Archive for category: Professional Auteurism

It’s a Small World After All

20 Jan 2003
January 20, 2003

The Net is redefining our social space. Hyperbole aside, in the last week I’ve discovered two new ways to define my net community.

Did I tell you I’m reading Howard Rheingold’s Smart Mobs? Howard has researched the ways technology is changing how we interact. Yet, as a coworker suggested, he writes about it as if he’s telling a story. Makes a potentially “geeky” read into a powerful and engaging one. Every so often I get really excited by someone’s writing. This is a book I not only can’t put down, but one that immediately puts me into a creative trance. Ideas, sometimes crazy ideas ensue. I must look pretty funny on the subway.

But Howard isn’t the only one exploring new socialspheres. Joshua Schachter has developed GeoURL, officially described as a “location-to-URL reverse directory.” Translated that means you can put code on your web page that describes where in the physical world you’re located (you know, longitude and latitude). Once you do that, you can actually see who (and whose sites) are located close to you in the corporeal sense. Hmmm, should I position myself from home, work, where I work out, or where my Web host is located? Hard decision. It seems I’m all over the map. Maybe I can devise a script that will read my GSM position hourly and update the code to reflect my new location.

Mark Pilgrim has devised another type of Net road map. When you input your URL at Recommended Reading it provides a list of blogs you might be interested in. Rather than your geographical position, Mark’s list is based on which sites you link to and which link to you. Since most bloggers link to sites they like or find interesting, this methodology assumes these links help determine relevance.

So what am I to do with these new connections, these Six Degrees of Separation type couplings? Why contact them of course. What good is a peer-to-peer network if you can’t cavort with your peers.

First stop: Peyser Associates, Inc., located right on top of me according to GeoURL (well, almost). From their front page I see they are “a Washington, DC based firm that specializes in helping its clients gain the resources needed to develop critical projects and programs. Begun in 1982 as a lobbying firm representing U.S. State and local government agencies, we have grown into a firm that succeeds by bringing to bear our formidable expertise and contacts to build support in the public and private sectors – inside and outside of Washington – for our clients’ initiatives.”

A bit of a run on sentence but that won’t matter if I can approach them with some art initiatives I’m heavily involved with. Artists could use a formidable lobbying effort on Capitol Hill.

Next stop was {confusion : journal}, Brian Jeffery Beggerly’s blog (located one mile from my blog via GeoURL). I have only looked around briefly but found a few overlaps there. My name is JeffREY, his middle name is JeffERY. He works for Lockheed (if only for a few more weeks). And my father worked for Lockheed for 35 years. Hmmm. Food for thought. I sent him a message.

• • •

Let’s switch over to Recommended Reading to see if our connection might be a tad more germane. This time I’ll start on the bottom of the list. Last, but certainly not least (I wouldn’t want to offend any of my newly discovered peers, even though the list is generated by a coldhearted algorithm) is overstated.net. Overstated’s subtitle: Anxiety is not a good thing. That’s a very good start.

Cameron, overstated’s author, is a Ph.D candidate at MIT’s Media Lab. I can see why his site was on my reading list. There are some interesting connections here. In a January 15th entry, he talks briefly about the origins and present day ramifications of the tenure system:

Tenure, an infrastructure most people think is as old as the university, is actually quite young institution in America. Based on the German concept of lehrfreiheit, or freedom to teach, tenure also has the effect of locking in to an age heirarchy that undermines young thinkers. While the ideals are good (i.e., disconnecting professors’ ideas from their employment), the resulting system lacks the adaptability and creativity necessary to bridge new ground.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that we fire all tenured professors and replace them with younger, less experienced researchers. But when new professors spend their time appealing to the venerable members of their program, they lose their potential to break new ground through alternative methods and perspectives.

Cameron, I went that route for quite some time and I would agree with your assessment. That’s in part why I left academia to join the Federal government work force. New ideas need encouragement.

Speaking of irony, Cameron quotes Kirkegaard on the subject. I was dismayed when they said irony was dead. And to be honest, I didn’t believe them. And I still don’t. If you meet a tenured professor who isn’t threatened by new ideas, I’ll bet he/she believes in it too.

I sent Cameron an email too.

Recommended Reading’s list, made especially for me and based on Phillip Pearson’s Blogging Ecosystem, contains some sites I already read (Zeldman and Textism, both frequent reads). In fact, it helps you refine your index by asking if you already read a particular blog or simply aren’t interested in that entry.

I have always been a network kind of guy. Back in junior high school (when stamps were actually used to send mail), I had pen pals all over the world: Japan, Korea, Czechoslovakia, Norway, and the Netherlands. I still write to my friend John in Holland. So, this is not new territory for me.

I’m going to be making contact with others on my list in the next few weeks. Mark’s list constantly changes as new links come and go. So, like the diet I’m on, I may have to look at this as a long term lifestyle change, something that will be a constant in my day-to-day activities.

If nothing else, linking to them will emphasize the statistically significant relationship we already have. If they write me back maybe something more interesting will develop. We might even meet each other face-to-face some day.

Face-to-Face for the First Time

20 Mar 2002
March 20, 2002

Do I Know You?

Inside each one of us, laid out like a grid, is a network of complementary, anatomical, psychological, hormonal, and linguistic structures, which in turn allow us to function—I’m paraphrasing Dr. Kai here—within a larger social system made up of its own equivalent and parallel structures, and somewhere within this mesh of inner grid and outer grid lie those gray, baggy pockets of indeterminancy which we call human behavior. My own behavior had been very gray.

Mr. Statler in Robert Cohen’s Oscillations

How does one describe their first f2f? Is it like recounting one’s first kiss? Face-to-face, for those of you in the real world, is how we of the virtual realm refer to a meeting in the physical sense. And the first time you actually come in real contact with someone you’ve known online, it’s a special moment. But how to describe it? It all depends. As with kisses, there are variants.

horoscopeLast weekend I attended the SXSW new media interactive conference in Austin. I “knew” no one, yet I had numerous friendships and acquaintances with many who were there. It’s always fun to see friends you haven’t seen for a long time. But what about friends you’ve never seen?

As I moved through the main corridor between sessions that first day I felt quite vulnerable walking back and forth, back and forth, and back and forth alone. But my uncomfortable feeling was mitigated by my anonymity. No one knew who I was so no one noticed me and I could stealthily observe. I literally couldn’t tell who my friends were. But the voyeur in me enjoyed watching others interact. Were they meeting for the first time too or were they old friends, previously identified and marked in previous encounters? Could I actually be enjoying this taut psychological balancing act?

Upon first meeting, some people are exactly as you’ve come to know them online. Some are not as they seem. And some think they come across very differently than they really are. It was comforting to realize this mimiked human nature in the real world.

It’s somewhat like meeting a movie star. You “know” them. Or you think you do. With online friends you hope their online personae match the ones you are about to encounter. But like meeting film icons it’s not always safe to assume they are the sum of their film roles.

I once waited on Bobby Darin when I worked in the camera department of the May Company. Bobby Darin. I knew him. I certainly knew who he was. But when he paid for his film with a check, I asked to see his driver’s license, just as I did for everyone I waited on. I acted as if I didn’t KNOW him. And he didn’t counter by singing Mac the Knife (although that would have been proof enough). I ignored his celebrity. The transition to the real was complete.

What do you talk about when you first meet your online familiars? With my first f2f encounter of the day we picked up right from where we left off in our last email exchange. I looked at his conference badge and saw his eyes lower as he searched for mine. His look was delivered smoothly and effortlessly. I almost missed his glance it was so facile. And I could only hope mine was equally fluent. Why doesn’t someone just invent special glasses that display a person’s name in large block letters on their forehead. Seen only by the observer, it would make meeting like this a more pleasant task.

Without missing a beat I asked him if he’d lost his job. He nodded. I told him I was sorry. It was a seamless transition. As simple as I’ve encountered. But I still felt like I’d gone through a Trekian transporter during a minor fluctuation in the transporter beam. You’re “here” but you’ve just been “there.”

I waited for my next encounter. Here it was. Again, the conference tag glance. But this time our mutual recognition yielded only a brief handshake. She turned back to her conversation. I was naked and slowly stepped backwards as if that would clothe and protect me.

Suddenly, I was back in junior high. It was the first day of the year and I was the new kid. I guess having your first kiss, uh, f2f under your belt doesn’t make it any easier. I remembered being voted most introverted in my high school senior class. No wait. It wasn’t most introverted, it was most pessimistic. How did that memory come out so misshapen?

Prophetically, the man sitting next to me on the plane out was reading Robert Cohen’s Oscillations, a short story about a man who loses his ability to speak coherently. Whenever he talks everything he says is incomprehensible to everyone but himself. Office calls are surreptitiously rerouted to other agents and anniversary toasts end as long, unadulterated babbles. I suddenly found myself wondering if this condition might be contagious.

My airplane neighbor was right at the part where our unfortunate protagonist, Mr. Statler, has just checked himself into an “institute” for evaluation and testing. Dr. Kai is delivering his diagnosis:

The term we employ for a condition like yours is an intention tremor…What I am saying is that your ability to process phonetic and semantic information is not organically impaired. You are for example able to understand what I am saying right now, are you not?

In the same way you are able, phonetically, to communicate, to be understood. You have simply chosen, on some unconscious level, not to. This is the oscillation of semantic intent we must correct.

I felt myself turning an indeterminate shade of gray.

I retreated to the safety of a panel discussion about to start. While I waited I looked around and thought I spotted the name tag of another online acquaintance. I LOVED his writing. He found a way to be human in under a hundred words a post. Now that’s talent! We had corresponded some and I had posted comments to his online journal.

Apparently undaunted by my last encounter, I went up to him and introduced myself. He gestured reserved recognition but I ignored it I loved his writing so. I was effusive, unabashed and unprotected. Obviously, I’d forgotten who I was. Now, all the while in this physical space your mind is actively seeking equilibrium. You’re trying to form coherent thoughts while simultaneously controlling your exterior persona. Unlike my previous encounter this one was not so clear cut. He didn’t turn to his neighbor to continue an interrupted conversation. He simply stopped speaking.

I almost started babbling to fill in the silence when I was mercifully interrupted by the moderator’s opening remarks. I slipped back to my seat. But my mind continued to analyze. Why, he was shy, incredibly shy! Could this be possible? His online self was very different, often revealing of so many things. But I suppose I either missed the shyness or, like many actors, it was easier to BE than to just be.

With the panel over, I was alone again. Walking the corridor I spied a group of people sitting in a circle and talking on the balcony outside. One was an online friend from a virtual community I inhabit. Our initial meeting the night before had been brief but inviting. Everyone else in the circle, however, was new to me. Our tenuous connection propelled me forward through the doors to the outdoors. As I slowly walked to towards them I brushed aside a continuous flow of insecure thoughts.

I’m more of a recovering introvert. I’ve learned to compensate well, but my formative years loom, just behind my shoulder. Every step I took was a counterbalance to my past. I pulled up a chair and joined them.

They were discussing art and contemporary culture. Someone was video taping the conversation by passing around a camcorder as every one spoke. Immediately someone asked me what I thought. The camera focused tightly on my eyes. What was the question?

I was suddenly grateful we were all seated. I realized it would take a
certain effort for all of them to suddenly rise and disperse, leaving me
talking to myself. Something made me feel as if I’d been sitting with them for hours. The circle felt rooted and comfortable. I was grateful, relieved, and coherent, all at the same time. It wasn’t quite as good as that first kiss, but it came very close.

“Communication,” [Dr. Kai] shrugs. “A complex art. So many signals. It is a wonder we have even the success that we do. In fact it’s counterintuitive. Your affliction, Mr. Statler, should be not the exception but the rule.”

Reliving Ground Zero

28 Jan 2002
January 28, 2002

Last week I took a trip up to NYC to see Ground Zero. I’d been wanting to make the trip for some time. And, after working on Dichotomy since September, I felt it was important to take the trip. They’ve recently put up a platform, about two blocks away from the site. You have to get [free] tickets at the South Street Seaport kiosk, about 7 blocks to the East.

horoscopeMany have mixed emotions about The Platform. Some see it as just another stop on a tourist’s itinerary and are concerned about the carnival atmosphere at the site. Even though I’m sure it exists I didn’t see any evidence of that attitude.

While in the city, I met with a friend who is involved with many art and culture issues. He told me that a panel he was helping to organize on 9/11 was just cancelled due to lack of interest, not only by the public but by the panel members! The event affected all of us in a major way as a nation (that is, feeling a part because we are all Americans) and in individual ways, whether we experienced 9/11 directly, knew people who did, or simply witnessed it on TV. After four months, there seems to be a whole range of feelings now from “let’s move on” to “I’ve hardly begun to process this.”

As you look at the site now, the viewer’s experience is, in a way, too abstract. Ground Zero is about 2 blocks from the platform and it now looks more like a construction site. The initial visual shock is missing for most of us. And for most who haven’t spent a lot of time in the city, it’s hard to remember where the WTC would be in one’s field of view as you walk down the streets.

Yet many are drawn here because they want it to be more concrete and less abstract. It’s important to them. I overheard a woman here in DC say she was taking her children to see the site so they would think a little about the realities of what happened. To a some teenagers who have grown up with the mayhem and murder on TV, these things can be pretty abstract and unbelievable.

I was there at about 5:15 pm. The sun had set, yet the sky was still blue in the west, in the direction we were looking. It was cold and windy. I felt the beauty of living with the realities of what we went through. And, I’m glad I went. Yes, of course, there were some who took snapshots but documenting this place and our contact with it is as important as documenting any family event. I’ve created documentation of my own at The Platform (Quicktime 2.3 MB).

* * *

Update: I just found out the Dichotomy is a Finalist in the Art/Culture category at the SXSW Festival!

The Economics of Great Ideas

05 May 2001
May 5, 2001

I was at the Digital Arts and Culture conference in Providence last week. This meeting began a few years ago to discuss the issues surrounding hypertext literature and media and represents a new subculture for me within the digital art world. As always, the best part of these “doos” is meeting people in between sessions or over dinner. Good to see you again Donna, Judd, Nick, and Vika. Nice meeting you Myles, Lori, Ron, Edie, and Jack Ox, who won’t mind if I use her full and real name.

There was a little too much theory at times (this coming from a former academic). Rhetoric is an excellent way of limiting your audience. Since implementing technology is based on a set of social interactions that should bring people together, the dialogue shouldn’t impede that relationship.

horoscopeHypertext is much older than the web. And there is a venerable history to it which include people like Michael Joyce and Stuart Moulthrop (the granddaddies of hypertext fiction, although it’s hard to think of them as being the right age to be anyone’s grandad) and institutions like Eastgate, the developer of hypertext software before the advent of the web.

The first keynote speaker was Ted Nelson who has developed Project Xanadu, a hypertext product he hopes will change the way we work with our computer screens. Here’s his statement on it:

PROJECT XANADU MISSION STATEMENT: DEEP INTERCONNECTION WITH INTERCOMPARISON AND RE-USE

Since 1960, we have fought for a world of deep electronic documents– with side-by-side intercomparison and frictionless re-use of copyrighted material.

We have an exact and simple structure. Our model handles automatic version management and rights management through deep connection. (Explained on succeeding pages.)

Today’s popular software simulates paper. The World Wide Web (another imitation of paper) trivializes our original hypertext model with one-way ever-breaking links and no management of version or contents.

WE FIGHT ON.

He’s quite a dynamic speaker. And I was jazzed as I listened. When he started to talk about how the “standards wars” between Windows, the Mac OS, and Linux have limited our potential and experience, I understood. Project Xanadu, he said, would change that by providing context for our editing cuts and pastes: a trail of “linkages” from one version to another. This would allow us to use others’ material to convey our thoughts yet allow them credit and credits (payment) for that use.

Nelson has been working on this model, in various forms since the 1960s. According to his web site, it was the inspiration for both Tim Berners-Lee’s vision of the World Wide Web, Ray Ozzie’s Lotus Notes, and Bill Atkinson’s Hypercard. He coined the terms hypertext and hypermedia in 1967. It is clear he is a visionary.

But as I began to think about it, how many visionaries had I gotten excited about and followed into battle over the years (to continue his war metaphor)? So, during the Q&A that came after his talk I asked: “I’m willing to follow you up the hill, but what are your strategies for beating Bill and Steve (Jobs)? What’s your business plan? And, how are you going to protect us? (I can’t decide if I’ve become overly jaded or simply a yuppy pragmatist!) The audience laughed but when the laughter died down he answered: “you’re on your own.” And that was that.

I’m not faulting Nelson for his ideas nor his enthusiasm. Not one bit. And I think there is room in the world for people like him. In fact, it’s very important to have people like him.

Looking closer at his latest proposal for Project Xanadu on the web (now that the web has become so ubiquitous a series of standards it can’t be ignored) I have some further concerns. Nelson proposes a new file type for virtual content (tentatively called .XVF), browser plug-ins to present and editors to edit the .XVF file format. Each of these would require the cooperation and approval of the powers-that-be, unless, of course, Project Xanadu is so big and so revolutionary it, in turn, can’t be ignored.

Which brings me back to my initial question. Am I a fool to follow someone who has great ideas but no vision as to how to really implement them? I can enjoy, appreciate, and even get very excited by what Ted Nelson thinks. Economics, though, has become as important to me as idea. And I’m looking for a revolutionary who can take this into account. The older I get the more important this is to me. Cynicism, I mean, experience has led me to this point.

I’m willing to follow you, Ted, but what’s your plan for success? Keeping these new formats as open standards is important and certainly will encourage “critical mass.” But I don’t think it’s enough these days. I’m starting to get pretty concerned about how we’re going to get around that other “mass” created by the successful powers-that-be.

Ahh, the knot in my stomach is starting to feel better already.

Speaking of Superhighways

05 Mar 2001
March 5, 2001

I was invited to speak on New Media to the Trustees and senior staff at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts this past weekend. They’re looking to introduce technology within the museum and wanted to explore the area. I was one of three speakers.

horoscopeWhile I work at a museum, I was asked to represent the new media artist’s point-of-view. Oliver Knowlton, from Sports Illustrated spoke from the business end and Susan Delson, from museumgoer.com, talked about museums and distance learning. I’m always open to speaking to people who will let me get my digital foot in their door. Especially, when I’m invited. And, it gave me the opportunity to to revisit my thoughts on the development of the medium.

This also gave my wife and me a one-night vacation from parenting. I think this was the first time we’d both been away together since we entered this realm. She picked me up from work and we tooled down I-95 for the two hour plus ride to Richmond. I’ve decided my next car will be full of safety features. Eighteen wheelers following you from 3 feet back are just too scary to think otherwise (I almost made good use of my cell phone, calling the Indiana number written on the side of that truck to let them know how well their driver was driving!).

The museum put us up in a nice hotel. We loved the suite (with kids, I don’t think we’ll ever go back to the single room plan of days yore). A quick stop at the hotel’s happy hour hors d’oeuvre table and bar, then off to Millie’s Diner, a recommendation from friends, and now one from me as well.

The next morning, we checked out (the museum would have put us up for a second glorious night but lack of childcare prevented us from prolonging this joy) and found our way to the museum’s educational building. With name tag in place and a quick discussion with Elizabeth Wong, the head of IT to make sure computer and net connection was a go, I sat back and waited for my turn to speak.

They laughed! They really laughed! No, all kidding aside, I like to use humor whenever I talk about technology. Speaking as if I’m in a one-to-one, casual conversation with someone is my way of calming myself down when speaking publicly. Sort of like thinking everyone’s naked (but not the same of course). And, it makes people forget how tense they are about the subject. When attempting to sell technology, I like to remember its use and acceptance are dependent on a set of social interactions. They may excommunicate me from geekdom for saying this, but the technology will work only when people want it to work. So, making it palatable is a plus.

After all of us spoke, it was mid afternoon. We had were also invited to a special dinner in the museum galleries for Martin Puryear, but that didn’t start until 6. So, we perused Richmond’s vintage stores on Carey Street (I’m an avid collector of 1940s neckties).

There were actually three vintage stores within walking distance of each other. The first had the best selection but, after collecting for so long, I’m a little discerning in my tastes. I’m “rounding out” collection, you could say, so finding something good is getting harder. When the owner quizzed me on whether I’d found anything to my liking, she seemed genuinely miffed when I told her I hadn’t. “You mean, you found nothing? I’ve got a pretty good selection!” she said. I had to think fast. “Well, there were a couple of beauties,” I replied. “But I already have them.” I really enjoyed how into vintage she was.

Since we’d checked out of the hotel, we didn’t have any place to go after our hunt, so we walked back to the car and just relaxed. Promptly at 6, we went into the gallery. We were early, but it gave us a chance to see Puryear’s show. Then we headed for the atrium, where the bar and musical accompaniment beckoned and where I found the best peanuts I’d ever eaten. They were a cross between dry roasted and the normal oily. And big. Were these the Virginia peanuts I’d assumed I’d been eating all my life?! This wasn’t the ordinary “I’m really hungry and anything would taste like great at this point” event. No matter how many times I quizzed myself, I had to say these were genuinely the best peanuts I’d ever eaten.

A little wine, some more nuts, a perfunctory handshake from former Virginia Governor Wilder, and we were ready for dinner. More wine. Nice people, good food, and conversation. And at 8:45 we bid farewell to our hosts and rushed out like Cinderellas at midnight (with a quick stop at the dessert table around the corner to stock up on sweets for the trip home).

It was a nice day. I met some interesting people, got to talk about my love, ate well, and didn’t have to ask my kids to use their words instead of whining once all day! Just perfect.

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