March 12, 2010

Stuff I have been enjoying (a freaken lot)

So in the last week I have read some stuff, seen some presentations, and visited some sites that I have really loved, so here they are to share:

Trollcats (this will take my power point slides to a whole NEW level) and here is one for all the free software geeks, in particular.

I finally read Manuela Carneiro da Cunha fantastic Prickly Paradigm press book “Culture” and Culture: Traditional Knowledge and Intellectual Rights. If you don’t know jack about the thorny issues around indigenous knowledge an IPR, the first 2/3 provides a pretty darn good introduction rooted not only in an explanation of trade treaties, the limited repertoire available for indigenous groups to politically respond, but a great story about a specific frog that secretes a sticky film that basically F’s you up (if you let it seep in your open wounds). It is entertaining. The last 1/3 takes a far more theoretical turn and will be harder to understand for novices (it helps if you have like at least a BA, possibly MA in anthro, best if you have a PhD from her academic home, U of Chicago). It is there where she discusses the relationship between culture as “reflexive” (hey, peoples of the world, we have x, y, c culture) as lived unreflexively (the unconscious plane of norms that helps guide perception and action). I loved her theoretical somersaults whereby she explained how contradictions between the two are experienced as anything but a contradiction.

Ok so today I went to this conference Radars and Fences III (where I presented my anon/scientology talk for the first time 3 years ago!). I was not able to stay the whole day but I saw Ricardo Dominguez & Amy Sara Carroll from the Electronic Disturbance Theater present on the Transborder Immigrant Tool, which I knew about but did not know how infused it was in poetry, poetry that is, in fact, an integral part of its arsenal. Their presentation was fantastic and it reminds me the great political work being done at the interface of art and technology (and believe me, these 2 are rabble rousers. UCSD, who helped fund the project, are not all that happy they did and they also get not hate mail they get but the HATE mail).

Then I saw Laila El Haddad & Mushon Zer-Aviv present on an amazing project You are Not Here which is a bit hard to explain briefly but I will try (and their site introduces it as “an urban tourism mash-up. It takes place in the streets of one city and invites participants to become meta-tourists of another city.”

So basically there are two interlinked sites (NYC and Baghdad and Tel Aviv and Gaza) where you can be a tourist (though the physical place to follow the symbols are only in NYC and Tel Aviv). You need a map. You get a map. The map, once put up to the light shows two cities/places with symbols that indicate a special spot on the map. You find the physical spot, there is sticker or other sign with a phone number, you call, and you hear a story not about NYC or Tel Aviv (where you would physically go) but about Baghdad or Gaza and a story that pertains to the area of the map that overlaps where you are in NYC or Tel Aviv. We saw a bunch of examples and they were riveting and powerful.

December 5, 2009

Be Counted

Category: Academic,Computers,Gender,Wholesome — Biella @ 1:59 pm

To count means that you/it/whatever counts matters. If one counts the number of females in many tech/media conference, the number of women is dreadfully low, giving off the meaning and feeling they don’t always count, even if they are very well received.

There is a new project spearheaded by the efforts of Annina Rüst that will help us count women at conferences. The project is cleverly called Be Counted and it allows you to input information about gender representation in conferences. Here is a little more about the project and I urge you to check it out and contribute:

The project aims to collect a stream of user-contributed data on gender diversity in technology environments in the form of Gender Ratio Reports (GRRs). The longterm aim of the project is to not just collect but also provide tools for retrieving and visualizing the data in order to encourage others to collectively analyze the patterns behind the numbers.

November 29, 2009

Cat’s videos that make your inner cute swoon

Category: CUTE,Video,Wholesome — Biella @ 9:46 am

I am normally not so keen on GMO but if you managed to Clone/GMO/Tweak-Feline-DNA to make one of these for me, a one that stays so youthfully cute, I might be open to such modification.

November 28, 2009

Professor Alvarado!

Category: Academic,New York City,Research,Wholesome — Biella @ 7:06 am

professor-alvaro2, originally uploaded by the biella.

I love this guy. He plays in Times Square and is totally into his synthesizer. I can watch him for hours. One day I will ask whether he was a professor and if yes, of what (music? philosophy? both?). If only I could retire by performing in a subway station with a keyboard and dancing dolls. . .

Thanks to the update left in the comments, you can watch him in action and find out what type of professor he was/is.

July 20, 2009

A Nerd Bomber HIGH on the 1980s

Category: Aesthetics,Geekitude,Nerds,What Sorts of People,Wholesome — Biella @ 9:30 am

HIGH on the 1980s, originally uploaded by the biella.

One does not spend their adult life thinking about, hanging with, and writing on hackers and geeks if one did not have a bit of hacker, geek, or nerd inside of her own self. Well, since I did not own a computer until I was 20 (the horror), I was no computer tinkerer. I was pretty geeky about my hobbies but foremost and between the ages of 9 and 15 I was a full on nerd bomber as evidenced by the photo above…

Recently, as I was cleaning out a closet in Puerto Rico, Micah called me away from the dust to check out a new awesome site oozzzing with awkward family photos. It was a moment of total zyzygy (what a great word..) as I was JUST pulling out this very photo to show Micah the proof of my nerdliness.

So I quickly scanned the picture and sent off to the blog only to be quite disappointed (truth be told, offended) that they never published it. Well, about a week after I sent it, I got an email that the photo, being so classically awkward, is being reserved for the coffee table book. As my friend put it, the photo will be famous, awkward famous.

This photo means a lot to me and signifies a whole lot about my life back then. Though I grew up for the most part in the tropics, I went every summer to visit my very Jewish American grandmother and grandfather known as “Ruthie and Abe” in Cape Cod. It was delightful not only because I got to escape the scorching heat but it represented the land of Great Abundance. There were things there that I could not get on the island. Notable among many were: Captain Kangaroo (the show), root beer and naturally root beer floats (now available here though Seltzer water for some odd reason is not), rock candy, homemade cookies (my mother did not bother) and a constant parade of geese/ducks. It was pretty neat to be showered with the constant hugs and cookies that a Jewish granny can deliver with a serious punch, all the while chasing ducks in the backyard. I loved it.

As you can see, I am also donning a pretty flashy Pacman shirt, which I probably wore 4 times a week for at least a year. At the time I thought I was so bad ass for owning and wearing it. I was really into video games (especially Galaga, but I guess we found no teeshirt to represent the love) and I guess, I was into ridiculously looking slicked back hair and white sandals and white socks. (I just can’t believe my mom let me out looking this way, she had a much better fashion sensibility).

People have asked me what I was laughing at and really I have no recollection. Perhaps I was pointing at the ducks going across the lawn, which made me instantly happy. Most likely, I was making fun of my sister, who is wearing the braided head band (wow, the hipster kids in Williamsburg won’t even touch that sartorial Sh*t; it is that tacky) and who was clearly pissed. In fact, it seemed like childhood and pre-teenhood was marked by me being the happy goofball and my sister being… pissed (which has amounted to some serious karmic battles in our life).

Though happy in this photo, being a nerd, especially in Puerto Rico was no walk in the park. Most of the girls in my school were hawt stuff even as pre-teens (take a walk down the beach in PR and you immediately realize why a disproportionate number of Mizz Universes have come from a island the size of Rhode Frekan Island) and if you looked like I did, you stood out. Luckily, just as in the great show, Freaks and Geeks, I had a crew of geeks and we were tight, which shielded us from the worst forms of verbal abuse.

When I turned 15, however, I had enough of the nerd bombing and turned full on Freak, which entailed horribly frizzy hair aided by peroxide, a love for heavy metal and reggae, and other things which shall remain nameless. It was the year, as my friends like to remind me, I don’t remember due to all the partying and the like.
When I turned 16, I managed to unite the freak and geek in total harmony, and live out my high school with some pretty good times and now I can look back with nearly only fondness for the nerd, freak, and nerd/freak years.

June 17, 2009

drwxr-xr-x or -rwxr-xr-x (Sherpa RoMeo)

Category: Academic,IP Law,Open Access,Wholesome — Biella @ 11:42 am

Permissions. Unix geeks know them well as they are constantly handing them out, taking them back. Academics, when it comes to their publishing rights, don’t know what permissions they have or given away. Once you signed the contract you may also have no idea where you filed it, if you filed it.

But now if you want to know, it just got a heck of a lot easier. I was just alerted to a website Sherpa RoMeo that helps you figure it all out! As they report on their front page:

“Use this site to find a summary of permissions that are normally given as part of each publisher’s copyright transfer agreement.”

Now that is a nifty tool!

May 7, 2009

Make our words glisten

Category: Academic,Books/Articles,Geek,Humor,Uncategorized,Wholesome — Biella @ 10:46 am

glisten vs hardened words, originally uploaded by the biella.

Now that I am (thankfully) done teaching until September, I have time to devour two small mountains of readings that I need to finish before I return to my manuscript, which I will be working on, I hope uber-productively, all summer long. One pile of readings deals with coding, open source, and the commons, such as Scott Rosenberg’s Dreaming in Code and David Bollier’s Viral Spiral. Another pile of reading edges toward the theoretical side of things, having to do with craft, pleasure, and humor, since it is pleasure in its many many many guises—from from the calm feeling of self-satisfaction that underlies pride in one’s craft, to the more sublime feeling of ecstatic bliss—that powers many creative sprints.

If one entertains pleasure, one must also entertain its darker side, for all of this “feel good” stuff is nonetheless often springs forth from a deep sea of passionate frustration. This seems to be the driving theme of Dreaming in Code and it is also what animates Ellen Ullman’s fictional account of pure frustration, The Bug. I am quite fond of “native” expressions of geek frustration and recently was provided with an exquisite example—a rant against the Adobe PSD format. The author of Xee, “A light-weight, fast and convenient image viewer for Mac OS X” explained his utter contempt for the Adobe PSD in the following way:

 At this point, I’d like to take a moment to speak to you about the Adobe PSD format. PSD is not a good format. PSD is not even a bad format. Calling it such would be an insult to other bad formats, such as PCX or JPEG. No, PSD is an abysmal format. Having worked on this code for several weeks now, my hate for PSD has grown to a raging fire that burns with the fierce passion of a million suns. If there are two different ways of doing something, PSD will do both, in different places. It will then make up three more ways no sane human would think of, and do those too. PSD makes inconsistency an art form. Why, for instance, did it suddenly decide that *these* particular chunks should be aligned to four bytes, and that this alignement should *not* be included in the size? Other chunks in other places are either unaligned, or aligned with the alignment included in the size. Here, though, it is not included.

Were it within my power, I would gather every single copy of those specs, and launch them on a spaceship directly into the sun.

Even if this account represents unadulterated irritation, he leaves us, the reader, with nothing of the irritation, only pleasure. This aftermath of frustration is delivered through the vehicle of humor, which within the hacker context, is the cultural container that best captures the spirit of hacker pleasure or so I will be arguing. Like many humorous rants from the world of hacking (and please send me any others you know of), this text dances with liveliness; it exudes its own rhythm; it “glistens” to use Ronald Barthes’ apt phrasing from his short book “The Pleasure of Text,” which I just finished as part of my theoretical escape into the pleasure-dome.

Although there are parts of his book which are to be frank, *really* *not* *pleasurable*, partly due to obscure references to High French Theory, which elide even an academic pair of eyes, the book generally pleases. And one of the most pleasing chunks is his definition of a stereotype:

“The stereotype is the word repeated without any magic, any enthusiasm, as though it were natural, as though by some miracle this recurring words were adequate on each occasion for different reasons, as though to imitate could no longer be sensed as an imitation: an unconstrained word that claims consistency and is unaware of its own insistence”

In contrast to the stereotype, a string of words that enchants does so by slipping off the page to hit you squarely in the heart or the gut. Unfortunately, while academic writing steers clear of stereotypes, often trying to present the detailed singularity of a phenomena (even when conditioned by social forces), it does not exactly “glisten,” though there are a handful of exceptions. I think we need more texts that glisten, even if only during sections or parts of our books and articles (much like the rant helped enliven the more staid technical document).

In recent years, in large part due to the influence of free software, there has been an explosion, a move toward going open access. All of this is laudable and I fully embrace it (and have gotten into some small battles over it). But without an aesthetic politics that values pleasure in reading and writing we are doomed to obscurity anyway. A move toward making our knowledge public also required a move toward thinking about the literary aesthetics of pleasure.

December 16, 2008

Speaking of the Tactile/Tactical

Category: Wholesome — Biella @ 11:00 am

razer–my new keyboard, which i LOVE, originally uploaded by the biella.

Speaking of the tactile and the tactical, after seeking some input, I settled on this keyboard a few months ago and I simply love it–so much so, today I got another one for my office. I love the key strokes simply cuz’ they have just the right feel. It takes some, but not too much, pressure to type and it feels great on my finger tips. The fancy blue lighting is a plus but not a central feature. The overview/description on their website is pretty dramatic but I tend to agree it provides for some pretty hefty power, allowing me to launch my email assaults with perfection…:

With an awesome host of features, the Razer Lycosa™ is on an unstoppable mission to destroy and dominate.

Execute complex combat maneuvers with swift dexterity. Launch your assaults timed to perfection. Annihilate your enemies and reign supreme on the battlefield. You now have the tactical advantage on every terrain, and your enemies’ fates are in your hands.

I dare say I am fully content with the keyboard but I am still searching, however, for the perfect pen…

December 10, 2008

The Only Winning Move is Not To Play

Category: Academic,Geek,Hackers,Nerds,Wholesome — Biella @ 8:13 pm

nice-game-chess, originally uploaded by the biella.

Today I wrapped up both of my classes. Usually the end of class/semester represents and is experienced as nothing short of pure, unadulterated joy and at both ends of the stick (student and professors alike experience similar emotions :-) . Like my students, I am pretty beat and more than ready for a break. But I have to admit, I experienced the end of my hacker class with a tinge of sadness. This is the third time I have taught this class and each time, it seems like it becomes harder and harder to contain the class conversation and I enjoy them through and through. The last few classes were brimming with talk, which is what should exactly happen because by the last month students are walking/talking on a foundation built over the course of many weeks.

There is not much I would have changed about the syllabus (most of the readings were great-to-stellar) nor the class. But if there is one thing I am sorry about it is that we never watched War Games. The last time I taught the class, I was able to arrange various movie sessions and we watched War Games, Tron, and Sneakers (among a few others) and the students not only learned something about hacker media representations but did a little out-of-class bonding with the movies and lots of food.

Since space is such an issue at NYU, I decided not to forage or hunt for a suitable room (I have since found a connection who I think can hook me up with a room). But by missing War Games, we missed an important event in the history of hackerdom. The movie undoubtedly led to many a kids asking for a modem for xmas and I am sure led to a spike in hacking and phreaking 9 months later (or however long it takes for a kid to plead for a modem, get it, learn some new tricks etc).

It is also the case that while it helped usher in the image of the hacker as nefarious computer trickster, David Lightman was also a pretty cool, cute, and likable kid. Not a nerd but a geek. It perhaps represents the glimmerings of the transformation of the negative nerd into the positive geek (oh and the list keeps the list of girl geeks growing ), signaling the spread of the computer into mainstream society.

So next time I teach the class, there will certainly be more movies, War Games on the top of the list so that we can learn that “the only winning move is not to play.”

October 16, 2008

SISU Strikes Again: Two Bits Online

Category: Academic,Books/Articles,F/OSS,IP Law,Politics,Wholesome — Biella @ 4:43 am

I have blogged about it before, but I will blog about it again as it is that cool: SISU. According to its author, Ralph Amissah, “Susu was born of the need to find a way, with minimal effort, and for as wide a range of document types as possible, to produce high quality publishing output in a variety of document formats.” And really what it does it makes reading on the web a whole lot easier. He can only throw up Free Material and so his options are a little limited but he has recently added Christopher Kelty’s Two Bits, making it easier to read than ever. We just finished reading a about 3 chapters of the book for my class (wish I had known about the SISU for my students but oh well, next time) and here is the latest entry from one of my students covering the birth and development of F/OSS and ending with some questions about Free Culture. Good stuff, if I can say so myself.