Saturday, April 29, 2006

Pink guitars

pink guitars

Seeing these fabulous pink guitars made me wonder whether the electric guitar has lost its symbolic potency. Once an icon of Americana, it was adopted by the rock 'n' roll rebels of the '60s and early '70s. But, of course, it wasn't just an iconic object, it was the amplified sound that was the attraction or threat, depending on which side of the fence you were on. Since the energy was re-charged by early punk, it seems as if the electric guitar has become slowly domesticated - even gentrified....and so then there's the pink guitars. Pink with all that that means to different people! In this display there's all the shades from flesh pink to baby pink and even a sort of paisley pink! I sense all the nuances of socially-constructed meanings in the pink guitars - and suppose that, based on your identity position, you will read the pink guitars in quite different ways.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Three things

light canal

Two small things I learnt, that probably everyone else knows, and one other thing I’m exploring. First, after nearly 6 months of a portal project, I learn what a portal really is (a webpage that reconfigures or personalizes as it gets information on you). Probably the rest of the world knew this already, but I didn’t. The second is worse. The Google served up to me by Firefox has a “pages from the UK” button to narrow my search. Now that’s not something I’d want to do usually, but what is interesting is that I’ve never noticed it! I’m a regular visitor, but even so there’s a bit of that page I never read. That tells me something (I already knew) about reading, but also about users and functionality. And then the last thing: since I’ve been setting up a new blog and am a great fan of Blogger, I’ve been thinking a lot about categories. There’s some effort going into getting categories on Blogger, but it’s either too complicated for what it’s worth or currently unavailable. That’s why Blogtrax went over to Wordpress in the first place and why DrJoolz shifted there, too. In the end it seemed that categories weren’t that crucial to the new blog…but come on Blogger, get it together, give us categories!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Where's Big Ears?

Little Noddy

The rapid take-up of online services that depend upon social interaction seems to be a defining feature of Web 2.0. Similarly as TV becomes more interest-focused, audience participation becomes crucial. Interactivity has become a buzz word. Yet despite the fact that there’s an increase in communicational capacity there doesn’t seem to be a corresponding increase in content or, for that matter a great deal of novelty. Sparked off by this discussion, I’ve been thinking about how blogs (including this one) recycle ideas or talk to a relatively small network of people. Despite the capacity of new media to empower people and contribute to social change, the reality often falls short of the mark. In trying to compete in the attention economy, are compromises made? Narrow-casting to networked individuals could end up creating cocoons of apolitical isolates.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

All eyes


I think the Flickr thing makes me more attentive to my visual environment. I like getting images of my local geo-space. I was interested by this, beneath the window of an antique shop, reflecting an earlier use of the building. [What would you do at a Temperance Bar - not buy a friend a drink, maybe?] So I'm looking out more, but at the same time working a lot onscreen feels like looking in more...and my eyes burn if I put in too many hours. It's looking as if even sending texts on my mobile is a strain, too. Still, apart from being blind as a bat from too much print-reading, my eyes are in good nick.

Monday, April 24, 2006



Notes are all I can manage. I’m dog tired. I’m thinking seriously about going to the London blogging conference - if only to hear Stephen Downes and Barbara Ganley (BTW: I notice Sarah gets a name check on Barbara’s blog). And this one is amusing in a visual sort of way and keeps you guessing as the two artists play on Squigglepage. I also enjoyed 10 minutes digging around here, looking at Japanese street fashion. Finally, and because someone asked, here’s a defining moment in the talk around Web 2.0.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Different tools


Different tools, different surface. Rodger tries his hand with a spray can.... Rodger? Now that's an unlikely tag - we're used to THC, the OK Crew, and 20K - they regularly sign in round here. But Rodger, so obviously is the newcomer on the block. Funny really, I associate the name Rodger with slightly dysfunctional people who are a few years older than me (that is the wrong side of 50). People who wouldn't know one end of a spray can from another. So to the question that troubles me today. Is this the work of a middle-aged delinquent or did the name suddenly make a comeback with the youthful taggers? Is the punctuation significant, I wonder?

Saturday, April 22, 2006



After three solid days of onscreen administrivia - many thanks to Jennifer for this wonderful term - my eyes felt like rusty pins. We’re putting together documentation for a new Masters Programme (6 Masters awards, numerous intermediary awards, and sheaves of modules). I’ve barely been online at all apart from some cursory searching and blogging back home. But nonetheless, I’d been staring at the screen so much that the thought of using obstinate drawing tools in Word was just too much at 4.00pm on Friday afternoon, so I thought I’d do the business by hand. Do you remember those old tools, pencils and rulers? Loads of people in the building thought they’d got a ruler and maybe even a pencil, but after rummaging around in bags and drawers most drew a blank. It took me a good 20 minutes to assemble the kit, and then Jonathan showed me how easy it is to use draw tools in Powerpoint. So whoppee, in 5 minutes flat I’d acquired a new approach and that saw me through till 6.00pm and just about got the job done!

That got me thinking about how quickly we’ve got used to doing old-fashioned things, like putting together a formal print document, with digital tools and in the process freeing up a whole labouring class of typists who have now been repurposed as administrators and tell us what to do, rather than the other way around. But I also got thinking about academics use of the Internet, how often in a normal week, I google or, how often I check colleagues blogs or websites to see what’s going down, and how often I check e-databases (every so often) and institutional sites (less regularly)…and also, I guess, how much of my email traffic is about academic stuff as opposed to purely social (friends and family) or institutional administrivia. I’d like to see some studies of this, find out how colleagues use new tools, new literacies and what the variation is…..and then I suppose construct a story around how new technologies may or may not disrupt traditional hierarchies and power flows in academic life and research. I’d like to know about the different ways colleagues spend their lives online and whether this changes things in deeper ways.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Another point of view


I’m not sure quite how we know, but we’re told that while the number of bloggers is increasing, the number of reporters (people actually gathering news) is diminishing. Blogging may be part of a culture where attention is gained by the superficial – what our page looks like and how we say things rather than the content or the factual basis of our opinions. But of course we may not want to be activists or newshounds of the cyberage. Perhaps we’re content with the social aspects of blogging. I think that applications like blogs, wikis, networking sites, IM and spaces like Flickr that use folksonomies to categorise and classify could be seen (or used) in one of two ways. The first is just an extension of everyday social exchange – playful and interactive. The second is more radical and is about how knowledge is seeded, built and shared. Probably, the reality is that these are two ends of a continuum – any interactive media (eg the mobile phone) can be put to a variety of uses, some frivolous and some serious. I suppose this is just a return to the debate about whether the category “social software” is a useful term or not. Given that learning (knowledge building) is a particular kind of social exchange maybe our task is to see how the affordances of certain applications match particular kinds of learners and learning. This looks like an interesting arena for exploring these issues – there’s an extension for proposals for software related stuff – whatever they mean by that, till May 31st. That’s Vienna, alternatively there’s this in London. Could be interesting, too but certainly rather narrower in focus.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006



Apparently, we use IM, Flickr, blogging and email to thicken existing social relations. Certainly this is my experience of family contact. Digitally networked environments layer onto phone and face2face contact in interesting ways – did you see the pictures on my photostream/ dad wrote about that on his blog/ see you online tonight at 8.00 etc. The same layering seems to happen in our blended professional lives, too. I’m interested in how our face2face conversations so regularly references our postings – a chance encounter with Dr Joolz (visiting Angie) exemplified this. Some of these ideas are spelt out in Benkler’s new book “The Wealth of Networks” (promoted here). Benkler also suggests that, irrespective of media, we favour the geographically proximate over the distal – which could shed some light on the rather inward-looking nature of some blogrings. But the book also claims that social software allows for new kinds of relationships – those in which we play a more limited role, but are typically “interest or practice-based” (affinity spaces). In this way the argument follows and builds upon Wellman’s ideas about networked individualism. So, Benkler argues that the individual has greater control and can “reorganize […] social relations in ways that fit them best.” I reckon this just about holds up, although sometimes I must say, I feel rather controlled - particularly by email.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Lanterns at last!


Third time lucky, and the weather just held out for the Sharrow Lantern Carnival last night. They came from far and wide to capture the lanterns on film, but the finale on the General Cemetery Park was the best place to be, a good display of fire-juggling and a wonderful exhibition of lanterns. Prizes probably would not be in keeping for such a display of community collaboration, but I thought the one in the picture was easily the best. I’m not sure whether the frantic African drumming of white men with dreadlocks is what I want at the end, but the procession of fanciful lanterns around the area is a joyful occasion. Actually I was reminded of the Calder exhibition at SFMOMA – his beautiful mobiles promote a similar sort of light-heartedness, albeit more “art” and less “carnival”.

Monday, April 17, 2006

The Toc City Line


We traveled back on the Toc City Line (the East London railway they use to carry nuclear waste). Fortunately we were alerted to the fact by some handy sticker work and later read the full detail on the Greenpeace blog. We keep on checking to see whether we’re glowing! Activism of a different kind - from veteran Rasta, Burning Spear - can be found on his blog, here - that's worth a study in its own right. The commercial end of the Burning Spear operation can be accessed over here (far over), with some free downloads. (And good news Sharrow Lantern Festival is re-arranged for tonight- let's hope the weather holds!)

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Ruth @ 22


Covent Garden (last night)to celebrate Ruth's 22nd birthday - also a good time for Easter Eggs! When we weren't talking we were looking at the pictures we'd just taken on cameras and phones. Surrounded by images; saturated with pictures.

Friday, April 14, 2006



These are "dead heads" cavorting in a bookshop window on Post Street, San Francisco. That was earlier in the week - now I'm hanging out in East London for the holiday weekend, hoping to do some furtive photography using the new shooting from the hip style to capture random people.

On the SF flight I sat next to a professional photographer (he did motorsports and landscapes). I learnt a lot about privacy, etiquette and copyright in the new world of digital how you can embed code in your images and put in watermarks that can protect you against rip-offs. It was also interesting to find out about changing fashions in wedding and family photography. But, you know, I still think I'm ahead of the game with my new approach!

Thursday, April 13, 2006



One good thing about conferences like AERA is the way that presentations – both the good and the not so good ones – can create a sort of collage of ideas. For me this last week, it’s been the theme of ways of resisting dominant discourses, from Allan Luke’s reflections on engaging with policy-makers (a sort of entryism) through to Colin Lankshear’s idea of tactics for ‘messing with the space’ (more like situationist-anarchism). The theme became manifest in other ways too – with Kurt Squires’ serious examination of different discourses around Grand Theft Auto and Debbie Rowe’s close analysis of ideologies and routines in early writing.

I rounded my conference off with a few beers in the good company of Colin, Michele and Michael. Among other things we talked about the uses and misuses of theory. It must have been a good discussion because I had a hard time remembering where my hotel was! It was great to be with the Travel Notes people, to meet up again with Sarah and to start up discussions that still have some way to run. Like with Julia Gillen – are there dangers in using the term “social software” as a category? And with Kate (and Jennifer) – is blogging a community of practice, an affinity space or neither? Some of these debates may well get rehearsed over on Blogtrax in the near future.

Because of technical problems I’ve not kept the sort of ongoing conference record that Kate has – but I have pictures which I’ll probably be running out-of-synch with my posts over the next few days. Time bends, or so it seems.

Monday, April 10, 2006


Division run
Originally uploaded by on-the-run.

I'm full! I seem to be eating twice as much as normal and twice as often. Yesterday was a good day despite not being able to upload any pics of SF even after the lovely DrKate loaned me her cable. So the photo's of another city at another time.

Sunday morning I stumbled out of bed for an early session after a night out with Jackie and Julie. We went to see the wonderfully funny "Adam and Steve" at the Castro Theatre. I haven't laughed so much in a long time. Anyway I made it to the session - Colin was the (provocative) discussant. Kevin Leander set me thinking with his critique of the concepts of literacy practices and events. He sees the concepts - a product of an ethnography of a close-knit community - as problematic when applied to new online/offline literacies that have less fixity and are enacted in more fluid networks. I'm not completely convinced by this. Don't the concepts transfer. I always thought that the "practices" ideas offered the possibility of a robust account of the power dynamic in meaning-making and communication.

Anyway that got me thinking, with more themes sparked off by Chuck Kinzer and Gloria Jacobs (on IM profiles). Wound up the conference day with Kurt Squires on Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and a meal in Chinatown.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

City to city

animal rights

Finally arrived in San Francisco after one of those journeys. I missed my connection at Chicago (so what's new?) and was put on standby for the 5.00pm flight. That one was pretty full and mine was the last name to be called. I was tired and I was clutching my boarding pass like a prize-winner as I walked on the plane! "We're full - there's no seats." explain the crew. Cheated at the last moment! Another long wait, but I finally got here 'round midnight. So, it was great to meet up with Jackie and Julie for breakfast next morning and later on Jennifer and Kate...and an added bonus, Sarah had the seat in front at Allan Luke's session. Good meal at LuLu's with the Travel Notes crew and I'm ready for action today! (Forgot my USB cable so no pics to upload until Kate lends me hers later on....and now I must read her posts like I promised.)

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Get toxic!

rainbow disc

Quick, make sure your child's a toxic too with this Brit-lad t-shirt: "Mine's a Pint". Start 'em young, start as you mean to go on! Meanwhile the radical adults cross over the road and set to work on Critical Literacies, watch this space! (Oh, and this is the fabulous Regina Spektor video - thanks Ruth.)

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

All new (old Greg)

Nintendo sketch

Growing up with new technology means that you can do interesting things – things that aren’t at all toxic - things like drawing cartoon strips with a stylus on a Nintendo. And, many thanks to Jackie, I’m introduced to machinima! Machinimas are produced using the tools (demo recording, camera angle, level editor, script editor, etc.) and resources (backgrounds, levels, characters, skins, etc.) available in games like Warcraft and HalfLife to make short movies. Basically it involves repurposing game tools to modify and create something new and creative. Call it virtual film making if you like. Here’s a couple of blogs on the topic: this and this.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Friend or flaneur?

me of course

Now tell me, is that the face of a flaneur? No. It’s art. A great opportunity to introduce the creative genius of Oscar (see yesterday – things look better in a camera than real life!), and he’s grown up in a changing world. A technological world. Through a gradual mithridatism he’s learnt to survive, I suppose. Toxic childhood? No, there’s only toxic adults. Here’s a quote: “Over the last twenty-five years, huge technological and cultural changes have transformed the lifestyle of people in the developed world largely for the better” …mmm, debatable but then: “A toxic cocktail of the side-effects of cultural change is now damaging the social, emotional and cognitive development of a growing number of children, with knock-on effects on their behaviour.” What???? Now apart from the metaphorical mash-up of a cocktail of side-effects with knock-on effects, what is this gibberish and how is it evidenced? Dear me, there must be better things to read. Take Kate’s blog – here you can read the unfolding narrative of her trip to San Fransisco, moving through paper writing, to ca (conference anxiety) and on to what to wear, which accessories, and what music to take. And I started to worry, too! Which paper, which black jeans? Should I take the cardigan (or will it be too warm?). Black suede shoes? Perhaps a dash of colour, a shoulder bag for the true flaneur look. Anything else?

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Brief notes

Martin called

1. Martin calls. Oscar comes, too. He sits and draws Manga, sketches cartoon cats on his Nintendo, and then we go crazy taking photographs. Oscar says things look better on camera than they do in real life.

2. Nitin Sawnhey wins a World Music Award for “culture crossing” and goes public on why he dislikes the label World Music. And Sain Zahoor wins the Asia.Pacific award for his passionate Sufi songs.

3. The Sharrow Lantern Carnival is postponed because of wind and heavy rain. Unfortunately, I’ll be in San Fransisco for the rescheduled event, so I’ll miss the spectacle. (There's some pictures from last year here - rock on!)

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Shooting people is wrong

random folk

It was bad, reckless and yet at the same time totally invigorating. Unethical, dangerous and certainly an invasion of ‘publicy’, but after reading something from Iain Sinclair’s “Dining on Stones” I had to give it a go. Here’s a couple of extracts from his fiction to show you what I mean. An approach to photographing the everyday is described: “Once you break free of the traditional one-eyed stance, everything loosens up. You breech the middle ground. I abandoned the viewfinder as much too risky in Kingsland Waste Market, Clapton High Street, Green Lanes [….] I deactivated the flash and learned to frame by instinct. The result was a pleasing slapdash, unmediated aesthetic. [….] What are we really doing with those handheld obituary lanterns, our cameras?” What he describes seemed diametrically opposed to what I’ve been doing in the studies – colour, light, composition, close-up (dignifying the quotidian) – I just had to give it a go!

Division Street was disappointingly empty when I moored my bicycle to a nearby lamppost, but I’d already decided that I was going to steal some pictures of shoppers in town. I’d practised the method. Camera, nonchalantly cradled in the right hand; thumb casually covering the button. Looking at shop windows or trying to make eye contact, acting as casually as possible whilst surreptitiously firing away. Shooting from the hip... I got loads of people! Unsuspecting strangers. Odd angles, people in motion, hair caught by the wind, frozen in mid-stride, talking mid sentence, just about to change their minds - unfocused, blurred, bodged, unmediated. I came home through the back streets, like a hunter with prey, winding up through the brick streets brightly illuminated with graffiti with a feeling of satisfaction.

It was at that point that I recalled some John Berger that I read years back. Something on wildlife photography – the essay “Why look at animals?” in “About Looking” (also discussed and critiqued here), in fact. Berger argues about the separation of human kind from nature and from animals in particular. First we shoot them with guns (safari and trophy hunting); then we imprison them in zoos and shoot them with cameras; and finally we completely ruin their habitat and then they’re done for. Extinct. I wondered, then, how much photography distances us from our subjects – makes others into objects, and so on. And then I started to think how many people I’d shot today. A massacre. They were all done for. Just my twitching thumb, but I’d done something I now couldn’t undo….well I could, of course, simply delete them. I did that with the ugly ones. They were unceremoniously terminated. But I poured over the others, still somehow pleased with my work. Rich pickings, I thought. So OK, people, you’re under constant surveillance. You’re ‘publicy’ is under scrutiny. There are no ethics; someone’s always clicking. My Cybershot DSC-P73 is a silver bullet; I’m trigger happy. I know, shooting people is wrong, but let’s face it they’ve all been shot already. Countless times.