May 23, 2008

Women and Science Fiction

Category: Gender,Science Fiction — Biella @ 4:44 am

Rianna and Annalee Newitz have pretty much said what needs to be said: women do like SF.

May 22, 2008

Comics: some help

Category: Academic,Geekitude,Hackers,Humor,Tech — Biella @ 4:26 am

So, the last day of my class on hacking, we are going to spend some time on geeky comics and talking about this pictorial genre. I have started collecting a set of examples that I think are particularly strong and funny reflections of geek/hacker life but I am looking for more.

So what are some of your all-time favorite episodes/examples from a comic strip? I am looking for stuff that someone who is not necessarily technically oriented will understand but who will be armed with a fairly broad sense of this world too. Any suggestions would be really appreciated.

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).

May 19, 2008

Medical Genetics is Not Eugenics

Category: Disability Studies,Psychiatry,Tech — Biella @ 4:29 am

One of the most interesting debates concerning new technologies is whether human enhancement technologies have any resemblance to the older practice of eugenics. One of my favorite articles on this subject is by The Case against Perfection, which simply stunned my students (and they are pretty hard to stun).

Recently, the Chronicle of Higher Education published a couple of articles on the topic, and I wrote a response to one of them, (which as you will see, irked me some) here. While I agree with the author that medical genetics is not eugenics, it is still worth our while thinking through today’s genetic and reproductive technologies through the eyes of historical instance of eugenics.

Nerd History and Cutlure

Category: Books/Articles,Geekitude,nerd — Biella @ 3:51 am

Tonight at the Halfking is a reading by the author of American Nerd, a book that will be high on my reading list (and who knows, maybe I will assign in my course on hackers, as you know, hacking is related to nerd culture too :-)

Israel, what to do?

Category: Academic,Travel — Biella @ 3:21 am

I am going to University of Haifa next week to participate in this conference on the commodification of community on the web. I will have a few free days on the 31s of May and June 1, and 2 to explore. I also know I am going to Jerusalem for a day and will explore Haifa for a day too. Any recommendations of what to check out would be appreciated.

You can contact me at the email provided on my contact page

May 14, 2008

Map it: NNDB

Category: Geekitude,Hackers,Mapping,Tech,Visualization — Biella @ 6:10 am

So one of the amazing things about the net is not so much how it makes lots of data available (actually that can be the nightmare of the net) but how it makes it available. And one of the more powerful forms of availability is in the form of visual mapping. So this new tool theNNDB Mapper is just one such visualization tool that I have to say, is pretty niftfy, though still a little green and beta at least in terms of its data.

Take for example, the hacker map, which is pretty sparse right now but the great thing about it is 1) one can add data 2) and it generates useful data and links, for example, to profiles, such as this this one of Kevin Mitnick.

Apparently, he is not linked to anyone, which is ironic (and just wrong) because he it is more correct to say was linked like to an entire generation of hackers, especially those who participated in the Free Kevin movement (and that could perhaps be another field?)..

May 13, 2008

Massive FUD: twisting science for the sake of profit

Category: Academic,Not Wholesome!!!,Politics,Science — Biella @ 3:51 pm

For those interested in the politics of science, or to be more specific, how science is flagrantly twisted to keep important facts and findings about our public health from public view, this book Doubt is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health by David Micahels looks like a must read. For those wanting a little here is a review of the book.. In short, the author shows how occlusion comes from the need to secure and protect profits, and is achieved with what he calls the “alchemy” of twisting numbers and facts:

“It’s quite easy to take a positive result [showing harmful effects] and turn it falsely negative. This epidemiological alchemy is used widely.”

The problem runs deep as this other article from Slate magazine also indicates. But there are some good sources to get and evaluate your science and health news and health news review seems like one important place to go.

What Sorts of People Should There Be?

Category: Academic,Disability Studies,Tech,What Sorts of People — Biella @ 2:01 pm

I am affiliated with a project whose origin is the northern parts of Canada, although whose members span the globe called What Sort of People Should There Be?. The idea behind this nifty and catchy title is to get a bunch of researchers in various fields, from disability studies to philosophy and everything that comes in between to start asking a series of questions about the role of human enhancement today and eugenics in the past, all within the context of thinking about the experience and politics of disability. I am super excited about the project because it spans the past and present to confront what it means to be human, how we value variation, how we seek to support or erase difference, and lastly something close to my academic heart, the role of technology in facilitating and dampening the politics of possibility and hope when it comes to disability.

The project has recently launched an multi-author blog and I will be posting there from time to time. If you are interested in this topic, do come by for a visit. I am sure you won’t be disappointed. My most recent post is here and it covers an interesting article in the New York Times on Mad Pride, which oddly enough is in the Fashion & Style section.

May 9, 2008

Mira, it is Miro

Category: F/OSS,Tech,Wholesome — Biella @ 5:29 am

Miro helps you Mira (watch) Videos in a snazzy and easy to use way. Software like Miro and Zotero is why I free software.

And speaking of videos, one of my readers has provided information about a wonderful documentary on Monsanto and here is a video with Michael Pollan ( an amazing journalist writing on the politics and technology of food) who recently spoke at Google.