Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Be Careful

The Norwegian Journalist Union and the Editor's Union together with the The Union of Norwegian Press have since 1936 published a "Be Careful" poster: Vær Varsom plakaten. This is a long list of advice as to the ethics of good journalistic practice. It is not a set of laws or even rules, there is no formalised punishment if you go against this advice. All that can be said when somebody neglects this advice is "Oh no, you've been a really bad journalist/editor/paper, haven't you?" Sometimes, if the issues are severe, they may be fined and forced to pay some extra into their respective unions if they want to stay in them. Cases like these will hardly ever go to court, and going against the advice of the "be careful" poster is not a criminal act, merely a very rude one.

At the moment the most discussed piece of advice in this set is one that concerns the state of the sources journalists use. What has triggered this discussion is the way Norwegian papers increasingly use weblogs as sources: particularly as they have created weblog domains where papers can use the words of the bloggers freely in their news stream, without paying an øre for it nor needing to put it through the regular editorial process. It's not written by anybody in the paper, it's written by some individual who will then personally have to carry the weight of any imprecisions in the blogpost. So: No economic loss and no legal responsibility, just free, fun content.

This is the text in the poster, the text the general public keep refering to and ask why the media don't obey when it comes to a certain practice of the news houses:
3.9. Opptre hensynsfullt i den journalistiske arbeidsprosessen. Vis særlig hensyn overfor personer som ikke kan ventes å være klar over virkningen av sine uttalelser. Misbruk ikke andres følelser, uvitenhet eller sviktende dømmekraft. Husk at mennesker i sjokk eller sorg er mer sårbare enn andre.

To translate: Be considerate in the journalistic process. Particularly show consideration to people who can not be expected to be aware of the effect of their statements. Do not abuse the feelings of others, their lack of knowledge or lack of ability to understand the extent of their actions and words. Remember that people in shock or grieving are more vulnerable than others.

There is a popular belief that this actually protects people who are in touch with the press from things like their own stupidity. So if you post something on your blog (or elsewhere on the net) which you really have no way to understand the extent of, the journalists will be sensitive and understanding, adhere to the poster and not use it on the front page. Right?

Yeah right.

The point is: If you have posted something incredibly stupid on the net, YOU have published it, not them. Even if you write a description of your mental state (having just downed 20 pills of valium, just to choose a recent example which by the way seems to have disappeared without a trace due to what I hope is some lingering sense of propriety) it doesn't matter. You see - it's already out there. You did it, published it for the world to see with your name on it, and it's free to be used - at least cited if not just grabbed as is, if it's been posted on one of the paper-owned blog sites.

It's not the journalists' job to protect you from yourself once you decide to be your own editor. It's only their job to do that as long as you accept the restrictions of their particular news service. And even then, they are just adviced to do it. If your words would make the breaking news and up their numbers then sorry, but your tale was just too important to keep it from the public and you had to be allowed to speak, even if you were raging at the camera with your dead child in your arms. Particularly then.

I know, I have worked with public information and media in general too long to have a whole lot of illusions left, and I also know: there are a lot of decent journalists out there doing a great job. My heart leaps with pride when I read or watch something really good and I occasionally recognize the name of one of our former students (plenty of them out there). But it doesn't take a whole newsroom full of bad journalists to expose your particular tale of pain and suffering. Be your own editor. Use the "be careful" poster on your own publishing, and remember, you have potentially billions of readers, including a lot of people you don't really want to have reading what you just wrote.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Juba the sniper

It was luckily past seven when the Norwegian Broadcasting called today, and I was awake and about to get ready for the day. Their issue was Juba the sniper. Juba is a mysterious figure, an individual or a myth, who kills American soldiers in Baghdad. He never misses, he is never seen and he always leaves a little message. There are no civilian victims, and afterwards, there are videos of his shot circulated in secret on the net.

Or so the story goes.

Bagdhad Treasure blogged how Juba is becoming a hero in Baghdad. The Guardian wrote about him. There is a wikipedia page on him. Some speculate that he may not be Iraqi at all, but Isreali. People are using computer games to make simulations of the movies. And that's where I became an interesting subject to interview.

Since I do research on internet communication and computer games, I ought to know why this is so popular, don't I? So that's what the journalist asked - why is this so popular on the net? Juba and sniper gets 35000 hits on google. The journalist was impressed. And it had to be the internet that made this case special.

I was a difficult subject, and didn't agree with him (although I'd like to hear what comes out of the conversation - probably nothing, he forgot to confirm my name and title.) I think this is such a good story that if a regular journalist had got to it first, it would have been all over the mainstream news together with other grisly amateur film cuts. It is a perfect tale: the lone hero who fights the opressors singlehandedly by killing them neatly one by one with no civilian casualties. A one-man war, we love them whether the one man is Roger Moore, John Wayne or Jackie Chan. It is, of course, a little more problematic when the one man army is taking shots at our allies. They are however soldiers, shooting soldiers is an act of war, not terror. Terrorism is the use of force against what would otherwise be innocent bystanders - whether it's allied soldiers who use it or the Irish Republican Army. Who thought of themselves as an army of soldiers at war too.

So there is a certain narrative flair to the tale, one that understandably appeals particularly to the young and restless in Baghdad. Just think of Carlos the Jackal, and his type of horrible fame. Then there is the video game angle. The journalist asked me if it didn't look like a video game. I just realised what I should have answered. It's not the video faking a game, but the game and the video both relating to some idea about how a sniper shot will look like through the video camera of a sniper rifle. And so people have games available to let them replay and pretend the same phenomenon as they hear about through other sources, and make similar videos, one of them even using the game America's Army, thoughtfully provided by the US government.

As a phenomenon it's interesting. It's a story spreading and living on the net. Again, Gibson was there first, with Pattern Recognition - only he didn't write about snipers, and was a lot more subtle.

And before somebody writes me to tell me how horrible all this is and how I should not talk about American soldiers being killed in Iraq in the same post as anything to do with fun, games and hero worship, let me say that I think all violent death where one human wilfully causes the death of another human is horrible. I understand the logical arguments for war and legalised violence, but I don't agree with it as a solution to anything - nor do I think it is a good thing that snipers shoot soldiers. I wish they could all have jacked into their different gamestations and let the best gamer win, then had a beer or a cup of tea afterwards.

Update: No, they didn't use my comments in the program. I guess I de-dramatised things too much. Sometimes not being mentioned means you did a good job, you know.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Winning Team

At the Game Developers Conference, I had just enough voice to participate in Eric Zimmerman's Game Show at the end of The Social Dimensions of Digital Gaming session, where game developers were coupled with game researchers. For the developers: Matt Adams, Ralph Koster and Heather Kelley. For the Researchers: Thomas Malaby, Suzanne de Castell and Torill Mortensen.

We were first asked a question. All researchers had to say what kind of research we would like to see, all developers were asked what kind of game system they would like to see. Then we were coupled by drawing names out of a hat - which resulted in one male male couple, one female female couple and one male female couple. Work the couples out yourself, I am giving you one hint by posting the picture of me and my partner. If the picture is blurry, blame Justin Hall, who grabbed my camera and took the picture (which was really nice of him).

And this was your winning couple, after the jury (TL Taylor, Beth Kolko and a gentleman whose name I didn't catch) had decided! We won the wonderful prizes of one Scrabble and one eeehhhh - well, it was a weird name and my partner did not have it, so I swapped prizes with him and got the american language scrabble instead. Will come in handy for English language training in long dark Volda winter evenings!

The rest of the day was interesting, but I was too sick to make much of it. What I did not know at the time, sadly, as I would have made the effort to get hold of him, was that at the same time one of the former administrators of Aarinfel was doing a presentation. He now works for Microsoft, and emailed me to ask if we could have coffee. I was already in Los Angeles though. Perhaps I'll have a chance when I go to Washington later this spring.

Take the F train

Jill already blogged this, but I will repeat the action and spread the love.

Hanne-Lovise Skartveit has made a lovely little animation/film/sound hypertext doumentary about the F train in New York. When I was last here we were shopping for the gadgets she needed to make it, and this time around the thing has been published. She has been recording sound on the train, interviewing people who use it and live in the different areas, and made it into a little game-like experience where you can choose which passengers waiting at the station you want to go with you on the train. Tip: Don't bring too many, you can't hear all their stories before you're at the next stop!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Do I or don't I?

An email from the past, one of the players/administrators of one of the MUDs I was in who was at the Game Developers Conference, made me start looking for one of the players who lives here in Los Angeles. This player has made enough tracks that I quickly found out that he still lives around here somewhere. Now LA is so big, "here" could be anywhere from next door to 3 hours driving away, but well, it's a lot closer than when I am in Norway.

I could find where he works and the general area where he lives, but no email for him, and not a lot of information on his work place. I did however get an offer to buy the information on him from a background check. For 7,95$ I could get his unlisted phone number and everything else, including his financial history and a list of former room mates.

It's not a big sum.

I would really like to talk to him.

I am not going to intrude that way.

But it makes me wonder about the legality of such businesses. Is it legal to sell that kind of information? In Norway I can run a financial background check on people by contacting a certain public office. It's done regularly by banks and others, and you are notified when somebody do it. For a while I was bombed with notifications, as different banks were considering me for approval for the mortgage of a house. But an unlisted number is often unlisted for a good reason, and that's a trust which is not supposed to be broken. You can't buy it legally from the phone company. I don't know if you can sell it legally if you have somehow learned it.

I miss my colleagues, investigative journalists know a lot of interesting answers.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Los Angeles

I am starting to accumulate a long list of things I want to blog about: Blog Hui, GDC, the hardships of travel, the joy of friendship and how extremely good it is to be sitting in a jacuzzi outside in the sunshine in March and not freeze anywhere, but I'll wait. First things first, and a guild meeting with my fellow Truants is more important than reporting. Which means I am not really a reporter, right? Well, I admit to that, quite freely.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Cold, so cold

Getting worse, not better. No inspired blogging from GDC, as I had to crawl off around lunch time. I am on in an hour, so I am going to lie down and read for a while, then take some medicine and hope it will let me behave almost healthy for my session. It should, I promised. And afterwards I won't have to talk for days, so straining the voice now will not be a problem.

And then I can collapse until I have to check out of the hotel. Need to check when that has to be. And check for a place close where I can get food I can eat. Had muffins from Starbucks for lunch, as the bread in the lunchboxes here would have been worse, and I had no energy to run off and get something I can eat. And I just can't afford to rely on room service. This is one of those moments when being so independent and travelling around the world alone is no fun.

Hopefully, more fun blogging ahead.

Monday, March 20, 2006

San Jose

I am in Hilton, San Jose, in a big room for which I pay way more than I can afford. But right now I am very glad of it. I have a cold which is rapidly getting worse, I have no idea what it is in my head, night or day, and I finally have a reliable internet connection at a decent price from a private location. It's wonderful. New Zealand was great, but going straight from campervan-life which wasn't even all vacation to work and then to 20 something hours of travel just to go 10 hours backwards in time is exhausting.

But tomorrow is GDC, and I hope this is just a light cold, passing quickly with some decent sleep. I have no idea if there are anybody I know already in town, there should be, TL, Eric and several others are to attend tomorrow, but I have made no connections before this. Hence I am stranded in a huge hotel surrounded by wide, car-filled streets. I wonder if I can have a chance of finding a mexican restaurant, nachos and a pitcher of margaritas? Or perhaps that's more for tomorrow night, when I can hopefully breathe through my nose again.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

We can blog it

For those of my readers who read Norwegian, the PDF to an article I wrote for Kommunikasjonsforeningen, the Norwegian union of information and public relation workers. We got the file from the journal and published it on the college server while waiting for their updated website.

The article discusses corporative blogging and how weblogs may influence public relations practice.

Scraping data

Have a look at what Eric Nickell writes on Terra Nova. I am not sure what I think about this kind of research yet. It is interesting, and more than a little scary (where is the player consent to being studied in this?), but I'll shut up until I have read and thought a bit more. Until then: read and think for yourselves.

Is that WoW?

She leaned over and stared avidly on my screen, the chinese student at Wellington University. Busy making screenshots for the presentation tonight, I nodded, and let her have her passive WoW fix. "you have many many pictures," she commented as I worked, eyes taking in the secrets of my screen eagerly. I could only confirm - the computer is packed with them, I rely on my pictures, and explained what I was doing, as I saved a nice screenshot of Nuuna, the guild leader of The Truants.

"I try to play from here, but I can't" she mourned. Then she noticed that my latency was red as well. "No real playing," I admitted. "Ah, you just sell stuff and go to the bank." She needed sagely, and complained about the slowness of the chinese servers she plays on. She had surprised all her friends by logging on from New Zealand and getting on with them, playing the same game. "It is great, they were so surprised!" she beamed. "Yes, I am chatting with my friends in Europe and USA now," I answered, and opened my social list. By now she was almost on my lap with the laptop. Who says online games makes people asocial? The gamers certainly are ready to talk about their passion.


I am back in Wellington, from a journey that feels like a rite of passage. With a friend I have mastered several things, most notably my fear of driving.

I used to be a confident driver, until an accident. It was a moment of total loss of control, and I have tried to figure out what I could have done to avoid it, in endless self-accusations. I drove extremely slowly, and I did that because the road was slippery and very difficult to drive on. It was in the middle of the day, the car was in good shape, I did not fall asleep, I was not in a difficult curve. What happened was that the driving conditions were so bad my only option would have been deserting the car on the motorway and walking with my 4 year old daughter – a course I considered as dangerous as trying to reach the next exit. I never reached it though, the car slipped and I hit a car driving in the other direction, ruined my knee and disjointed a shoulder. Luckily my daughter was unharmed, but to this day I have never heard a more joyful sound than her healthy cries next to me.

This happened 15 years ago, and I have relearned driving since then. I have accepted that I somehow did something wrong, perhaps made a bad decision when I pressed on and did not just abandon the car, and have worked hard to become a safe, careful driver who learns from mistakes. But I have perhaps been a little too safe, terrified of new roads, new situations and unknown potential for accidents. And with this background I got into a campervan in order to drive on the left hand side in a country I have never visited before.

I am back in Wellington. I am alive. I have survived for a week, thanks to my own and my friend’s skill. We did it, each of us, overcame the dangers of NZ drivers, speed-limits 20-30 kmph above those at home and a car that swayed and shook at every gust of wind, rattled at every little bump in the road, was despised by all other travellers and inspired those who overtook it to neck-breaking passings. We founds places to sleep, to eat, to park, to shop, we got to see what we wanted to see, and we slept safely each night in the frugal comfort of our narrow berths. We didn’t conquer Mount Everest or even try to climb the elegant slopes of Taranaki, all we did was soak in a spa and gaze at some glow worms.

But I have conquered my own fear. I have taken back something I lost 16 years ago, the feeling of being independent and able to move about on the roads of the world. I relearned the freedom of private motorised transportation, at age 45. About time.

Me, the other

This is the title of my article in Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan's new book Second Person, which hopefully will be available this autumn. It's published on MIT press, and directly addresses gaming to a larger degree than First Person, I think.

My contribution is about role-play. I address the relationship between you, the human and you, the fantasy figure. It is one of my favourite issues, yes, I enjoy playing around with you/me relationships!

Monday, March 13, 2006

Waitomo Caves

Here I am, grinding in the shadow of the campervan, in Waitomo. I have been visiting the caves to see glow-worms, and now I am hiding from a sun too bright for my pale blue gaze. The camp has wireless internet connection, and I can touch the web.

I have been more or less randomly connected for more than a week, and in this time I have not missed the net once. What I have missed are the people I keep in touch with this way. There is a friend in Los Angeles waiting for me to send her my itinerary. There is an editor waiting for a book chapter. A colleague waiting for an article. A family demanding pictures – well, those find me anyway, as the demands tick in on my mobile phone. Is Lynsey in Wellington waiting for me at Blog Hui? I know he is, but does he have the program for the Hui? I am waiting for that.

We are humans, communication is our survival trait. Without it we would have been eaten by everything from polar bears to maggots millennia ago. I communicate, therefore I am. Now, to ponder the presentation in Wellington.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Boiling Mud

No, nothing to do with the MUDs I otherwise work with, although it is a severe reminder that I need to get back to work. The last few days have been chaotic. I spent Tuesday and Wednesday calling to find out what happened to my suitcase or shopping for clothes and other stuff to cover the dire lack of clothing. Got to remain decent and inoffensive, and I was getting so ripe it would certainly offend.

Thursday I gave up waiting, and we started for Napier. The ride was tough even for a road-hardened Norwegian from the west coast. Not that the road was that difficult, but I have never driven a camper van before. And here I had the pleasure of driving one first in town with a map-reader who I later discovered inconsistently confuses right and left, then on several-file roads (my nightmare) to crown the virgin trip with narrow, winding mountain roads. I finally understood why those campervans are so slow on the Norwegian roads, and why their drivers look consistently terrified. I promise I will be endlessly more patient now. But I will still curse if you don't pull over!

After Napier we made our way to Rotorua, where we are today. Yes, I am going the tourist route. I want to see Volcanic landscapes, maori carvings and glowworms. Napier was seafood and local wine, later today I hope to enjoy a nice spa treatment, and so after Rotorua it's only the glowworms left to do.

I hope this picture shows the boiling mud. I am outside, it's sunny, I have no idea what the pictures look like.

If it doesn't look like much, use your imagination. What I am trying to show you is bubbling mud, stinking like rotten eggs. Delicious, hummm?

Tomorrow we start the trip towards Wellington. I need to make some time to work every day from now on, now that I am no longer jetlagged, I have my suitcase and the most important tourist activity is done. I have even done laundry, there can't be any mroe excuses. Thursday we have to drop off the car and check into the hotel where Blog Hui is to be. Friday I will be back in a world with steady internet connection, I hope. Sunday I am on my way back to the US, hopefully my luggage will come too. Then next Friday it's NYC where I get to both rest and write.

Oh, and the fire hazard in the area? Relax all, as usual I brought the rain and put out the fires. Just one of the benefits of travelling in the hope of warmth and sunshine!

Friday, March 10, 2006

Land of the Lost Luggage

Although it's finally found now, I spent the first days on the Kiwi Island desperately seeking luggage. Romantically rewriting my plight, I imagined myself a heroine running from the government spies - only I left WAY too many card-purchase traces. When I come home I am sure I will enjoy the many nice little things I had to buy while waiting.

But now I am happily beneath a fig tree in Napier, typing as fast as I can before the battery runs low.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Rotorua Fire

Until November I had no idea there was a place called Rotorua, and now I am deeply concerned about the fact that the place is on fire. You see, this is one of those places which are definitely NOT like Norway, where I am planning to go before Blog Hui. I want to see something different. Well, it certainly will be, if it's still burning when I get there!

According to the news the sulphur in the environment makes the whole place highly flameable, and the Hell's Gate is closed due to the fire. I hope the woman wasn't hurt.

Well the spa is open, and they offer mud baths.

(More and larger Rotorua pictures here)

All of this is so totally different from what Volda is like at the moment, I am all aflutter about going. The temperature was down to -10 again today, after yesterday's heating up to -4. Large parts of Volda lost the water due to a break on the main water pipe, which resulted in total panic, as frosen water pipes is one of the main reasons for damage to houses in winter here. Our problem is hardly fire these days, and particularly not spontaneous combustion due to heat.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

2006 1.2

The new year started February 11th, but the celebrations were modest. They did however include a shared bottle of wine and some heavy WoW-ing after the husband fell asleep watching the olympics, and that is bliss at winter time!

Two weeks into the new year things have noticeably changed. Today I am no longer leading the Information Study, and this will be the state of the world until October 1st. The bliss of not being responsible is immense. I can send all the mail and all the phones on. If I just got a phone right now, that's exactly what I could do!

Before the new year is four weeks old I will have changed hemispheres. I will start on something very new, the writing of a book in my own language, and I am really looking forwards to that. Hope I remember how to.

Apart from that there are no big adjustments to this year from the 1.1 version. It is looking good so far!

30 degrees difference

The weather is fantastic today, clear blue skies and light streaming towards us from all surfaces. in the pictures I can however see how little light there actually is. The sun is not yet up at 10 am, although the sky is a clear blue and snow reflects what little light there is. The vistas around Volda are breathtakingly beautiful, and little Volda College Campus shows off it's advantage over most other campuses in the world - the impressive, dangerous, but always breathtaking nature we live right in the middle of.


If you peek at the thermometer, you understand why all students walk around huddled with their hands in their pockets. It's - 11 degrees Celcius. That's cold.

So rather than forcing myself to be outdoors when we finally have a clear day, I plan my trip to Blog Hui. I am leaving for New Zealand Sunday 5th. The 6th will disappear, and the 7th I am there, ready to explore. The 10 days before Blog Hui will be spent in a campervan with a friend. I am exited and happy, carry a digital camera and hope for internet connections on the way. Prepare for travel-blogging of the "what can possibly go wrong with two middle aged women driving a camper van for the first time on the other side of the road in a foreign country?"-kind.

(Although hopefully the blogging will be more of the "this is how far I have come on the introduction to my book on this smooth, easy journey through lovely vistas" kind. The journeying should be light and include lots of comfortable camping places, the laptop always with me and the deadlines within a foreseeable future.)

The main sights we want to see are volcanos. New Zealand has fjords, glaciers, mountaineering, rafting and splendid hiking paths in the mountains, and we both decided that we can do that any time (and do it - ok, perhaps not the rafting, Norwegian glacier-born rivers are cold!) we want, now we want different. Volcanoes are different. Warm beaches are different. Sunshine is different. Wine needs to be tested. Food needs to be tasted. And I really want to see a glow-worm cave. I promise I won't use a flash.

And it seems like I am not the only one interested in volcanoes, New Zealand Herald has conveniently volcanic "news" on the online front page today - although these are rather old news, and from Indonesia.

So I am going towards the southern skies, over the mountains and from freezing spring at - 11 to summery autumn at + 20.