Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Plugs, sockets, cables and flexes


You can still see the old world. It lives on in shops like these. Blistered paintwork, old signage, no web address - the steamed-up windows, lace curtains upstairs - everything. Still it reminds me how, even in our fast networked world, we are still dependent on so many physical connections. Electricity. Wires. I just got my foot caught in the USB lead connected to my camera; in December I trashed the webcam when I got up too quickly; a spaghetti junction of cables at the back of my desk. I eagerly anticipate the wireless world, whilst looking with nostalgia at the shopfront of John Carr and Co.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Half melon/all gone

half melon

Raw food…and it tasted so good! I finished reading Hello World tonight (in the bath, since location is so important). I really enjoyed the hybridity of personal account, story and fact. It was also uncanny that I’d made some of the same virtual and actual journeys. Was the book just another liberationist cyborg manifesto I wondered? Maybe. Maybe and why not? The book extends into a blog here, so that’s good. Anyway, many thanks to litrate for bringing it to my attention in the blogosphere. And by the way, here’s litrate’s wonderful photoset on text as litter… or is it litter as text? It’s rubbish anyway (:grin:) !

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Crackers again


It’s Chinese New Year today, and there’s a flurry of activity down on London Road – and the Lion Dance in town tomorrow. After wrestling with power kites yesterday afternoon and painting the kitchen ceiling today, I started thinking again about new processes of knowledge-building following on this post and comments. Anyway I’m revising my position on memes, acknowledging that they may not mutate, instead describing them as viral. Tagging remains as a cumulative-recursive process…and then, why not add in Gunther’s idea that hyperlinking is rhysomic. So, that seems to give us three ways in which networks enable knowledge-building.

Networking also played a significant role in launching the Arctic Monkeys - Sheffield music makes it again with the fastest-selling debut album in UK history! Interestingly, and I quote from the BBC news site, ‘the Arctic Monkeys built up their fan base on the internet, after demo CDs they handed out at gigs in 2003 were put on the web for other people to hear.’ That's marketing as knowledge-building...

Friday, January 27, 2006

Colin comes a cropper

spiral design

There’s a moving account of Colin’s predicament over here – it made me realize how the blog’s not the best medium for offering emotional support. Couldn’t think what I could post that would communicate my concern; a shortcoming in our glocalized networks, I reckon. Anyway I hope he’s comfortable, coping, and wish him a speedy recovery.

In looking up something else, checking a students’ reference I think, I stumbled on Jennifer over here. A nice serious photograph, I must say. And finally, because it’s Friday and I got nearly everything done, here’s a useful gadget I’d probably use when reading in the bath. [Confession, yes, I read in the bath!]

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Paradigm shift

Eid cards

I’ve been weaving Barry Wellman’s stuff (from Digital Cities II) into my writing today, trying to grapple with how online identities are played out in social networks. What he describes as a paradigm shift from 1. close-knit traditional communities to 2. glocalized networks to 3. networked individualism is actually not - he's over-stating the case. He admits that these forms of social organization co-exist and overlap. Good, that squares up with my perception. I also like the way he doesn’t allow online and offline communities to separate out. ‘Often computer networks and social networks work conjointly, with computer networks linking people in social networks, and with people bringing their offline situations to bear when they use computer networks to communicate.’ (2002:11). Good again, but best is when he asks this question: ‘To what extent does the Internet reduce the importance of traditional social organizing criteria such as: gender, social class, ethnicity, language, life-cycle stage, and physical location. Are these residues of little boxes? There appears to be much involvement in teams and communities of shared interest and practice. Moreover, the supplanting of little boxes by networks means more cross-cutting social ties interweaving formerly disconnected social groups and categories……Yet the traditional social organizing criteria continue to command continual attention.’ (2002:20) And if that isn’t already too much he also asks, with an uncharacteristic economy of words: ‘Will networked individualism deconstruct holistic individual identities?’ (2002: 16).

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Dark sun

dark sun

Not enough time. It seems to be the same with everyone I talk too. Everybody's pushed. Despite putting together an excellent symposium proposal for BERA, Dr Joolz is at full stretch. Of course I’m behind, as always. Just how do Colin and Michele find the time to put together ideas for another fantastic book? It beats me. You know I even tried to stretch time by playing this really slow game of falling sand. It really was a real flow experience. I felt great….then I had to quickly get back to my mail, which of course, in the mean time had been piling up! Perhaps the really radical change would be to completely alter the way we think about time and tasks...I mean, just imagine if I invested in this fabulous Kerala Trance Watch, I’d be so busy trying to figure out the time that I wouldn’t notice that I was late. How would that feel?

Monday, January 23, 2006

Alley way

alley way

Victorian buildings are punctuated by these wonderful arched passage ways. Although the architects and builders were keen to construct impressive facades and unbroken rows of brick or stone, they also paid careful attention to the ways in which they would link together, the ways in which various people would move through these urban spaces.

The passages are neither one thing nor another. Like indoor spaces they are covered; like outdoor spaces they are open. They are not exactly private, but then again they are never really public. Nor are they owned. They are shared. Passage ways are functional - ways of moving through buildings. In this way they are durational and liminal. They are neither here nor there.

The Victorian passage way was designed for use - for coal delivery and refuse collection - for getting round the back when access was required. Nowadays many of these passages have locked gates. In suburban areas they are used for storage. Bicycles and ladders clutter the walls, and for many people, the back door has lost its former significance. Callers always come to the front, anyway.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Shame about the missed meme

old cinema

Small mistakes: oversights. On my photostream I put this against the picture above:

‘ ..daring. I kicked the door open to the old cinema (recently used by a club called Bed) and stepped inside. All that's left is the facade and the staircase to nothing. Looking carefully you can just see the new brick edge of the Forge (the one that has the Jarvis Cocker poem on)’.

But it wasn’t an old cinema at all. It was a Mecca or Locarno ballroom - not an old cinema at all. Also, I spelt Spar shops like spa towns (without the ‘r); I got the link wrong to my piece on identity in Discourse (it should be this); the link went dead on the penguin game… Small embarrassments seem large when performed publicly.

I’d also missed the fact that that ‘innocent’ little Flash game was a major meme. Yesterday, I wrote:

'It’s simple. You’re a gorilla with a baseball bat. A penguin jumps off a cliff and you just see how far you can whack it with a baseball bat. That’s what I call therapy! Best score 318.'

Sometime later I remembered someone had described this to me a while ago – I’d heard it. Then I found the Bloody Penguin, the archives and a description of the whole meme. Well, duh! Anyway that prompted me to reflect on meming and tagging. Meming’s about a trajectory of mutation; tagging’s about a trajectory of accumulation. In a meme, an idea/object is transformed in successive versions, so it’s quite linear. Tags can cause you to see the original idea/object in a new light: so it’s more reflexive, more associative. How’s that, am I redeemed?

Friday, January 20, 2006

The power of many

juggle triangle1

Many, so many, different things to do.... I look back over the week (particularly Wednesday) and realize that suddenly it’s Friday evening and I’ve stopped juggling: hence the picture, and the reason for so many things that I forgot to blog this week.

Many distributed machines can cause havoc. Alex Tew’s MillionDollarHomepage.com was zapped by hacker superhighwaymen after he refused to share his profits with them. Apparently hackers illegally use the combined power of other people’s computers to swamp, slow down and eventually freeze the site. This is called a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack. Read all about it!

Many, as in far too many, people can put heavy demands on massively multi-player online role-playing games, and this gets costly. Hence the fate of Asheron's Call, released in November of 2002, which was shut down by the developers despite much protest on December 30 last year.

Many of us are getting hooked on this little flash game. It’s simple. You’re a gorilla with a baseball bat. A penguin jumps off a cliff and you just see how far you can whack it with a baseball bat. That’s what I call therapy! Best score 318. Try it, it’s here and it’s irresistible!

Many people have been telling me about the whale in London. It’s on the BBC website, there’s even a video clip here, so it must be true. That’s almost as many people as commented on Monday’s post about internet scare stories!

And not so many people seem to have heard of The Books - but they have a really innovative sound (soon to be appearing under my interests when I can locate the CD), and on tour here.

[many words; many links]

Thursday, January 19, 2006

A large cup

large cup 'n' saucer

A large amount of speculation about identity found its way into a paper I wrote last year for Discourse. Here I suggested a continuum along which identity is performed. One pole represented the fixity of what I called ‘anchored’ identity, the other the less stable ‘transient’ identities. I’m currently revisiting this, but set it out again here to see how it looks now.

Examples of anchored identities are: gender, position in family, religion, age, social class and geographical location. They relate to aspects of our lives over which we have little control and are least likely to change. On the other hand, transient identities change over time, being influenced by maturation, changing cultural conditions and peer group affiliations. These identities are defined in relation to media narratives, ideologies, popular culture, iconic objects, social activities and networks.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Follow your own path

juggle collapse

I love the team t-shirt worn by the guys on the first 3run video clip here, at the top of the list. It’s well worth downloading – watch them do their stuff in London. Follow your own path, is what it says. Yay! As for juggling (now there seems to be a link that’s about physical co-ordination here), I know I never had the patience to learn, even though I admire people who do. The nearest I get is when I manage to have all my interests going at the same time – but sooner or later they always seem to crash, just like juggling balls.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Lunch pack

lunch bag

I was really taken by Angie’s lunch bag – although colleagues in the office were cautious when I suggested that I might get one. Jonathan, as always, was diplomatic and suggested that it might depend on what sort of messages I wanted to communicate. It’s so interesting how a rather innocent (and, let’s face it,useful) little bag can become socially contentious!

MSN travel blogs seem to be the preferred medium of Brit youth abroad. Here is Princess Sally, back in Australia once again and Henry who’s been via Dubai to India. Travellers’ tales on the net…the perfect medium.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Fabric of the text


It was very good to read Dr Joolz writing at length about the narrative texture of blogs. I know on Blogtrax there are plenty of references to the distributed patchwork of themes that emerge when people refer to and hyperlink across sites. But there are also, of course, counternarratives about the social affordances of new technology. Resistance to change, coupled with a latent tendency to mistrust technology has, I think, led to the emergence of a particular kind of discourse, inflected by moral panic.

These scare stories tend to focus on the internet, usually constructed by the popular media as a ‘place’ - a place inhabited by weird and scary people, and a place in which weird and scary things take place. Whilst such stories undisputedly have their basis in fact, they work together to construct new media as a threat (even a personal threat). I’ve identified 5 views that underpin these scare stories.

• Your virtual property is never secure - it can easily be stolen or maliciously corrupted by viruses;

• Your personal details are easy to locate – so easy that internet criminals can steal and use your identity (your money);

• You are constantly under surveillance - where you go, what you do and what you say is always tracked;

• Your personal safety is at risk – young people, in particular, are at risk from sexual predators;

• You shouldn’t trust who you meet – people aren’t who (or even where) they say they are.

.....are there any more?

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Eid ul Adha

Spa shop

Horobin's was the corner-shop where I grew up. Mr Horobin was a neat man with brylcreamed hair and he always wore a white grocer's coat. He had a bright red bacon-slicer with a shiny black handle and a spinning circular blade which made a zinging noise as it cut through the meat.

There was a scare about corner-shops then. Would they survive the competition from the new generation of supermarkets? Just to protect themselves, we were told, many corner-sops became Spa shops - which meant they modernised. Mr. Horobin was one of them. He stopped slicing his own bacon. Instead it came in vacuum-sealed packets.

Nevertheless I feel a certain nostalgia about Spa shops. This one's my local. I love it, not just because it's open 24 hours, but because half of it sells saris and shalwar kameez and they always play the best Bollywood or Bhangra beats (depending on which generation is behind the counter). They're just as friendly as Mr. Horobin and not nearly so greasy.

As you can see, they've re-connected the Eid Mubarak lights in celebration of Eid-ul-Adha. I tried to catch this evening's full moon above the shop, but that defeated me. I went in and bought some crisps instead.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Storm in a tea cup

tea cup

Tea-drinking is relaxing, contemplative and oh so British. Really I suppose it is the remains of the days of empire. So, naturally I was concerned to read of trouble in the tea gardens with workers charged of dacoity. This signals a worrying trend in North Bengal’s tea sector.

Back at the ranch I settle for Jasmine Tea (playing it safe, I suppose). Nice and refreshing after reviewing a book proposal that looks at multimodal approaches to teaching writing. An opportunity to mull over the differences between teaching writing through new media (which seems to me to suggest an autonomous skill called writing) and the idea of teaching writing in (or for ) new media, which inevitably involves learning new practices. [Note to self: damn italics, they look ugly- must use something new]

Glocally speaking, I chuckle at Ben Hammersley ranting about Creative Lab’s revisionist etymology of the term ‘podcasting’ (they say: short for Personal On Demand broadcast; he says: this) That’s reported, here. Question is what did Apple intend ‘pod’ to stand for when marketing the original MP3 player? [Note to self: must drink more coffee, smoke cigars etc. etc.]

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Off the shelf/off the wall

off the wall

This is a piece by Jarvis Cocker for the Sheffield "Off the Shelf" poetry festival. And it’s now found its way onto the wall of the corporately owned Forge site on London Road (slick city-living for students and young people). So buying or renting a property here comes with its own brand of urban writing: official graffiti (what about that Tony?)

Jarvis, one time front man of Pulp was born in Sheffield and is perhaps best remembered for his stage invasion when Michael Jackson played at the Brit Awards in 1996. Never one to mince words, Jarvis said at the time:

“My actions were are form of protest at the way Michael Jackson sees himself as some kind of Christ-like figure with the power of healing. The music industry allows him to indulge his fantasies because of his wealth and power.”

And, here on the walls of the Forge he speaks out again. Graffiti or art? Or is it simply words as decoration, an extension of corporate graffiti as a kind of advertising. I think I coined the term urban literacy in an earlier post; words on the street. But the crucial distinction between graffiti and other forms of urban literacy is often based on its legitimacy – or more accurately who did it, because we must control written expression, mustn’t we?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

On the wall


The trouble is that we've got middle-aged men in stripy ties erasing messages in public spaces rather than doing the decent thing and staying at home or getting on with a job (which in this case is quite an important one). Why should stripies be allowed to get away with it - where's their sense of respect?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The mark


I seem to be going through a literary phase. So, the photograph I took reminds me of one of the great writing experiments of the early 20th Century – Virginia Woolf ‘The mark on the wall’. That was published in 1917. And, more or less at the same time, Pirandello wrote ‘Shoot!’ (1915), a novel which explores the early days of moving image (he was writing about ‘affordances’, but I don’t think that word was in his lexicon). Anyway, ‘Shoot!’ has just been republished.

The other literary thing is a celebration of the remarkable Helen Simpson who is an impressive short story writer. I read her story ‘Constitutional’ which is in her new collection of the same name. It makes really effective use of the affordances of the short story form.

Tomorrow I may be forced to comment on Tony Blair’s ‘Respect’ agenda, and particularly media reports of the problems of teenagers in hoodies and the horrors of graffiti, which is probably why today it seems better to bury one’s head in a book.

Monday, January 09, 2006

After tea

China tea

I spent the afternoon observing 7-9 year olds chatting on simple discussion boards designed for us by Vertebrate Graphics. Since most of the children were completely new to this, it was fascinating to watch as they exchanged information about Bratz dolls, X-box games and favourite footballers. This was followed by an interesting discussion with the headteacher on how the school might want to moderate or regulate the children’s communication.

Then, back at home, after tea, I noticed that Sheffield has become a target for the derogatory and definitely class-based screen garbage pumped out by contributors to Chavtowns. These bird-brains seem to have too much time on their hands. But then again, I suppose that this is what you get with an unregulated medium.

I’ve also been looking at the developmental work being done on ‘Magic Books’ by these people. Here’s a quick description:

“This work explores the transition between Physical Reality, Augmented Reality (AR), and immersive Virtual Reality (VR) in a collaborative setting. A MagicBook looks like a normal storybook with colorful pages and simple text. When readers look at the same pages holding a lightweight head mounted display (HMD), the pictures pop off the page and come to life as three-dimensional animated virtual scenes. By touching a switch on the HMD, readers can fly into the virtual scene and freely explore the immersive environment.”

Sounds really exciting - quite thought provoking too. But is it trying to get new technology to reproduce book reading?

And finally, musician John Fahey was little known in his lifetime. His work now seems to be attracting more attention. A tribute album has now been released, and there’s free downloads here. If you only want to try one thing, listen to Howard Gelb’s wonderful rendition of Fahey’s ‘My Grandfather’s Clock’.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

More weight?


Each time I pick up a newspaper I seem to end up reading about the merits (or otherwise) of corduroy. Such a boring topic for the New Year doesn’t auger well. Apparently Stephen Fry’s big on corduroy … and there’s been a corduroy dispute here. Corduroy got a mention here, too. (And, if you’re thinking of linking corduroy and literacy you can go here!)

You can imagine, then, that I was refreshed by reading about a study of the built environment which really seemed to cross over into a social geography of the home. Although the report makes it sound like a made-for-TV study (using a smiling, white middle class family of the neo-conventional type), the idea about how we use, customize and dominate our living spaces is interesting. It reminds me of Wellman’s studies of media in the home, and also some of the work Keri Facer’s did in the Screenplay project.

I’d just like some more weighty acknowledgement of how identities and lifestyles construct the diverse patterning of the spaces we inhabit (and if not, maybe a more in depth look at curduroy?).

Friday, January 06, 2006

Docile bodies


I am in Popular Literacies, Childhood and Schooling with a chapter on digital writing. I was flattered to be quoted by Jackie earlier in the volume – she refers to my Foucauldian reading of the National Literacy Strategy. Although I say it myself, it was one of my better ideas: I wish I’d pursued it further…

For instance, in considering the materiality of writing, I have often thought and sometimes written about the discipline of the body that accompanies (or might accompany) writing instruction. Those particular physical routines associated with book and pen that are emphasized in current literacy teaching as well as the more arcane bodily disciplines of schooled literacy practices would be a good focus for analysis.

Foucault, as usual, paves the way when he writes: “A well-disciplined body forms the operational context of the slightest gesture. Good handwriting, for example, presupposes a gymnastics – a whole routine whose rigorous code invests the body in its entirety, from the points of the feet to the tip of the index finger.” Discipline and Punish: 152. Well, of course it’s not quite like that in the Strategy, but one does require children to sit, stand, move, grasp, turn and articulate in certain ways.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Precious, unrelated stuff


I was interested to find this BT resource that helps primary and secondary school teachers to get into podcasting. These look like great ideas and all you need is an i-Pod or other MP3 and a good connection. I’d like to know who’s interested in trying this out, it sounds great!

Unrelated, I know, but also interesting is this paper: "Skater girlhood and emphasized femininity: ‘you can't land an ollie properly in heels’" by Deirdre M. Kelly, Shauna Pomerantz and Dawn Currie. Thanks to Rebekah for alerting me to this! ....and today I re-read The Rules of Distraction. There’s something really basic, but fundamentally challenging here and I’m grateful to Dana for bringing it to our attention back in Miami.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


you have been worn'd

It’s great the way they’re so blatant about it: "designed to tear with wear" – must be a new kind of fabric! Although it makes you laugh, there is an interesting trend in clothes, home decoration and furnishing for the lived-in, antiqued or distressed look. Distressed furniture’s been around a while. A friend of mine used to use ‘chains-and-stains’ to make new pine furniture look as though it had been around for years.

The old, beaten-up look was certainly OK for jeans when I started wearing them. OK, so you didn’t buy them bleached or torn, but you worked pretty hard to get them to look that way. Cool hunters soon learnt that we liked the look and sold it back to us. So the faux-antique, lived-in look’s been around for a while. Sadly it doesn’t stretch to the body as we are relentlessly urged to ‘Keep young and beautiful’.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Happy New Year!

Sharrow graffiti 1

On a graffiti theme again, here’s another one from Sharrow. The Mailer quotation below I borrowed from Alex Wright’s blog, mostly because my blogging inspiration at the moment is quite low.

"... chilled on one side by the bleakness of modern design, and brain-cooked on the other by comic strips and TV ads with zooming letters, even brain-cooked by politicians whose ego is a virtue - I am here to help my nation - brained by the big beautiful numbers on the yard markers on football fields, by the whip of the capital letters in the names of products, and gut-picked by the sound of rock and roll screaming up into the voodoo of the firmament with the shriek of the performer’s insides coiling like neon letters in the blue satanic light, yes, all the excrescence of the highways and the fluorescent wonderlands of every Las Vegas sign frying through the Iowa and New Jersey night, all the stomach-tightening nitty-gritty of trying to learn how to spell was in the writing, every assult on the psyche as the trains came slamming in. "

Norman Mailer: "Faith of Graffiti"

I’m interested again in Pirandello, who’s work revolves around the problem of identity. The self exists to him only in relation to others. You can imagine that I was fascinated to see that I can get Cosí é (se vi pare) [Right You Are (If You Think You Are)] for 1p on Amazon. That’s either ridiculously cheap or else it’s not worth having.