Monday, June 30, 2003

No more grading
At least this semester. Time to retreat into the quiet drowsiness of the last week before my vacation, and just slowly map out the next semester on the white squares of the calendar. Wonderful luxury.
Spam and consequences
Hanne Lovise Skartveit, a Ph.D. at the Media Institute at the University of Bergen, emailed me with a comment on my post on spam. Hanne Lovise points to a presentation she heard at a conference in Finland. Informing Science + Information Technology Education joint conference, June 24-27 2003 has a paper called Spam and Anti-Spam Measures, written by Christopher Lueg.

It is an interesting paper, although a little hard to find - you have to go to the proceedings 2003, search for lueg, and then look up the PDF file. It discusses spam from several different angles, although I don't find that the paper discusses the problem of the information gap and email spam. Hanne Lovise said that it was mentioned in the discussion, so I'll just assume it is there!
Discovery in sunlight
I am not sure if my back protests against reading the last student paper of the year, or if it tells me I was a very bad girl to sit on the plane all the way to Australia and back, but the result is that I have had trouble for weeks now. Yesterday, that led to a small discovery.

I had indulged myself buying plants. Not just flowers - irises, daisy, crysanthemum, poppies - but a smoke-bush and an orange rose-bush, three new herbs (one was a new french tarragon, the two others I don't know the english name of, sitronmelisse and etasjeblomst), and lupin seeds, lily-bulbs horribly out of season and an extremely optimistic hortensia. All these plants needed to be planted, and I could hardly pick up a pen if I lost it on the floor!

This was when I discovered something nice. I have useful children! So Sunday was spent in the garden happily pointing to this and that, directing one efficient and practical, if inexperienced girl, and one tall and gangly and rather distracted, but very happy and enthusiastic boy. After four hours we had found the stairs to the lower part of the garden in between all the weeds, had cleaned enough space that we knew what was supposed to remain and what could happily be uprooted, dug the neccessary holes for the bushes and the plants that were not going into pots on the verandah, emptied out the weeds and dead roses (all four of them died this winter, in the extreme cold) from the pots on the verandah, and cleaned up the porch, the garden, the terrace and the front steps before positioning all the now-filled pots in what we hope is a decorative and welcoming fashion. And we managed to stuff our faces with ice-cream during a short break after the first hot and dirty struggle in the garden.

All the efficient planting is well and good - it went a bit quicker than if I had been alone, but I normally do these things and enjoy them. What amazed me was how nice it is to just do physical things with the kids! They were happy and eager, helped out and came with independent suggestions, all the while chatting about this and that. At times I worry that they won't be able to do anything practical when they grow up, that all they will be good for is play instruments, read books and play computer games - and occasionally heating a frozen pizza if they get told how to turn on the stove. But it's not like that at all. They are strong and healthy and practical, able to apply themselves to a task, to understand instructions quickly and to get things done.

Add sunshine, a light breeze off the fjord to cool us off and chase the flies away, a cat who is too lazy from the heat to attack her favourite target; our bare feet, the sting of nettles still tickling our hands and arms and a slight sunburn, and it was the most amazingly summery and pleasant Sunday in a very, very long time.

Friday, June 27, 2003

Swizz is German - almost
And so I could read the review Noah didn't understand. Noah, I didn't find your present email, so here's the summary of the text:

The article starts out with pointing out that the history of the net is much older than the recent popular literature indicates, and that MIT press, with the New Media Reader, has published a book that shows a history going back more than 50 years. It describes the connection between technology and literature (bush/borges) and how the thinking around new media is as labyrinthic as is the net itself. It continues to describe the encyclopaedic quality of the book, to finish up with a touch of criticism. The criticism was against the anglo-american dominance of the book, mentioning Vilem Flusser as an example of a media philospher who should have been included in the book.

And Noah - if you read this - email me, please?

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Treasure box

I received a wonderful treasure yesterday. A box with the amazon logo on it, full of the most wonderful thing of all: BOOKS! I love books to the point that my NYC connection teases me that he can see what I have been up to by the little piles of books marking my passage, like cairns outlining the path of my progress.

Yesterday's box was a perfect summer mix. It contained (apart from the new Harry Potter book, which I have barely seen yet, as it was immediately seized by younger and more agile booklovers than me, both of whom are also able to run quicker and hide out of sight with their prize) Wet Grave, a mystery novel from my favourite fantasy writer Barbara Hambly, The Mageborn Traitor by Melanie Rawn (I loved Ruins of Ambrai, but I am not that convinced about a lot of her other writing - gets too wordy), Magic Time - Angelfire, by Marc Scott Zicree and Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff, a book I am quite curious about as I loved the first one in this series, and, to top it all off, the book that got me drooling and the rest of my family shaking their heads at my exited response: The New Media Reader edited by Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort!

I have been leafing through the book, and I already know it solved the problem of texts and examples for the little course I have promised to plan and teach in Media Theory this fall. But most important, it promises to sate for a while my hunger, my insatiable desire for more, more answers, more thoughts, more ideas. Sometimes, I think this hunger comes from a childhood of poverty, intellectual as well as material: starved for books I would spend what little money I could get on bus-tickets to the library and return with huge bags full, and then hide in all kind of inventive places in order to read in peace, without guidance but also without restrictions, anything that caught my fancy. My reading is still like this, driven by desire, and while Noah and Nick have organised their book neatly, chronologically and with nice links and suggestions to further reading, that book is dominated by the random nature of the writing. And as such it is chaos contained in one volume, a writing driven as much by desire as is my reading, and on topics as whimsical and complicated to harness and control as my own reading habits.

Of course, the fact that I am a great Nick and Noah fan makes it all the much better. At some point last night I found myself hugging the book with a big grin on my face, thinking about the wonderful minds who pieced this together. That's the starved child in me grinning with joy at the knowledge that I am not alone. A lot of my companions (playmates sadly has very wrong connotations...) are in or involved with this collection. And I love it.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Spam and blocks
Lately I have added a new ritual to my mornings. I go through all the spam that gets aroudn the college fences and into my mailbox. I right-click on everything that looks suspicious, and block it. Frequently I block whole domains. There are however some domains I would love to block, but if I do I'll block friends and family:, and are prominent among those.

What bothers me while I keep blocking domains is that I use a rather elitistic system for my decisions. If it is an adress that looks like it comes from one of the east-block countries, I block it. If there is "bargain" in the the name anywhere, I block it. If there are weird letter combinations in the name of the sender, I block it. And if there is a russian, polish or checkoslovakian brother out there who is really concerned about his teen-age sisters and wants to discuss them with me - sorry man, that mail has been blocked.

Problem is - what if some of these odd email domains I block is the latvian equivalent of hotmail? What if I close my inbox to the people who can't afford an exclusive and expensive ISP with a spam-free server to write from? The spamming of mail-boxes is annoying, to say the least, for people like me, in rich institutions in rich countries - but it is devastating to those who may not have any other option but free email-addresses that you can access on the web from cheap or free access points such as public libraries or dingy internet cafés. This makes spammers not just annoying, but anti-egalitarian, and the argument that free enterprise makes web-access available for the people is once again proven to be another pile of BS.

Monday, June 23, 2003

Side effects
My doctor prescribes a medicine that takes the edge off my backpain and heals the worst of the inflammation, making it possible for me to get back into routines of working out and thus maintaining/regaining functionality. The older medicines always left me with beginning ulcers, and after a few unpleasant experiences I refused them. Celebra, the medicine in question, has been wonderful; easing pain, controlling and soothing the inflammation of the muscles, making me function without crying at the effort of sitting down. So here I was, happily enjoying modern medicine and relief from pain... but getting more and more depressed. Turns out the medicines can have the side effect of exhaustion, depression, and headaches. I just chewed the last of this prescription - and believe me, I'll be in serious agony before I ask for anything like this again. To me the side-effects means I have to choose between simple physical pain and an unexplainable (until now) urge to take the ferry to the middle of the fjord and then jump. With pain, at least I know I am alive.
The Public Defense of the Present Dr. Klastrup
"We have wireless in this building, so you can blog the defense live," Lisbeth confided as we were putting up posters and moving tables preparing for the big event. "I didn't bring the lap-top," I confessed, regretfully. "Good!" she exclaimed.

Lisbeth was the first person I encountered at the it-university after a seven-hour trip from Volda, Norway to Copenhagen, Denmark. An elegant lady in moss green, the colour enhancing her gorgeous red hair, she was busily doing all the manual preparations. Much as I fear the formal Norwegian defense, the easy-going Danish approach tended a little far in the opposite direction. Lisbeth was putting up posters and setting things to order. Where was the herd of supporting staff at moments like this? What was The Candidate doing here, and not meditating on the opening remarks in her own office? Where were the drapes and flowers, designed to enhance the lecture into something extraordinary, something not happening every day? And most important, why had nobody set the stage, the chairs for the comittee, the tables for the speakers - really, they hadn't even cleaned the blackboard! Grey with layers of chalk, it was the most mundane of reminders. This was just an other examination in just an other classroom...

Then Lisbeth started to talk about her thesis, and there was nothing mundane about the occasion at all. This was intensely experienced and passionately explored material, presented to us in Lisbeth's pleasant, warm voice with its soft danish accent. She took us for a ride on the magic carpet of her childhood and out into her virtual worlds, into cyberspace; which she describes as an extension of our need for fictional creativity.

The board of assessors were waiting and watching, taking notes and nodding. Cynthia Haynes, a woman of most striking appearance and the added favour point she gets with me for marrying a boy from the next fjord, was first in questioning Lisbeth after a short break. Cynthia spread her questions to three areas: rhetorical, methodological and theoretical. Jon Dovey was next, still a fairly unknown quantity to me at the time. Later, through a very informal dinner at Espen's new home, I found that Dovey is a lecturer at UWE, part of the Cultural Studies program. To my surprise, he addressed the same topics as Cynthia. I am used to the questioning being more rigidly delegated among the members of the comittee, with one main opponent doing theory while the other does methodology and the third steps in with what ever they didn't manage to put in either of those categories. Another of those cultural things, I guess.

The third opponent was Klaus Bruhn Jensen, Danish media researcher with a particular affinity for methodologies in media research, and now I started to feel I was in familiar ground. Up until this point I had felt as if with the roles switched I'd have been totally unable to answer any questions or anything. Jensen's questions were more precise than the others, and particularly addressed definitions and methods, something which I had missed a little in the two former opponents. Some of these questions were deceptively simple, little wicked trick-questions invoking the outright sadism a Norwegian defense so often runs over with. Lisbeth dealt with that with the same cool soft demanour as all the others, no breaking out in tears, no fainting and no aggression. I was immensely proud of her - as were all in the hall, grinning widely and listening to that pleasant voice explaining the facts of her research.

To sum up the criticism:
Lisbeth's methodology was interdisciplinary to the point that it became a little imprecise and weak. Her use of concepts such as "case-study" was unorthodox - and we don't really want unorthodox understanding of methodological concepts, do we? The thesis is more descriptive than analytical, and she doesn't really connect her findings with her material, making several chapters seem superflous. I haven't read the thesis, but the way Lisbeth replied to some of the direct questions to methodology implies that these were justified comments.

The good part about the thesis was that all the opponents loved it! It was an important contribution to the understanding of a field which up until this point has had no monographies publicly available, and it was an engaged and engaging one. That sounds right from what I have seen from Lisbeth over the years. Brilliant and well-spoken, well-read and dedicated, how could her thesis be less than good? I was totally envious by the end of the praise for the thesis - after all I submitted a month before her, and although my thesis focuses a lot more on the player and a lot less on the world within which the character plays, we overlap, and there is another large work on multi-user games in existance, not just Lisbeths.... But all these petty thoughts were just the green monster within me reacting to the wonderful responses Lisbeth had to her work, to the way she had carried it out and presented it to the world. Because this was definitely a well-deserved triumph for Lisbeth: the end of her labour towards the doctorate, and a good outcome at that!

Afterwards there was a reception, there were speeches, there was the comittee testifying that she was accepted for the Doctorate, there was wine and cakes and strawberries and the pleasures of academic recognition mixed with an adoring crowd carrying masses of flowers and presents.

It definitely was Lisbeth's day, and it was a good one, worth the trip for several reasons, some of them quite selfish - some of them just warm and fuzzy and all related to the pride and delight I feel in knowing such a very nice and intelligent woman!

Saturday, June 21, 2003

I was just going to post something saying: I will blog Lisbeth´s defense when I get home, and now blogger has changed their window AGAIN! It makes me nervous! But ayway - too busy talking to people, about to meet Alex Golub here in Copenhagen rather than in Volda, will blog more probably tomorrow.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

I am off!
Tomorrow, I'll get up REALLY early, get on a plane, then an other plane, before I land in Copenhagen, catch a train and a bus - or just a cab right away - to Susana's office... before we go to listen to Lisbeth defend her thesis. There's a lot to be said for the net, but nothing like seeing friends face to face. And Lisbeth, I'll smile and nod and look interested and reassuring whenever you look in my direction, because I am your fan and I am really there to learn how to deal with the defense when time (hopefully) comes for me to be up there, desperately trying to remember the words I need to defend my baby thesis.
Effect studies II
After the post on academia and effect studies, a colleague brought an article by Stephen Kline to my attention: "Is it Time to Rethink Media Effects?" Kline writes in the abstract of the article:

It has become increasingly common in some academic circles to write off public controversies about children's media as moral panics. (snip) This paper suggests that the fifty year long debate about youth violence would be better understood as a political struggle over the "lifestyle risks" rather than "entertainment values" which now pits media corporations against anxiously concerned parents.

I haven't found the paper online, so I am not going to criticize a paper I can not let you all read - I just want to mention that although I disagree with a lot of Kline's points in the paper, I agree with his initial project: to bring the debate of media effects out of the politically charged pit it is in, and into an arena where it's possible to view electronic media as a powerful channel for cultural influence, but not immediately as the source of all evil in western society - alternately the last arena of free speech and creative expression. It might be about time we get past our spine reaction of disgust faced with media panics, and see what media critizism really says about values, trends and use of popular media.

Because this research has not been neglected. It has happened, but under other names. There is a consistent and frequently quite aggressive criticism of popular media: content, form and use. But due to the politics of academia such studies do not appear under the "effect" label, and as such the effect discussion and the content discussion both appear oddly amputated, both lacking some limbs and thus unable to get anywhere.
Assessment - the bright side
There are aspects of assessing student papers which I know I would miss if they were removed - and they may very well be, because as Jill argues, with one internal and one external assessor, a lot of resources which could have been spent elsewhere are channeled into assessing often boring papers.

The up-side is in collegial cross-breeding of opinions. When I am responsible for exams with oral assessment, I always try to put together as diverse a board of assessors as possible. The first time I had an all-female board there was outrage - despite 20 years of all-male boards before that. I try to get people from different colleges and universities to work on the same exams, turning the oral exams into events of academic networking, as much as a dreary duty. Since we have 100 students that need to have their papers assessed each fall, we can have five media professors as our guests in Volda for two days. That means one dinner and two lunches when people from Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim, Stavanger, Lillehammer, Kristiansand or Bodø can meet the Volda faculty. It also means that we get to show off the wide range of topics our students are interested in, and we get to hear what people in other universities and colleges think of the same thing. And although those two days of oral exams equal 60 days of work (we use two local assessors for oral exams), those 60 days are extremely important as an assessment of our own ability to teach, not just the student ability to learn, as a way to be updated on what happens in other universities and colleges, and a way to learn about new topics we would otherwise not take the time to read up on.

The up-side of assessing the six-hour school exams isn't quite as bright, but I just got off the phone with Alex Iversen, an assessor we have used for years. We spent perhaps 30-45 minutes agreeing on the 20 papers we had read - yes, you become quicker at this the longer you've been doing it. And then we spent 30 minutes chatting about books we have read, articles we have written and which we wish to write, articles other people have written and which we think the other should read, and links we should exchange but didn't manage to find during the conversation so we'll email them instead. So the students were assessed, Alex pointed out some interesting common flaws to the student arguments that indicated that we need to adjust next year's teaching, and we both had a good inter-disciplinary chat!

The Competence Reform in Norway opens for removing the external assessors in assessing student papers. At several studies in Volda that has already happened. Here, at the Department of Media Studies we are acting very conservatively and insist to keep them, for two reasons.

One is to protect the students. We work very closely with our students, and feel that they deserve to be assessed by a person who for instance has not had to sit across from them over a table and hear them tell us what incompetent idiots we are who can't plan a semester properly... (which all students know better than we do, of course). After something like that, abusing the power of giving grades isn't even a conscious act.

Second is to retain the collegial networking and exchange. Of course, we could spend the money we saved on inviting the same people here to talk, but then there would be nothing forcing us to cooperate, and we would easily not show up, give up arranging the thing after the first 5 people asked were busy elsewhere, make some other appointment, or find something else to spend the money on.

Of course, there must be ways to keep the good things from the old system, and get rid of the bad. I just haven't found them yet.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Kind words
They are always precious. Working in a job where you are pretty much your own boss, they are, sadly, also rare. Today I try to mention to somebody that they are doing a great job. Now all I need to do is find somebody who deserves that. And no, I don't have a mirror in the office.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Official Ratings Conference
In Sydney, 21 - 24 September, there is a conference discussing ratings of film and literature. The interesting part for me is that the keynotes and special papers include topics such as: "Effects of Playing Violent Video Games.", “Ratings, Content, and Regulation: A View from the U.S. Video Game Industry”, “The Diverse Worlds Project: Narrative, Style, Characters and Physical World in Popular Computer and Video Games”, "Cross Platform Labelling and Filtering - Future National and International Challenges", “Are Computer Games Good for Young People?”, “The Diverse Worlds Project: Narrative, Style, Characters and Physical World in Popular Computer and Video Games” and "What adaptations must be implemented so that a "traditional" rating system (such as the ESRB's) can continue to offer accurate, consistent, and reliable ratings for online, wireless, and future content applications.”

I think it is great that these topics are being discussed. But where is the overlap between the different arenas where these things are discussed? I don't recognize any of the topics from academic papers, I don't see any of the discussions from recent conferences on digital culture, on games or on other academic discussions concerned with digital content online and offline. Perhaps it's just me, but I don't really recognize any of the names either.

In Norway, "serious" media researchers don't want to get involved in the "media is dangerous for children" debate, despite the fact that there is a lot of money available for funding if you wish to explore this field. The result is that we get totally separate spheres where in one people discuss effect and influence and in the other people who discuss style, form and content. Judging from the list of names and topics for this conference, the same happens internationally.

Effect and influence is a very complicated area to address, and it is impossible to come to any real conclusions: yes or no. This has been used as an excuse to stay away from the rather rigid demand for answers which the effect-directed programs imply. But isn't it equally complicated to get a real answer within the field where we work? Isn't what we do to explore trends and indicate options for future development, register preferances and analyse anomalies? There seems to be a cultural divide within academia which makes one set of questions exclude an other set, and this in itself is interesting - perhaps even tantalizing.
Playing with blogshares
I am not really good at playing simulation games where testing out models and variables is an important part of the game, but today I was made participant in somebody else's play, and it immediately made the game more interesting. I was gifted five shares in Confessions of a G33k girl by Lago at errant dot org. I am definitely going to pay more attention to the game now! And perhaps I'll even be able to think out my own strategies? I'll have to discuss this with my broker... what time is it in New York now? 3 am? OK, about time he gets out of bed to discuss the serious business in life!

Monday, June 16, 2003

Blogging in Norway happens abroad
Finally, Norwegian media have discovered that news are communicated and even created in other media than the three big old ones. Dagsavisen had a large article yesterday - all about the sensational blogs abroad, among others an example which Jill and I used a year ago when we presented "Blogging Thoughts" in Oslo. In the paper, however, they claimed that Joel's girlfriend broke up with him because she was a bad kisser, carefully not mentioning the fact that he had hoped for sex, or at least a hand-job...
Incest and homocide
This is the topic of one of the strongest short movies - although it's not short at all, it's 94 minutes long - shown at the festival in Grimstad in Norway this year. Mitt elskede barn - My beloved child - is the story of a woman who killed her father, the man who had abused her for years. It is a story that is painfully familiar and old - but the documentary is in itself so strong that it makes one of the larger newspapers in Norway spend whole pages on what is basically a student production from Volda College.

It's not a happy story with a happy ending. The woman who is in the center of the movie is in prison, she sees her son one hour every week, and she's pregnant with a child who will be born while she is in prison. When she comes out her son will be 13 and the child now in her belly will learn to talk, walk and live her first years without her mother. But the movie doesn't really focus on this, but on how child-abuse is closely connected to broken and ruined lives. 70-90% of all the women in prison in Norway have stories of sexual abuse from their childhoods, and in most cases the abuser gets more and better care and also enjoys more legal security than the abused child.

If our students have ever made a movie I hope will make a difference, this is it.

Saturday, June 14, 2003

Thief of hearts
I am getting old... young men can charm me in seconds just through a little glimpse of round soft belly and by virtue of having big innocent eyes. Anders posts pictures of his week-old son, and I get this odd, warm feeling of wonder just looking at them. I hope this is not a sign that I'll be a horribly sentimental old woman, cooing over babies' prams.
Blog your own news
Today an article (a "kronikk" which is supposed to be a popular but scholarly contribution to the public debate) which I wrote and submitted more than a month ago appeared in one of the larger Norwegian daily newspapers. The topic is blogging, and I am commenting on Dagbladet's weblogg, which started up April 25th. Because it's been delayed so long, things have changed since I wrote it - and some available infomation probably changed because of the article. Rune Røsten, who was originally only noted as "publisher", read the article, and afterwards the available information on him identified him as editor and administrating director.

But these are minor changes. The major change made by the editor is that Dagbladet has removed all mention of the connection between making money on newspapers through advertising and the expansion into blogs, blogging and offering free space for your personal blogs. I should have seen that one coming, after all Dagbladets weblog has been advertised not as a new business opportunity for Dagbladet, but as a democratic collective effort between the newspaper and its readers. The fact that blogging will make readers produce free content for the newspaper and thereby cheap opportunities to expose readers to advertising isn't worth mentioning. Well, at least not in the space where Dagbladet can do the editing...

Anyway: I am quite exited to see my article in such a prominent place in a widely spread newspaper. I have to go buy the paper version, to see if they have a good picture of me!

(Update Monday 16th: Just remembered: they did something else too, caused by the fact that is still just a paper medium available online. They removed all the hyperlinks from the original text. I had prepared it for web-publishing - they cleaned it for paper, and then published that version online.)

Friday, June 13, 2003

Virtual environments and online games
In this post, I will try to tackle two interesting and somewhat overlapping blogposts in two very different style blogs: Nick Montfort's post in GrandTextAuto on virtual environments and Andrew Phelps in Got Game on online games.

These two posts are connected in my mind through certain key words:
online games
Virtual environments

Both Nick Montfort and Andrew Phelps discuss categories, which, one might say, proves Nick's comment that it's not just a "tedious Scandinavian pasttime". Nick discusses Espen Aarseth's use of the category "virtual environment", while Andrew discusses the commercial use of "online game". They are also discussing the same kind of game/environment, and the increasingly obvious problems with naming these environments correctly. Nick has an advantage through his understanding of the history of the multi-player games as he reaches back into text-based games such as MUDs, while Andrew Phelps skips the MUDs entirely, and forgets to mention the many multi-player environments before the Massively Multi-pPlayer Online Role-Playing Games. It is significant to his discussion that Richard Bartle was writing about Player Killers as a category of online players in 1990. But Andrew most clearly reveals his lack of play-MUD experience is in discussing cheating and his ability to influence other players:

The thing that is a little different, I suppose, is that you can influence the game of someone else, and so cheating takes on a much larger significance. But people still cheat (anyone have a packet-sniffing linux box running next to their EQ machine? eh?). And it doesn't kill the game. In the parlance of our times: /shrug.

In 1999 I interviewed the players of Dragon Realms, the MUD I based my doctorate thesis on. One of the questions I asked them was if they could make me a list of game categories. Several of the players made two lists: one consisting of the commercial labels, and one which depended on their experience. The most problematic concept for these players was the category "Role-Playing Games". All the players I interviewed who had problems with the commercial RPG-label were experienced players of table-top games as well as what they called "online role-playing games". The most important aspect of an online role-playing game in their opinion is that it lets you create a character with a background and a history, it lets you play this character among other, similarly individually crafted and played characters, and the role-play influences and is influenced by that of the other players as well as the development of the environment within which the play takes place. All other games they would label Adventure or Action. This supports Andrew Phelps in his frustration with the commercial labels "RPG" and "online", and emphasises the distance between how the industry understand games, and how their players understand them.

For these players, influencing the game WAS the game. They were unafraid in the face of an unstable, changing game. The magic of their game was that when they left it, the changes which had happened before they returned were not all "somehow, a result of my influence in the world'.

These online, multi-player role-playing games take place in an environment which is, I agree with Espen, virtual. It is a textual or graphic representation of something which is imagined, and as such it is more virtual than it is a simulation. It is doubly imagined: the rules of the game-world are not representations of the natural laws of this world, and so it is a result of the imagination of the creator. But the player accepts the world and its rules, and continues the act of imagining: a multi-player role-playing game is an act of collaborative imagination - a common virtuality.

I do however not see that "virtual environment" is limited to computer-mediated environments. The virtual aspect is not a function of the computer, but of human imagination. The dollhouses of previous centuries that Mary Flanagan referred to in her paper at DAC2003 (pdf) are similar virtual environments. To me, a virtual environment is the imagined common arena within which play happens. In this I almost disagree with Nick Montford, but I think our disagreement comes from the definition of play. I find that the playfullness of creating or just chatting in a social MOO is, while not gaming, playing. This means that interactive fiction becomes a kind of "play" as well, but play in the understanding of "leik" rather than "spill" - playfullness and not competition. Mimicry and perhaps ilinx rather than alea or agôn. The virtual environment depends not on technology, but on the human mind.

This leads us back to the other category which now gets tied to the new technology: role-play. This is mimicry, and an important human ability. Our society depends on our skill at role-play, as we step in and out of different social and cultural roles, and we try, test and learn these roles by playing with them.

Based on this, I'll attempt and answer to two of Nick's questions (and ignore the others who have made similar and, who knows, perhaps better attempts in the comments to the post). First: we are attracted to virtual environments because they are familiar, they are the way we think, theorize and explore abstractions. To create, understand and enjoy virtual environments is a fundamentally human ability. Second: hopskotch and chess have virtual environments. We call them things like board, arena and rules.
Wireless node database project
The link you need to check when travelling - before you leave home!
Two nice things
One for the world in general, and one a lot more personally nice, but connected.
1) Lisbeth has posted the full data on her defense, including an abstract (pdf) of her thesis. She'll defend her thesis June 20th, it's a public event, so if you like you can come and listen to her.
2) I'll be there, listening to her! Lisbeth is the closest thing to a scholarly twin that I have, and I am very exited about her finishing, having her thesis approved and the defense. Of course I'll go from Volda to Copenhagen to be there, to spy and learn!

Thursday, June 12, 2003

In a Dark Time
the eye begins to see....

I just want to point you all to a blog I stumbled over. I was delighted and captivated. If you have a soft spot for poetry, chances are you will see why. Enjoy.
Some of the not-so-serious blogs are both nice and funny, such as Vulnerability by Mizz Farrah. Written by a girl (or a girl representation - one can never know, right?), it's a delightful little mix, as crowded as a girl's room with what I'll most precisely call "stuff".

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Tools and legitimacy
According to Eirik Newth, I should not get mixed up with a blog debate as long as I don't want to use a blog tool that will let others place their comments on this site.

Derimot er det interessant at Mortensen vil gi sitt besyv med i en bloggdebatt, samtidig som hun ikke ønsker å bruke de nyttigste redskapene for debatt og dialog i sin egen blogg. Hun er henvist til å kommentere i andres blogger, og å oppfordre andre til å starte nye blogger for å ta til motmæle.

translation: It's interesting that Mortensen wises to join a blog debate, while she does not wish to use the most useful tools for debate and dialogue in her own blog. She is forced to comment in other people's blogs, and to encourage others to start blogs of their own in order to argue against her.

OK. I bow to the voice of Eirik Newth, and shut up, never to participate in a blog debate again.


Tuesday, June 10, 2003

colour blindness
Once in a while I do a google search on popular misspellings of my name. One of those is Torril. It lead me to a colourblind reader. Functionalism minded as I am, I immediately set out to adjust the template here, and I hope that I have found a reasonable compromise between style and function which will make life easier on those who see the world in different shades from what I do. For those who think the italics are ugly - well, you'll just have to live with it until I take the time to make a whole new design.
on comments, in Norwegian
Jeg begynte å svare steffanie på hvorfor jeg ikke har kommentarer, men det ble for langt, så det ligger her i stedet.

Hvorfor har jeg ikke kommentarer? Først og fremst fremst på grunn av hvor mye jeg ønsker å måtte vedlikeholde fra bloggen min. Kommentarer krever redigering og svar. Siden de kommer på mitt område er det jeg som har redaksjonelt ansvar for dem. Troll er ikke et stort problem foreløpig i blogg-kommentarer, men de blir vanligere. Jill var for eksempel plaget av ett i vinter, og Esther har noen som hjemsøker Break of Day in the Trenches. Jeg vil ikke bruke min energi på å hele tiden følge med hva andre sier til og om meg på mitt eget område.

Dernest fordi jeg ikke er interessert i en konstant dialog. Det betyr ikke at jeg ikke bryr meg om hva folk tenker og mener, men at jeg må prioritere. Bloggen min er først og fremst et område jeg vedlikeholder for min egen del, for å systematisere hva jeg tenker og hvordan det forholder seg til andre ideer jeg ser på nettet. Det er også et sted å lagre linker, referater og ideer, veldig praktisk fordi det alltid er tilgjengelig så lenge jeg kan komme ut på nettet.

Nettet er ikke et demokratisk område, og kommentarer og trackbacks gjør det faktisk ikke mer demokratisk. Derimot framhever det enkelte nettverk, utviklet på grunnlag av noen bestemte typer software og bloggklienter, framfor andre. På den måten framhever det mennesker med lett tilgang til en bestemt type kompetanse og ressurser. Det er ikke spesielt enkelt å installere og vedlikeholde bloggklienter som støtter kommentarer. Movable Type, som er den vanligste klienten med kommentarer og trackbacks for tiden, har en ganske høy innledende brukerterskel. Den krever at du ikke bare har email, men at du også har tilgjengelig serverplass og kunnskaper om ftp og installering av programvare på servere. Selv om dette er enkelt når du kan det, er det ganske mange der ute som ikke kan det. Jeg er priviligert, alt jeg mangler er tid til å sette meg ned og lære det. Siden jeg befinner meg på en utdanningsinstitusjon har jeg gratis serverplass og mennesker med nødvendig kompetanse tilgjengelig, men selv i denne drømmesituasjonen er selve kompetanseterskelen så høy at det ikke er lett å sette seg ned og faktisk gjøre det.

Da er det mye enklere for en som er uenig med meg å lage en gratis konto på og begynne å fortelle verden hvorfor jeg tar feil. Med litt tålmodighet og noen linker til meg kommer jeg til å finne bloggen, og få vite hva hun eller han mener, på samme måte som jeg fant steffanie. Det var forresten via blogshares. Morsomt leketøy!

(Oppdatering/oppklaring: Folk liker å lese ute av kontekst og tolke tekster til å støtte sine egne syn, og ofte gjør jeg det også. Av og til hender det også at jeg skriver litt uformelt og upresist. I dette tilfellet mener jeg faktisk ikke at det er enklere å lage en konto på enn å skrive en kommentar i en blog med kommentarer. Jeg mener at det er enklere å lage en blogg på enn å installere movable type og delta i en debatt med trackbacks og utveksling av kommentarer på hverandres områder. Jeg beklager den upresise formuleringen, eller kanskje jeg bare beklager mellomrommet som lagde to avsnitt på slutten i stedet for ett.)

Monday, June 09, 2003

Dandelion seeds
Different in pink
Elin has refreshed BloggerdyDoc, and her design is deliciously different from the traditional grey and white movable type look. Makes you want to lick it!
Desbladet on information brokers
June 7th Desbladet has a long post in dialogue style on Google's business model. Funny reading, and actually a little enlightening as well!

And this is the post he didn't dig out the link to.
Impermanence, intimacy and revelations
A while ago, I installed Noah Wardrip-Fruin's Impermanence agent on my computer at work. There were a few little flaws in it when I tried to run it on a PC, but with a little help from noah I managed to make it run. Soon my surfing would be interrupted or perhaps rather commented on by the way the impermanence agent communicated bits and pieces of what I had been surfign through during the day.

But soon it started to feel too intimate. Although I had it on the work desk-top, where I don't conduct my shady side business of assassination and international espionage, the impermanence agent soon revealed a lot more about my surfing patters than I was comfortable with. Bits and pieces of sites I routinely check for changes and information would be punctuated by revealing material from the sites I equally frequently visited for recreation. And it soon turned up that my rhythm was: work related google search, newspapers - work-related - writing - procrastinational surfing - writing - recreational surfing - writing - not so important surfing - looking at what the impermanence agent comes up with - work-related serious stuff - writing....

Yes, the impermanence agent did make me view my own web-browsing patterns in a new way. Problem was, it became so intimate and revealing that I didn't keep it up. Perhaps is this a proof that it is art, and good art, because I don't like art that comes this close to me. I prefer to keep a distance, not understand and particularly not feel attacked and guilty. The impermanence agent was the nightmare of a guilt-ridden protestant Scandinavian like me.
Not a good one
Back hurting. Little sleep. Cold and rainy. Bunch of papers waiting to be graded. Why couldn't this be in the week, and not a holiday?

Sunday, June 08, 2003

Movable Type - I have a long way to go...
It feels like I have to learn a whole new language to be able to do this on my own. Yes, I know this is a bad blow to my street cred, but really, I am just a middle-aged barbarian woman with Very Little Brain. Luckily, I am not all alone. So while Hilde tries to figure out the database, I am trying to find some good description of the installation process, and any other resources on the topic.

Movable Type Installation at
Setting up templates with love productions.
Anders Jacobsen on syndicating your site
Or just look at this list of Movable Type Installation links at WOIFM.

Anyone with a better one? I knew I saw a lot of references to installation tips in some of the blogs some weeks ago.

Saturday, June 07, 2003

No sense of place
I have been doing random sampling of Anne Galloway's blogroll. Since I admire her blog and writing, I was pretty sure that her blogroll would show equally impeccable taste. There I found a Danish roll - ummm, blog - a groupblog named No sense of place, yes, the same as the famous work on the social impact of electronic media by Joshua Meyrowitz.

But it wasn't the familiarity of the title that won me over to add this danish group blog to my blogroll, it was this post:

The national condition of Denmark has exploded in a nationalistic hysteria - again.
This time it's about soccer - again.

Because of some "important" match against Norway, papers are busy telling us that Norwegians are stupid, humour-less and so on. These statements are blurred by local irony as if they are not really serious. But the message is there: Danes are way smarter than Norwegians!

We Danes like to see our self as being much more civilized than Norway and it's a popular notion that they are bloody farmers up there. Oslo the capital of Norway has only been a real city for some 100 years so it's probably true that Copenhagen is slightly more metropolian than Oslo. Still these differences are so small that only inborn Scandinavians will be able to recognize them. A chineseman for instance would never be able to tell the difference.

But here in DK we are so much more advanced that we have the right to consider people from a neigbouring country stupid. A nationwide state of mind that legitimates such bullshit is pathetic and very very provincial.

Of course, Norwegians would never sink to such levels. And if we did, it's only because we were occupied by Danes for 400 years and learned what they consider civilized behaviour.

Oooops, my nose just grew long enough to tilt the lap-top screen.
Every time, a new hoax
Ranging from amusing to heartrendering, links to hoaxes and other sites concerned with internet hoaxes in Cliff Pickover's Internet Encyclopedia of Hoaxes.
User Not Found
This is a weblog dedicated to loss of virtual friends:

User Not Found is a weblog devoted to the discussion of dealing with the death of online friends. As more and more friendships/relationships are established and maintained in a virtual realm, more "real life" scenarios become relevant in the online environment. Death, unfortunately, is one of these scenarios.
A lost language
The Huron language or the Wendat language - the language of men - has been lost. There are people working to reconstruct it, and they have put up a sample of words and pronounciations online.
Dagbladet next Saturday
I have told a lot of people to buy Dagbladet today. Last night I received an email saying that they were sorry, but the article has been moved to next Saturday. And that after all the stress Thursday, rewriting in order to adjust to what has happened in the month (!) since it was written and accepted.
Aldri så galt...
There is a saying in Norwegian: "Never so bad it is not good for something." Now that the posts and the archives have all migrated (I see a flock of posts settling like birds into their new spots, unruly, chattering, eager to stop and eat on the way there, but still part of the larger whole) to the new home, I can start thinking of the good things which happened during the last rather frustrating days.

At my first panicked post, I had emails from a couple of my favourite people out there with advice on how to find the lost archives, and one helpful researcher had even saved all of march because this blog was part of her research. That was wonderfully distracting, and kept the despair out of the frustration that first unhappy evening.

The next day proved that there were more people out there reading my blog than I knew. An old friend - well, she's just as old as me, but I haven't really talked to her since we were both in junior high - wrote and offered me space on her virtual server. She registered the domain and is planning to install movable type today. I will take her up on her generous offer, and while I may not move this blog to her site, I have other plans. I am not sure in which persona yet though...

Among other interesting feedback were the sympathetic comments of Dalibor, who thinks he is the only Croatian blogger out there, and Janus, who said "You don't know me - I'm just a reader of your blog." and then commenced to send me the links to all the missing archives. Francis, who calls himself my fan and whose writing I have admired (and envied) since I first found his blog, wrote to tell me that his problems were solved, as well as those of Tinka at Dust from a distant sun (That's still one of the most beautiful blog names I know).

But my problems had not been solved. While Francis and Tinka had been able to publish their complete blogs, archives and lost posts and all, I couldn't post anything. The editing window was back to the old one, and all I got was error messages. So I checked out blogger control. And somebody had noticed one of my desperate error messages! OK, so it was a short message to show me that I was not alone and they were working on it, linked to an other message telling me everything was OK now, I should just republish... yeah right, I would if I could! But I could see who was responsible for fixing the problem, and it was the father of blogger, the man himself: Ev! I got a warm fuzzy feeling, an apology - Ev said it was bad, really bad what had happened - as well as a new title to the next error message.

But that was all yesterday's news, as you can see. The really good news is that I am left with a sense of actually being part of something. OK, I may have heard from my entire readership over the last couple of days, but you exist and you care and I love it!

Thursday, June 05, 2003

to call or not to call
I have the telephone right next to me. I have the number to pyra. I am deeply unhappy about this, and if they hang up on me because I call rather than use the blogger support site, I'll be feeling even worse. What makes me so desperately unhappy? They have screwed up before and recovered, why have I lost faith? I think it's the changes over the last months. I have wanted to get blogger pro, but I postponed it because I wanted blogger pro when it supported Opera. I don't know if it does yet - didn't check the last month. I just paid to have the site ad free.

And then all the little changes started. At first it was the support. There was one type of support for the regular bloggers, and an others for those who paid. That was OK, because I can see why 1000000 users can be a strain to a small support staff. Then the feed-back I could give changed. Nobody answered questions any more. I could post a notification of a bug, but they were never reviewed. Not long ago ads reappeared on my blog, not at the front page, but in the archives. When I tried to notify blogger, the emails to all bounced. No matter which email address I used. Now this.

I have the telephone right here, next to me. I am so frustrated, I can't focus on any other work. If I had somewhere to install Movable Type I'd have started fiddling with that now, to start fresh somewhere else. But I'll try to take a deep breath, and wait until tomorrow with the real hysteric screams. I'll give Blogger 24 hours. I have lost only about 10 days of work, the rest has been recovered in different ways. I may be able to bring it back up elsewhere. I may still be able to recover my online body (to quote cyborg mommy).
May has been found
Almost complete, in google's cache. April is a small fragment. March... I fear most of that is gone too, but I'll keep looking. Thank you Nick, for reminding me of google. At the moment you're my hero.

Not-so-much later...
April showed up when I followed a link from future Dr Karlsbjerg. It's obviously all there somewhere, just not linked to my site. Do anybody know somebody who knows how to track down and link the archives back into my blog?
Doesn't half cover it. I did save all of my archives two months ago, so it's just two months work lost. But I don't know how to download those two years I have saved, link them to blogger and get something vaguely resembling what this used to be. Excuse me while I go offline and cry.
Blogger has "done a few little changes" - one of them seems to have deleted all my posts and archives. Two years of links, comments and references. Well, thank you so much blogger.
Some of the information, some of the time...
For those of you who care about the distinctions between a publisher and an editor: Rune Røsten is not just a publisher, as the information on the weblog has said, but editor and administrative director of Dagbladets Weblogg,, DB Medialab and DB Medialab includes the before mentioned companies, and owns parts of and Zolong AS. Busy man with much responsibility on his shoulders. Good thing he has that cute little smile to make things easier for him.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

beautiful blog
Kind of roundabout and through many odd steps, I found this: Giornale Nuovo - of things near and far. Enjoy! (Last step before this: Enigmatic Mermaid, who makes translation sound like poetry.)
Monoblogs and diablogs
I have been brooding over Erik Newth's mention of monologic blogs - monoblogs. He claims that a commentary function makes a blog less like a monologue, and more like a dialogue. This annoyed me enough that I commented on Jill's blog, sounding somewhat "snurt" actually, as we'd say in Norwegian. But slow thinker that I am, now I know what bothered me.

What Erik calls monologue, Alex Golub calls slow conversations. While I am the only one who can write in my blog, I don't write without context, without referring to others, and without considering the feedback I get. There is a conversation, but it is a lot slower than that involving a blog where trackbacks and comments are displayed. So I guess what Erik is really saying is that he prefers fast(er) conversations over slow(er) ones.
More Game Blogs
By way of Gamegirl Advance (with new design - cool, although there was something compelling about the slick pink pad in the top left corner which I kind of miss), a new gaming blog: Reality Panic by Jason Della Rocca, Program Director of IGDA, which means International Game Developers Association. I'll add it to the blogroll and watch it develop - there are a lot of hot names dropped in this blog, at least!
Defense - past and future
Future defense first: Lisbeth's thesis has been accepted for her defense! Congratulations! It will happen June 20th, and I am so very happy for her. I think all the other feelings I am overwhelmed by at the thought of comittees reading doctorate thesises should really not be repeated. If you have heard me whine before, just put that on replay. Or not.

Past defense: Colleague Lars Nyre defended his Doctorate Thesis Fidelity Matters: Sound Media and Realism in the 20th Century. This happened in Bergen Saturday May 31st.

Lars' doctorate has always been one of my babies - although this one has been growing up in a foster home. The funding for his grant was the first time Espen Aarseth and I cooperated. I was aware that a decentralised University grant from Bergen would be open for new applications, and nobody here had done anything about it. I told Espen about that, and he did the lobbying towards the administration at the University in Bergen, while I worked with the college administration. After Espen and I had prepared everything and pretty much had the University acceptance of the grant, we were asked to involve the Institute of Media Science in Bergen, since I am at the Department of Media Studies here in Volda. Now, 6 years later, nobody but Espen and I remember that this doctorate is actually one in Digital Media. That does not diminish Lars' achievement though: he has submitted a very interesting and original work within a field that has been sorely ignored in media studies in Norway.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Fast and slow
Alex Golub - yes, the jedi academic, writes a comment on a presentation from the digital genres conference:

Once we start thinking in this way, our understanding of blogs starts to shift. On the one hand, Blogs seem to be quick versions of the oldschool texts we grew up reading. On the other hand, they seem like slowed down versions of the conversations we grew up speaking. Indeed, we can easily arrange quick texts along a time continuum: IRC is operates at the speed of discursive realtime, email (at least for those who email a lot, which is most of us, I think) is a bit slower, blogs a bit slower still, and so on and so forth. Of course, how quick quicktexts are is a function of their deployment in a particular context and is only partially limited by the technology that creates them (IRC is much quicker and easier to post to than Movable Type, for instance).

I enjoyed all of Alex' comments, but this part hit particularly close to home. I love the part of blogging where there is a conversation between the blogs, thought out posts, not just quick comments. Occasionally I almost feel nostalgic for that, as if it has been lost. Perhaps it has?

Monday, June 02, 2003

Rain on the Verrazano
Over the last four years I have spent enough time in Brooklyn that I feel kind of like coming home when I go there. No wonder that when Wireless Doc posts a picture of dark grey clouds and rain over The Verrazano Bridge, complete with water and boats, I feel like my two homes are attempting to meet. I had the same spooky feeling this winter, when I found myself in the middle of a blizzard... in Bay Ridge.

Sunday, June 01, 2003

The open cage door
They left Wednesday, after their final exams. It's the 11th class of students to graduate from the public information study. I haven't approved all, but a fair amount. Sending them away is perhaps the sweetest part of being a teacher - and the worst. Sweet, because it's like opening the cage of a flock of birds, and see them head for the skies on their own. Bad, because they take a little piece of me with them.

Over the years, I have learned to hold back, hold back to the point that the students now complain that I love the subjects I teach more than I love them. Now that is not a bad thing in my book, I definitely should NOT spend nights with students, take them to bed, let them come between me and my family, dissect them, critizise them to pieces and then see what I can do to twist them violently into the shapes I like... or discard them. After all, theory is for ever - students argue with me, fear me, beg for my help, talk about me behind my back and then they leave me. And when they leave, they don't ask if I loved them, they just go, and take my hopes and dreams for them with them. Sometimes I see them again, sometimes I never hear from them - sometimes I read their obituaries. That one hurts. Sometimes I see them every day on television. That feels a little better, like reading their blogs. But in the end, they care as much about me as my books do. And my books at least, stay around.
The good life?
This morning, I was planning a long, happy blogpost about the good life. I was in Ålesund yesterday, and listened to my daughter play in two different big bands. The whole family was there, as well as a sister in the role of aunt and her husband as uncle. I met an old friend from high school, who is married to the friend I have known the longest - since she was 5 days old, actually. His mother had been a friend of my mother as they were children, while her parents and mine had been neighbours while they were adults with children. My friends have kids the same age as mine, and with pretty much the same interests. Our children are not as close as we are, but they like and tolerate each other, pretty much the way we tolerate distant relatives: they are there, an inevitable part of our lives, and their presence is a reassuring part of a network to catch you when you really need help.

What I was thinking is how good this is. My friends have given up much for their families, for the life they lead now, because relations, family, roots were more important than their own dreams. I did the same, moving to Volda, which can easily be described as an academic backwater, in order to be close to my dying father and my weak mother. But as we sat there listening to the music our children made, close in the knowledge that our ties went beyond the scope of our lives, life felt good. Our sacrifices of personal wishes/dreams had been by choice, and while we might occasionally regret parts of it, that moment we did not regret anything. Our children are happy, bright, talented and safe, we are able to provide for them by way of our skill and education, through honest work (his a bit more honest than mine, there is something awe-inspiring about farmers, even in the days of tractors and milking machines), and due to the high standard of welfare in Norway we do not need to fear losing any substantial part of this feeling of security.

Today I am sitting across the table from my much beloved son. He is making me struggle through his maths, in order to help him prepare for tomorrow's test. Suddenly I am insecure. There is a reason why I did not study maths, chemistry or physics, and I am brutally confronted with that right now. Life feels a lot less good, and my insecurity leaks out into everything. I have been struggling at maths for 5 hours. There is not much of that happy confidence left. And I still have 3-4 hours to go.