be less and less money for public libraries and more project-based resources for ‘digitization’ of old stuff. This is why we see occasional panic over (US-American) commercial services like Google, Twitter and Facebook. If librarians and archivists would engage more in the development of standards and protocols, software and interfaces, they would gain confidence and have a more confident and sovereign attitude towards the fads of the market and its libertarian techno-evangelists.

What we need are creative and critical concepts, for instance in the case of Europeana, which is clearly neither a portal nor a search engine. Europeana’s goal, according to Jill Cousins, is to get higher up in the ranking as collected archives and libraries. We all understand that it is frustrating for individual archives not to even show up on the first three pages of a Google query. But Europeana is more than just an expensive search optimization project? Is it merely an ‘assistant engine’ to help or correct the big search engines? Should we for instance call it a content lobby site? Or a meta library? The archive of archives? Wikipedia calls it a ‘search platform’. According to Europeana it’s a ‘prototype’. In my view terms matter, so let’s become even more ‘beta’ and invent them. Central concepts shape and organize socio-technological developments; and focus attention and resources. This is where the role of theory becomes important as a futurist concept laboratory.

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Slumber Land

As "Experts Puzzle over How Flight Overshot Airport" in the case of the Northwest flight to Minneapolis that lost contact with airport traffic controllers after Denver and traveled one hundred fifty miles past its destination before communication was resumed in Wisconsin. Many believe that the pilots fell asleep, and from IT safety expert Markku Häkkinen, who has done research on auditory warning systems in airplanes, I learned that having pilots nod off is more common than many travelers would like to believe.

In a posting called "Siren's Song," I described some of Häkkinen's work, but over dinner at the ISCRAM conference I learned that he has also compiled studies about sound systems for waking up pilots. The challenge for companies like Alertness Solutions, of course, is how to create a wake-up signal that encourages alertness rather than sense-overwhelming confusion. And, obviously, an alarm loud enough to be heard in the cabin might panic passengers. Besides, as Häkkinen points out, sometimes we actually tune out alarms in the higher volume ranges. Apparently, according to Häkkinen, some researchers are experimenting with having the voice of a loved one be programmed into the cockpit, should a wake-up call be needed.

Update: CNN reports that the "stray jet's pilots were on laptops," which may intensify current debates about balancing responsibilities to passengers with access to ubiquitous computing technologies in a complex attention economy that has already been at issue in train and metro transportation. Now the New York Times says that an impromptu tutorial about the scheduling system being implemented after the Northwest-Delta merger on a laptop was to blame.

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Retreat or Retweet

I tend not to produce the kinds of witty aphorisms or breaking news on Twitter that merits re-tweeting, so it was with some surprise that the LA Dodgers Twitter feed re-tweeted my morose observation that local baseball fans wouldn't have the opportunity to turn over cop cars or be bailed out of jail for the indiscretions of overly exuberant victory celebrations. Then, like a game of telephone, as it picked up more at hashtags, "at" signifiers, and textspeak, the message became less and less recognizably my own. (Click to enlarge.)

My WPA-Listserv colleague Brian Solis has posted about "The Science of Retweets on Twitter." Maybe it was just the polysyllables or the word novelty that made it worth re-tweeting. Or maybe it was just an appealing time of day, the research suggests.

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View Open Source

This image of the HTML code on the White House website represents what one sees if one chooses the "view source" command in your browser window. It lets you see how the site uses XML, Javascript, and CSS to improve its appearance, availability for RSS feeds, and interactivity, while still making content available in the public formats preferred by archivists and advocates for access by the disabled.

What you can't see is today's announcement of a momentous change at " Goes Drupal," which explains that the current administration has finally abandoned the proprietary software system of the previous administration in favor of a well-regarded open source content management platform alternative: Drupal. has gone Drupal. After months of planning, says an Obama Administration source, the White House has ditched the proprietary content management system that had been in place since the days of the Bush Administration in favor of the latest version of the open-source Drupal software, as the AP alluded to in its reporting several minutes ago.

The great Drupal switch came about after the Obama new media team, with a few months of executive branch service (and tweaking of under their belts, decided they needed a more malleable development environment for the White House web presence. They wanted to be able to more quickly, easily, and gracefully build out their vision of interactive government. General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT), the Virginia-based government contractor who had executed the Bush-era White House CMS contract, was tasked by the Obama Administration with finding a more flexible alternative. The ideal new platform would be one where dynamic features like question-and-answer forums, live video streaming, and collaborative tools could work more fluidly together with the site's infrastructure. The solution, says the White House, turned out to be Drupal. That's something of a victory for the Drupal (not to mention open-source) community.

Drupal proponents have long tried to make the case that open-source software could be just as safe, just as stable, and and just as reliable as pre-boxed software, even if hundreds, thousands, or even millions of volunteer developers had their fingers in the mix at some point along the way. The White House's seal of approval doesn't hurt.

Thanks to Alex Halavais for the link.

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No Silver Lining

For those who worry about the potential vulnerabilities of cloud-computing technologies, this story from Information Week, "Cloud Goes Boom, T-Mo Sidekick Users Lose All Data," presents a sobering narrative of lost data that would normally be accessible by ubiquitous computing devices.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Oh, You Mean That List

This weekend, as I traveled on Southwest airlines, I couldn't help but laugh at the way that the famed "no-fly list," which has been the bane of privacy and security experts for a number of years, is clearly so disregarded. As I watched a female airline employee circumvent the no-fly list barrier, it was obvious that the boarding agent little cared about the no-fly designation, beyond recommending to her colleague that she go through their employer to try to have her name removed in a supposedly new appeal system.

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Stacking Boxes

The rationale for the "Billion Dollar Gram" on Information Is Beautiful is explained by its creator as an attempt to make comparative judgments possible at extremely large orders of economic magnitude, which speaks to some of the same issues of "scale" that Lev Manovich has argued are essential for digital humanists to grapple with as well. The design statement that accompanies the image reads as follows:

This image arose out of a frustration with the reporting of billion dollar amounts in the media. That is, they’re reported as self-evident facts, when, in fact, they’re mind-boggling and near incomprehensible without context. But they can start to be understood visually and relatively, IMHO.

(This is one of the first images I created for my book. So a lot of the figures are from 2006/07. I’ve also visually cheated slightly here and there to make everything fit)

I hoping this will be a “living image” that I’ll keep updating all the time. So if you find any interesting, juicy or eye-popping billions, please comment below (with a source). Let’s see how high we can make this image!

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Friday, October 23, 2009

A Moment's Pause

Yesterday the Teaching, Learning & Technology Center at UC Irvine presented a session devoted to "Online Learning: Myths & Realities." In the age of severely limited budgets, online learning in higher education looks very attractive to campus administrators and educational researchers have long said that the traditional lecture format is poorly suited for many types of learners who need to be better engaged with subject matter. The discussion took off with the first mention of the May 2009 Department of Education report on "Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies." Several faculty members contested the conclusion that "classes with online learning…on average produce stronger student learning outcomes than do classes with solely face-to-face instruction," since they actually argued that the data showed equivalent rather than better pedagogical works. However, many present were pleased with the report's praise for blended or hybrid learning as preferable to online alone instruction.

Unlike many such presentations, there was a serious attempt to offer more than boosterism. Organizers admitted that such courses may not save time, given expectations for frequent student feedback and updated materials, and that they might not always be cheaper either, since quality video and online design don't come cheap, even if the University of Phoenix boasts about its bottom line. Talk about higher attrition rates and a persistent digital divide, even among supposedly "tech-savvy" students also dampened enthusiasm. As a writing person, I would have liked to see more discussion of the limitations of so-called "self-grading exercises" to teach written composition, such as the Calibrated Peer Review system, which I have criticized in print.

Three faculty members from UCI taught these courses over the summer and shared their experiences with the group. Cell biology professor Diane O'Dowd argued that her teaching demonstrations were unlikely to be easily appropriated by other pedagogues and that good online courses were by definition non-generic, and that adopting the online courses of others was as ludicrous as being handed a syllabus and all the slides from a course with the expectation of an exact pedagogical replica. Her prior experiences in her large enrollment course Bio 93: DNA to Organisms were applied to the online version of the course, which was offered through the campus Distance Learning Center. She produced twenty-nine lessons, with professionally shot video of her talking behind a blue-screen backdrop, as well as an elaborate series of intros, wrap-ups, and other ways to develop activities, such as having students report their own experiences with long distance running before beginning a unit on hypernatremia. Although learning outcomes seemed to be good, she complained that students developed few peer relationships in the class and expressed her reservation that she was "not sure we are keeping them in the biology major."

In contrast, Michael Dennin has made his Physics 21: Science from Superheroes to Global Warming, which he had never taught before, available under a Creative Commons license that encouraged sharing. He also chose low tech webcam shooting for his video portions and creative forum moderation, where students grappled with issues like analyzing the California state budget, to develop their numerical literacy and to create lively in-class interaction.

Outside UCI classicist Maria Pantelia is probably best known for her work with the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, but on campus she teaches the popular course Classics 45A: Classical Mythology: The Gods, which she described as a frequently "x-rated course" in the antics of the Greco-Roman deities. Her original lecture slides were masterfully converted to richly illustrated Flash pages about the classical world, while she provided audio voice-over.

Note that all three faculty members worried about cheating and relied on on-site midterms and finals for much of the course grading.

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Talking Their Eyes Off

Associate Dean of Humanities Rodrigo Lazo has recently pointed out the work being done by UC Irvine literary journalism students in a collective class project, the UCI Budget blog. It's an interesting example of teaching in a digital rhetoric context, where students are posting transcripts of interviews with different stakeholders in the current campus financial crisis, from English professor and spending advocate Arlene Keizer to bean-counter Richard Lynch, the Associate Vice Chancellor of the Budget Office. By showcasing a range of perspectives that include financial aid officers, protest organizers, transfer students, and anxious pre-meds. It's rare to see a faculty member willing to showcase student writing in progress in this way, but I suspect that writing for public audiences greatly increases the care that students take in composing their questions and framing the interviews. Instructor Amy DePaul has placed the emphasis on posting primary sources rather than finished pieces, but the pedagogical premises behind the blog project seem to be solid for the students, as well as of use to the general public.

The silver gelatin photo is by Jason Davis, who also has posted content to the blog.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Real News about Government 2.0

Who cares if you friend Obama on Facebook? What does it matter if you follow the State Department on Twitter? How does watching the Secretary of Health on YouTube actually change your relationship with the government? How does adding another customer for a social network site do anything but build up corporate databases of user preferences? These are often the questions that I cynically ask about Web 2.0 technologies used by government agencies.

Instead, we could perhaps ask different kinds of questions about political participation and the regulation of commonly held files and networks. What form would Government 2.0 have to take to really change the relationship between direct and representational democracy? What resources for the public good do computational media create and challenge?

There are two stories from the week that point to ways that technology may actually be relevant to the political process. One case might be taken to be a cautionary tale, since distrust of electronic voting machines runs high, even though computational media may ultimately make citizen participation possible in the deliberative process of government.

This week there has been another leak of source-code from a the operating systems of voting machines from the Sequoia corporation. Those who are raising questions about this particular proprietary technology have created a wiki about the issues. Obviously suspicion of this particular technology runs deep enough that the video below suggests that electronic voting machines might just put one of their own into office.

The other big e-government news this week has to do with a much less controversial story: the allocation of computer IP addresses. After listening to a talk about IPv4 scarcity, this story about the implementation of the IPv6 system is actually something about which I can now hold a political opinion. The question is how to make this kind of an issue about the distribution of and access to critical technological resources as urgent -- although hopefully not as open to panic, satire, and conspiracy thinking -- as something actually covered in the mass media like electronic voting.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Waste (Not) Want (Not)

My colleague Julia Lupton has talked about design in connection with women, who serve as what she calls "the foot-soldiers in the new economy." This video from Bergen Norway's Röyksopp done by French motion graphics firm H5 depicts the heroine's patterns of consumption, desire, and participation in the networked workforce with a series of information graphics.


Wait, I Thought It Was the Telegram that Was Out-of-Style

This Wall Street Journal story that heralds "The End of the Email Era" admits that e-mail "continues to grow" and yet its "reign" in communication has come to an end only a decade or two after achieving dominance in business, academic, and leisure contexts. One theory about why e-mail seems less relevant that the WSJ presents has to do with ubiquitous computing technologies and social computing that are growing "faster" than their more traditional communication counterpart.

Now, we are always connected, whether we are sitting at a desk or on a mobile phone. The always-on connection, in turn, has created a host of new ways to communicate that are much faster than email, and more fun.

Why wait for a response to an email when you get a quicker answer over instant messaging? Thanks to Facebook, some questions can be answered without asking them. You don't need to ask a friend whether she has left work, if she has updated her public "status" on the site telling the world so. Email, stuck in the era of attachments, seems boring compared to services like Google Wave, currently in test phase, which allows users to share photos by dragging and dropping them from a desktop into a Wave, and to enter comments in near real time.

The article also asserts that there is a shift in epistolary style that goes on, as communication is perceived as more ephemeral and more like speech.

These new services also make communicating more frequent and informal—more like a blog comment or a throwaway aside, rather than a crafted email sent to one person. No need to spend time writing a long email to your half-dozen closest friends about how your vacation went. Now those friends, if they're interested, can watch it unfold in real time online. Instead of sending a few emails a week to a handful of friends, you can send dozens of messages a day to hundreds of people who know you, or just barely do.

The article closes with an argument about workplace efficiency, which is not surprising, given the source of the publication.

Update: See how Tech Insider disputes this claim.

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Big Game Hunting

This item from USA Today, which announces that "For social networks, it's game on," opens with a discussion of the popular Facebook game FarmVille, where players do chores and literally watch the grass grow, as they take a desktop break from their socially networked lives. Although I don't discuss FarmVille in my essay in the forthcoming collection on Facebook and Philosophy from Open Court Press, I see a number of features in the game that are similar to those in the games that I analyze. I, of course, kept expecting that there would be unexpected interactions and consequences from the agribusiness that the game promotes, based on having played environmental games like the McDonald's Game from Molleindustria in which modern farming is revealed as being unsustainable in its waste profile.

Thanks to Dylan Wittkower for the link.

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Anthrax on Your iPhone

The Centers for Disease control has just announced a new widget that allows subscribers to see the newest, crispest, and most colorful images from the Public Health Image Library. Aestheticized images of grim subjects like bioterrorism, natural disasters, and influenza can be easily displayed for your viewing pleasure.

 Public Health Image  Library Image of the Day Widget. Flash Player 9 is required.


Delta Force Blues

A multi-part series in the New York Times describes the experiences of journalist and Taliban kidnap victim David Rohde, whose Wikipedia article reveals that the online encyclopedia also participated in the news blackout that both the NYT and the U.S. government wanted in place. In today's installment, "A Drone Strike and Dwindling Hope," the accompanying multimedia essay reveals the media consumption habits of his jihadist captors. Given my first chapter of the Virtualpolitik book, I was particularly interested in Rohde's description of videogame play by militants.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Framing the Music

This video equates two analog technologies -- the zoetrope and the record turntable -- in footage that is described as without "special effects, just good old fashioned video scratching and zoetropes."

I also noticed a zoetrope in a recent student show at UCLA, AFK, where a video camera captured a zoetrope spinning by with frames of the collapse of the twin towers.


Code Blue

I could write an entire book chapter about the LAPD's YouTube channel. Usually their online videos garner almost no views, because they usually feature press conferences, messages from the chief, and visits to local stations, where one can see things like the Nicole Parker Foundation's creepy mural room in the Topanga Station.

Now their viral video style and their iWATCH anti-terrorism program is being mocked by Reason and Boing Boing. Of course, those who know the longer history know that the LAPD has had a long history of screw-ups involving computational media, including some disastrous attempts at providing online digital maps of Muslim neighborhoods and famously inaccurate crime-plotting.

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Where is the Man Behind the Curtain?

I find images like this one on the White House website fascinating. The apparatus of the lights for shooting his online videos counterintuitively makes him appear more authentic, since he seems to be reminding the viewer that he is the "transparency" president who supposedly shows all parts of the process, and he is shot in a naturalistic environment rather than against a green screen.

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Weeding Out

A Los Angeles Times mapping info-graphic called "Where's the weed?" built on Google maps shows the location of marijuana dispensaries. Of course, this map could be used by two separate groups of viewerships: those who want to pursue citizen law enforcement in the name of not-in-my-backyard wholesomeness and those who might be looking for the product themselves. Note the absence of dispensaries in liberal Santa Monica, which has allowed for head shops to open in the past.

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Our Avatar in Cairo

These pictures come from Virtualpolitik pal Bernhard Drax, who attended a recent State Department event in Second Life for "bringing together architects in the West and Egypt who all use virtual worlds in their professional work." Not only did the line-up include my fellow panelist from the State of Play conference, William May, but also it featured one of my real life friends, architect David Denton, who explains his Cairo collaboration with Amr Attia here. Denton, who is known as DB Bailey in Second Life, has even given popular tours to my digital rhetoric class, as we talk about the rhetoric of built environments. More details about the event are available on this announcement.

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Truth in Labeling

As I get ready to guest teach a unit on counterfactual photography at UC Irvine with my longtime friend and colleague Jenny Cool, I am looking to update my talk.

Today's piece in the New York Times from "The Ethicist" Randy Cohen, who once commented on YouTube cheating videos in a segment of Good Morning America in which I was originally scheduled, specifically asks the question if photos "should come with warning labels" if they have been altered with the image software program Photoshop. Cohen opens with the example of a recent Ralph Lauren advertising campaign, a company that was also involved in an intellectual property dispute with the mega-blog Boing Boing after bloggers mocked a particularly distorted model. It's interesting that the examples originated with the blog Photoshop Disasters, which primarily criticizes amateurish execution rather than the ideologies behind the more finished work that the fashion industry specializes in.

Cohen notes that a number of countries are considering legislation that would require a disclaimer on artificially skinny images, so that young people with eating disorders won't have their warped view of the world and quest for impossible body types legitimized. Cohen admits that such warnings may be ineffective and they would almost necessarily become too long, if they tried to take in all the mitigating factors for a model on a fashion shoot, but he does think that the basic idea has merit, even if it might give more evidence for Cohen's critics who accuse him of social engineering. Cohen explains his position as follows:

Yet it’s still worth posting those alerts. That’s one way ideas percolate through a society. Social change is achieved by battling on many fronts: studying gender roles, learning about health and nutrition and calling attention to bogus photos. That is how we can move toward a less creepy concept of female beauty than the one promulgated by Ralph Lauren and, more ambitiously, resist the sexist assumption that beauty is a commodity women are obliged to provide to men. This is not to deny the delights of allure, of playfulness, of flirtation, of sexual attractiveness: bring them on. But don’t make it all the woman’s burden only, don’t make it contingent on what she buys and don’t lie to get her to buy it.

Meanwhile, the beauty industry is seeming to alter its editorial policies based on enthusiastic online comments and viral distribution of nude images that defy norms like this and this.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Perfect Altruism

Sergey Brin's editorial in the New York Times about Google Book Search, which I write about in the Virtualpolitik book, "A Library to Last Forever," contains a number of noteworthy rhetorical features.

Perhaps Brin is at his most disingenuous when he repeatedly expresses a wish for competition, which Google certainly doesn't feel in connection with its other products.

I wish there were a hundred services with which I could easily look at such a book; it would have saved me a lot of time, and it would have spared Google a tremendous amount of effort. But despite a number of important digitization efforts to date (Google has even helped fund others, including some by the Library of Congress), none have been at a comparable scale, simply because no one else has chosen to invest the requisite resources. At least one such service will have to exist if there are ever to be one hundred.

If Google Books is successful, others will follow. And they will have an easier path: this agreement creates a books rights registry that will encourage rights holders to come forward and will provide a convenient way for other projects to obtain permissions. While new projects will not immediately have the same rights to orphan works, the agreement will be a beacon of compromise in case of a similar lawsuit, and it will serve as a precedent for orphan works legislation, which Google has always supported and will continue to support.

Only a small snippet of the column deals with the questions raised by Siva Vaidhyanathan's forthcoming book The Googlization of Everything.

Last, there have been objections to specific aspects of the Google Books product and the future service as planned under the settlement, including questions about the quality of bibliographic information, our choice of classification system and the details of our privacy policy. These are all valid questions, and being a company that obsesses over the quality of our products, we are working hard to address them — improving bibliographic information and categorization, and further detailing our privacy policy. And if we don’t get our product right, then others will. But one thing that is sure to halt any such progress is to have no settlement at all.

The vagueness of these responses to Google's problems with metadata practices and privacy rights that are directly in conflict with their bottom line is unlikely to satisfy Vaidhyanathan and other Google critics.

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Style Guide

As more genres of digital communication are developed for the Internet, epistolary style guides and writing manuals may struggle to keep up. One recent how-to book aimed at would-be Twitter masters is 140 Characters: A Style Guide for the Short Form by Dom Sagolla. A recent review compares the book to Strunk & White (a text now loathed by composition instructors, but no matter).

Other publications and lists of tips are aimed at business users, who are interested primarily in increasing market share. Matthew Fraser frequently kees his Facebook friends updated on what could be called a "battle of the experts." From So You Think You're a Social Media Expert to the fact that so-called social media professionals often don't use a full suite of quantitative metrics, Fraser keeps his fingers on the pulse of an emerging profession with all its Foucauldian disciplinary claims. My favorite of his links has to be the hilarious rundown on how to "damage your brand" with social media. Other snafus involve mistakes PR execs make, more complicated relations between bosses and employees, and social media editors who don't use social media.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Slice of Life

Yesterday I appeared on a panel hosted by trendwatch site Flavorpill and design critic Frances Anderton about Jay Mark Johnson and his latest show at the ACE gallery. I was happy do do it, since I see a lot of bad digital art on the job, and I think that Johnson's work and the audience's reaction shows how it successfully presents a point of view and speaks to lived experience. As a rhetorician, I also like to hear the way that he speaks about the images as commentaries on shared public space, mobility, and violence to the environment. Joining me on the panel about SPACETIME was high energy physicist Barry Barish, art writer Shana Nys Dambrot, and artist and author Christopher Finch, whose expertise ranges from Jim Henson to Chuck Close.

I had been discussing Johnson's work, which is created using slit-scan photography, with Lev Manovich, who is also working with x=time images that combine information visualization with traditional representation of objects. Unlike Muybridge's work that presents motion studies as a series of discrete frames, Johnson's images are characterized by the morph that has replaced collage and montage in much contemporary imagery. Barish was scandalized that the art critics weren't engaging with the temporal dimension of the images and could only apprehend them spatially or engage with the scientific questions about perception that they raise. Finch and I agreed that what was compelling about the images, however, was often their use of existing conventions and genres such as landscape and nude, so that viewers inserted perspective and vanishing points in the images that weren't really there.

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

The High of the Beholder: Nowcasting IV

Todd Presner introduced his talk on "Google Earth?" by characterizing it as a "somewhat more cultural studies art-historical approach" than the work of his predecessors Trevor Paglen and Benjamin Bratton at the Nowcasting conference. He began by noting how a single company is attempting to present both a definitive "interface to the world’s digital information" and a definitive "interface to the earth (or Google’s representation of it)." In looking at the search box, Presner noted several recent innovation 1) accommodation for an infinitely long string of characters rather than the fifty character queries of old, 2) much faster searches, and 3) repopulation of the input window with an emphasis on American corporations and pop culture.

I had seen Presner talk about Google Earth before, but the current version of the talk includes analysis of a much more polymorphously perverse Google, even though his argument builds on the same 1968 NASA photo from spaceof Earth rising and the image of the 1969 Stewart Brand
Whole Earth Catalog, which has been a touchstone at the conference, to contemplate the implications of a Heideggerian Weltbild, the world as picture. He argued that Google involves "many different perceptual habits" and then offered a list of ten areas of inquiry: 1) the Apollonian desire to see as spectator, 2) the wish to fly like a bird, 3) the titilation of travel without leaving home, much like like the colonial panoptic viewing habits of panorama viewers in London, Paris, Berlin, and Vienna who experienced an imperial construction, 4) the fascination with aerial bombardment, 5) computer aided navigation of the kind described by Lev Manovich in the Language of New Media mediation, 6) the experience of the postmodern space of the digital, 7) the treatment of reality as spectacle, which normalizes viewing habits like photography, 8) the will for the cartographic fantasy of a completely mapped world, as Borges imagines, 9) the potential for the Situationist method of detournement, which reinstantiates the Dionysian in Google's Appolonian vision, and 10) a set of spatial practices, such as those described by De Certeau, which may include memorializing lived experiences of walking.

He showed how what were once flat digital maps had been enhanced with photorealistic 3D models in Berlin to begin his argument about how control, surveillance, and a videogame eye informs the design of these simulations that Presner argued were intimately tied to the emotions of war. Much as film had been in an earlier era, he claimed that Google was tied to Cold War and the eyeless vision of the combat flight simulator. But he also showed images of the Kaiser panorama, reproduced above, where women could look at Cario or Rome and a panorama that allowed the viewer to enter the globe itself. He also discussed the contemporary art practice of Jeffry Shaw and Bill Viola. After showing the montage images of Earth bathed in sunlight, which he described as a "managed and sanitized environment," he noted that we can overlay "remediation within a remediation," thanks to a number of new street view tools and data bubblies in Google, and explore "a panorama within a virtual globe"

He then turned to discussing the Hypercities project that he has headed for the past few years, where spatial practice can also serve as a "project of memory" in which "new media peels back layers of time," although there is "no promise of recreation or accurate representation" in his cartographic history of representations of the city that allows users to annotate and hemix content in these stacked representations of the urban environment. Although Denis Wood, author of The Power of Maps, has presented the argument that a traditional map never grows or develops, Presner contested this claim by asserting that "missing voices can be returned to particular locations . He also showed a Hypercities map of recent street demonstrations in Tehran, which showed "writerly maps" and "countermapping" at work. This student, who had also worked with Johanna Drucker, had created 819 annotations and was seriously engaged with the curation of data. In closing, Presner acknowledged the work on media archeology done by audience member Erkki Huhtamo.

As the conference came full circle, Peter Lunenfeld stepped to the podium again to warn attendees that now things may take a "hegemonic turn," as he makes an argument for "unimedia not multimedia that would open with a reference to Siegfried Zelinski before detailing the four stages of modernism.

Lunenfeld identified his typology as follows:

1) heroic modernism, represented by the Bauhaus, Russian Constructivism, Eisenstein, and furnishings from the Rietveld Schröder House that I had visited with my niece this summer
2) high modernism of the "you buy it" variety, which could be seen in a 1967 ad for Helvetica as "the face all print men are talking about" or the Jackson Pollack they aspire to hang in their homes.
3) postmodernism, which he described as "like porn, you know it when you see it," whether it is the Piazza d'Italia in New Orleans soon a ruin or the Walker Evans photo adopted by Sherrie Levine as a statement about appropriation and feminism.
4) unimodernism, which could take the same Evans-Levine photo and process it with Photoshop, so that an image of a young Depression-era girl might demonstrate the "material case for the evolution of an information aesthetic that requires a new discussion."

For Lunenfeld the computer functions "as culture machine" in which even eBay can be seen "as the new archive." He followed with a number of examlpes of informationalism and complex, which includes I/O/D Web Stalker, Radiohead's "House of Cards" motion tracking video with multiple reposts on YouTube, the software that created the Frank Gehry's Bilbao Guggenheim and the Disney Concert Hall as 21st century signifiers, and Liz Larner's Untitled 2001, which uses commingling hues on a number of animation keyframes that were colored by custom car-painters in East LA in ways quite different from the finish fetish group of the sixties.

Rather than early, high, or post, we produce and consume a unimodernism, our moment is unimodern in the sense that it makes modernism in all its variants, universal via networks and broadband, uniform in their effect if not affect, and unitary as existing as strings of code

For Lunenfeld, the FIGURE/ground distinction is changing with our "ability to shift point of view" and see two things, since "toggle" is almost as central a computer command as "undo" in contemporary life. From a 1900 machine art (making the machine central to the vision) to a 2000 information aesthetic (looking at the ground of culture), he also credited a "punk aesthetic" that "will come back in 7 months."

In this "archive fever" to which "we have just adapted," not only do we check information sources constantly, but also we iteratively pull visual references. As Lunenfeld asked, "What would the imagery be like if we did this conference ten years ago?" (He assumed that all presenters had used Google image search.) This change in "photography and truth value" can be measured as a "moment in time" in which the experience has moved "from being a marvel to cliché." If the first half of the 20th century was cinematic in reframing the way we look at life, and the second half embraced television and its all-at-onceness, now we have the "computer with culture" for "transcultural bricolage" in which "it all becomes ground." Different artistic producers may exploit the "reconfiguration of individual parts" as "an economic necessitym, such as Quentin Tarantino, Rm Koolhaas, Takashi Murakami, and Martha Stewart who can DIY her own Wii cake with what can be called "sticky media" rather than "teflon media." For him, the question is about "how what we download contributes to what we upload." With "unimedia as the result" and "unimodernism as the aspiration," Lunenfeld pointed out how much larger a world that we live in than the world of Rauschenberg, De Kooning, and Jasper Johns, who lived in close proximity. According to Lunenfeld, this video on YouTube showed how "tiny this world is and how different our world is" with our "vastness of connection to accessible culture."

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Please Don't Pee on the Seats or Storm the Café : Nowcasting III

The image above from a guerrilla artist who changed a Los Angeles freeway sign to make its directions more legible wasn't mentioned by Julila Lupton in her talk about vernacular signage, "Signs and Misdemeanors," which started with this fabulous image of Tytus Andronikus and ended with the argument that when it came to education, "the design question and the writing question is the same question," as "more and more people are expected to write."

Speaking as an advocate for DIY practices that teach non-professionals to use "tools responsibly," Lupton argued that "the design cat is out of the design bag," and digital humanists would have to adjust. Perhaps her most Twittered line was that "it’s never to early to talk to your children about kerning," but a talk that began with a discussion of the difference between spring-loaded and open-ended toilet paper holders had some serious messages, despite her facetious answer to the question about "Why do Americans prefer that spring loaded model?" with an explanation of their willingness "to sacrifice security for liberty."

Next, she gave a number of other examples from her new book Design Your Life, which included inquiries into where baby carrots came from and why bras don’t fit, along with the observation that bra-wearers were "underrepresented at the conference." She explained that the book also contained some substantive advice that could be of value to digital humanists about third places and creativity theory, living with paper, and the art of procrastination, even if their "generalist approach to design" was aimed at women as the "footsoldiers in the new economy," who might be more included in their explanation of typeface design with their chosen examples of Dunkin Donuts vs. Tootsie Roll. She also said that the book was encouraging writing practices, specifically those that produced manifestos, and she showed the manifesto about design that she wrote with her sister Ellen Lupton, which asserted that design is thinking, design making, public, private, garbage, saving the world, communication, craft, technology, etc. (She drew comparisons to Anne Burdick's work on design as speculative and provocational the day before.)

Then she transitioned to a section on signage and how people must work in or navigate through public spaces, which in one of her sister's paintings was labeled with a "Yes -But" clause. She described a project with UCI graduate student Arden Stern about "how to do informal signage better" or "how to hang signs so they don’t ruin the world." As illustration, she showed several examples a few yards away from where the Nowcasting conference was taking place that direct potential visitors to the "photo classroom" and "photo lab." As a sign of a serious sign-makeover, she told how her sister had redone some ALL CAPS scotch-taped two-page signage in restroom with an elegant framed sign that preserved some of the original vitriol by ending with an instruction to "please don’t pee on the toilet seats" but phrased its instructions in verbiage far more genteel. (I too have always been interested in such signage, particularly signs in little Saigon that instruct new immigrants not to squat on the toilet seets, and I also have noted the gendered labor politics that is implicit in their messages, much like signs that ask people in office kitchens to wash their own dishes.)

As Lupton opined, "Ellen’s theory is that no one will take the signs down," given the "power of graphic design," but she also pointed to some more difficult examples of appropriation and improvised signage, as in the case of the work of Cardon Copy in redoing signs for cleaning ladies, regardless of the impositions and assumptions of class superiority in doing design for the working classes. She even cautioned that design could create a false sense of authority, as it did for those who placed trust in Erich Kofmel of the Sussex Centre for the Individual and Society. Although design might provide spit and polish to a University of California in crisis, it might also legitimize phishing and identity theft with design element. She cited Daniel Pink on "emotionally intelligent" signage and argued that even a trash can can serve as a message board. (For more on attempts to control waste with persuasive technologies and architectures of control, see the Design with Intent blog from Virtualpolitik friend Dan Lockton.)

In answering questions, Lupton reiterated that design literacy had to be built into general education to encourage people to think about how to contribute to public sphere with rhetorics that are "verbal and visual and thoroughly digital." Lev Manovich noted that there were certain assumptions about class and status in minimalism and white space that raised "social obligations," and Anne Burdick talked about the difference between little “d” design vs. Big “D” design and taste regimes, as Lupton talked about how as director of the Humanities Core Course at UC Irvine, they taught students to understand the Bauhaus as a socialist movement, albeit one with a continuing relationship to vernacular design. The last word was had by Lorraine Wild, who asked about the domestic worker's new signage, "Does she want to be a heavy metal cleaning lady or is she only cleaning churches?" The interventionist aesthetic involved in taking over the "implied expression in typography" by another party was to Wild questionable at best on Cardon Copy's part.

Then Benjamin Bratton gave a remarkable talk "On the Design and Designation of Cosmoppolitics: Geoscapes, Coogle Caliphate, Mumbai" about the "modern ethos of disclosure, transparency, and enlightenment" and the "emergence of information visualization as an adaptation to data abundance" as the Google suite of mapping and geospatial visualization tools played such a central role in the attacks by terrorists on Mumbai. He questioned the "rationalized images of the world" of "cosmograms and cosmomedia" and the status of Kant’s central human universals and his vision of a globalizing governance and the conditions of cogmopolitan assemblage might be understood in the environment of digitally enabled jihad. The talk was punctuated with gorgeous slides that included the Legoland Capitol dome, time clocks in automated distribution points, older maps of the world, and soldiers in KISS make-up, along with an understanding of contemporary thinkers that ranged from Bruno Latour to Jean-Luc Nancy to Jacques Rancière.

One of the recurrange images in his talk showed various forms of geographies dictated by concentric rings that ranged from Robert Smithson's geoscape to late medieval visions of the world with Jerusalem at the center. He noted how the "fragile pairing of geography and law: and "territory and projection" could be seen in th terrorist attacks in Mumbai and the militarism of the urban landscape of the city. When cities lose ability to triage conflict, he argued, terrorist incursions that serve as an "attack on habits and inhabitants" complicate questions about how a global city with mobile mapping functions. He observed that the terrorists used Google earth and maps, along with cell phones and sim cards, to exploit "situational awarenss." He connected their geospatial understandings with Photoshopped images that "plant the flag of Islam in Washington, Tel Aviv."

For Bratton, this was a "designed moment" of "righteous sacred geography." Thus at a design conference, he wanted to bring in difficult questions about terrorist acts, because it was "iimportant to engage at the register of design." For the attackers, the geography of the partition of Kasmir necessitated another kind of geoscape as they participated in a "shifting landscape of shifting landscapes" that was "not an empty arrangement but conceptual assemblage" that was "secular and geographic."

Bratton asserted that the "public sphere is spherical only to the extent that it lacks topological perspective" and that these "armed smart mobs" represented "irregular and asymmetrical" combat, as "armed Versace knock-off wearing tourists" perpetrating actions that were more like an amok than a Klauswitzian contest of rational equals. In tracing the "trail of geographic events, Bratton noted that the news agencies also used Google Earth and that the very software problematizes certain aspects of the "open, objective, materialist, dialogic" Friedman-esque view of the world.

Perhaps Bratton's most contentious assertion was that jihadist Islam and the "representation of the earth as circle . . . onto and into which history might work" is not entirely alien to Google itself if this "remapping of the Caliphate" could be applied to the products and practices perpetuated by the Mountain View, California company in which "our modernity is always already also theirs." In thinking about a "politico theological urban design practice" and the "spatial imaginaries of Jihad and Google" contained in "computational geospace" involving both sub and super state agents, Bratton argued that it was "less about what is seen than what is not seen," as Google effects its transnational ends. As evidence he pointed to the "territorial and naval incursion" represented by the plan for floating Google data centers that harness tidal and wind energy, along with cooling the cooling powers of the sea, which create uncharted possibilities for the jurisdictional and legal control of data as the territory of the cloud enters international waters. (Another illustration of his thesis was offered in a photo of a Sun data center in a shipping container.)

Bratton argued that digital humanists must engage with the "political information built into hardware" that "no law passed can undo," if it involves the polity of an Intel chip. For him, it was a question of "accidental technologies and political design" in which there was "design for the effect and affect" and a codependence of "functioning infrastructure and decorative camouflage" in the cameras and cross signals that were now part of the integrated posture of the global city. The monopoly on legitimate violence and the monopoly of legitimate citizenship once held by the state was being challenged by Google, in that Bratton could imagine a "Google citizenship" built on rational actor microeconomics. He closed by quoting Paul Virilio and offering a reminder that just as technologies create accidents, accidents create technologies.

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