December 14, 2008

Gluten Free Beer

Category: Food — Biella @ 7:40 am

There is not much I miss from the world of gluten (though it does make it hard to eat on the fly) but I do miss good beer, especially Belgium beer. Thankfully, the last five years has seen a mini-explosion of decent to great gluten free products, including beer and here is a handy list of gluten free beers.

December 12, 2008


Category: Academic,Disability Studies,Hackers — Biella @ 6:52 pm

This person really is not happy I wrote about hacking on this disability blog.


I think your article is an outrage.

An outrage

First Impressions

Category: Uncategorized — Biella @ 5:39 pm

Today I spent most of the day hacking away at a new syllabus on technology and the body for a class I am teaching next semester. I am still hoping to find a (good) reading on body modification that covers body tattoos (any suggestions welcome) to complement my readings on other forms of body modification. Later in the day, after talking about my quest to find a great article on tattoos, my friend mentioned to me that she thought the mark on my face under my left eye was a tattoo. When I got home later, I asked a number of friends on IRC what they thought the mark on my face was they first met me and most of the answers were makeup or tattoo (and people have tried to rub it off my face, which, yes, makes for a pretty uncomfortable social situation).

I guess if one thinks it is smeared eyeliner, one might think I am a total chump for being so sloppy with my makeup and if someone thinks is it is tattoo one might think I am either a bad ass for daring to tattoo my face, or bad ass for different reasons (and I have had many a conversation usually with security guys and drug dealers asking whether I once was in a gang). Or perhaps people might think I am just an old-fashioned attention-seeker.

Back in college, when I had a nose ring most everyone thought the mark was a tattoo and I would receive many comments and complements on my innovative sense of aesthetics (the nose ring did bring out the mark quite a bit). Today, after having these conversations it really hit me that, while I really don’t mind or care all that much what impression of me is formed, it is probably the case that in many instances, this tiny mark on my face, which has been with me since birth, does feed into the formation of first impressions.

Craft Hackers

Category: Gender,Hackers,New York,New York City — Biella @ 12:44 pm

Craft Hackers is a panel being held tonight at the New Museum in NYC. Looks craftastic.

Craft Hackers is a panel discussion among artists who use crafting techniques to explore high-tech culture and the relationship between needlework and computer programming. Panelists include Cat Mazza, who translates moving images into stills knit in yarn; Christy Matson, who uses Jacquard Looms (some of the earliest computers) to knit landscape images from computer games; Ben Fino-Radin, whose witty needlepoint sculptures translate the World Wide Web into yarn and plastic, one pixel at a time; and Cody Trepte, whose embroidery of retired computer punch cards rekindles an old-fashioned love affair with the hand of the artist

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.”

December 9, 2008

Geek girl list

Category: Uncategorized — Biella @ 8:22 pm

Many many (great) additions/clarifications have been made the Geek Girl list in the comments about geek representations in mainstream media. Two of the most important additions/comments were 1) “One glaring omission is Lisa Simpson” (Could not agree more ) 2) “Gadget was a mouse, not a chipmunk!” :-) Also, for those that may not know, here is Nerd Girls, which I have written about in the past and really deserves to be part of this conversation.

I have added some more comments and thoughts but below in the comment section.

December 8, 2008

dino-anon (or how to end your hacker class on a lulzy note)

Category: Academic,Anonymous — Biella @ 2:36 pm

dino-anon, originally uploaded by the biella.

As I mentioned in my last entry, the end of the semester is one of overwhelming, seemingly unstoppable entropy. People and Professors are tired and to help move us through this thickness, I try to pick fun readings. Today I also had the opportunity to have a group of NYC-based Anonymous come to class today to give us a window into the politics of protesting Scientology and this of course worked magnificently against the end-of-semester-entropy.

In a nutshell: they did not fail or in their own lingo, it was an Epic Win. They provided a really nice set of presentations (and then also proceeded to collectively draw the lulzy image featured above) about their origins, their purpose and some of the tensions within the group. Then we had a class discussion about a number of topics, including their argot and “offensive” (offensive) [I am not sure whether to put " " or not] online language.

While I am still ambivalent about their use of “fag” and “nigger”, I greatly admire Anonymous for their politics of pleasure and aesthetic audacity (not to mention creativity). They insist that protest must be fun, must be wild, must go beyond simply rational discourse. If you are interested in this topic, check out Stephen Duncombe’s excellent (and very readable) book Dream, which I happened to be (somewhat randomly) reading right now and it helped give me a new fresh perspective about the politics driving Anon.
Duncombe is a professor at NYU Passionate (with a Capital P) about politics with a lot of real world political experience who examines the importance of desire, fantasy, and pleasure for progressives and leftists who tend to shy away or even denigrate such impulses. And it is certainly the case that Anonymous is experimenting, consciously and unconsciously, with these very questions and impulses which helps explain why many people jumped on board.

I hope to post the audio from the class a little later on.

December 7, 2008

Nerds, Geeks, and Nerd/Geek Grrrls

Category: Academic,Geek,Geekitude,Gender,Nerds,Teaching — Biella @ 10:13 am

I have not sat behind the helm of teaching for very long but I already have a few tricks up my sleeve. One of them is that I assign some of my favorite readings at the end of the semester so as to counter the downtrodden and tepid spirit and mood (not to mention attention) of my students, which drops precipitously with each passing day. Let’s face it post Thanksgiving, we are all a little tired and I try to find the readings, which uplift, intrigue, and challenge cherished assumptions about marriage and sex.

So far it seems to pay off and I often can tell because the conversational pitch and excitement in class is high and the student writings are good, great, even exceptional, which, again, is hard to produce/induce this late in the semester. Readers of this blog would probably be most interested in one of these lively readings, Ben Nugent’s American Nerd (and it might be interesting to hear how the European Nerd story would diverge or converge with this one).

One of my students, an audio geek and Free Culture President/Free Software junkie, by the name of John Randall produced a very nice little response (not research) paper on the Nugent reading as well as a short piece by Sarah Seltzer from Bitch Magazine
The(Girl) Geek Stands Alone (and thanks to Joe> for cluing me into this piece). Seltzer piece basically argues, in her own words, the following:

Imagine this scene from a comedy: a group of female friends sit around smoking a bowl and working on the Wikipedia page for Lord of the Rings. Their fashion sense is decidedly iconoclastic and several sport thick-rimmed glasses. Without a trace of self-consciousness, they have a hilariously ribald discussion on the relative traits of elves and orcs.
Awesome as it is, you’ll never see this scene onscreen. No mainstream movie or TV series would dare group so many female nerds together, or celebrate them so unabashedly

So John’s whole response paper is here and here is the pdf. In the paper, he makes a number of excellent points but what I loved most about it was his very geeky move at the end of the paper to prove Sarah (somewhat wrong) by listing all the girl geeks that do and have appeared in mainstream (and not-so mainstream) entertainment venues/shows, etc. They are as follows and in his own words:

I will now showcase my own geekiness through my knowledge of geeky female characters. Why? Because I can. But also because I want to demonstrate that if you look hard enough for representations of female geekyiness in pop culture, you will find plenty. Moreover, if you pick the right ones, you can make them support your argument about gender relations, whatever that argument might be.

Some of these charters and personalities are hardly gendered, some are hyper-sexual. Some are incredibly attractive but completely asexual. Some undergo a transformation into/out of geekiness, while others to not. Some are powerful, while some are powerless. Some (most?) celebrate their geekiness, others are tortured by it. They are all geeks– take your pick:

Aeon Flux, a sexy geek who’s technological gadgets give her super powers (Comic drawings then Charlize TheronAeon Flux)

Wonder Woman, attractive pilot of an invisible plane

Lara Croft, a female Indiana Jones in short shorts, wielding guns and cracking computer codes (CGI and then Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider)

She-Ra, who was way smarter than He-Man (Masters of the Universe cartoons)

Gadget Hackwrench, beautiful chipmonk technician for Chip and Dale (Rescue Rangers cartoon)

Velma, featuring eyeglasses, awkwardness and brains (Scooby Doo),

Hermonie Granger, a geek who is temporarily rejected because she is a geek, remains a geek, and finds love and happiness (Harry Potter)

Barbarella, who, through comic strips and a 1968 film, helped introduce science fiction and sex to young women (Barbarella)

La Femme Nikita, a skillful, savvy, and very feminine girl who doubles as a covert spy

Kate Libby, aka ‘Acid Burn’, uber-sexualized hacker (played by Angelina Jolie in Hackers)

Kathryn Janeway, smart and powerful captain of the USS Voyager (Star Trek Voyager)

Starbuck (Battlestar Galactica),

Dana Scully, FBI agent with encyclopedic media knowledge. The bizzare subtex of non-realized sexual tension was part of the magic The X-Files.

Willow Rosenberg, geeky sidekick turned geeky supervillian (Alyson Hannigan in buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Michelle Flaherty, hyper-sexual band geek (Alyson Hannigan in American Pie series)

Dr Ellie Sattler, heroniene scientist (Jurrasic Park)

Ellie, scientis hero (played by both Jenna Malone and Jodi Foster in Carl Sagan’s Contact)

Dawn Wiener (Heather Matarazzo in Welcome to the Dollhouse

Enid and Rebecca (Thora Birch and Scarlett Johanson in Ghost World)

just about every charater ever played by Jenna Malone (Donie Darko, The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, The United States of Leland, Saved!, etc)

half of the charaters played within the last decade by Jodi Foster (Panic Room, The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, Flightplan, The Addams Family

half of the charaters played by Christina Ricci (Mermaids, The Addams Family, Little Red Riding Hood, The Ice Storm, Buffalo ’66, Prozac Nation, Pumpkin, Speed Racer)

half of the characters played by Natalie Portman (The Professional, Mars Attacks!, Star Wars, V for Vendette, The Darjeeling Limited, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, Garden State)

Molly Ringwald. characters played by Molly Ringwald.

Rock musician Ani DiFranco and geeky Riot Grrls everywhere.

Sarah Vowell, NPR commentator celebrating her geeky life. Voiceover for geeky cartoon characters.

Rachel Maddow, for being Rachel Maddow.

First, awesome list, though he forgot a few (like one of my favorites, Bionic Woman and a more recent one, Juno) and it is nice to have it in one compact place. But, I have to say, I still agree to some degree with Sarah Setlzer, though I also agree with John. On the one hand there are representations and it is as important just to strut this stuff publicly as it is to claim that there is not enough female geeky representations in mainstream media. This is what John has done quite nicely.

One the other hand, as he himself says ” if you look hard enough for representations of female geekyiness in pop culture, you will find plenty.” I think those words, “if you look hard enough” also speaks volumes of the continued disparity that does exist. One should not have to look “hard,” and the only blockbusters, so to speak, which feature a female geek, is Tomb Raider, which for being so hyper-sexualized is not so geeky to me, no matter how good she is with the gadgets.

That said, what I find so important, and have emphasized in different contexts, is the need for what I think of simultaneous positive and negative form of critique, the former being about pointing to already exisitng examples to get people jazzed and excited and to put things in perspective. The later form of critique, negative critique, identifies a lack, a void to fill, just the type of excellent commentary in the Seltzer piece…

But now for the most important question, who has John overlooked?

December 6, 2008

Fast, Fiery, and Fantastic.

Category: Chiptune,Music — Biella @ 6:15 pm

I like dance music. A lot. So I am extra happy to have been clued into the musical world of Buraka Som Sistema and Nordloef (playing tomorrow night at the Blip Festival). Genre wise they are pretty different, but both are fast, fiery, and fantastic. Enjoy.

December 4, 2008

Good Free Software Video Editor

Category: Uncategorized — Biella @ 7:26 pm

Dear Lazy Web (this is a from a friend and I know next to nothing about video editing software):

“Is there a good free video editor, on par with GIMP, that has a decently gradual learning curve, and works well?”