Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Students - can't live with them, can't teach without them
Not a good day. I wish I had a good fantasy novel I hadn't read yet, so I could just go home and forget all about it. Perhaps I'll see if I can get past the Amber Hulks in the dungeons in Baldur's Gate even if I skipped the part that would let me make the stew to distract them.

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

The pain of ending
I just read the conclusions to two very different PhDs by two women I admire a lot. The first used the conclusion to address all the unmentioned problems of her thesis. The other used the conclusion to conclude: a summary of all the earlier chapters. I have no idea what my model will be. No, that's not true - I have made the outline, so I have an idea. I guess it will be more the concluding part - I feel so done, I don't see where I could take this from here without starting an entire new project. I guess that is a good thing?
game-stuff links
A list of interesting and useful links, by way of Lisbeth.
Ah, it's a story!
Thank you Mark, that did clear things up. I was confused by your first entry on Another World:

Another World is a game. You are the Resident Administrator of a new Colony on Another World. You make the decisions. You choose what to build, and where. It's a little like SimCity. (It's loosely coupled and multiplayer; there are other colonies out there, and they can influence your colony. But they're a long way away...)

Addressing the reader: the second person address as in "Wake up! Look about you! Look at that boy over there. Yes, that exquisite elf lad, Jehann's boy. Tell me: don't you want him?" doesn't change the fact that this is a story, and told by you.

Stories and games have things in common, but one of the areas where they rarely correspond is in how they flesh out the society and makes it explicit to the users. In a story, you can indicate a past, a structure of society, the laws of nature as well as the legislation and the culture, which the reader then has to assume from your writing. In a game, particularly a role-playing game, you have to give the players this background explicitly, because a large part of the pleasure of playing means manipulating these rules.

When I say that they rarely correspond, it's because there are examples of how they do. Tolkien's Silmarillion is one such work - although that was edited and published by the son, not JRR Tolkien. It's been used as the model for how to flesh out a background for role-playing games since the first Tolkien-fans started making their own Middle-Earth characters. I would also love to see Silmarillion as an electronic hypertext, the stories linked to each other, and then linked to Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit as well. I think Silmarillion already is a hypertext... all it needs is a more efficient medium in which to be studied. And I think Tolkien might have loved the multi-linear writing spaces, such as Tinderbox.

Monday, October 28, 2002

Learning from blogging
Jill writes:

I've become very comfortable with expressing myself quickly and clearly, and I'm much more confident about expressing a clear opinion, tolerating its being challenged, debating it and supporting it - or dropping it and learning from criticism. Networking, building on others ideas, sharing my own and letting go of my ideas as they join up with others and are used by others. Though I suppose universities want to or should teach these things, I sure didn't learn them in seminars, lectures or writing groups. Perhaps others did.

I learned that from playing online role-playing games - from mudding. Perhaps what we learn from is being social while limited to writing?
There are moments when I would have liked a sitemeter, such as today, when Jill has been interviewed on our paper Blogging Thoughts. Among other things I'd love to know if the Norwegian research site has enough trafic to make a dent from a link at the bottom of an article.

For those who read Norwegian: the interview with Jill is nice, and a cute picture too!
Porn and computer games - mixed feelings
Can there be a better mixture for big headlines? This article from the Norwegian paper VG (Verdens Gang) is about Asia Carrera, and VG uses the connection for all it's worth! Asia Carrera is introduced as a porn star, and in the Norwegian article it looks like her main contribution to the gaming community is posing for skins for avatars in Unreal Tournament. However, VG (with a strict reminder that eksternal links are not the editorial responsibility of VG) does the readers the favour of linking to the interview with Carrera in Unreal Playground.

The first question there is of course about the controversial skins. To emphasis how controversial it is that the chest of an avatar might show tits and not steel, the image is censored and has printed right over her boobs. The interview is actually rather amusing, with the questioner trying to justify the interview through an attempt to make it sound like Carrera - or megabitchgoddess (yes, I love the nickname) - actually contributes to the game in many different ways (building maps, for instance) and not just strolls around wiggling her tits. The great part of the interview is that Carrera doesn't try to live up to that. She states her limits quite clearly, explains that she doesn't have THAT much free time, and underlines the fun she has while playing.

I like the interview, megabitchgoddess is obviously a player who enjoys her game. It's quite in tune with the culture in games (and most other male-dominated arenas) that a woman has to show off her boobs to get attention. What I don't think is all that relevant is the article in VG, where it's used as an excuse to show the top-less avatar. I don't mind porn, when it's good I even like it, but the VG interview is to me a typical case of staring at Carrera's chest rather than listening to her words.

Towards the end there's a picture of her rig, and yes, it looks upgraded and includes pussy-cats. Love her shoes too, and the conveniently placed poster. But my favourite part of the interview was this:

UP: Can you recall any UT matches that stood out above the rest; either great games played or weird events during a round?

MBG: Hmmmm... nothing that would make a very good story to tell, I'm afraid. It seems like most of the amusing happenings in UT are of the 'you-had-to-be-there' variety. I do remember at least two instances of feeling like a complete ass after racing all the way home with the flag only to discover I must have dropped it somewhere along the way - thank goodness no one else can tell when that happens!! LOL!!

Friday, October 25, 2002

Elves and changelings
Tam Lin (or Thomas Rhymer), one of the Child Ballads, is the story of a fellow who meets the Queen of Elfland on the road and spends a night dancing with her -- a night that lasts 40 years.

Yes, exactly, Mark. But wasn't Tam Lin exceptional? Those who are picked by the fey are not the everyday, common people. In Norway the equivalent would be to be taken into the mountain: Bergtatt. A human would wander off into the forest, and be lost. And if they managed to escape, they were marked. Often they were marked in advance: poets, dreamers, dancers, musicians, marked by talent or beauty to be different. Peer Gynt is a Norwegian version of Thomas Rhymer, the wild soul, the adventurer and dreamer who goes on an adventure that takes him beyond the safety of routines and off into the mountain where he dances with the daughter of King of the mountain.

And the Queen of Elfland amuses herself with her chosen poet for a brief while - one single night. But for him everything is changed afterwards, while she moves on to her next amusement...

Now the changeling concept is different, and quite cruel. That is a myth which is as much a convenient explanation of genetic randomness: the retarded, misformed child or the one who does not look like its parents. The blonde child to the dark, brown-eyed parents, or the dark child to the unfaithful wife. And so the child grows up, punished for the ignorance of adults... or perhaps punished for the convenience of adults: rather than divorce a wife and lose a partner in the daily struggle, punish the changeling child for being born...

It's also a wonderful dream for a child who does not want to really belong to his or her own parents. To imagine that the real parents are the King and Queen of Elfland, and some day they will take you away must have entertained endless hours. How many of us haven't dreamed of being adopted? I know I did. I know my kids occasionally think about it - that is until they look in the mirror and the sad truth stares out at them.

Elves as the alien - now that is interesting, and that is the point the players of the MUDs discussed. Elves were not just culturally alien, but physically and most likely alien in the hard-wiring of their brains. They would perceive different things from humans, so their thoughts and ideas would be different. I find the elves to be a fascinating concept of "the other", the strangers among us who we cannot see but in glimpses, because the worlds we move in are so different, so alien, and only touch in spots which seem to be charged with magic.

Mark, I just love this, sorry if it appears intrusive and as if I am overly critical and difficult.

Thursday, October 24, 2002

Battlefield 1942
Of course, it's important for my current and future research, and so for the department and the college. But it's also quite amusing how easy it is to get the attention of our IT department with a bug-message like this: My computer can't run Battlefield 1942 - can you check what updates I need and perhaps test the game to see if the problem can have some connection with the college network?

I love working on things that makes other people smile when they have to help me!
Internet Research
By way of Lisbeth: Internet Research Ethics.
It isn't easy to write the final pages of a thesis. I sit here polishing the existing pages, squirming with the cognitive dissonance every word creates when I start writing the final chapter. This is where I am supposed to say what I learned, what I meant, what I found, what the 300 preceeding pages were all about. Problem is... I have no idea. I don't know how to close this. It's a neverending story, and I would love to make a loop of it, and return to all the unanswered questions. But that is too cheap, I am not writing fantasy (I think) and I am not Michael Ende.

When I figure out how to do this, you'll all be notified. Don't hold your breath.
Links out
Jill mentions the hostage situation in the Moscow theatre today. I don't have much to add except that have been using links in their articles for a while already. I noticed the first one a few days ago. I forgot to blog it though. This marks a change in Dagbladet's policy to links. According to Arne Krumsvik, their former internett editor and a colleague of mine, their official policy when we discussed this - about a year ago - was not to link out of the site, but keep the readers inside the hypertextual universe of This has obviously changed. (This article is the current leading article on, it's about the sniper killings in Washington, and it links to Seattle Times.)
Elf Reproduction
These days I am going through old logs from role-playing in Dragon Realms as well as reading the interviews with my players. Like mud from the bottom of a lake, the memories stain my attempts at seeing through my thesis and to a clear conclusion. They are rushing back to me, the days of spending most of my day-dreaming time in the imaginary body of an elf who loved a - what was he? Human? Kind of - but not quite...

And then I read Mark's "another world" description, and see the word "elf" in conjunction with "love" and "human". One of the things I spent a lot of time discussing, both on Dragon Realms and Aarinfel was if an elf would really love a human. The general consensus was that the human had to be truly spectacularly special - or the elf would have to be pretty alienated from his or her own species. What is a human life to an elf? It's so brief, it hardly registers, it's even shorter than the life of dogs and cats in our lives. The Tolkien elves are immortal - to them humans are maggots, as many and as short-lived and undistinguishable. On Dragon Realms elves had a life-span of 30 - 40 000 years, while humans could expect to be 70. That's more the occasional cute, cuddly pet version, like guinea pigs. On Aarinfel elves would live 3-400 years, and humans 50-70: there they were more like dogs: capable of being useful, occasionally good allies and companions, but not really something you mated.

My Dragon Realms character did however live with and marry a human. My character was well and truly alienated from her family and her community, an outcast, and a young and inexperienced one at that. And the human was exceptional - not really a human, but transformed by magic from a neutered serpent-folk type of person into a human male, and a powerful cleric, immortal with the powers of the deity of trickery, illusion and madness at his disposal.

My Aarinfel character was an arrogant, wealthy, powerful and scheming prince of elves, the apple of his mother's eye and soon the shadow behind the throne, the voice that was listened to, the hand which never needed to touch the poisoned dagger. He would stay exquisitely polite in front of humans: he was well aware of their potential as allies in war, as labour and sources of exploitation. But he would definitely not have them anywhere near his silk carpets or his delicate china. Leashed, they were barely acceptable.

With these different views of the relationships elves/humans in the back of my mind, I don't know what Mark really means when he writes:
For example, Jules is a beautiful, and painfully young, elf who is desperately in love with a 13-year-old human farmgirl. She loves him -- or, at any rate, she lusts for him. None of their parents would think this a desirable situation, if they knew about it. But it's a small town....

Painfully young for an elf - 500 years? 2000? Or does elves live by human time in his universe? Are there other races in the little village? Dwarves? Orcs? Trolls? Pixies? Are humans and elves even able to reproduce together? Will their pheromones exite each others? Will the offspring be fertile? Are there ghettos of half-elves, and perhaps even generations of half-elves, interbred with elves and humans until the differences are cultural rather than physical? Does humans and elves interbreed with other races? Can there be orc/human/elf/dwarf mutts?

I know, I know, these questions shatter the romantic image of human/elf love, so thoroughly branded on our minds since Aragorn and Arwen, but to me the wonderful part of playing MUDs was to get into these discussions, constructing societies from the bottom, where such details created the depth and the logic of the roles we played. Yep, I miss a good role-playing MUD!

Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Money for blogs
Blogging network
The idea is very interesting. If it works, we may see a whole new genre. It raises a few questions though, such as editors duty. What if a blogging network writer is offensive or downright illegal - who can be sued?

by way of blogroots
Digital juggling
When I play computer games with experienced players, I feel like I am tying to catch balls thrown at me from a skilled juggler. At first I fumble and lose the balls, but if I manage to grab one and return it, it’s incorporated in the flow until the other player throws me an other ball, and another… and slowly I manage to participate and not fumble all the balls.
While I grab for metaphorical balls, I note that playing computer games is a matter of flow and control. It’s juggling or it’s skiing: to go with the flow without being taken over by it. If you strive too hard to stay in control, you can’t handle the balls the game throws at you or the bumps that get in your way – if you just go with it and don’t try to plan a little bit ahead, consider your options and stay alert, you burn your fingers when somebody throws you a flaming brand and not a ball.

Monday, October 21, 2002

Just found myself and Jill in chapter three of We Blog. Neat!
Just learned from Espen that the paper Blogging Thoughts has been accepted as the science theory essay for both Jill and me. One less thing to do before I can deliver and be done with this.
Games and second person address
Dearly as I love Jill, I have never been too fond of her article on Games and second person address. The main reason for this is the rules for how to build a good role-playing MUD which the administrators of Dragon Realms, Aarinfel, Lu'Tamohr and Azhad worked (and work) by. Their main rule was: "Do not use the second person address."

The areas, the rooms, the descriptions of the PCs (player characters) and the NPCs (non-player characters) were considered offensive and intrusive if they used the second-person address. Even the room-echoes are not supposed to address you by telling you that you hear or see something, only by telling you that something can be seen. Not: "you admire the wonderful pink sunrise" but "The sun rises in the east, in a pink haze." To write in your description "you feel a cold touch of fear run down your spine as his cruel eyes glance over you" is to force a reaction on other players. This comes in the class of closed emotes: "Ragallion grabs the knife, and quicker than the eye can perceive he has slammed it point-first into the table, pinning your hand to the oak." This is a closed emote because Ragallion finishes the action without letting his opponent have a chance to foresee that there will be an act of aggression. What if his opponent was trained to be as swift or swifter than him? What if somebody behind him in the crowded tavern bumped into Ragallion and he missed?

A good role-playing game only permits second-person address when it's really addressed at a specific PC and not on the general public. If the PC addresses an NPC, the NPC will be programmed to respond in kind. If an NPC detects a quest-flag on a PC, the NPC may be programmed to seek the PC out and address him/her directly. The same goes for guards, police, enforcers, shopkeepers, priests, healers, all kind of NPCs who make it their business to address Player Characters with certain messages. In a well-built area of a role-playing MUD there is however not supposed to be an explicit you as Jill describes it:

Texts that have an explicit “you” can often make this seduction more visible and more self-reflexive. The tension between the safely voyeuristic pleasures of narrative desire and the presence of a “you” that draws (or forces) you into the story can be an extra source of pleasure. See how you like reading John Barth’s apostrophe to a reader: “The reader! You, dogged, uninsultable, print-oriented bastard, it’s you I’m addressing, who else, from inside this monstrous fiction.” (Barth 1988, 127)

This is my main argument against Jill's well-written article. Her analysis and her points about second-person address, how stirring it is, how well-suited to catch the player's attention, is brilliant. But among the players who role-play for the sensation of control and freedom it gives them; second-person address, exactly because it is such a good and powerful rhetoric tool, has to be used with great care.
In another world we are all immortals
Mark Bernstein speaks of a possible game which he calls "Another world":

Another World is a game. You are the Resident Administrator of a new Colony on Another World. You make the decisions. You choose what to build, and where. It's a little like SimCity. (It's loosely coupled and multiplayer; there are other colonies out there, and they can influence your colony. But they're a long way away...)

This is immediately appealing to someone who has spent some time researching the attraction of MUDs. In my experience, the main attraction is exactly the ability to control the progress yourself. The multi-player part where people live and love and fight sounds very much like a role-playing MUD. His idea of a colony where other colonies influences it sounds vaguely in the tradition of games such as Planetarion, a real-time strategy game which has been running for several seasons (based and developed in Norway). Mark's suggestion gives more freedom to the players than Everquest and Anarchy Online, while keeping the simulation of a society, the role-playing aspect and not just agôn, the competition.

Another World is a hypertext. The most interesting thing about your Outpost is that it's filled with people. Your inbox is filled with memos, letters, and directives. You see people on the street, hear what they say, listen to their arguments and read their stories.

Another World is about ideas. It's got plenty of politics. Voices will be raised, tears may be shed, and people might take off their clothes.

This is the part which reminds me the most about being an administrator or an Immortal of a MUD. This is what they do. My question to Mark now is where is the politics supposed to come from? Is that the game AI? Who will raise their voices, who will cry and who will undress? If that part is to be run by the game AI sooner or later the options will all have been explored and the game will be done with. If it's real people, the game needs to be structured in much the same way as a good role-playing MUD, with strict rules to limit the power of immortals as well as mortals, with rules for conduct as well as for gameplay, as well as IC and OOC rules.

That's not negative - at least not in my opinion. As some might have noticed, I have this terrible weakness for good role-playing games, insane plots and otherworldly political manipulation. I have a slight preference for fantasy over science fiction though.
I just can't stand
winters. Yes, I know this sounds like an odd confession from a woman who lives in a place which Adrian Miles describes in this manner: "if a bit smaller volda could be a perfect location for one of those northern exposure style tv dramas." After all, the people living in those little townships are supposed to be strong, healthy from all the fresh air and rough living, and have a matter-of-fact attitude towards such minor inconveniences as snow from October to May, black-out caused by winter storms, days (if not weeks) of isolation due to a combination of wind, snow, fog and avalances, not to mention the endless nights of midwinter. People who live in places like Volda are supposed to benefit from all of this and grow into stubborn, capable survivors.

Who knows, I might actually be one. But when I balance to work on frozen slush because my rugged no-hike-is-too-long-no-backpack-too-heavy type tall blond husband thinks he doesn't need to change to winter tires just yet, hey, it's barely October! I don't feel like I am going to survive long. And I fully understand why women in this climate become shriveled angry bitches, blaming it all on their husbands and driving them off to sea (In the grand tradition of the vikings) if they (the women that is) survive 30 and their tenth childbirth - Sacroiliac pain would never ease up.

I'll ease up on the complaints now though - but don't feel too safe, there might be more later. By the look of it, this is going to be a long, painful winter.

Friday, October 18, 2002

Thoughts about the future - not visions yet.
Structure, system, organisation, process and distribution - these are keywords for the system I would like to develop for the students and incorporate it in the study. When I started the information study in Volda 11 years ago, I spent a lot of time explaining potential students that no, this is not a study in informatics or information science, but a study in communication and public information. I nursed the study past the childhood diseases and into acceptance, until explaining the difference between information in Volda and information science at the University in Bergen was no problem any more. These days, my baby is developing into a nerd, where organisation theory and internal information flows are linked with computer information tools and digital networks. Computer technology in this context is about structuring access and distribution in a way that makes sense to the user who is not interested in the transfer "an sich", but in what the message signifies.

I need to add some more keywords: signification, meaning, sense-making, perception/reception.

Thursday, October 17, 2002

Have life, need direction
I have actually started thinking about what I'll do when the thesis is done. The college wants me to head a large application for a grant in the new program the Norwegian Board of Research opens, but I am not convinced. I feel like I need a little time to catch my breath. And the kind of breath I need to catch has to do with teaching. I am brought up in the classic, grand tradition of university lectures. I am an expert at being overprepared and killing the students off with quotes, stuffing each sentence with five times as much information they need, and discussing problems way beyond their comprehension. This makes my lectures into excellent sources for references when I want to write articles and grant applications... but it makes for lousy teaching.

I need to learn how to teach. I need to understand how to build a series of classes, a course or practical exercises to make the students understand where they are going and what they will get from it. I need to learn about process-based teaching, about self-evaluation and about learning by doing, and I need to teach the students how to ask questions and then find the answers, both academically and in the not-so-academic world outside the college. Taking a class at the teacher's college won't do - I might want to go and stay at an other college for a few weeks or months, just learning their routines and seeing how their schedules work, get ideas and carry it home to the students here in Volda.

And yes, I want to do it for the students... but also... I want it for myself. I am terrified before each new lecture, a nervous, shivering wreck, afraid that I won't do well enough. It's irrational and stupid but it's the sad reality, and I need to deal with it: Take on my fear, and learn how to teach!

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

News media platform
We have 60 students each year, who form three different desks: radio, television and newspapers. The equipment at the college is updated and good, and the students publish newspapers and broadcast television and radio locally and regionally. This runs along smoothly, floating on more than 25 years of experience in different media. The new challenge is the net. How to make the students see beyond the old technology-imposed limitations and towards the potential of new technology.

Adrian's two posts teaching and middlecasting are both relevant to this question, and his meeting with the dean of this department was quite interesting, as they were searchign for the solutions to the same problem, only through different medium.

Today Sverre elaborated on some of the technical problems which keeps the three media seperate. There is no really good cooperation/editing/publishing tool for net publishing of convergence news. We are not talking about making video, radio and print appear on a web-page here, but about handling the three classic media as one medium from production through editing and up to publishing. Unless the same people can produce and edit sound, image, video and text through the same software, it will be very hard to make the students see that computer technology creates a fourth medium, and not just a reproduction of the classic three.

It's an interesting problem. If anybody would like to experiment on live reporters in order to develop something like that, Volda College has all the facilities needed... all we need is a brilliant software developer. Got one to spare?

Monday, October 14, 2002

Webcams and VR
I have always thought of virtual as something abstract: not fantasy but a model or an imagined object. With the virtual technology, VR comes to mean not the act of imagination but the technology which makes the model or representation possible. Sometimes that meaning makes sense to me.

Michael Naimark writes of Virtual reality - VR - and webcams in an article for ISEA 2002 in Japan this month. It's a short and easy little paper, but he makes some interesting observations about VR technology and the role of webcams, and the distinction between webcams and VR technology. While I think that he might be comparing apples and oranges, I think he finds some important qualities which can bear mentioning in both cases.

by way of
Don't women play?
By way of Jill, I found, an interesting site about games and playing. Cindy Poremba, Monday sept 30th (no permalinks that I found) writes about women and games:

It never fails-- you bring up game play for women, and you'll find women pipe up "We don't play games. We do important things." I don't think its just a feeling any more-- there is a serious lack of play in women's culture. Somehow, where men are embracing play beyond childhood, there's a stigma against women who spend their time at play. Maybe we're still proving how responsible and intelligent we are, according to a feminist agenda. Maybe we're still clutching the lions share of the work, and feel we don't have time. Maybe we allow ourselves more unstructured interpersonal space with other women

In my experience women do play - they are just a little slow at getting to the computer games. The creative playfullness or playfull creativity is present in knitting, in cooking, in decorating. Decorating a modern house as if it was a farm house from last century is a role-playing project as serious as the recontruction/recreation works of live-action role-play gamers: hunting down the perfect pattern for the crochet lampshades in order to give the electric lights that home-spun touch, working on the store-bought furniture for days in ordr to make it look like it has been used for years, scrubbed with green soap every day and sanded twice a year for generations, camouflaging the television inside a rosepainted cabinet - and of course, she had to learn how to do rose-painting in order to decorate that cabinet after she had it rebuilt so the television set would go in there... This is a playfull make-belief, advanced games of dolls and house. Of course, to justify all the time and energy spent on such role-playing games (doesn't have to be farm house, how about lady of the manor, asian nights, japanese gardens...) women have to define their play as work, as absolutely necessary for the comfort of all.

I think they are right, too. I think this female playfullness is essential to the comfort of the family: Not because children and husbands, neighbours and relatives desperately need a crocheted doll to hide their toilet-rolls, but because they need a partner, friend, relative who expresses herself creatively in an activity which has social acceptance and gives status and satisfaction. And around here your skill of draping curtains gives you those things! (Me, I suck at lampshade camouflage and curtain draping... I play in different arenas.)

Thursday, October 10, 2002

Blog poem of today

thinking with the law of files of
time in a little Gate
and objective is less pleasing
accept Blogging
has always been able to
have forgotten.
impossible to do corporate Advertising.
posted by successive contexts. In hand in contradistinction to
sleep more than imagined: each
element defined
It said I am going through
in actualisation: the and becomes a
the aurora.
Still, know Although
I remember you really hard, because there are beside
one town in general:
I find that trick and
rules in a location place .

from Rob's amazing poem generator

And on march 16th 2001, I made this poem with the same generator:

Thinking with the Senators making
no Barbarians come into the bottom
of the of exerting
power and bad television, as the English speakers
think they
come and to the English speakers I will alter not
nice young girls and
really be a web that computer
game rather as power to take meaningful
or when I think
a reason for subjectifying?. To achieve with sportstape,
covered with the why is a hundred
elfin years going in this is I
had forgotten all the of your
own potential. That this is my work?
of the best posted by
Torill Mortensen
13:39 if you
can enjoy the year
I can I snatched this weblog. he
asked me the americans
was kidding. three days
later a sentence and desire.
the day before yesterday Pause and Effect by Mark S. Meadows arrived. I haven't had the time to really read it yet, because I find that I don't read the book, I fall into it. I look at the pictures, I turn the book over on the side to get all the stuff in small print, I leaf several pages on to see the skeleton assemble itself, and so I am lost, catching only glimpses of the text. But I am already in love with the book, and getting the distance to it needed for critical analysis will be really hard, because even the surface of the cover seduces me: slick and rougher areas tickling my fingertips as the generous weight of it rests in my hands. Reading and touching it is a sensous experience that overrules the analytical part of me and makes the book worth the cost no matter what's actually in it. I have paid more for less pleasing items - if the writing is good too I'll marry the book!

Tuesday, October 08, 2002

SMS fun
One of My net-friends loves spamming the cell-phone with SMS-jokes. Most of them are disgusting... he's from the north of Norway, and their sense of humour has definitely been thwarted by the long winter nights, or perhaps by the radiation that creates the aurora. Still, it's a challenge to find jokes that fit into the 150 signs of an SMS message, manages to build suspense and has a punchline. Yesterday he sent me one that brightened a long day of labour:

It's important to find a man that cooks and cleans, a man that makes good money, a man that loves to have sex. It is important that these three men never meet!

Monday, October 07, 2002

(And yes, I have managed to make the ping jill described for work. Perhaps I am not such an idiot user after all?)
Games, space and social practice
Espen Aarseth writes of space in games as symbolic and rule-based. His example of teleportation in MUDs fall on the fact that he refers to MOOs, not MUDS. Play MUDs tend to have restrictions on teleportation, something which makes sense when it comes to mapping a MUD. The experience of moving through an area, the time of travel was overcome in Dragon Realms through speedwalks: series of orders that would save the player the effort of typing n, s, w or e for every move, but not entirely, since only immortals and soem chosen players had a skill which permitted instant transportation.

The discussion of space as representation stops short here, as he claims that space in MOOs does not matter, and he continues into a discussion of the symbolic space of games as automatic rules. I would have liked to see him take Lefebvre one step further:

(Social) space is not a thing among other things, nor a product among other products: rather, it subsumes things produced, and encompasses their interrelationships in their coexistence and simultaneity - their (relative) order and/or (relative) disorder. It is the outcome of a sequence and set of operations, and thus cannot be reduced to the rank of a simple object.
Henri Lefebvre: The Production of Space, page 73.

What is rules but a way to organise a sequence and a set of operations? Operations controlled, limited and ordered, forcing the player of the game or the human moving among places, in space, to execute operations in certain sequences. Perhaps I am being taken with the too obvious, too easy comparison between the space of games and the social space, but I already know I will return to this relationship between space and rules - so close only insecurity and guilt keeps me from declaring the problem of game-space solved.
Spaces and places
At the outset, I shall make the distinction between space (espace) and place (lieu) that delimits a field. A place (lieu) is the order (of whatever kind) in accord with which elements are distributed in relationships of coexistence. It thus excludes the possibility of two things being in the same location (place). The law of the "proper" rules in the place: the elements taken into consideration are beside one another, each situated in its own "proper" and distinct location, a location it defines. A place is thus an instantaneous configuration of positions. It implies and indication of stability.
A space exists when one takes into consideration vectors of direction, velocities and time variables. Thus space is composed of intersections of mobile elements. It is in a sense actuated by the ensemble of movements deployed within it. Space occurs as the effect produced by the operations that orient it, situate it, temporalize it, and make it function in a polyvalent unity of conflictual programs or contractual proximities. On this view, in relation to place, space is like the word when it's spoken, that is when it's caught in the ambiguity of an actualisation, transformed into a term dependent upon many different conventions, situated as the act of a present (or of a time), and modified by the transformations caused by successive contexts. In contradistinction to the place, it has thus none of the univocity or stability of a "proper."

Michel de Certeau:The Practice of Everyday Life.

If there is such a thing as Cyberspace, where, then, is Cyberplace? Where is the place in Cyber, where everything is aligned to everything else in a stable and proper manner, each element defined in relation to the others, each location distinct and defined? It is perhaps closer than imagined: each accessible item on the net defined in relation to every other through protocol. Protocol is exactly that, a definition of that which is proper, a structuring of elements in relation to other elements. Cyberplace then rests in the protocol of files and archives, of folders and domains, while Cyberspace is the movement through these places: the protocol in actualisation: the word spoken.
Maxed out
I am maxed out on stress. It doesn't register on any scale of mind or body any more. There's nothing I can do but toil continously, finish the most immediate tasks as they arrive, and try to deal with the rest in the little windows of time in between. No more slack - lunchbreaks are used to talk to students, and when I go to sleep I wake up at the middle of the night and write down something I have forgotten. It's impossible to sleep more than six hours, even when I plan to sleep in. But somehow it doesn't concern me - I go from task to task as if nothing matters any more. Perhaps the brain produces some kind of drug, related to endorphins, that kick in and protect people who are under continous stress for too long? Or perhaps I have just somehow learned to deal with stress? When I tried the Stress Centre questionnaire it said I am only moderately stressed. I don't trust that test though, because when I take a cup of tea, close my eyes and listen closely, I can hear the dulled screams of panic from the darkest corners of my brain.

Saturday, October 05, 2002

No, I am not about to write about President Bush and the rather clumsy manner in which he handles foreign politics, turning the opinion in Europe against USA to the point that the polls show that more than half the population of such an America-friendly country as little faithful NATO member Norway thinks that American Foreign politics does not benefit Norway.

Actually, I find it a little odd that we are not going to talk about President Bush and the pro-war propaganda which flows out of the United States these days, because I am about to talk about propaganda. To be precise, Aaron Delwiche's site named Propaganda.

Aaron Delwiche wrote me a very nice letter - media professor to media professor - and asked if I could please mention this in my blog. According to him
Propaganda Critic ( is a not-for-profit educational site inspired by the pioneering work of the Institute for Propaganda Analysis. The site has been revamped to include updated examples, streaming video clips, and fresh artwork by Carol Lay.

Thank you Aaron, I am flattered that you want me to mention you, that you think being blogged by me will get you more readers, and yes, it is the kind of site that I might blog. It is pretty, deals with an extremely interesting topic, and is thoughtfully set up. However...

The project of this website is as old-fashioned as the Institute for Propaganda Analysis (IPA). In media theory the belief that propaganda skews the mind of those listening, to the point that words are dangerous and need to be restricted, belongs to the injection-theory branch of media studies. Studying propaganda outside of context treats humans as helpless receptors, blank pages upon which the manipulating press-secretary writes his evil opinion in ink that will never be erased. This view is as old as Leni Riefenstahl, but much less charming. The two-step hypothesis, the uses and gratifications theory and more recent theories of human reception and the creation of meaning, as well as both cultural studies and postmodern theory, reveals that it's not that simple.

Propaganda is useless drivel unless it is motivated by some social need. Hitler spoke to the poor in a Germany in crisis, and promised them wealth, work and power. If he had not had real power in Germany at the time and been able to give his followers benefits, the amazing works of Leni Riefenstahl would have been pointless - and even more important, never even considered for production. Aaron Delwiche's example of anti-American propaganda in Afghanistan totally overlooks the life the Afghani live, the promises they had been given while occupied by Soviet and their desperate need for some kind of change. One piece of paper does not create an army of child soldiers. Hunger, fear and desperation does.

This is where I'd have expected to see some examples of Bush' recent pro-war propaganda. It is as blatant as any flowery speeches from the Arab countries, and Aaron Delwiche would be familiar with the cultural context into which they are delivered and thus able to discuss and criticise them in context. His examples carefully exclude current American political propaganda. The closest thing to current criticism is an article about the Office of Strategic Information, but even this is angled to claim that Americans are critical to public propaganda, by criticising their blatant attempt at winning a war of words with Iraq over Kuwait.

One of my main problems with propaganda criticism goes hand in hand with my problems with some other concepts: objectivity and truth. Too often critics of propaganda think of themselves as objective, and from that standpoint they attempt to distinguish a lie from a truth. The dilemma for a social scientist is that truth is a matter of faith. "Do you believe that I tell you the truth?" Truth is socially constructed, depends on the acceptance of authorithy, and is vulnerable to change. This doesn't mean that I think it's impossible to study or to criticise propaganda; because there are times when rhetoric stops building on facts and becomes a network of interconnected make-belief, and emotional effect takes precedence over rational argument. But inherent in the study of propaganda is a problematic methodical issue: who decides what is true? The word "propaganda" is in itself problematic if it's left undefined, because who decides what is propaganda? During the exchange that's always done by the opposition, and by the winner after the conflict is ended.

However: Propaganda Criticism has a few examples which should not be offensive to anyone, it links to a period of media studies which is historically quite interesting in its instrumental and behaviouristic approach, and it might develop into something interesting down the road.

Friday, October 04, 2002

Experienced idiot user
Normally, I feel fairly competent when surfing the net, but I tried to make the bookmark jill suggested to notify the world when I make a spectacular update... and nothing. I just can't figure it out, and I suspect that what I can't figure out is Internet Explorer. Not quite sure though.. and that does not make it any better!
Non-Place places
A review of Marc Augé's Non-Places.
Research on Place; Non-Places by Bruce B. Janz.
The Modern Nomad enters the non-places.
Non-Places and the Enfeeblement of Rhetoric in Supermodernity. by Grant Boswell.
Out of Nowhere by Catharina Gabrielsson.
The loss of time and space from The telemodernisation project.

And while searching for Marc Augé and non-places, I found Representing Space, which is part of a larger work by Bob Goldman and Steve Papson: Landscapes of Capital: Representing Time, Space, & Globalization in Corporate Advertising. This seems like a very interesting project:

How do corporate television commercials portray a world defined by global capitalism? Drawing on a dataset of over 800 TV commercials sponsored by corporate firms from 1995 to the present, we seek to 'map' the landscapes and narratives of Capital, Technology and Globalization set forth in corporate television advertising.

Thursday, October 03, 2002

Running Thoughts
Blogging has always been a kind of surplus activity: Thoughts which didn't belong in the thesis and still might be interesting have leaked into this blog over the last year. I have never had to take time to update the blog, it's happened naturally as a part of the process of writing. Writing and reading has generated more writing and reading.

Now that I have started teaching, and more and more of my job is teaching and administration, I find that blogging has become complicated. I think while I run, these days, not while I write. The "research" I do these days has nothing at all to do with MUDs or Media Theory, it's all about technicalities within the college, administrative routines and digging for a free room with computers that have the capacity my students need. Boring. But it makes my adrenaline flow, when I have to run across campus and drag the head of the IT-department into a small room where he'll have to listen to me, or when I engage in a yelling match (I am a woman, we don't do pissing contests) over who needs which resources first. Trivial, silly - but vital to the students I care for. And now I'll run off and do some more of that.

Wednesday, October 02, 2002

A friend of mine comes to visit from London, and we are both in a slight, but in a good way, shock over the suddeness of it. However, getting from London to Volda is not as simple as it might seem. The first problem was to find a travel agency that was aware of more than one town in Norway. Oslo seemed to be the only option. Finally, one agency also knew about Bergen, but, sadly, that doesn't really help. Much running back and forth in London searching for cheap tickets - Ryan Air has some ridiculously cheap flights between London and Oslo - but it seemed like it might all strand somewhere in the mountains between Volda, Oslo and Bergen.

That's when we both remembered the internet. So, for those who might want to go to Volda, these are the options, all available through this wonderful communications technology. Go to Wideroe's website, and keep a dictionary handy. Remember, you aren't really travelling to Volda, because that will land you in Vologda, Russia, you are going to Ørsta-Volda, or just Ørsta. If you can't get a ticket to Volda, you have to check out SAS and look for a ticket to Ålesund. In Ålesund you get the airport bus to the main station, and then you look for a bus to Volda. This will take you in and out and across a couple of fjords, and then you'll be here. If all those options fail, and you're stranded at Gardermoen, the much-criticised but beautiful main airport in Norway, there are still more busses. The name of the company? Nor Way, or course!

Tuesday, October 01, 2002

Membrane of opinions
My colleague Jon Peder Vestad writes about the membrane of opinions in journalism (in a very elegant new Norwegian, so that link is scandinavian-language readers only). In one of the most level-headed criticism I have seen of journalism for quite a while, he isolates "the blood-fog" and "the membrane of opinions", two functions that skew journalistic judgement. The blood-fog is the frenzy journalists get into when they consider a single case to be more important than anything else, and take shortcuts disregarding rules, ethics and morals in their battle to break the news.

The membrane of opinions is a filter that is less dramatic, but perhaps more problematic. It's a shared filter which journalists are socialised into: he is a good source, she is a bad source, we like that politician and hate that politician, we write about these cases and ignore those cases. Surveys mapping the readers of Dagbladet, one of the larger newspapers in Norway, shows that the paper doesn't deliver what their readers want or expect.

That's a dilemma, because normally numbers of sold papers is the measuring stick for whether a paper writes what the public wants. However, due to the membrane of opinions, what the number of sold papers measure isn't really if the papers give people what they want, but whether any of the material which is filtered through this membrane might also be of some interest to the public. It's like looking for a restaurant in Norway: you can't really pick and choose, so you take what comes close to something you want.

While the blood-fog leads to noticeable rashness for which the journalists and their papers can be reprimanded or punished, the membrane of opinions is much more subtle abuse of the power of publishing. It is probably one of the reasons why the public have less confidence in journalists than in most other professions. The reality of the news is too different from the experienced reality, and people do reality-checks once in a while. Such a subtle mis-representation also leads to frustration and a feeling of estrangement to the important political matters on the public agenda. As long as the news don't correspond with the public reality, the public experience is that any attempt to get through to politicians or anybody else is futile.