November 3, 2009

Touching Music via the Voice-O-Graph

Category: Academic,Aesthetics,Digital Media,Ethics,Music — Biella @ 7:54 am

In no way can I be describe myself as music aficionado for I rarely seek music. But music being that it makes its way into your ears through so many venues and vehicles, certainly finds me. A few years ago I stumbled upon Owen Chapman’s music at live performance (using ice among other objects) at a conference on copyright’s counterparts.

I immediately loved it not only because it is a genre of electronic music I tend to like but because of the depth of its texture. While all music enfolds this feature, when I listen to his music, it is as if I am not listening to music but also touching it (and vice-versa).

He just released an album whose song and sounds keep with his signature style of deep texture. It also makes an ethical call and claim: since remixing/sampling is citational, akin to academic quotation, it thus deserves a kind of explicit recognition and commentary. To honor this he is providing his music free of charge once one dips in with their own commentary and contribution. Full details and music here

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 8, 2009

Lazy Web

Category: Aesthetics,Lazy Web — Biella @ 3:12 pm

Can people point me to websites that they think pleases the aesthetic soul but are ferociously user friendly and pragmatic (that is, easy to navigate, easy to read, etc)?

April 25, 2009

What We Know So Far

Category: Academic,Aesthetics,Events — Biella @ 6:45 am

So, when I like something, I tend to yap about it for weeks and weeks. Take Icelandic Yogurt, for example. After re-discovering it a month ago, I went on a mini-binge (not a mega as it is too expensive) and spread the word to anyone who would listen. The stuff, especially with fun flavors like ginger and orange, just made my morning.

Another fine fine thing out there is the performance group What We Know So Far who give performance-based lectures that mix intellectual insight with artistic flair. They put us regular academics to shame who are a bit more staid, to put it mildly. After seeing them a few weeks ago at the 3rd Ward, I snagged them to give a version of their A-mazing talk on Memes in my class and am organizing a much larger event at NYU for the fall of 2009.

This is a sort of long winded way of announcing their up and coming show on April 27th the Hannah Complex, which entertains, among other topics, the nature of common sense: “Can there be more than one common sense?” they ask on their site.

And I can’t wait to hear the answer as this is a recurrent topic that anthropologists like to entertain. And in fact one of my favorite essays to teach is on this topic, Clifford Geertz “Common Sense as Cultural System,” a short excerpt which I found here and below is his thesis in a nutshell:

There are a number of reasons why treating common sense as a relatively organized body of considered thought, rather than just what anyone clothed and in his right mind knows, should lead on to some useful conclusions; but perhaps the most important is that it is an inherent characteristic of common-sense thought precisely to deny this and to affirm that its tenets are immediate deliverances of experience, not deliberated reflections upon it. Knowing that rain wets and that one ought to come in out of it, or that fire burns and one ought not to play with it (to stick to our own culture for the moment) are conflated into comprising one large realm of the given and undeniable, a catalog of in-the-grain-of-nature realities so peremptory as to force themselves upon any mind sufficiently unclouded to receive them. Yet this is clearly not so. No one, or no one functioning very well, doubts that rain wets; but there may be some people around who question the proposition that one ought to come in out of it, holding that it is good for one’s character to brave the elements—hatlessness is next to godliness. And the attractions of playing with fire often, with some people usually, override the full recognition of the pain that will result. Religion rests its case on revelation, science on method, ideology on moral passion; but common sense rests its on the assertion that it is not a case at all, just life in a nutshell. The world is its authority.

August 5, 2008

Nice Website

Category: Academic,Aesthetics,Canada,IP Law,Politics,Tech — Biella @ 5:37 am

For the most part, university websites are not the most flattering in the world, nor are academic conference websites. But this one Copyright’s Counterparts is quite nice (and the theme also interesting). Makes me wonder, actually, about how copyrightable the design of a website is. Does anyone know? update: Not sure why my links don’t work on planet :-( I will have to figure that out after I get back from Canada.Update again: OUCH, ok there are issues with the website thanks to le flash raised in the comments. But I still think it looks good and I am sure that aesthetic could be transfered using non-flash technology!

May 22, 2008

The Craft and Aesthetics of Code

Category: Academic,Aesthetics,F/OSS,Geekitude,Hackers,Tech,UNIX — Biella @ 3:48 am

Someone recently asked me whether it was difficult to fill up my syllabus for my hacker course. I wish. The hard part is actually deciding what to put on as there is too much.

This is what I have so far but it will likely change over the summer. I have read a lot of the material but what I most excited about is teaching/reading Richard Sennet’s new book on Craft, which was recently reviewed in depth and in relationship to open source (which Sennet does discuss briefly) by Siva Vaidyanathan in the Chronicle of Higher Education (an article that I co-authored also got some props in the review, which is always nice).

The question of what type of activity programming is a complex and deeply interesting one. Its craft-like roots, in part, have to do with the UNIX tradition, something written about humorously by Neal Stephenson and more seriously by other folks like Peter Salus and Chris Kelty in his wonderful rich chapter on UNIX.

But craft is not enough to understand coding either. The aesthetics of coding also is a literary affair and the two pieces that capture the aesthetics of code in this light are the following two, also on my syllabus:

Black, Maurice
2002 “At the Edge of Language: The Art of Code.” (a PhD Dissertation from the Department of English at UPenn)

Chopra, Samir and Scott Dexter
2007 “Free Software and the Aesthetics of Code.” In Decoding Liberation.

I am excited to review this material, as I need to work through my own chapter on software coding, which is less about the aesthetics of code and more about the tension between collaboration and individualism in production (which obviously maps onto questions of craft and aesthetics but is not quite the same thing).