January 15, 2011

Gazed deeply into the abyss

Category: Academic,Humor — Biella @ 4:56 pm

Someone by the name of “lobster” described my recent work in terms of its potential and damaging psychological effects (on me):

As for Ms. Coleman, I appreciate the work she’s doing but I would not want to be locked in a room with her. She has gazed deeply into the abyss. Who knows what horrors have taken root in her mind, and lie sleeping, waiting to unleash unfathomable nightmares for the lulz?

(Yes I loled; captures beautifully a bit of the trauma that can ensue from working on the abyss)

September 22, 2010

Automated Message

Category: Academic,Humor — Biella @ 6:04 pm

So I suspect folks have received a message from a professor when on sabbatical and it usually goes something like this:

Thank you for your message. This is an automated reply.
I am on sabbatical leave and unable to reply to my email.  For all matters concerning the __________________________ Department of __________ Contact ____________–.  
Thank you for your patience,
Professor …

I have been thinking of writing one myself, being I am also on sabbatical but thought I might be a bit more honest and forthcoming. This is what I have so far come up with:

Thank you for your message. This is an automated reply. I am on sabbatical leave and while I am able to reply to my email, in fact, I have a heck of a lot more time compared to when I teach, it is customary to write a message like this and claim otherwise.

However, being on leave does relieve you of (most) all department responsibilities. And given the grueling pace of academic jobs and the contemporary burden of email avalanches we all suffer from, I am taking the license (the sabbatical license) to say: 1) I may never get back to you 2) I may but it may take longer than usual 3) honestly I suffer from MEAD (Massive Email Anxiety Disorder) and hate it when people don’t respond to me, so I will likely get back to you but don’t you get MEAD if I fail to do so.

Thanks for your patience,
Gabriella Coleman
On leave 2010-2011

April 26, 2010

Progress Island!

Category: Humor,Puerto Rico — Biella @ 3:20 pm

For like the millionth time, I am back in Puerto Rico, AKA Progress Island, at least according to MST 3000. My mom came down with severe pneumonia and I am waiting it out until she is more stable. Today, my friend forwarded the MST 3000 video as she suspected it would cheer me up and she was right. I have not seen anything so fine in a long time. If you know nothing of PR-America relations, it won’t be (that) funny but if you do, it is sharp as a nail. Oh and the 70s’ music adds a real nice–almost porn-like—touch. Make sure to watch part two “so you can sugar frost your damn corn flakes, you filfthy American pigs!”

February 10, 2010

Suffering from MEAD?

Category: Humor,Psychiatry — Biella @ 4:30 am

If I told you that you suffer from MEAD you might think (if you are an anthropologist like me) that you suffer from an obsession with a plump anthropologist of said name who popularized the discipline bringing home tales of Samoan teenagers who did not seem to suffer from the angst and anxiety of their American counterpart. Or you might think MASSIVE EMAIL ANXIETY DISORDER, which is a DSM diagnosis I invented last week and thus have minimized the work that the American Psychiatric Association will have to put into updating their DSM (you’re welcome).

So I have penned down its major characteristics and effects so that you too can identify with some other inner pathology that might mark your daily life and being (you’re welcome)

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association currently defines Massive Email Anxiety Disorder (MEAD) disorder in the following way. 

Please note that while this definition of MEAD is the most definitive and clearly produced to date, there are several potential problems with this definition that will hopefully be addressed by the task forces, editors, and research coordinators of the association as time progresses. 

The Current DSM-IV  Definition (Abridged):

A.  A persistent fear of one or more ‘emails situations’ in which an author of an email worries about the status of a sent email. The individual fears that the tone or content of a message was misinterpreted or that an email never arrived to its correct destination. Alternatively, they worry excessively about why they have not received a response.

B.  Exposure to the feared situation almost invariably provokes anxiety, which may take the form of a situationally bound or situationally pre-disposed Panic Attack.

C.  The person recognizes that this fear is unreasonable or excessive.

D.  The feared situations are avoided or else are endured with intense anxiety and distress. Alternatively the person suffering from MEAD shuffles over to their partner or office-mate to talk (obsessively) about the nature and possible effect of the email, sometimes for hours, sometimes even for days.

E.  The avoidance, anxious anticipation, or distress in writing email, which interferes significantly with the person’s normal routine, occupational (academic) functioning, or social activities or relationships, or there is marked distress about having the phobia.

F.  In individuals under age 18 years, the duration is at least 6 months.

G. The fear or avoidance is not due to direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., drugs, medications) or a general medical condition not better accounted for by another mental disorder.

Problems with the DSM Definition of Massive Email Anxiety Disorder

While this definition is clearly the most definitive and precise official definition produced so far, “Massive Email Anxiety Disorder” has only been officially recognized since 2020, and the problem did not become adequately explained until the 2015 version of the DSM. Thus, the definition of MEAD disorder is becoming clearer and more precise with each edition. 

Written in “honor” of current revisions for the DSM, expected to be published in 2013


February 7, 2010

Hacker and Troller as Trickster

Category: Academic,Hackers,Humor,Troller — Biella @ 11:40 am


If you read the literature on tricksters, you will confront a string of words that capture the moral quality and sensibilities of these figures, figures scattered across time and place and largely enshrined in myths and stories:

Cunning, deceit, lying, provocateur, mischief, audacious, thief, play, shrewdness, audacity, grotesque, over the top, appetite, shocking, fun, delight, wit, trap, subversive, ability, wanderer.

These figures, which include Coyote, Loki, Hermes, and Eshu, among many more, push the envelope of what is morally acceptable and in so doing, argues Lewis Hyde (in his tome on the subject), renew and revitalize culture, especially the moral stuff of culture. They are not only boundary crossers, they are boundary makers. As the title of his book so succinctly and masterfully broadcasts “Trickster Makes this World.” Or as he suggests with a bit more elaboration:

“I want to argue a paradox that the myth asserts: that the origins, liveliness, and durability of cultures require that there be a space for figures whose function is to uncover and disrupt the very things that cultures are based on” p. 9

At the opening of the book, Hyde asks whether there are tricksters in modern industrial societies. His answer is a plain ‘no.’ The con man who might share some similarities does not qualify. For in fact what is needed is either a polytheistic system “or lacking that, he needs at least a relationship to other powers, to people, to instructions, and traditions that can manage the odd double attitude of both insisting that boundaries be respected and recognizing that in the long run their liveliness depends on having those boundaries regularly distributed” p.13 He does locate the spirit of the trickster in spirited individuals: in Picasso, in Frederick Douglass, in laudable figures who push certain boundaries and renew our world for the better but nonetheless fall short of the archetypal trickster.

I bet it is pretty obvious where I am going with all of this given my object of study: phreakers, hackers, and trollers. The trickster does exist across America, across Europe, really across the world and it is not in myth but in embodied in group and living practice: in that of the prankster, hacker, the phreaker, the troller (all of whom, have their own unique elements of course, but so does each trickster). Their relationship to other powers are many and can be located in terms of information, intellectual property, the government, language itself, institutions of power like the FBI and AT&T. The list is not short.

For a few years now I have been thinking about the linkages between the trickster and hackers as well as the troller but it was only in the fall when I found myself trapped in a hospital for a week that I finally cracked open the book by Hyde and devoured it. Within a the first few pages, it was undeniable: there are many links to be made between the trickster and hacking. Many of these figures, push boundaries of all sorts: they upset ideas of propriety and property; they use their sharpened wits sometimes for play, sometimes for political ends; they get trapped by their cunning (which happens ALL the time with tricksters! That is how they learn); and they remake the world, technically, socially, and legally and includes software, licensing and even forms of literature (think textfile, the Jargon File or most dramatically, ED).

But if the trickster generally resides in myth, and the trickster of the information age resides in practice, myth matters everywhere because there is a mythos created around these figures. Sometimes the mythos is propagated these groups (take a look of ED for example or Phrack in the past) and of course the media has played an undeniable role. And yet, unlike what is represented in the pages of Hyde, there are living, actual bodies in motion, in conversation, in transformation, a group that goes far beyond the other more controlled and bounded tricksters we might be able to locate in society, such as artistic/political groups like the Yes Men.

But the most shocking (or hard to think through) element lies less in the many associations one can make, but in the following curious fact. For the most part the trickster is enshrined in myth and stories but the tricksters I am referring to are in fact full-bodied, full-blooded groups of people who are actually engaging in all sorts of acts of trickery. This is culture not in the sense of art and myth but people and practice and this of course makes an (ethical) difference. What happens when you are the recipient not of a story offered an elder, but the recipient of trickery, an act of pranking or trolling, for example? What happens when you can trace all sorts of instances of boundary re-shifting and remaking, as with the GPL? I think this, even more than the linkages, is what makes this connection so remarkable and I trying to think through what it means to have a figure that we can find and talk to, as opposed to one embodied in myth and story.

For now I am going to leave this post short and in the next installment, will start raising some of the connections between trickery and variants of hacking and trolling.

February 3, 2010

2600 papers

Category: Hackers,Humor — Biella @ 6:19 am


Glad to see his paper on hacking and zines was picked from a pool of 2600 papers….

November 20, 2009

Moral Grey Zones: Roller-Hitching

Category: Debian,Geek,Geekitude,Humor,Uncategorized — Biella @ 2:58 pm

Moral Grey Zone

Many moons ago while doing fieldwork I went to a radical tech activist camp sponsored by The Ruckus Society to give a presentation on Free Software (which I actually still have online in the gaudy orange I so loved. I could only stay 2 days as I had to go to Debconf2 in Toronto for fieldwork but it forever changed my life in pretty significant ways.

One remarkable thing about Ruckus was that for the first time I meet a particular kind of geek I had yet to come across: the crunchy and chewy granola/environmentalist/hippie hacker– a type of hacker that can be found world over but is likely to be (unsurprisingly) living, sometimes in the trees (literally) in the Pacific Northwest. They are one of my favorite kind of people as I can talk endlessly to them about 2 of my great passions: Free Software and environmental justice. Comfrey, pictured above, was one such hacker from Portland who I met at the Ruckus event and now routinely shows up, usually unannounced to our house at least 1-2x a year.

I woke up this morning to find him on our couch, got a bunch of knot-weed to chew on compliments of his foraging, and took the afternoon off to share some food. Among many stories, he told me of a new transportational pursuit of his, Roller-Hitching, which he uses to get around the country. He uses old school roller skates to skate along the road, even highways, until he gets picked up and get where he needs to go.

Naturally, these old school states are not just functional in the sense that they are faster than two feet in motion, but since they signify a particular spirit of the 1970s–you know, the groovy, dynamite, free love spirit of things, they draw positive attention and apparently when he roller-hitches, he gets picked up frequently (and made it from Minneapolis to Portland in 2 hours and 2 days: not shabby).


In California while on the 101 north of Arcata, California, Comfrey got stopped by the highway patrol and basically the cop wanted to kick him off on the grounds the he was a pedestrian (apparently prohibited on this patch of the 101). Comfrey, being a bright fellow, basically noted that roller skating is not really a pedestrian activity, that he was using, much a like a biker, a transportation device of sorts, so that he was in a grey zone between bikes and walking.

At the time, the cop was convinced enough but did tell Comfrey to look up the law in the library cuz the next time he would give him a ticket and the next time after that throw him in jail. Comfrey has yet ‘sourced’ the law but soon will. When he does, since I like to report on geeks and the law, I too will report on whether one can roller skate down or up the highway for those that might want to give Roller-Hitching a try.

November 17, 2009

The Winners

Category: Academic,Humor — Biella @ 9:15 am

These are the winners from my yearly class contest :

SERIOUS BABY……lol…..sometimes

Did I just Get Rejected From McDonalds? (Watch to the end)

This is one of my all time favorites funny videos and it has a nice catchy tune and I will also post one of my ALL TIME favorites after I show it in class next week.

November 9, 2009

The Pulse of Humor

Category: Academic,Humor — Biella @ 6:53 pm

So when I teach my Introduction to Human Communication and Culture class, we usually do a section on humor and among other articles, I assign a chapter from one of my favorite books, On Humour. It is a nice, quick read delivering however some serious philosophical punch.

Given the pervasiveness of humor on the Internets I also ask students to send me what they think are 2 of the funniest videos. I then compile the list, send out to the class, and they vote on the 2 funniest ones. Here is the list and in a week I will report back on the winners, at least ‘winners’ from the perspective of NYU freshmen:

A) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-fVDGu82FeQ

B) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YqD2aBrqcmQ&feature=related

C) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7gIpuIVE3k

D) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-do8lSJOts

E) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tM4eIBs8WBw

F) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f3sX30NubTs

G )http://www.sickanimation.com/cartoon.asp?name=murshaq

H) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xD-Huwlg2kY

I) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-fVDGu82FeQ

J) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WGOohBytKTU

K) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1upZz3a-7iM

L) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCdmiZyyGjQ

M) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8tU4fB9nUgc

N) http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/74/the-landlord-from-will-ferrell-and-adam-ghost-panther-mckay

O) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKBQrXxrvu0&feature=related

P) http://www.youtube.com/user/doglover199709#p/search/1/rMdWqaN_Tms

Q) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I5ALIL7T764

R) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kCpjgl2baLs

S) http://www.collegehumor.com/video:1799458

T) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FfZ8yVcnLPs

U) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VVn27YXEWho

V) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bh8UttrmmLc

W) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YU_nOtD7acQ

*Thanks to James and emacs, here they are with links!

Sick Animation
Funny or Die
College Humor

October 9, 2009

Taking Down Internet Pundits

Category: Academic,Computers,Humor — Biella @ 8:06 am

So I love biting irony as a way to make A Point and one of my favorite essays in this regard is If Men Could Menstruate. For a while now, I have been waiting for some biting irony, really mockery, to be launched at the free wheeling Internet punditry that is so common today…. Well, here is one amazing video morsel directed at the social media guru (pictured below). Since the social media guru is just one class of Internet pundit, I hope more mockery will follow.